In this lengthy feature about the use of Amplify tablets in schools, writer Carlo Rotella expresses skepticism about the promised potential of these devices providing a better education. He brings up the usual questions around too much screen time, the deluge of data to already overwhelmed teachers, and the lack of research around learning outcomes from using tablets.

Though some of the teachers he interviews can see the promise of true personalized learning for each student, he emphasizes that, in the end, it’s up to teachers to make it work.

“Individualizing instruction does lead to better outcomes — if teachers can manage the environment to make that happen.”

But, he asks, is it worth the massive investments when it all comes down to the teacher’s skills, anyway?

“If everyone agrees that good teachers make all the difference, wouldn’t it make more sense to devote our resources to strengthening the teaching profession with better recruitment, training, support and pay? It seems misguided to try to improve the process of learning by putting an expensive tool in the hands of teachers we otherwise treat like the poor relations of the high-tech whiz kids who design the tool.”

Sally Hurd Smith, a veteran teacher, held up her brand-new tablet computer and shook it as she said, “I don’t want this thing to take over my classroom.” It was late June, a month before the first day of school.

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  • MrsKStats

    My AP Statistics students were given e-book access and the option to have a hard copy of the textbook. I was surprised to see that while most students opted for the e-book at first, every day a few more ask for a hard copy. Even if they have Internet access at home, the textbook server has turned out to be slow and unreliable. Even though the publisher has assured me that there is no limit to how many students may access the book at one time, it seems to be a problem.

    • Offie Clark

      You are naming issues with the actual technology and hardware rather than how the e-book was implemented in the classroom. What if the “textbook server” was lightning fast? Would that have been a transparent experience for your students or would the actual structure and function (The user experience) of the e-book be a limiting factor in it’s adoption? In the days of dial-up we didn’t blame the slow speeds to the point where we gave up pon using the internet, as engineers and smart people we improved the experience until it became nearly transparent.

  • gkunz

    Discussions around the goodness of this technology may be the wrong focus here.
    Mobile access to the Web and all that implies is and will increasingly be the reality. Think – always on, always available and at a cost and form factor that will make it ubiquitous in the lives of students and teachers. The Genie is out of that bottle and we can get in front of the trend and try and shape its application or be left behind as irrelevant.

  • Gabriel Maldonado

    The assumption that technology is a limiting factor in learning seems to me to miss the boat entirely. Aside from the fact that there is virtually no evidence (and not from lack of trying) linking technoloigy use to actual gains in learning in any area, there is the key questions of investment tradeoffs. Learning is NOT limited by lack of information or access to information. It is limited by the inability of the learner to prioritize, make sense, incorporate, organize, give structure and meaning to information (and to the concepts and thoeries that give meaning to the information) – and for this internet access just ADDS to the noise that is already overwhelming the novice learner. Cool factor aside, does the novice learner of, say in my field biology, really gain that much from a moving 3d version of a DNA molecule that they could not gain from a simpler old fashion 2-d static rendition of it? (or a real world 3-d model). I doubt it. Biology textbooks already contain an overabundance of information, giving learners even more ramifications of information (or even more broken down, zoomable, or multiplied forms of representation) simply add noise. Navegating through this virtual maze is only going to add more confusion. Often LESS is really MORE. And good teaching and good textbooks really are about the art of simplification (not the art of complication!) and of structuring relationships between bits of knowledge, concepts and theories with corresponding images, diagrams and visual representations, that are easy to remember and call back on.

    This aside from the increasingly disturbing findings that for elementary level learners may actually be harmed by certain quantities of electronic media time…..

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