Zooming in on tablet technology

12th October 2012 at 01:00

Primary teacher friends have started noticing the occasional small child who is frustrated that pictures in storybooks don't zoom. Such a pupil is easy to spot: he is the one pressing his thumb and forefinger against the page, fruitlessly making reverse-pinch motions.

For the generation arriving in primary schools today, touch screen technology is normal, even expected. Indeed, for many of us the finger gesture controls of swipes and pinches now seem natural, even though multi-touch screens have only come into widespread use since the advent of the iPhone a few years ago.

The touch-sensitive device that appears to have captured teachers' imaginations the most is - of course - the iPad. We could be coy here and pretend this week's report is about tablet computers in general. Indeed, other brands' versions were being tried out in classrooms long before Apple's invention was even in development.

But this isn't Blue Peter - we don't need to say "sticky-back plastic" when really we mean Sellotape. There will no doubt be other tablet computers that take off in the education sector, but for the time being it is the iPad that has dominance, and it is the only one that schools appear to be buying in bulk. When TES worked with the charity SHINE recently on a scheme to fund innovative projects for teaching literacy and numeracy, the number of teachers specifically requesting grants for iPads was staggering.

However, this week's report is not an advertorial for Apple. There are downsides to iPads. The main one is the same for any new classroom technology: if it is not used intelligently then it just ends up being a shiny, expensive toy. A more specific downside to the device is that while iPads are delightful for consumption - reading, watching and browsing - they are arguably not so good for creation. (These words are being written on an iPad, but one linked to a Bluetooth keyboard as it makes typing easier.)

There is also a wider point to consider: should we be encouraging young children to take interactive technology for granted?

Sometimes a book is just a book, and the pictures do not zoom.

Michael Shaw is editor of TESpro

michael.shaw@tes.co.uk @mrmichaelshaw.

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