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January 14, 2017

Kacey Templin

Pros and Cons Series Part 2: Tablets Vs. Textbooks

Topics: STEM, STEAM

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This post is part of a new blog series where two authors present the pro and con side of a relevant topic – this week, that topic is tablets versus textbooks in the classroom. If you like (or dislike) the format, or just want to get involved in the conversation, please leave a comment below or on our Facebook page!

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by Kacey Templin

Technology use in the classroom has been evolving since the beginning of formalized education. Radio in the 1920s heralded the introduction of on-air classes. Lantern slides, first introduced in 1870, were succeeded by the invention of the overhead projector in 1930. Videotapes shook up the education world in 1951, then the handheld calculator in 1972, then the first personal computer in 1981, and so on. It is natural for classrooms to adopt advancing technology as it enhances the education of the student. The introduction of the tablet provides a new and valuable way for students to communicate, study, and learn, and should be integrated into daily educational practices of American students.

In a 2012 survey conducted by PBS LearningMedia, 81% of teachers felt that tablets enriched classroom education, regardless of grade level, classroom education of the student population, and types of communities. This is not an unwarranted notion. According to the US Department of Education, technology-based instruction can reduce the time students take to reach a learning objective by 30-80%. What’s more is that multiple studies corroborate with the finding that tablets positively influence education. A 2011 study by the University of California Irvine found that medical students equipped with iPads scored 23% higher on national exams than previously unequipped classes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt found that middle schools students using tablets in Riverside, California improved their math scores by 20% over the course of the year compared to students using traditional textbooks. Fifth graders who regularly played Motion Math (an iPad game designed to help with fundamental math skills) over the course of 5 days increased tests score by 15% on average. Integrating tablets into classrooms across the country can unlock massive educational potential inherent in students.

Switching from textbooks to tablets can also be an environmentally friendly choice. Producing a Kindle creates the same CO2 as 30 books, reducing the environmental costs of education. When schools make the switch, paper waste from textbook printing is eliminated. Children can store their e-books, notes, and projects all on one device. Not only this, physical textbooks are no longer made obsolete when new editions are released. A student can download the most up-to-date information in a simple 5-minute update rather than tossing out the old version and purchasing the new.

With e-books you get the educational material, plus the use of the internet and other helpful tools in one location. If a student is unsure about a word or the validity of a statement, they can look it up instantly using Google. Students can utilize social media platforms to post assignments, hold discussions, and give feedback (with teacher guidance). Students can take pictures or make movies, then upload them directly to their assignments on the same screen. If a student has a question or concern, they can send an email to the teacher on the same device they’re reading their textbook.

There is an argument that tablets are more expensive to purchase than textbooks. In 2012, the Federal Communication Commission found that K-12 school districts spend more than $8 billion per year on textbooks. When the FCC evaluated side-by-side costs of traditional learning versus “new” learning, they found that schools ended up saving an average of $250 per student per year if they moved to digital textbooks. This included the costs associated with digital content, devices, technology, and connectivity. Tablets are also continuing to become more and more affordable, some even as inexpensive as $120. What accounts for the larger savings is the cost of e-books, which cost 50-60% less than traditional textbooks. Less money spent on books allows schools to relieve other educational needs.

E-books are less expensive and convenient, and they’re also better for back health. A study conducted by the University of California showed that typical backpack loads with traditional textbooks place heavy compression on the discs of the spine and exacerbates the curvature of the lower spine. Heavy backpacks can also decrease the range of motion in the ligaments and muscles attached to the spine, which can cause reduced neck and shoulder movement. The 2010 study found that children commonly carry backpacks that weigh between 10% to 22% of their bodyweight. It’s easy to see why a 1 to 2-pound tablet would be a much safer alternative to heavy textbooks.

Today, one third of middle and high school students are using mobile devices issued by their schools. There is strong evidence to support that these devices are improving the education of these students, and changing the face of learning in America for the better. Although tablets cannot and should not replace all forms of teaching, they can create a customized and enhanced learning experience for the user. The tablet is the next step the evolution of education, and will be the stepping stone for further enhancement in the decades to come.
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Con

By Alana Hackes

It’s 2017 and the use of the internet as well as the technology that connects people to it is at an all-time high. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2013 that “71 percent of the U.S. population age 3 and over used the Internet.” As the use of technology has grown, so has the use of technology in the classrooms. Ed Tech Magazine did a survey on technology use in the classroom and found that 90% of classrooms had a personal computer or PC, 59% had interactive whiteboards, and 35% had tablets/electronic readers available in the classroom. As technology becomes more and more available in the classroom, teachers have to consider the consequences of having technology as part of the learning process.

The internet, and technology in general, has created a world where the answer to a question can be answered within seconds just by typing it into a search engine. With the click of a mouse, every question has an answer that is provided within articles and websites. There is more information available now than people have ever been able to access before. Having an abundance of information available to students instantly, however, doesn’t automatically result in higher test scores or a greater retention of knowledge. Ben Kesling wrote in his article, Technology in Classrooms Doesn’t Always Boost Education Results, OECD Says, that “we have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogues that make the most of technology; that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.” The issue is that teachers aren’t trained in how to integrate technology into their lesson plans and in turn aren’t able to show their students how to effectively use technology for learning. Kesling suggests that it’s not enough to just give students access to an abundance of information, but rather that they need to be taught how to use that technology in the classroom.

Additionally, the use of tablets is accompanied by a variety of health problems. Prolonged use of tablets can lead to neck and back problems. The article, The Health Problems with Apple’s iPad and Other Tablet Computers reported that the way in which people hold their tablets, whether it be “in the lap with the tablet held with their hand, in the lap with the tablet resting against its case at the low angle position, on a table against the case at the low angle position, and on a table with the case at its high position” can likely cause neck pain when using a tablet for a long period of time (Wagner). The eyes are also affected by tablet use. People who frequently use tablets experience “eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and dry eyes,” according to American Optometric Association. These health effects can be harmful for students in the long-term as well as distracting if they experience them in the classroom.   

Despite the negative effects of tablets, health and education-wise, there’s plenty of research that suggests that the key is not to ban technology from education completely, but rather to have an even mix of both technology and traditional teaching. Researchers call it “blended learning” and this type of learning incorporates “both face-to-face and online learning opportunities” (U.S. Department of Education). The benefits of blended learning include improving “educational productivity by accelerating the rate of learning, taking advantage of learning time outside of school hours, and reducing the cost of instructional materials, and better utilizing teacher time.” While technology can be beneficial to the learning process, it’s important to note that solely using technology will bring about better learning. It’s important to have a mixture of both technology and the teachers that teach students to use it effectively.

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