Tablet PCs are gaining increasing popularity in various areas of human activity, including education. The demand for these devices is determined by their versatility and high computing power comparable with that of laptops and traditional PCs, and the ease of use, portability and extended drawing capacity compared to that of a sheet of paper (Vander Ark 14). Tablet PCs are easy, lightweight and can be carried on to different classrooms and locations by the students; moreover, tablet PCs provide extensive interactivity: students can draw on tablets using their hands or special pens. As tablet PCs enter educational setting, it is important to consider advantages of using these devices, new educational possibilities and effectiveness of tablet PCs in education. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the role and effectiveness of tablet computers for teaching mathematics.
In order to teach mathematics in an effective way, teachers need to create an environment which allows to maximize learning opportunities for students, encourage self-directed learning and provide reasonable and timely feedback (Galligan et al. 38). Several advantages of tablet PCs make the particularly suitable for mathematics instruction: software for handwriting recognition (and software for recognizing mathematical input), wireless communications and interaction, and ability to share information instantly and annotate it. According to the research of Fister and McCarthy, students learning mathematics and science found the following features very helpful: archived notes and lectures for student learning, colors used to emphasize work, increased interaction and classroom participation, use of different software to enhance learning (internet resources, virtual labs, interactive textbooks, etc.) and increased ownership of learning process (p. 286). Tablets can be used both for one-to-many lecturing sessions and for interactive collaboration between students in the classroom.
The study of Galligan et al. identified the following advantages of tablet PCs for teaching mathematics: lectures are easy to see and understand for all students, revision of lectures is available, lecturer can respond to questions and illustrate own answers, reflections on difficult points can be posted during lecturing, and the explanations for recorded (or pre-recorded) lectures are clearer and more personalized for the distance learning students (Galligan et al. 42).
Fister and McCarthy compared the results of learning math using tablets with a similar group learning mathematics the traditional way. The comparison of math exam scores for a non-tablet class and for class working with tablets showed that the scores for the “tablet classroom” were 16% higher (Fister and McCarthy 289). Moreover, the students showed high rate of satisfaction in the tablet-enabled classroom, and indicated that the effectiveness of their professor as well as the effectiveness of their learning increased.
A recent trend in education are digital textbooks: many publishers already launch both print and online versions of textbooks, with website companion materials; moreover, high interest to tablet PCs stimulated the creation of interactive textbooks. Textbook publishers are preparing separate textbooks for educational units. The initiative of Apple ”“ launch of iBooks author software in February 2012 ”“ should be specifically noted; this program led to creation of numerous applications and interactive books for iPads. By the end of February, more than 1.5 million of iPads and more than 20,000 of applications were used in educational settings (Kaufman n.d.).
From the student perspective, tablet PCs make learning mathematics more engaging, responsive and interactive. Students can explore the materials, solve tasks and consider important issues faster and more convenient compared to traditional learning methods. From teacher’s perspective, tablet PC software and interactive textbooks for learning math save a lot of time on showing key materials, checking assignments, showing different aspects of the topic, etc. Interactive products (for example, FluidMath by Microsoft) allow students to “play” with the graphics and quickly switch between graphic, algebraic and table representations, watch animations, enter handwritten expressions and solve them, etc. Other well-known products for teaching mathematics using tablet PCs are Wolfram Alpha (online version), MathPad and xThink MathJournal (Vander Ark 58). Practical benefits for teachers also include the opportunity to add extra in-class time through making lectures more like tutorials, and pre-recording typical tasks, questions and explanations.