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?