Hardware We Have Used
1) Laptops for all
2) Ipads for all
3) Apple TV
4) DVD Player
6) 3D Printer
7) Digital Cameras
Let me make it clear that slapping a laptop or iPad in front of your learner does absolutely nothing, and it is you, as the educator, who needs to guide how to best use the device for learning. Here is how we put our hardware to good use!:
Laptops - We started our kids off with keyboarding at an early age, and all can type a minimum of 50 wpm now. Keyboarding is a "must" skill in our era, and if you have to drop something to fit it in your schedule, for goodness sake, drop handwriting. Keyboarding is the way people communicate today, and speed helps ideas flow more smoothly when writing. We taught basic skills in word processing as well along with keyboarding.
We have utilized math programs (Teaching Textbooks) that are disk based for years, and other programs that over time have gone to the cloud but were initially on disk.
Sure, we have used them for PowerPoint presentations, but rarely, as we discovered early on that the the deeper exploration of topics we desired was set aside as the "slick presentation" became more the focus of the learning.
Online courses are easily accessed with laptops, and we have had kids take AutoCAD, the History of Comic Books, Interior Decorating and many more online courses, both with interactive instructors and online textbooks.
Additionally, photo editing is far easier on a laptop than a small screened device, and three of our five have taken photography lessons and learned basic editing with free software on their laptops.
iPads - Our early years would have been truly unfathomable without iPads. With English Language Learners in particular, I can't imagine being without them, I mean this sincerely. There is also an advantage to the iPad that many would never consider but which was imperative for us...the screen lies flat and there is no physical barrier between you and the learner. The easy portability and magazine-like size meant this device was kept handy at all times. Think about it, how many kids will actually lug a large, heavy dictionary to their table and look up a word? With the iPad and the Dictionary.com app, access to new words was immediate and simple...that meant it was used constantly with my challenging them to look up new vocabulary words.
The wide variety of apps available covered every topic imaginable, and we used them liberally on a daily basis. There were apps that provided grammar practice, speech articulation mouth models, math facts drilling, history time lines, spelling and vocabulary practice (we could add in our own weekly spelling words from our workbooks), geography games, history quizzes, and much, much more.
More importantly was the handy and instant access to the internet. Yes, even at the earliest ages, we allowed our kids to use the internet without blocking sites. We read news articles every day and shared them around the table as we practiced speaking and summarizing skills. When we were studying history or literature, and a location, landmark, work of art, or song was mentioned, we immediately Googled it to find an image or hear an mp3, thereby deepening our learning. It became automatic early on, and it was a race to see who could share more about whatever the topic was. The world was...and still is...literally at our fingertips and the ability to satisfy that instant curiosity has led to having young adults who are far more intellectually curious than many of their peers.
Apple TV, DVD Player. TV - We purchased a dedicated TV to fit on our school cart along with a DVD player and Apple TV so we could more easily stream video content for our "class". If we had one or two students, we likely would have just used a laptop but to have five students and one teacher, we needed more visibility. We have used it to stream TED Talks, YouTube videos, online courses for history, news clips, watch presidential debates and speeches, view lectures from The Great Courses, take a writing class on DVD, and much more.
3D Printer - This was an unplanned venture into tech and was a self-directed learning project for one of our sons. It was designed on a desktop computer he built himself, then using AutoCAD he learned online he then designed the customized 3D printer, then built it, then taught himself how to create many designs, jewelry, and replacement parts with it.
Digital Cameras - In early years we did a lot of field trips and travel learning, and digital cameras were used to document trips to Monticello, New York, Colonial Williamsburg, and following the Lewis and Clark trail. Images were then used to accompany written essays and journals.
Skype/FaceTime - Transporting one's self to another location, learning face to face with otherwise inaccessible teachers, all has been possible with Skype and FaceTime used either on the laptops, iPads, or TV. We have had Russian lessons for years with a native speaker/teacher in Kyrgyzstan, art lessons from an amazing artist in Salt Lake City, and ongoing writing instruction and book studies with a guest teacher in Massachusetts. From rural Colorado, the world and wonderful educational experiences have been available to us solely through the use of technology.
Using technology well requires intentional thought, creativity, and an understanding that it is just a tool to access information and resources. The hardware itself does very little to enhance learning, it doesn't make a learner "smarter" in any way, nor is it a magic bullet. It can, in fact, be a very expensive replacement for a typewriter if the instructor doesn't have a strong sense of how to best implement the use of various technologies in an educational setting. However, used appropriately and with foresight, technology literally opens up the world to a learner!