I’ve often been asked if a mobile device, such as a tablet (usually iPad) or smartphone, is enough for a student to bring to school rather than a laptop. My usual response is that they are good alternative devices for someone who already has access to a traditional computer. There will always be things that you can only do, or can do more efficiently, on a computer.
A while ago I talked to a student who had written a 2,000 word essay on his smartphone. I’ve seen animated short films produced entirely on an iPad. In a meeting full of adults, most of them will be using a tablet or a phone. You can accomplish a surprising number of things using only a web browser and camera, and perhaps some platform-specific apps.
That being said, a student who has only a mobile device will be at a disadvantage. Particularly in secondary grades, there will be things that they can’t do on their handheld. Ideally students should be able to choose what they want to use for a particular activity. In my house there are many kinds of devices; family members can pick up, or sit down at, whichever is available and suited to the task.
In 2010 Steve Jobs was quoted as saying that in the future, “[personal computers] are going to be like trucks, less people will need them.” My brother-in-law has a truck that I can borrow when I need to move heavy stuff… do you think we should get to the point where students with handheld devices can just borrow school computers for their heavier tasks?
David Hay is currently working with the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) project in EIPS and can be found online at misterhay.com. If he wasn’t in education, David says he would be home with his kids!