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1 Tablet

Patricia Rosen, Memorial University of Newfoundland

2 Definitions and background

Tablet computers first made an appearance as far back as the 1980s as convertible laptops or standalone slates that used Windows operating systems (Coniam, 2013). The novelty of these early tablet pcs was their portability, their connectedness via Wi-Fi and, more notably, their stylus and digital ink handwriting recognition technology that allowed users to write directly onto the tablet (Reins, 2007). These machines were expensive compared to other types of computers (Weitz, Wachsmuth, & Mirliss, 2006). Tablet PCs were first used in education in middle and high schools and gradually made their way into primary and post-secondary institutions (Couse & Chen, 2010). Since 2010, with the introduction of Apple’s touch tablet computer, the iPad, and the since proliferation of other touch tablets, they became increasingly recognized as compelling learning tools for students and teachers (Li et al, 2010). Fabian and MacLean (2014) noted a growing interest in their potential as learning tools. Later tablets had touch screens that were large enough for convenience of use yet small enough for ease of portability as well as for their multimedia capabilities via numerous apps and their wifi or 3G connectivity (Chen, 2013).

3 Affordances

Tablets have increased motivation and engagement in users (Aksu, 2014). Connell, Bayliss, and Farmer (2012) reported that undergraduate students preferred tablets for reading text over e-readers and paper printouts because they were easier to read. This ease of use transferred to creative activities, such as drawing by young children (Couse & Chen, 2010), the discussion of math proofs by distance education learners (Galligan, Hobohn, & Loch, 2012), or the creation of teaching materials by student-teachers (Miller & Cinnamon, 2013). Learners were also able to quickly and easily find information with a tablet in hand and the particular affordance of tablets in this area lay in their portability (Twining & Evans, 2005). Students used tablets to access information or to create artefacts without having to juggle a laptop or be tethered to a wall, and this granted seamless learning in the classroom without detracting from face-to-face activities (Li & Pow, 2011). It also allowed for greater interaction between students and teachers as well as with their peers than laptops (Galligan et al, 2012). Mang and Wardley (2013) found that they reduced social media distractions since tablets did not use the same multiple window interface as traditional computers or laptops. Seamless learning also occurred between formal and informal learning spaces. Coupled with a tablet’s Wi-Fi or 3G access, this also allowed for greater collaboration (Park & Burford, 2013) and more instances of anytime, anywhere learning than other computers as users were able to access their learning networks wherever they were (Pegrum, Howitt, & Striepe, 2013). Reychav and Wu (2014) discovered that the tablet’s multimedia learning environment heightened perceived effects of learning and performance in the field for young driving students. Weitz et al’s (2006) results demonstrated a strong positive perception of the tablet’s learning and teaching potential among university faculty.

Twining and Evans (2005) reported that the tablet was a personal learning device due to its interactive screen capabilities and its opportunities were maximized when the user owned the device him or herself (Fabian & MacLean, 2014). The ability to touch the screen and manipulate what was seen proved to be more than just easy or fun but also enhanced learning (Schneps, Ruel, Sonnert, Dussault, Griffin, & Sadler, 2014). Kosheleva et al (2007) also discovered this to be true when using a stylus as compared to a mouse in earlier tablets. The gesture-based interface of newer tablets triggered neurocognitive capabilities through embodiment (Schneps et al, p. 275). They discovered that by being able to touch the screen and zoom in on images from outer space, high school students better understood the widely mistaken concept of astronomical scale. They posited that a tablet’s portability, gesture-based interface, and multimedia learning environment offered the potential for learning and understanding activities that had not been previously possible.

4 Constraints

Early users of tablets were frustrated by short battery lives and long learning curves for the use of handwriting recognition technology (Galligan et al, 2012) though younger users were less frustrated (Couse & Chen, 2010). The introduction of the touch-screen tablets in 2010 largely resolved these complaints, though other issues appeared with the new technology. Most notably, tablets were not a replacement for desktop or laptop computers and frustration ensued when they were used in that manner. On the part of the user, keyboarding activities such as copying and pasting were difficult and touch typing was virtually impossible on a touch screen display (Mang & Wardley, 2013). For IT departments, managing tablets in the same way as more traditional computer systems was difficult at best and Pegrum et al, (2013) reported that tablets were most effective when owned by the user. Schools that purchased tablets with the intention of managing them in the same way they managed multi-user computer labs ran up against issues because they could not be managed in the same way (Fabian & MacLean, 2014).

