More schools are experimenting with the use of tablets in classrooms. Students make assignments on the internet and teachers are using tablets as a supportive tool during class-hours. In our previous article we provided some long-term arguments why digital tools in classrooms should be stimulated. In order to prepare our children for a society that is digitizing at a vast pace and an economy where information-based services and ICT are creating new sectors, making our children familiar with technology is crucial. The degree of integrating tablets varies from replacing all textbooks by tablets, to using it only supportively during class-hours. However, there are some practical issues with the integration of tablets in our children’s curriculum that deserve attention.
Tablets don’t come cheap and depending on the country, methods to finance the tablets vary. In some cases the tablets are (partially) funded by governments while in others parents have to contribute. It is important that these measures are feasible for every child, apart from social background. Preparing children for our digitized society should be happening on the same speed for everybody so that we don’t enlarge the digital gap. When looking at the financial aspect, we should also compare the purchase of a tablet to the purchase of textbooks over the years. Educational content is rarely free, so every school should conduct some research where costs of textbooks and apps are compared.
According to a study by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the use of technology in classrooms has a negative impact on children’s writing skills. It has become easier to copy & paste information from internet sources without checking them properly and our children use formal and informal language together. Here we can identify two problems: writing and media literacy.
Writing on tablets
Parents, teachers and educational institutions have expressed fears that tablets would have a negative effect on basic skills such as writing. Tablets aren’t tools that were made to write on. In order to write, your wrist needs a surface to rest upon, which a tablet doesn’t provide. Tablets should be used in supportive contexts and not to teach children basic and important skills. We don’t want to say that apps to improve your child’s writing skills are useless, but they should be used as a tool to practice, and not to teach.
The “copy and paste” attitude where sources aren’t always selected for their academic relevance becomes untenable when students start writing papers in university. When we are digitizing our classrooms, we should also provide the opportunity for children to be educated in media literacy: identifying texts and its characteristics, looking for reliable sources, and using digital tools efficient. Students should be trained more in having a critical attitude when using the internet in order to identify the right sources. Nowadays, too many students get lots in information flows because they fail in identifying the correct parameters to find what they are looking for on the internet.
It is still too early to measure effects and make scientific conclusions about the effects of tablets on children. Currently we’re still in the phase of trying to find a balance and trying to answer questions as to when tablets are good and when we should put them away. For some children, the use of tablets helps them to focus in the classroom while others perceive them more as a toy than an educational tool. What we can state for sure, is that the transition to digital classrooms shouldn’t be too swift and should be framed in a responsible program where children get equal changes and learn how to use these new tools efficient.