Tablet computers to make education more interactive

Gneyey Melyar, 22, environmental and occupational health major, uses an Apple iPad to study in the Oviatt Library. Photo Credit: Herber Lovato / Staff Photographer

A new wave of learning tools, including tablet computers such as Apple’s iPad, bring future technologies into classrooms to aid both students and instructors.

A study by the University of Illinois compared tablet computers with laptops and found advantages and disadvantages.

One of the key advantages of owning a tablet computer is it allows a lecturing professor to interact with a presentation by scribbling onto a slide. This edited version can then be saved by students onto a tablet rather than having to write it down on paper.

Tablets also have relatively long battery life and are lightweight because the batteries tend to be smaller.

The study also showed that, like laptops, these devices are difficult to read under bright sunlight or fluorescent lighting used inside buildings.

Despite its interactive capabilities, the tablet is still new to the market and most technology is not aware of its existence.  Instructors and students could be forced to use a standard computer to finish lecture material or presentations when using programs not recognized by the tablet.

Depending on the microprocessor, tablets can range in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

“It’s my recorder, my note-taker, I’m now co-dependent,” said senior Carol Gonzalez. “I completely ignore my laptop since there is no use for it. My iPad is way lighter and I can just throw it into my backpack and go.”

Gonzalez bought her iPad in December and found it is a great way to organize her classes and follow professors.  She said she uses it to store professors’ Power Point presentations  and applications allow her access to information stored on her laptop.

Gonzalez said one of the advantages of having an iPad is the amount of resources she can access without having to purchase extra technology. Academic tools such as calculators and textbooks can be purchased online or downloaded as an application.

Outside the practical use of these machines, they may provide added classroom distractions.

“Of course it can be a distraction,” Gonzalez said.  “Maybe mid-semester when you’re burnt out.”

Students face many distractions from laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices.  Faculty members like Dr. Julie Laity, geography professor are concerned that if these tablets become more widely used, students’ learning may be affected.

“Students don’t seem to be able to express self-control in classes,” Laity said. “Some of them are easily distracted and have poor study skills to begin with. In theory, a tablet is a good idea with a lot of value but there are more problems.”

Though Laity prefers for students not to use them in her classes, she supports tablet use by instructors or in-group situations, especially in the geography department. Laity does not own a tablet and is unsure if she trusts it for storing grades and important documents.

“It’s good for real time data such as uploading graphs on lightning, wind, rainfall or flooding,” Laity said. “With a smaller class there can be more control over the tablets and they could create better interactions among students.”