Normally, the group of nine students meets at the Families First KEYSPOT computer lab, outfitted with desktop computers, each with an external mouse and keyboard. In the Tech St@rs after school program, they watch engaging video lessons and learn how to type, use email, browse the web, and use basic Microsoft Office applications, all in an effort to better prepare them to thrive in a society that takes those skills for granted. To the students, using tablets was a treat.
But not all of them loved the experience. When asked, “How many of you had fun using the tablets today instead of a desktop?” there were mixed responses. Some loved the new, fun technology but others were frustrated, especially when they had to type answers to questions.
Indeed, part of the lesson was in understanding the limitations of tablets. “My goal is to teach students how the computer works and what kind of computers we know, but most important how it can be adapted to their education needs,” says instructor Claudia Trani Melgar. “Some devices can be better than others.” Tablets, Claudia commented, “are easy to use and offer a variety of applications that can be engaging, fun, and educational at the same time.”
But tablets have limitations, too. For example, the students were excited to use a touchscreen keyboard at first, but after a few minutes they asked to switch to an external keyboard, which can be much more efficient. That’s why students in Tech St@rs learn typing skills. “[T]hese new skills on a keyboard can show students how to type faster and create documents,” which is harder on a tablet.
But in many other cases, the simplified format of a tablet makes it easier to use, and, as Claudia notes, “Most importantly kids love them!”