Selecting devices for an entire classroom or an entire school is not a simple matter. You need to consider what the students will use it for, and that tends to differ greatly by grade level. But if I had to choose sides, I would call myself a member of Team Tablet for K-5. For grades 6-12, both tools have important uses, so I would start a new team: Team BYOD. Here's why:
A while back my fourth grade class participated in a laptop program sponsored by Intel. I was trained to be an Intel Master Teacher for using laptops in the classroom. My fourth grade class was, at the time, the youngest in the nation participating. The laptops were clunky and heavy. Students had to close them down and store them in a locked closet every time we left the classroom. We had to constantly wait for the laptops to power on or off or reboot. The students still loved using the laptops, but from the teacher's standpoint, it was a pain.
Fast-forward a few years, and now I am an education technologist at a university. The majority of my students bring their own device — laptop, tablet or smartphone — to class. As the instructor, I use my tablet for student engagement, class presentations and productivity. My favorite tools for teaching are Poll Everywhere and Nearpod.
I also find that my students prefer tablets to laptops for many reasons. For one thing, although laptop technology has improved (and shrunk) greatly since my years in elementary school, tablets are still much smaller and lighter. This makes them much easier for children — particularly the youngest ones — to carry. This smaller size also makes them much easier to store in classrooms with limited space.
Tablets are also faster than laptops. It takes just one touch and a few seconds to get them up and running, compared to the still somewhat lengthy laptop start-up time. And, as all teachers know, every second of class time is precious. The battery time also beats a laptop, which again saves time and effort in the long run.
One deficit of tablets compared to laptops is their hard-to-use on-screen keyboards, but there's an easy way around this: Bluetooth keyboard attachments. I use a keyboard by Kensington that props up my iPad so that it feels and works just like a laptop keyboard.
Perhaps the most often cited argument against using tablets in the classroom is that they are good only for consuming content. Content consumption has an important place in classrooms, whether it's watching video tutorials or using one of the thousands of available apps for reinforcing basic skills. But creativity, as one of the highest forms of the thinking process, is even more important. The good news is that I have found tablets to be excellent for creating content too!
Here are just a few apps that offer an invaluable, user-friendly content creation experience:
Explain Anything. Students can use this screencasting and interactive whiteboard tool to create screencasts, animations and narrations showcasing the content they have learned. Teachers can also use it to create lessons for students " " but why not let the students make lessons as well?
Pages. This publishing app allows anyone to create beautiful pages for reports, documents and flyers.
Paper 53. This art app lets students draw or sketch just about anything using a variety of digital paper and pen/pencil/color options. They can illustrate a scientific principle, draw a map or create a piece of artwork. One of my favorite features of this app is Mix, which allows users to remix and collaborate on designs.
Adobe Voice. This easy-to-use video creation tool gives students the power to make their own narrated videos. They can show their creativity by using it to deliver a book review, explain a concept or share a story.
GarageBand. Students can use this app to create their own podcasts, record interviews, demonstrate their reading fluency, deliver how-to tutorials and more. My fourth grade students used it to create podcasts about all 21 California missions.
Tackk. This web-based tool is one of my favorites! Students can use it on any device to combine visuals, text, video, audio, music, forms, buttons — you name it. Tackk can then embed your creation into a website, send it as an email or print it out. Students can use it to write illustrated stories or journal entries or insert pictures, such as a graphic of the water cycle, and then write about it. Or they can combine apps by using Explain Everything to describe a math concept, then embed it into Tackk and create a sample problem. Their classmates can then comment with their answers and new problems. The possibilities are really endless.
I admit that there are some compelling reasons to consider using laptops for upper grades. Students should have a basic understanding of traditional computers, including troubleshooting techniques. They will most likely need to use a laptop or desktop in a future job. Many websites still won't view correctly on a tablet, although this changing rapidly. Other than that, with the help of free apps and online web 2.0 tools, the tablet can do anything a laptop can. For example, Office Online and Google Apps offer the same word processing experience as Microsoft Word. For these reasons, I would choose a BYOD environment for upper grades and let students decide for themselves whether they want to be Team Laptop or Team Tablet, depending on the task at hand and their own preferences.
Pamela L. Jimison, M.Ed., is an educational technologist and adjunct faculty in the School of Education at William Jessup University in Rocklin, California. She has worked in education for over 25 years, including stints as an elementary, middle and high school teacher; K-12 technology coordinator; and K-8 principal. Learn more on her blog.