In the other sections of this site we discussed the ethical issues that arise from increased information availability, as an effect of spreading tablet-like devices. The inherent ethics of information availability was taken as the starting point in these discussions, whether approached from the perspective of changing what people know, how interfaces affect what they choose to know, or what content providers might know about those choices. Here we consider another aspect of information availability — how the fact of more information being available at every moment has affected real life social interactions, in positive or negative ways. The ethical issue at hand is not the information itself, but rather the changes that access to information has wrought in traditional social interactions. Tablets are especially relevant to this discussion since they have most of the information-propagation functionality of larger devices like laptops or desktops, but because they are easy to carry around, have infiltrated usual real life social settings. We are especially interested in the dichotomy in which the omnipresence of tablets is both a positive social force and a potentially destructive one. In the next sections, we consider a range of ways in which tablets are capable of affecting our everyday real world lives.
One potentially positive effect of tablets in real life, and one that has caused excitement for some in the sector, is their use in education. In general, more and more educators are embracing the potential of technology to supplement learning. Some teachers, for example, have introduced Twitter in the classroom, allowing their students to comment online in real time on discussions in class rather than having to speak up. Such use of social media, proponents hope, may encourage more collaborative learning, where students learn how to work together.
Recently a school in Roslyn, N.Y. started a pilot program that handed out free iPads to a number of students. The iPad, teachers hoped, would inspire students to do more homework, allow teachers and students to correspond more after school hours, and could keep a digital record of a student’s work. An iPad may also include educational applications or applications that can demonstrate, for example, the anatomy of a human body in an anatomy class, allowing teachers to supplement teaching with methods that were not previously available. Rather than being constrained to a desk while interacting with students and using a device, teachers can easily carry a tablet around the classroom.
There are benefits also to digital books in education. E-readers may also encourage students to read more, including those who disliked paper books. If textbooks are digitized, then students also will be able to carry a single device rather than multiple heavy paper books. In fact, several startups are centered around the idea of tablet devices education. Some, such as the Kno, are aimed at providing digital textbooks for college students. Other target even toddlers, who parents hope will build critical thinking skills by playing with educational applications.
Conversely, there are some who criticize the use of tablets and other technologies in the classroom, fearing that the absorption with technology may leave students without other important skills. Students who are busy with their tablet devices, rather than speaking to their peers, may fail to learn fundamental social interaction skills, a less measurable but equally significant part of the classroom. While tablets may develop multitasking abilities, they may also detract from students’ ability to focus. These and other issues have caused some educators to be wary of adopting the new technology.
The abundance of information available to students through tablet-like devices make them an attractive learning aid, perhaps changing the very mechanism of learning in real life educational environments. Whether these methods are effective aids in education is still unclear, as many of the technologies have only appeared recently. Some believe that tablets are a fad among educators, as many other methods have been, and some believe that they will become a permanent force in education. Only more time will reveal their role.