Every so often, a technological device or tool comes along that is truly transformative, changing the very fundamental way we interact with the world around us. Notable examples throughout history include the printing press, assembly line and internal combustion engine.
And while it may seem a stretch, at least now, to compare Apple's iPad to these extraordinary achievements, the tablet has been an undeniably transformative technology. Nowhere is that more evident than in the special-needs classroom.
Tablets make an extraordinary impact. Here's how:
Tablets Provide Ease of Access
For students with fine motor skill impairments, touch screens are more accessible than keyboards or mice when it comes to inputting information. The removal of the abstraction layer present with keyboards, mice and even track pads makes the resulting interaction more immediate and clear.
The bright screen and interactivity of a tablet also make the device much more attractive to special-needs students, many of whom prefer tablets over books and other paper media. For autistic students, tablets provide a certain level of predictability, from the device's touch response to the calm, steady voice emitted from the device when the student explores a new app.
Tablets Allow for Individualized Learning
Content on the iPad is easily interchangeable, which means that a student can go from practicing spelling to learning vocabulary words to following along in an eBook with the teacher in virtually no time at all. And because repeating a lesson is as simple as swiping the screen or pushing a button, each student can learn at his or her own pace. Add this to the shorter learning curve of the tablet's simple full-screen window versus a PC's system of applications and windows, and the tablet stands out as the device of choice for special-needs students.
Tablets Facilitate Enhanced Communication
Through tablets and their associated apps, autistic students can communicate, sometimes even for the first time. The iPad can essentially serve as the student's voice, speaking for the student as he or she interacts with the tablet. This allows the student to not only display emotion and other personal aspects of communication, but also answer questions and interact with the teacher and course material.
Tablets Make Learning Mobile
Any teacher will tell you that great strides in the classroom are either helped or hindered by what goes on at home. The greatest advantage of mobile technology is that it's, well, mobile. Tablets give students the option to continue learning with their family, picking up right where they left off at school.
Tablet technology is showing strong promise, but relatively few schools have instituted iPads or other tablets in their classrooms. As more and more developers, publishers and educators realize the benefits of mobile learning on tablets, the depth and breadth of opportunities available to special-needs students will only continue to grow.
Chad Udell, managing director of Float Mobile Learning, designs, develops, and manages interactive web and mobile education projects. He's created customized content for Fortune 500 companies, speaks frequently at national conferences on mobile learning, and is an acknowledged expert on the design and development of interactive, mobile, and e-learning applications.