Do Tablets Need Keyboards to be Effective in the Classroom?

Last week, Bill Gates was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education. After initially reading reviews, which focused on his statement that tablets won’t succeed in the classroom without a keyboard, I found myself disagreeing with his ideas.

I knew I had to read the actual interview, and I was actually surprised by how much of his interview I agreed with. I truly like his idea about lectures being for outside the classroom and the shared element of the classroom being for study groups. While I still think he’s trying to do what he can to promote the Surface over the iPad with statements I don’t fully agree with, I love his focus on bringing such technologies into (and outside of) the classroom.

With every bit of new technology entering the classroom, educators need to evaluate how to best integrate this device for educational purposes. I think most, if not all, would agree on this. However, it’s the technology itself and its features where people are diverging.

One of the biggest points of contention, as I already mentioned, is the need for tablets with keyboards. In his interview, Bill Gates stated that using a tablet in a classroom “is never going to work on a device where you don’t have keyboard-type input.” Being an iOS Developer, I admit that I was annoyed at how he was trying to diminish the usefulness of the iPad in the classroom.

I have been following the research for months showing how all kinds of students are benefiting from the iPad in their education. Tablets must be intuitive and it’s their interactivity that makes them so useful- their apps provide feedback to student and teacher on their progress. The introduction of the computer didn’t cause schools to remove penmanship classes altogether, so why would the introduction of a keyboardless tablet prevent students from learning to type? It wouldn’t.

Does a tablet need an external keyboard to be useful to students? No, but only if the tablet is finding its own niche in the classroom. We still don’t know at this point the role of the tablet in the classroom to its full extent. Is it supplement to a computer lab? A tablet sans external keyboard is never going to work in a typing class but at the same time note-taking shouldn’t be limited to lines of text. The ideal post-pc device would utilize a keyboard and a stylus. And let’s keep in mind, the iPad has had external keyboards for years- it’s just a separate purchase.

When it comes to education, the priority should never be which company is going to win and dominate the classroom.  I think we’re all fortunate to have multiple companies fighting to create the best tablet for everyone.

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