Touch This – Tactile Learning and Technology

A few weeks back when the iPad became available for pre-order, I investigated and decided not to order since my current OS does not support it. Getting the iPad would send me into that unforgiving and expensive upgrade loop where I would have to get a new OS, and hence a new computer, etc. just to support the device. Not that I did not want an iPad – having an iPod Touch, I know how different a device it is, and the thought of the new form factor in the iPad hits home with me.

Fast forward to this weekend – watching the early reviews and wondering, I took an innocent trip to the local Apple Store “just to check it out,” and yes, I came home with an iPad. A brief conversation and help from an Apple Store employee allowed me to activate the iPad in the store, so I can use it to do whatever I want wirelessly with no immediate need to upgrade my home computer. The only thing I cannot do is sync to my computer to download pics, videos, etc. but I can access all important data via the web, and can download all the apps I need via my iTunes account.

So, what is the game changer in this device compared to any other? Simple – just as with the iPhone and iPod Touch – it’s the tactile interface. You use a third sense – touch – to interact with information, knowledge, and learning. We all know that media helps learning – audio and visual stimulus are key components. However, when you add the kinesthetic mode as well, that opens up a whole new layer of input to the mind. When I can spin the world with my finger in Google Earth, zoom into a video about the Haiti earthquake, and physically drag layers of seismic images, it is a very different learning experience.

My initial reaction to the iPad and the tactile input has made me reflect on why I have always felt the Smart Board brand interactive whiteboard is a key technology tool. You can argue until you are blue in the face about which brand of interactive whiteboard provides the best bang for the buck. There are also very valid arguments about how an interactive whiteboard used poorly is an expensive overhead in the front of the room. Despite this, at the end of the day, the Smart Board allows you to take your finger and literally interact with the world. That being said, the Smart brand suddenly has a huge challenge ahead as there are millions of people who now expect multi-touch surfaces, something the Smart Board has not been able to provide.

So what is it about the iPad that makes such a difference? The size and form factor. This may be just my personal preference, but it just feels right. It can be tucked in a sleeve and hidden, taken out for research, used to watch media, and a host of other uses that support learning and productivity. The iPad is certainly not the first tablet on the market. I’ve thought for many years that the tablet could really help the classroom, but nothing so far in this category has made any difference. I think that the iPad will, at the very least, push this category of learning tool very far ahead.

Whether or not it is the iPad, the Smart Board, or some other device, what I think is fundamental is tactile interaction with technology so learning is literally an extension of your hand. The more senses involved in learning, the better. It will be a while before the iPad will give off smell or taste, but we’re moving in the right direction :-).

If you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy a new computer…

Creative Commons image courtesy of Maddy Lou on Flickr.





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