1. Keyboarding has replaced handwriting.
Apple, Dell, iPhone, BlackBerry...they all have one thing in common: a keyboard. While much has been made about the impending death of the hard copy book, the more drastic change has occurred in writing. Pens and pencils are more in danger of obsolescence than are books. Regardless of their life expectancy, pens and pencils have been largely replaced by the keyboard. Keyboarding skills are a must for 21st century employment. Students need especially to learn how to type with sentence variety and correct punctuation, as distinguished from texting. Wars fought between cyber slang and academic language are fought for the wrong reasons. The historical moment doesn't call for black and white choices; rather it asks us to teach students how to code switch.
2. Electronic Reading.
Google eBooks are in the millions. The speed with which books are making the journey from the page to the screen is accelerating exponentially. While the Kindle and iPad are not technically laptops, they are included in this mix as well. Benefits of reading material on a computer are many. Blogs have become the main source of news for millions of people. Wikipedia has replaced the phalanx of over sized Britannica's my mother bought from a door to door salesman 40 years ago. And unlike that set of books, Wikipedia is continually updated without the necessity for buying a new set. Trees are saved. Access is instantaneous. Electronic reading is here to stay. Again, it does not have to represent a replacement for traditional reading; it serves instead to enhance, expand, and enliven our reading experience.
The world's libraries are a click away. Microfiche has been replaced with google. As mentioned above, encyclopedias, both general and specific, are instantly accessible. While much has been made about the dubious credibility of blogs and other news sources online, the fact is that more eyes and more words has a democratizing effect. Misinformation does not have a long life online, and the savvy digital native is keen to find sites that disprove or clarify information from parties with an agenda. As with keyboarding and electronic reading, this isn't a black and white situation. While professional journalists are upset by the mass dissemination of amateur viewpoints, the truth is that students today are given an extraordinary opportunity to develop critical thinking skills in relation to the research they conduct. The credibility of sources is not a new issue; it is merely one brought into harsher light by the Internet.
Students today can create radio shows (podcasts), movies (iMovie), presentations (Glogster, iMovie, PowerPoint, Keynote, VoiceThread, etc.), journals and digital portfolios (Blogger, Edublogs) and a myriad of other products that represent and reflect their learning. The pride of ownership involved in publishing their own work increases effort, compels editing and proofreading, and boosts motivation. The show-and-tell diorama of days gone by has been transformed. Every student is now their own news, entertainment, and scholarly production company. While all of these tools can be mishandled (just like real tools can) by allowing students to focus too much on form instead of function, the truth is that the tools necessitate teaching of responsibility, prudence, and critical thinking.