Laptops vs Handhelds

Cross-posted as a comment on Scott McLeod’s blog, Dangerously Irrelevent, as a response to a request from Russ Goerend, who blogs at TAGMirror. I posted the comment, and thought, “That sounded more like a blog post than a comment. Hmm… I haven’t posted in a while. Maybe I should cross-post.” So, there you are.

When people ask questions about what kind of technology to include in today’s classrooms, there will be the issues of cost, space, practicality, feasibility, and (hopefully) most importantly- LEARNING capabilities to consider. But if I could choose anything to have in my classroom, I would jump at the chance to have a classroom set of the iTouch (perhaps 30 of them).

The inevitable response usually goes something like this: “Why would you spend that much money on an iTouch when you could have a laptop for just a little more money?”

And here’s the response I left as a comment on Scott’s blog today (with a few minor revisions for clarity):

Adults see cost and then think that they could have a laptop for that same amount of money. Kids see the iTouch (and other similar handhelds) as a more convenient “laptop” without all the bulk.

If I need to sit down and hammer out a 25 page paper, I want a laptop. If I want to look up an answer on a webpage, download a small application that will enhance my learning, view a map, listen to a podcast or music, play the piano/guitar/drums electronically AND record my composition, play a learning game… you name it: I want a handheld device.

WHY? A few quick answers in no particular order:
1. Battery life is better, lasts longer (long-term), and charges more quickly.
2. More options for applications than on laptops… OS is not as big an obstacle as a laptop OS (think about the time and energy spent on field-testing applications on school computers for compatibility with the OS).
3. iTouch vs. iPhone- removes the “should students have access to cell phones in school” debate. No calls coming in or out, but many of the same apps available.
4. Storage for classroom sets of handhelds is a cinch, compared to laptops.
5. Collaboration with these tools is more easily facilitated than trying to organize a bunch of kids with laptops, especially where space is an issue. Plus, laptops are heavy for smaller kids.
6. Handhelds are more kid-friendly where accidents are concerned. If I drop my iTouch, chances are it’s not going to break. I can buy a cheap protective ‘case’ for it that still allows me to see and touch the screen. If I drop my laptop, there goes $500-800. I can’t use my laptop when it’s in its protective case.

I’m sure there are concerns with smaller devices, such as the fact they’re easier to steal; but I think the benefits/positives far outweigh the negatives.

Tony Vincent has been singing the praises of handhelds in the classroom for years. I was able to see first-hand what he did in the classroom with handhelds: how engaged the students were, the LEARNING opportunities students had in the palms of their hands, etc.

So, what’s your opinion?

8 thoughts on “Laptops vs Handhelds

  1. iPod Touch = $229
    Net book = $299

    Is that a closer comparison? Does it change your mind?

    My thought it that at that cost difference, I’d opt for a net book. Full keyboard is the main reason.

    On the other hand, I agree with all your arguments above. If someone makes a keyboard for Touch, I might just jump on the bandwagon.

    Great post!

  2. It’s a good argument, but I think kids would still choose the iTouch. I will probably do a survey with some K-12 kids soon to see what they think. My guess is, if given the same options of using a Netbook or an iTouch with similar capabilities, they’ll go for the smaller tool. Just a hunch.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Interesting viewpoint, Michelle. I’m not sure that student’s preferences supersede increased software applications (the App Store is growing, yes, but without a doubt finite) given the similar price points as your previous commenter has pointed out. As a math educator, I also have many software packages and web applications that I’d like students to use that do not lend themselves to the Touch. See for my extended thoughts.

  4. Michelle,
    First of all, thanks for the shout out!

    I agree that “if given the same options of using a Netbook or an iTouch with similar capabilities, they’ll go for the smaller tool.” However, the two choices do not have similar capabilities.

    Students cannot Skype with a Touch. Students can’t record themselves playing real musical instruments with a Touch. Students can’t create rich content on a Touch. Students can’t even multi-task on a Touch.

    I can see having a few of them (5-10) around for listening to podcasts or spending a few minutes on Google Earth, but choosing 30 Touches in lieu of 30 netbooks? I’m yet to be convinced.

    As Apple themselves demonstrate, the iPod Touch is a sidekick to a laptop, not a replacement.

  5. Actually, students can Skype with a Touch that has a few modifications. You can search for the video on YouTube (searching YouTube is time consuming on our network, otherwise I’d provide you with a link). One of our students has a video on there.

    Having said that, I would steal lean for the Netbooks if you are worried about cost because of the lack of creation on the Touch. I’ve thought about a classroom 1:1 situation with Touches, but in the end, I’d lean toward Netbooks simply because of the creation aspect. Having said that, I would still prefer actual laptops. I’ve never been a fan of getting something because it’s cheaper. Yugos were cheaper, too…

  6. Found this interesting thread on Classroom 2.0.

    This thread addresses many of the “lacking specifics” concerns I had. It’s fun reading about what schools are doing with Touches in the concrete, not the abstract.

  7. Agreed. I think the students would go for Touches. But students don’t always know what is the best learning tool. Neither do teachers.

    What we really need is a Apple Tablet/Netbook. This would have some of the awesome creation tools and all the wonderfulness of the Touch apps.

    Apple are you listening?

  8. @BK-Teach What’s done on a Touch app (sans accelerometer) for educational use that can’t be done on a Netbook (sans Apple tax)? Curious to hear your thoughts.

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