By Johanna Wilkins Bennett.
Why is it, when searching for the ‘best device for students’ in a search engine, the cogs begin to turn with some protest, spinning wheels of death appear on screen in seconds, and there is very little in the way of immediate advice and clear direction? Simple – finding one answer to this question is just too hard.
As an educator, IT director or infrastructure manager charged with solving this modern dilemma, the best place to start is with the learning needs of the students. Now that is all well and good to say – but what does that actually mean for the device decision maker?
Taking a MythBusters’ approach to this dilemma, this article looks at three criteria that are not always the obvious constraints when choosing a device – aesthetics, ergonomics and hard fun.
Adults see the world differently to their younger counterparts; black devices with black keyboards, tones of greys in logos and lettering, matt and gloss finishes all tend to bypass an adult’s senses. Adults tend to focus on the functionality of the tool rather than its look. The author has spent some considerable hours in schools watching the prolific and oh so important ritual of device personalisation. Why is it that this tribal practice is often disallowed? Adults choose their clothing, style their hair, furnish their homes and adorn their personalities with indicators of who they are and how they wish to be perceived. However, students in a school environment are stripped of this choice and are not provided with enough aesthetic adornment space for student self-expression.
Ultimately, educators want to support the ideation of self-directedness in their learners. They strive for their students to be critical and creative thinkers, original creators and producers of their own constructed content. Yet school leaders dictate everything from page size to pen colour, neat hair to sock choice. Allowing this area of ownership over the device not only supports the integration of the tool into the learning, it begins to forge pride and care over the tool itself. This is a sure-fire way to lower the service level agreement claims that are stacking up on a work bench somewhere.
The aesthetics of a device tend to be higher on the priority list for students than educators acknowledge. Lid texture, palm rest spaces next to track pads, screen edges and keys are all hallowed turf for proclaiming identity. Stickers, photos and even rhinestones tend to adorn these spaces on a device as notable badges of self, and why should they not? Adults set functionality of screen brightness or tracking speed to suit their unique learning styles; so too does the device become an extension of students and in turn an extension of their learning process. The other positive – when they do inevitably leave it somewhere, it is easily recognisable.
There are some considerations that need to come to the fore, such as weight distribution, screen size, lid locks and USB ports, but it is necessary to also consider the learning styles and aptitudes of students. The need for anywhere, anyhow, anytime learning and the merits of such practice are often talked about, yet have readers actually sat on cold concrete in an area of the playground known as the ‘wind tunnel’ without filtered canopy lighting and actually balanced a laptop on their ‘lap’ and been able to read the screen for glare? Classrooms no longer need the focus to be directed by a single tool, whether that is the whiteboard on the wall or where the data projects to. Students now carry with them their own viewing tool, so make sure that tool meets particular needs. Does the screen have a matt finish for glare minimisation when vertical and angled viewing is required or for when the screen may be detached and horizontal in tablet mode? Is the weight distribution between the keyboard section and detached screen equal or unequal? Does this hinder or help the clipping in and unclipping process for small, non-dexterous fingers? Does it work for stomach mode? That is, on the floor! If the device screen flips back onto itself and the keyboard tucks under so that it can be held in tablet mode, is it too top heavy so it just keeps flipping to the floor? Or does it need a vice-like grip that requires most of a student’s focus to hold it, and creates non-essential task redundancy of a student’s working memory to sustain? Or has is been discovered that students should not remove the screen of the two in one if working outside?
Imagine like a child and visualise from the students’ perspective. The poignancy of that point of view may transform the choice. How they will hold the device? Use it? Place it is unusual circumstances to catch the right camera angle or to measure the height of the basketball hoop or to record their culinary creations? This tool will be asked to go to places that Captain Kirk never imagined and will lead educators to think beyond the ergonomic desk and chair scenario.
Learning should be hard fun. It should encapsulate wonder, discovery, multimedia extravaganzas and more than reading a maths textbook off a screen. Learning should make learners think, ponder, grow neural pathways and enjoy! Consider a device that will support these elements of learning. Yes, storage, RAM, software and peripherals all come into play to support the action ability of these elements, but also make considerations for what is not known. The early Bauhaus Movement said it best, “Form follows function.” It seems obvious, but is often forgotten – the teaching and learning, the ‘hard fun’, the heutagogy, should shape the device choice, not vice versa.
Where is the discovery and the fun in the creation of moving pictures if the device does not have a camera? Where is the ease of transition and fluidity of thought if a touch screen is not considered? How can a moment be relished and unpacked and explored if immediate inking is not available?
Have educators ever really watched a learner manipulate a tool? Despite their initial ideas on visual learning styles, the act is much more kinaesthetic than first believed. There is a quick flick here, and a swish there, a drag, a copy, a paste, a drop.
Maria Montessori once said, “Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes through his movements.” Intellectual activity is not motionless. Learning encompasses all action, and educational theory and practice is informed by this idea. A device is an extension of this busy, kinetic, actionable process of hard fun. Consider all possibilities.
Johanna Wilkins Bennet is a professional learning and innovation specialist at Expanding Learning Horizons. She has extensive experience in education in various roles, including ICT specialist, technology and applied studies educator, ICT integrator, gifted and talented coordinator, facilitator of learning enhancement, head of middle years program (IB MYP) and most recently head of secondary. She holds a number of qualifications including a Masters of Educational Leadership, Graduate Diploma Education Secondary, Bachelor of Applied Arts and Bachelor of Creative Arts.
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