Five clever ways tablets can make teachers’ lives easier

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In the few short years since the original iPad was released in 2010, tablets have turned the computing world on its head. Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all devoted enormous developmental and marketing resources toward their lines of tablets and tablet operating systems. As of October 2012—barely two years after the iPad’s release—a quarter of adults in the US owned a tablet, and given tablets’ white-hot popularity as holiday gifts, that number has certainly continued to skyrocket. Tablets will soon outsell laptops, and projections suggest that about 80 million tablets will be sold every year by 2018.

Consumers love tablets. They’re excellent as casual-use “living room computers.” But once you get off the couch and walk into your classroom, what can a tablet do for you? Isn’t a laptop good enough? Is it worth making a tablet part of your teaching routine?

The five ideas below highlight some areas in which tablets can complement or surpass a classroom laptop.

Five clever ways tablets can make teachers’ lives easier

  1. For presentations, leave the laptop at home. With apps like Prezi (iOS, free), Google Drive (iOS and Android, free), and Quickoffice Pro HD (iOS and Android, $19.99), tablets are more than capable of handling most day-to-day tasks a classroom laptop would normally be used for, including running slide presentations. As an experiment, I went laptop-free in my classroom for a month, and although things didn’t always go 100% smoothly (it can be a chore to rewrite slides on the fly on a touchscreen, for example!), I survived, and my back thanked me for not lugging around my 15″ laptop!
  2. Collect homework without taking it from the student. When students miss class or lag behind during multi-day, multi-stage projects, your homework collection plans can fall apart. Even the best-prepared teachers encounter the dilemma of what to do when a student brings in one preliminary stage of a project or essay a day or two late. If you collect it from the student, you risk letting them fall further behind while they wait for you to return it with feedback; but if you don’t collect it, they won’t get any feedback at all! If you have a tablet with a decent camera, however, you’re covered. Just take a digital photo. Or if you want to get a bit fancy, use a “camera scanner” app like CamScanner (iOS or Android; free and premium versions available) to achieve a cleaner, crisper, deskewed image ready for printing or digital annotation. And speaking of digital annotation…
  3. iAnnotate in action

    Provide rich, multi-modal feedback. With a decent annotation app like iAnnotate (iOS, $9.99; Android, forthcoming), you can mark up students’ papers with freehand notes and sketches, drop in some typed “speech bubble” comments, and even record some audio messages with your feedback. Highlight, underline, or strike out passages at will. And then synchronize the file to a cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive for archival or email it directly to the student.

  4. Assess students’ spoken work more robustly and accurately. In assessing student presentations and speeches, the humble notebook or legal pad has long been the teacher’s best friend. However, our scribbled notes aren’t always as complete as we’d like them to be– especially if they sit in a drawer for a few days before we get the chance to write out a more complete evaluation. Even with the best notes, it can be difficult to give accurate, incisive feedback after the fact. Notetaking apps like Notability (iOS, $1.99) provide you with the same comfortable freehand-writing experience as a pad of paper, but include 21st-century features like synchronized audio recording and the ability to take photographs and embed them in your notes. Now you can give your students’ speeches another listen to refresh your memory or glance over photographs of the visual aids they employed in their presentations.
  5. Keep students engaged by updating your CMS or class blog with multimedia content on the fly. Tablets make posting photographs, audio, and video recordings to the Internet effortless. With one device, you can capture, edit, and publish content to your class blog or CMS to keep students engaged outside of the classroom—especially for absent students. Take photos of group brainstorms on the blackboard. Video record your guest speaker. Audio record a warm-up verb conjugation exercise or two. And then push that content out to your students.

What are your options?

Some up-to-date, popular tablet choices as of February 2013 include:

Of these options, the table below shows that the Kindle Fire HD is clearly the cheapest full-size popular tablet. Personally, however, I would stick with Google’s Nexus line, because they come pre-configured to work with Google’s ecosystem of apps and also enjoy rapid deployment of Android operating system updates. The iPad enjoys massive popularity, of course, and the Microsoft Surface is brand new and being promoted aggressively.

Do you (or a colleague) ever use a tablet in the classroom? If so, how has it changed your workflow? What new tricks and techniques have you come up with? Sound off in the comments!


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February 14, 2013Permalink 5 Comments

5 thoughts on “Five clever ways tablets can make teachers’ lives easier

  1. It was very useful to read your clever ways of using a tablet in the classroom. I want to buy one, but can’t find one that I am convinced about 100% and that will function for all my needs as a ESL instructor. I need to blog on the tablet very quickly, be able to download videos, music, books; check emails, take photos etc.
    I will check out the google nexus line and see if I’m convinced!
    Thank you

    • Thanks, and good luck with your search! Keep in mind that most (if not all) tablets support the use of wireless Bluetooth keyboards, so if you’re planning to do some heavy typing in the classroom blog, that might be a good thing to invest in!

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