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Bill Gates Doesn’t Believe Tablets Belong in the Classroom (video)

Love him or hate him, Bill Gates has been a strong influence on tech, education, and many other fields. The Chronicle posted an interview of Bill Gates yesterday, and they talked with him about a wide variety of topics. The complete interview is well worth a read, but I’m mainly interested in what Bill had to say about tablets. He’d rather see laptops in the classroom. Rather funny that, considering Microsoft announced the Surface Tablet only last week.

Here’s an excerpt from this particular answer:

Just giving people devices has a really horrible track record. You really have to change the curriculum and the teacher. And it’s never going to work on a device where you don’t have a keyboard-type input. Students aren’t there just to read things. They’re actually supposed to be able to write and communicate. And so it’s going to be more in the PC realm—it’s going to be a low-cost PC that lets them be highly interactive.

Given that I don’t think I can get my blogging done without a keyboard, you might be surprised to find out that I think he’s wrong. It’s not just that you can add a wireless keyboard to a tablet, or that you can use the onscreen keyboard. Nor is it that the small size of many desks in the average high school classroom.

I simply don’t think you need a keyboard to create nor do you even need one to write. If it were necessary then schools would have issued typewriters or word processors to students decades ago. Most all the HS I attended had either typewriter labs (older schools) or computer labs (newer schools), and yet I did nearly all my schoolwork by hand, including writing papers.

What’s more, his position ignores the fact that there’s far more ways to create content that simply typing. I don’t believe I have the space to list them all, but it would start at drawing  and email and continue to scribbled notes and go on from there. About the only type of creation where a KB would clearly win out over a touchscreen would be long form typing. That’s not enough of a reason to require a laptop over a tablet.

And I think I already have proof that Bill is wrong.  The San Diego USD recently switched from issuing laptops to issuing iPads. They bought 27 thousand iPads this year and plan to pass them out next fall.  In past years they purchased netbooks. While battery life was likely a driving factor for the switch, I bet the SDUSD looked at how students would use the iPads (vs laptops) and realized keyboards weren’t that important.

via The Chronicle

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Sherri June 27, 2012 um 3:16 am

My daughter just finished her junior year in high school, and keyboards were still pretty essential. She has her own laptop, which she uses for homework many nights. She uses it for researching and accessing material on the web, writing long-form papers and lab reports, creating PowerPoint presentations, editing photos and videos, sending emails and documents among group members and communicating with teachers, and turning in homework assignments to a plagiarism detection service. We have an iPad, and I don’t know about her, but I’d rather do her work on a laptop than an iPad.

Next year, due to severe overcrowding, she’ll have the option of a school issued netbook to supplement textbooks, so they can eliminate lockers to improve flow in the hallways, but she’ll probably stick with her laptop.

Nate Hoffelder June 27, 2012 um 9:35 am

Yes, but how much of that research, homework, and emailing was done in class?

Sherri June 27, 2012 um 12:08 pm

In class, she mostly used paper and pencil, for taking notes on lectures. I don’t think an iPad is going to be more suited for that than a laptop, either. If they were working on a project, she either brought in her laptop, or they were using computers in the library.

Logan Kennelly June 27, 2012 um 4:21 am

To state that tablets are just as capable is laptops is simply jumping onto the current fad. Your comparison of the ease of using paper for entry and submitting that paper for grading to the same workflow on a tablet is laughable. How do you envision that? Develop new software that accepts paged, free-form input into documents that can then be printed? Develop the same system but allow for some form of electronic submission? It’s possible, but we are probably five years away from that, at least, and their development assumes we keep throwing resources down that hole.

How about we simplify the scenario: how many years away from scribbled emails do you think we are? Do you think people want sloppy handwriting compared to text?

How about doing some research… A typical person will find the articles/documents they want, keep them organized to the side as they find them, and then quickly jump between references. On a laptop, this is a trivial task. On today’s tablets this is extremely painful. Are you suggesting the workflow is bad and that research should consist of finding and consuming individual documents? Or are you suggesting some more specialized software for note referencing and quick access?