Some of the tablet’s potential affordances were impeded by its ease of use. Fabian and Maclean (2014) discovered that without instructor led guidance and scaffolding users could not be expected to make the learning gains tablets offered. Park and Burford (2013) identified the emergence of a “…second-level digital divide…” (p. 277) that was created when learners were left to their own devices and were not provided with the instructional guidance needed for deep learning. Galligan et al (2012) also recognized the potential for learner frustration without sequential learning activities about using tablet technology; and, in studying the effects of learning about astronomical scale, Schneps et al (2014), determined that while some implicit learning occurred quickly, learning was not maximized without instructor support and guidance and therefore opportunities were reduced without it. Reins’ (2007) earlier study of perceptions of tablet use demonstrated positive teacher perceptions of tablets when supported with effective professional development for both technology and pedagogy.

Some final constraints were related to user reluctance. Connell et al (2013) discovered a clear preference for reading on a tablet but they also found that users may be reluctant to choose it as it took longer to read on a tablet than on paper or with an eBook reader. Aksu (2014) identified other possible disadvantages of tablets when he reported on candidate math teacher perceptions of tablet use. These were reduced interaction between teachers and students, reduced social interactions between students, and the possible propensity towards pre-packaged knowledge. Aksu also reported on a worry of radiation as a result of tablet use (p.53).

5 Links

Creative Classrooms Lab: Pan-European policy experimentation with tablets. (2014)

Educause Library. (2014). Tablets and iPads

No Child Left Untableted by Carlo Rotella, September 12, 2103 in the New York Times

Tablets for Schools twitter feed @T4STweets

Tablets Missing on Campus: Students Prefer Laptops for Learning by Erik J. Martin, May 9 2014 in EContent.

6 Works Cited

Aksu, H. (2014). An evaluation into the views of candidate mathematics teachers over “tablet computers” to be applied in secondary schools. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 13(1), 47-55.

Chen, X. (2013). Tablets for informal language learning: student usage and attitudes. Language Learning & Technology, 17(1), 20-36.

Coniam, D. (2013). The increasing acceptance of onscreen marking - the 'tablet computer' effect. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 16(3), 119-129.

Connell, C., Bayliss, L., & Farmer, W. (2012). Effects of eBook readers and tablet computers on reading comprehension. International Journal of Instructional Media, 39(2), 131-140.

Couse, L. J., & Chen, D. W. (2010). A tablet computer for young children? exploring its viability for early childhood education. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(1), 75-98.

Fabian, K., & MacLean, D. (2014). Keep taking the tablets? Assessing the use of tablet devices in learning and teaching activities in the Further Education sector. Research in Learning Technology, 22, 1-14.

Galligan, L., Hobohm, C., & Loch, B. (2012). Tablet technology to facilitate improved interaction and communication with students studying mathematics at a distance. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 31(4), 363-385. Retrieved from

Kosheleva, O., Medina-Ruschb, A., & Ioudinac, V. (2007). Pre-service teacher training in mathematics using tablet PC technology. Informatics in Education, 6(2), 321-334.

Li, S., Pow, J., Wong, E., & Fung, A. (2010). Empowering student learning through Tablet PCs: A case study. Education and Information Technologies, 15(3), 171-180.

Li, S. C., & Pow, J. W. C. (2011). Affordance of deep infusion of one-to-one tablet-PCs into and beyond classroom. International Journal of Instructional Media, 38(4), 319.

Mang, C., & Wardley, L. (2013). Student perceptions of using tablet technology in post-secondary classes/Perceptions des étudiants quant à l’utilisation des tablettes électroniques dans les classes universitaires. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology/La Revue Canadienne de L’Apprentissage et de la Technologie, 39(4), 1-16.

Miller, G., & Cinnamon, S. (2013). The Pad-agogy of Historical Thinking: Using digital tablets in a social studies teaching methods course. Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology, 9(1), 112-130. Retrieved from

Park, S., & Burford, S. (2013). A longitudinal study on the uses of mobile tablet devices and changes in digital media literacy of young adults. Educational Media International, 50(4), 266-280.

Pegrum, M., Howitt, C., & Striepe, M. (2013). Learning to take the tablet: How pre-service teachers use iPads to facilitate their learning. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 29(4), 464-479.

Reins, K. (2007). Digital Tablet PCs as New Technologies of Writing and Learning: A Survey of Perceptions of Digital Ink Technology. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 158-177. Retrieved from

Reychav, I., & Wu, D. (2014). Exploring mobile tablet training for road safety: A uses and gratifications perspective. Computers & Education, 71, 43-55.

Schneps, M., Ruel, J., Sonnert, G., Dussault, M., Griffin, M., & Sadler, P. (2014). Conceptualizing astronomical scale: Virtual simulations on handheld tablet computers reverse misconceptions. Computers & Education, 70, 269-280.

Twining, P., & Evans, D. (2005). Should there be a future for Tablet PCs in schools? Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2005(2). Retrieved from

Weitz, R. R., Wachsmuth, B., & Mirliss, D. (2006). The tablet PC for faculty: A pilot project. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 9(2), 68-83.