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Teaching with Tablets and What It Has to Do with Us

November 24, 2014

iPad, first generation

iPad, first generation. Creative Commons Photo License

While my memory is still fresh, I’d better write about the ALA TechSource workshop “Teaching with Tablets” that I recently attended to share what it was about with those interested in knowing. One thing I want to say beforehand is that it was an introductory workshop that was packed with information, and there is certainly a lot to explore to know this topic inside out.

It shouldn’t surprise you that mobile device ownership is on the rise and will continue to rise dramatically. Out of the 85 attendees (school, academic, public library personnel), 38 percent said some students/users and 58 percent said nearly all students/users in their institutions have mobile devices. Tablets are not just cool dazzling devices that you can conveniently hold in your hands for Internet browsing and reading. The gist of the whole mobile concept is that it presents a new means of interacting with information and knowledge enabling users to find, share and create information on the fly with the assistance of a rich and rapidly growing pool of apps.

Tablet use in the classroom completely changes the way instructors interact with students. Using either a cable connector or wireless adapter to connect with a projector, or tablet mirroring or using a mobile mouse app to pair up with a laptop to project a presentation, instructors are free to move around the classroom to see how students are doing while simultaneously interacting with the program or materials projected.  And they can even send out activities, polls, and quizzes to students, and invite them to participate in group learning activities.

You may say that teachers have been able to do this all along, but do you recall how difficult it was to simply share a URL so that everyone could visit and discuss the same website? Mobile apps such as Evernote and Poppet make creating and sharing snippets of information and video clips for brainstorming with a group quick and convenient.

Tablets fundamentally change the way students learn. We all know that reading a text is not the most effective way to learn. Tablets open the gateway to a multitude of multimedia content and interactive learning tools. For instance, Anatomy 4D allows health science students to explore the human body dynamically. There are information repository apps to facilitate note taking and knowledge visualization apps to generate easy to understand graphics. Furthermore, apps like Eponyms can translate medical terms for students reading a difficult article on PubMed.

This is in no way an exhaustive list of what tablets can do. As our options rapidly evolve I encourage you to look online for the best apps in education and try them out to see which ones serve your purpose, using your long time practiced information skills to evaluate them. Tablets may not become a reality in college classrooms tomorrow but certainly very soon, and you skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been, right? With so much talk about College Wide Learning Outcomes, adapting to and innovating with tablets could very well be something we all need to dip our toe into.

The presenters of this workshop generously offered their slides online at:

They also published the following books: Rethinking reference and instruction with tablets (Miller, Meier, & Moorefield-Lang), Tablet Computers in the Academic Library, and Tablet Computers in School Libraries and Classrooms (same authors). Recommended further reading is on slides 68, 69. Knock yourself out!

Written by Can Li with the assistance of John Mark Allen, Red River College Library