Are students going to be faster typing search queries (lets not kid ourselves about the state of voice input) on a touchscreen or a keyboard?

Can you create with just a touchscreen? Sure. Do touchscreens add value? Yes. Should touchscreens be the primary or even only form of input for the foreseeable future? Not even remotely. We can dedicate huge pools of talent and resources to making the tablet experience on par with a laptop, but is it worth it to chase some fad?

What I really want to see going forward is workflows that integrate the keyboard and touchscreen into traditional computing experiences. I can foresee great potential there, but there is very little marketing push behind touchscreen laptops.

Tablets are a new and developing space in the market (as were netbooks), but let’s not declare the death of decades of experience too lightly.

PS: Thank you for not submitting this article in handwriting. Normal handwriting is bad enough, touchscreen handwriting may as well be pictographs.

Nate Hoffelder June 27, 2012 um 8:57 am

First, let me say that I was addressing his point about needing keyboards in the classroom, not the general case of tablets vs laptops.

"How about we simplify the scenario: how many years away from scribbled emails do you think we are? Do you think people want sloppy handwriting compared to text?"

Lots of people already do their emailing on smartphones and tablets – even me. For the most part this doe not require a physical keyboard.

And as for research, how much of that is done in a classroom vs after a student leaves class? I don’t envision students doing nearly enough research while in class that they’d require a keyboard. Yes, they’ll look stuff up, but I’m not sure they’ll get much beyond web browsing while in class.

Logan Kennelly June 27, 2012 um 12:38 pm

Taking the article title along with what you wrote in the article, I interpreted it as a case for tablets in the classroom. (Especially that bit at the end about San Diego buying tablets.) If the option is no tablets or laptops much of the time, then I’ll encourage a computer-free classroom environment.

Lots of people email without a keyboard, but touch-typing is still more efficient for entering text. Touchscreens encourage shorter responses (which may be a good thing!),

And you are right, of course, about research. For the most part, research is not done in the classroom.

DavidW June 27, 2012 um 10:26 am

I don’t think that students need either tablets or laptops in the classroom. The schools are required to bring technology to the classroom, and are compelled to do so even when there is no game plan. Gates ultimate point is 100% right. You can’t bring technology into the classroom and hope that by magic it makes a difference. You need to train the teachers in ways to use it productively. While laptops have been around long enough that this has been done for laptops, it has not been done for tablets. I’ve seen schools in which they brought in Nook Colors and Ipads… and did not know at all what to do with them! They ultimately used them as glorified ereaders when THE SCHOOL ALREADY OWNED THE BOOKS the students were required to read. This is not innovation, this is clueless administrators jumping on a fad without proper planning.

Tyler June 27, 2012 um 11:06 am

It seems to me that they are using the tablets to replace text books. There may be an assumption that most of the house holds have computers or maybe information missing that we do not know about.

The Digital Reader – The Best News and Info on eReaders and Tablets June 27, 2012 um 7:04 pm

[…] by Nate Hoffelder · No Comments · opinionYesterday I posted an argument in favor of tablets in the classroom; today I have a reason why you might want to stick with a laptop (or BYOD).Audrey Watters posted […]

Barry Hoffman July 20, 2012 um 11:10 pm

We are in an era where technology is overwhelming education. It seems to answer to every wrong (other than foolish standardized tests) is to tap into the latest technological gadget. Kids from the age of 11 have cell phones and routinely text one another dozens of times a day. Email is so old school as is Instant Messaging. Now you text. You don’t talk on the phone to a friend … you text a friend over and over again. It’s possible that tablets have a role in schools but I’d rather have students read old-fashioned books made of paper. I’d rather have teachers present lessons rather than see students learn their lessons on a tablet or the next big thing to be invented. Gates may be taking it a bit too far but too much technology can be harmful, especially when it comes to learning social skills and interacting with others.

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