The Missing Link

Thanks to Maurice for his comment yesterday and a link to his post “Tablets and Transforming Education-Much is Needed Before it Should Happen“.  He made reference to it as a result of my posting about “Useless Gadgets”.  It had me thinking about something that I don’t have an answer to and to me, that’s the missing link in a lot of things with technology integration.

Let’s roll back the clock.  I took Typing in Grade 9.  And, I mean Typing.  We had those education typewriters with the blank keys on the keyboard presumably to reduce the urge to look.  I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard the instructions “Hands on the home row, feet flat on the floor, eyes on your copy – Begin”.

In the fall of my Grade 9 year, I didn’t type all that well.  In fact, I believe that my first term report had a whopping 60% or something.  At my dad’s place of work, they were replacing manual typewriters with electric ones and he bought one of the castaways to put on my desk and practice to pick up my marks.  I actually did that (and the typewriter also substituted for a set of weights in my bedroom) and ended the year with marks in the 90s.  I’ve never looked back or regretted the time spent to learn that skill.

In Grade 10, I took a course called “Business Machines” which arguably was the best mathematics course I ever took.  We learned how to solve all sorts of business problems using calculating machines.  Productivity went through the roof when, as a right handed person, I learned to operate the machine with my left hand so that I could keep a pencil active in the right.

Both skills proved invaluable in programming.  I could type and calculate with the best of them although the numeric keypad was on the wrong side of the keyboard.  I was so happy to have these skills and they remain in use today on laptops like the one I’m keying on right now.

In his comment, Maurice talks about tablets becoming the “Swiss Army Knife” of devices.  Therein I think I’m having a gap imagining this.

It’s not that I don’t like my iPad.  It’s portable and is a great tool for a lot of things that I do…except for serious writing.  Yes, I really like the WordPress application and I have tapped out some posts on the glass screen.  I did a presentation once and part of their thanks ended up in a case with a bluetooth keyboard.  That’s certainly a better tool for my purposes and I’ll use that when I’m writing longer material but it’s still just a bit smaller than what I’m used to and editing and revising remains a challenge to me.  I’ve yet to get my hands on a Microsoft Surface.  Maybe my opinion would change.

But tablets have voice recognition.  Uh huh.  Captain Picard is the only one I know that could reliably get a computer to get his orders correct!  I know I can’t but I do know that I have a nasal voice.  But, voice recognition in a class of 30?

What about keyboarding then?  I know that we licensed a program and made it available everywhere, compulsory at Grade 4 and recommended for review at Grade 9.  It still is frustrating though, with my keyboarding abilities, to watch hunters and peckers fumble at a keyboard when a little practice and skill development would go a long way.

But kids won’t need to keyboard.  They have their phone and just need to tap their way to literacy.  I do have another problem seeing that happening and with suggestive spelling, I don’t know.

Back to the concept of tablet as “Swiss Army Knife”.  Yes, it’s powerful.  Yes, it’s an enabler for media creation.  Yes, it’s so good at the things that it does well.  But is it the powerful knife that’s described or is it just a tool in the knife that’s pulled out when the time is right.  At some times, are there are other, better, more appropriate tool?  Is the most powerful skill knowing which tool to use?

I’m also not so set in my ways to admit I’ve got it wrong if I’m missing seeing the link.  If I am, please let me know.  Ingrained skills are so hard to kick.

p.s. don’t look too closely – I still use two spaces after a period.  Learned that in Grade 9 too.

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6 thoughts on “The Missing Link”

  1. Enjoyed reading this because I can relate! I took typing in summer school decades ago and it was the best investment ever. But, I also can’t break the old habit of double spacing after periods. Twitter is helping with that! Why give up a character space when I might need it? Ha, ha. Lots to think about with new tech tools. Sometimes it’s a little frightening in restaurants to see entire families (even the one in the highchair) tapping away on their mobile and game devices. Not sure why it is…perhaps it’s the Weekly Reader I read in 6th grade that implied our pointer fingers would one day grow to be the size of bananas because all we’d be doing is pushing buttons in the future. Yikes. However, I love how accessible learning is for my students now. After more than 30 years in the classroom, I now pass out iPads rather than worksheets and marvel at the learning. Missing links or not…tablets are changing classrooms.

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  2. Positively agreed on your assessment of tablets. There’s an iPad laid on the couch right next to me and while I spend lots of time browsing the web with it there’s no way I would ever try to construct anything longer than a one-liner. Nope–I’m using the laptop for this!

    I’m with an outfit called CDLI and our main mission is to provide distance education opportunities to students in the rural parts of my province. For the past decade or so and certainly for the next few years our delivery will be centered around PCs. Why–because they are the best fit for our needs.

    Specifically, the students need to interact daily using blackboard collaborate (used to be elluminate live) and desire2learn. As well students will also be spending significant time, depending on the course, using various Microsoft Office appls, various Adobe Creative Suite apps as well as more high end appls such as Solid Works. They all have one thing in common: there’s NO WAY you would have much of a satisfactory experience if you tried to do any of this (with the possible exception of desire2learn) on a tablet!

    That said, I do look forward to a time in the not-to-distant future when some of our class activities un-tether the students from the desktops. Here are some possibilities:
    – when blackboard collaborate has a solid tablet app, perhaps our live, synchronous classes may take place on them. Viewing recorded classes for students who missed can certainly go there.
    – desire2learn, certainly; it is getting better in the mobile environment.
    – videoconference portions of classes (music, skilled trades and art) can probably move from the large polycom units to the polycom app for tablets.
    – of course many web activities can probably be ported to tablets.
    – reading of materials that used to be in books: that can go either way, depending on preference.

    Now, here’s what wont be going to tablets any time soon:
    – Art activities that involve photoshop: until things change (and they might–who knows) a wacom pen and a big monitor is still the best way to interact with the software.
    – Design activities that involve solid works or master cam. You have to be kidding me–tablets don’t have the horsepower!
    – the vast majority of writing activities: say what you want, composing text on a tablet is unpleasant.

    So that’s it. The tablet is a nice multipurpose tool; like a swiss army knife it does many light tasks adequately enough, and I am sure that it will edge its way into classrooms over time. Hopefully it will do it sensibly; that is doing the jobs for which it is best suited–namely the consumption of video, audio and most text, as well as various light tasks. When specialized tools are required, it is my hope that they will continue to be done using the tools that bet suit the job and not in a half-assed fashion using a light duty device :>)

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  3. Hello Doug,
    I am a student at the University of South Alabama in EDM 310, which is a class about integrating technology in the classroom. I remember taking typing classes in middle school and high school, but now students do not need them because as you mentioned students have auto-text. I have found many apps on the iPad that can be integrated in the classroom, but like you have mentioned larger task are harder to perform on the iPad. I really have not found out the use of tablets or iPads except for surfing, reading, books, and other smaller task, but in the future, I am sure tablets will be just as compatible as a laptop, then what will be the need of a laptop.

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