Tablets have the potential to change education

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By Shawn Dobbs, Contributor

In today’s high tech world it can be intimidating stepping out into the job market.  Employers regularly use social media and online resources to find qualified candidates to fill positions, and applicants need to be increasingly tech-savvy.  It’s the job of educators to prepare students for this environment, and it’s our job to hold them accountable

Our public schools largely missed the boat when it came to computers.  Computers were pushed to the back burner in high schools and used as databases and word processors rather than the multi-media learning tools they had the potential to become.  We are at risk of doing the same thing with tablets.

The smartphone market has exploded, and phones have transformed from communication devices into portable personal assistants.  They do everything for us, from tracking calories to managing schedules to sending emails.  Many can’t imagine life before smart phones.  Now tablets are poised to revolutionize the market once again, and it’s important that our classrooms move at the same pase as the real world.

The time is long past due for tablets in the classroom.  Imagine the opportunities for an immersive learning experience.  Instead of reading “I Have a Dream,” students could watch the speech.  Rather than learning about Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats, students could listen to one.  Students learning music could read sheet music and listen to the song being played simultaneously.  Students would have a textbook, dictionary and thesaurus with them at all times.  In gym class students would be able to track calories burned and have video instruction for weightlifting and exercises. The cost of textbooks and materials could be drastically reduced.

Students in India are given the Aakash tablet for just $40.  Although the Aakash is certainly no iPad, it’s very functional, and the concept should be applied in the US.  The United States has already begun lagging behind other industrialized countries in terms of education, and the fault rests partly with our insistence on going into the 21st century with a 19th century teaching model.

Some classrooms have embraced a “flipped” classroom approach, in which students watch tutorials and learn concepts at home and then come to school to practice and hone their skills.  The students log an education program that gives them sample problems to work through and allows the teacher to track their progress and identify which students are having problems in which areas.  This allows the teacher to work with those students individually while the rest of the class continues to learn.  This approach gives struggling students the individual attention they need and does not hold back students who work at a faster pace.  These programs provide much needed flexibility and individual specialization.  Tablets add an additional benefit since they can operate on a 3G network for  students who don’t have wireless Internet at home.  One of the most acclaimed programs, Khan Academy, has been optimized for tablets.

The possibilities for enhanced learning techniques on tablets are endless, and it’s our responsibility to engage in a competitive approach to learning that utilizes the best methods.

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