Are tablets the first step toward mobile or non-existent classrooms?

When students can use tablets in school, instead of books, does it mean that we're about to see completely mobile classrooms or no classrooms at all?
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

Tablet computers in schools might eventually transform our classrooms into empty shells. Is this a good thing? And who is it good for? Teachers? Students? Parents? I'm not sure. As a former student from primary, secondary, college, and graduate school, I'm just not sure. It's possible that within ten year's time, traditional classrooms will only exist for special needs children. I have mixed feelings on having mainstream students work entirely or mostly remote from other students and teachers. It's a tradeoff that I believe that we need to consider seriously before making the evolutionary leap from classroom to living room.

Education, at all levels, has been in flux for some years now. I first noticed the beginning of these changes in the early 1990s with the proliferation of "Earn your degree online" advertisements on Yahoo.com and other places. Sure, so-called correspondence courses have existed since the 1960s, or perhaps before that, but online learning has changed education's landscape for good. Correspondence courses, like online learning, are overpriced alternatives to traditional educational experiences. But as more colleges and secondary schools opt for classroom technology such as tablet computers, the prices will fall--or should.

First, consider the change from traditional to mobile classrooms at secondary and university level education. My assumption is that, for the time being, elementary education will still be conducted in traditional classrooms and schools.

Tablets used in classrooms:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Microsoft Surface
  • iPad and iPad mini
  • Android tablets
  • PC-type tablets

Mobile classrooms mean that teachers and students aren't bound to a particular location. This doesn't mean "learn from home." Mobile means that instead of meeting in a stuffy classroom, the instructor or professor can gather his or her students in corporate conference rooms, libraries (at least for as long as those still exist), sports arenas, outside on the grass, in museums, or really anywhere the teacher chooses.

There are no more limits to where classes can be conducted. Whiteboard apps, long battery life, WiFi, Cellular connectivity, and the Internet make mobile classrooms a real option. And I realize that "field trips" have always been a part of student lives, you now have the ability to take notes, take pictures, record audio, and even run an interactive Skype call or other type of teleconference with your tablet computers.

And how about those students who are too sick to come to school? There's no longer a need to force a student to attend classes if they're under the weather, or if they miss a bus, or if they have an unattractive nose zit. Mobility is a very good thing for those bad hair days, where one may still interact with other students but from behind an electronic curtain.

For those students who must travel with family, mobile classrooms are an invaluable asset for children who otherwise would miss out on an interactive, teacher-led course of study.

As for the eventual transition to no classrooms, I'm all for it if it lowers tuition and fees. There's no doubt that it lowers the cost of room and board. And for a state-supported university at almost $20,000 per year, I'm for anything that removes some of that cost. I don't believe that a college education is worth that kind of money.

The downsides of education without classrooms might outweigh the plusses for students of the future. Some of the most obvious downsides are:

  • There will be far fewer MRS degrees* available.
  • Parties will have to be arranged via Social Media.
  • No campus life.
  • Little to no face to face interaction with other students.
  • Academic cheating will be rampant.
  • Laboratory classes will cease to exist.
  • Conversations will all be via chat or texting.

Alternatively, there are a few positives to consider in the no classroom dilemma:

  • Fuel savings for cars and busses.
  • Savings on clothing.
  • No dorm space required (College).
  • No costs for room and board (College).
  • Less academic probation from too much partying (College).
  • Fewer school days missed due to illness.

But is it possible that someone could potentially attend high school, college, and graduate school, including professional school, such as Law and never see another student or a professor? I hope that the answer to that question is "No." I don't want to think that someone could earn a degree or multiple degrees with no personal interaction. 

And trust me, leaning away from remote learning is a bit of a departure for me. I didn't particularly care for school. I didn't really like competing for grades and recognition. I would have preferred to take all of my college and graduate studies online. Unfortunately, I couldn't have because I majored in Chemistry** and went to graduate school in Biochemistry. I was forcibly made to interact with other humanoids and chemicals. I much preferred chemicals to carbon-based life forms.

I digress.

Distance learning, no classrooms, mobile classrooms, and traditional learning all have their places in education. I don't believe that there is a single correct answer for everyone or every field of study. I think that tablets might revolutionize the classroom in very positive ways. I have little faith in our educational system that whatever the outcome is that it will be in the best interest of our students. One thing is certain; tablet computers will change education but only time will tell if it's for the better.

What do you think? Do you think tablets will change the way students attend classes or do you think they'll just carry tablets instead of books and notebooks? Talk back and let me know.

*MRS (Mrs.) degree refers to young women who attend college simply to find a husband. They typically major in areas such as Elementary Education; Radio, TV & Film; Mass Communications; Psychology; General Studies***; Art, etc.

**I switched to Psychology so that I could graduate from college and escape from Texas A&M University. Long story--meet me for a beer sometime and I'll tell you the whole sordid tale.

***General Studies - The degree for people who couldn't decide on a real major. Used to be referred to as Undecided, in college phone directories. I still laugh out loud when someone tells me they majored in General Studies. I always say the same thing: "You majored in Undecided?" I just can't help myself.

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