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Get the 411: Laptops and Tablets in the Classroom

Tech integration no longer means being stuck in a lab or a corner of the classroom. Find out how laptops and tablets are landing in the hands of so many students, and learn where to go for more information.

In K-12 classrooms across the United States, laptops--and to an even greater extent, tablets--are replacing pens and pencils as the accepted "tools of the trade" for students. You already might teach in a classroom that provides a computer device for each student's use. If you don't yet, however, with K-12 technology use predicted to continue to rise in the years ahead, the trend toward mobile computing is sure to impact your classroom in the not-so-distant future.


In the past, a high school history teacher, for example, might have had students conduct a semester-long research project. To help with their research, the teacher would schedule time in a computer lab, rotate groups of students on a few classroom computers, or simply expect students to use a home or library computer. Such irregular use of technology did not prove helpful for building students' technology skills or for successfully integrating technology into the classroom, however.

Students in schools with mobile tech, on the other hand, have constant and immediate technological access to the world. Their teachers can address teachable moments immediately, break down classroom walls, and engage students in real-world learning. Students can take the technology with them throughout the day, continuing their school work at home, on a riverbank, in a waiting room, or even at the mall.

Mobile tech means that every student has regular, reliable access to technology: Regular means once a week or more (once a semester doesn't count); reliable means hardware, infrastructure (such as Internet access), and software that is in working order most of the time; every student means that each student has immediate individual access to technology.


These days, schools use laptops and tablets to give students access to mobile tech. For most tasks, either of those devices will get the job done. Each, however, has advantages and disadvantages that help determine how classroom teachers use (and why districts/schools purchase) a certain device. Those include:

For decades, classrooms, schools or entire districts used laptops. Laptops are, however, no longer the most prevalent of the mobile computing devices. As of 2013, tablets were set to surpass laptop sales by almost 30 million units (, 2013).

Advantages of laptops include:

  • Functionality: Laptops have the functionality of regular desktop computers, allowing students to perform all the tasks they have traditionally done on a desktop, including surfing the Internet, creating presentations and reports, emailing experts, and collaborating with other students.
  • Speed of implementation: Laptops are literally the computing standard.
  • Support availability: Technical support, software and peripherals are readily available.

Disadvantages include:

  • Size: While laptops continue to get smaller, they are still significantly larger than tablets.
  • Physical barrier: The laptop screen can make it difficult for teachers to monitor work and communicate with students.

A tablet looks like just the screen off of a laptop. Instead of a keyboard, students and teachers use their fingers to control the device. Tablets, especially the iPad, have exploded in the K-12 setting. In some cases, entire grade levels have been outfitted wtih iPads.

Advantages of tablets include:

  • Mobility: Compact and portable, tablets define mobile tech.
  • Intimacy: There is less to impede monitoring or communication between teacher and student.
  • Apps: There are countless apps specifically designed for the educational setting.

Disadvantages include:

  • Fragility: A good protective case is essential when purchasing a tablet.

Carefully compare your computing needs with the advantages and disadvantages of each of these devices above. Chances are that whichever device your school or districts chooses, it will prove an effective teaching and learning tool.


Article by Lorrie Jackson
Education World®
Copyright © Education World


Updated 04/01/2013