Research and Development

Tablets in Schools - Some Thoughts on Using Them for Writing

In this post I will deal with writing on the android -tablet, Acer Iconia 500 tab, I've been trying out for a about a week now. While I do this I'm projecting my mind, so to speak, into a classroom and school setting.

When one is asked to evaluate a new thing, be it what it may, the natural tendency is to compare it with something known. The known options are the laptop and desktop. But these tools on the one hand and tablets on the other are designed for different purposes, right? If I would ask a carpenter to compare the usability of a big saw designed for sawing planks and  a small hand jigsaw he would probably say the obvious: "It depends on what you want to do". When people compare, some believe that a tab is no-go in school because compared to devices with keyboards, its hard to use it for writing and you write a lot in school. Let's see. Have a look at the tube below from 4:00 onwards.

It's an Ipad, but the same points concern our android friends. Honestly, I don't think anybody knows if we will have to carry external keyboards with us forever, but somehow it seems unlikely. One thing to remember is that people who have used normal keyboards for 15+ years have a different approach than young pupils in school. It is possible that students will adopt the touchscreen and it's future versions for writing without any great loss of speed or convenience. My personal experience however is the same as our Pad Lady in the video: it's ok for short stuff, but not nice at all if you need to write long things. So: You do need a external keyboard, if a tablet is your only mobile device and you write a lot AND you don't want to suffer for X amount of time.

One very important point is illustrated in this video, and that is the support that keeps the tablet upright. During my first days of tabbing I got a serious neck ache from looking downwards. I like the little tripod that she uses, but I suppose there will appear many options as time goes by, like this one for example.

If you google "writing with pad / tablet" most of the stuff that comes up has to do with the Ipad. And a great part of that stuff about writing-apps for Ipad. There are roughly two ways to go from here. One is to search for a good "office" -like application for android that can work offline, and the other is to go with GoogleDocs. To make it short, I haven't found anything good for the offline -option and the mobile version on GoogleDocs don't really satisfy either.  I'm going to keep testing and searching, but for the time being writing, say, an essay would be a painful experience. I hope this is temporary and that I can return to this blog after some days and say I have the solution. We'll see.

So let's compare a little. According to what we saw on the video, writing on a tablet is not necessarily a problem, since some choose it freely. The point is to have an external keyboard at hand when you need it. For the time being the lack on android is in the applications. I hope that we will see some seriously good web -based writing tools with offline capabilities soon and being the optimist I am, I think we will.