Schools such as Clearwater High School in Florida have been busy testing a tablet and eReader pilot program by using the Kindle in the classroom for the past seven months and are now looking for a solid answer to the question, “Can we go 100 percent electronic with the help from a tablet?”
The school officials in Clearwater have even gone as far to construct a five-year tablet proposal for the Kindle, iPad, and other similar devices. The proposal states that all students in grades K-12 will use only electronic materials by year 2015 for the betterment of the students’ education.
Another pilot program in Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Florida has a room of 45 sixth graders excited to learn again because of their new electronic devices. This school just implemented the iPad in the classrooms, and the Pinellas school district has spent around $1 million to buy 1,800 of them for its students.
But with all new implementations, there is bound to be a flipside and a downside. Every pilot program has had similar findings when dealing with the hot tablets in the schools, such as the problem of low-income households not being able to keep up with the cost new technology presents or technical issues resulting in malfuction of a device. Many schools are still finding it difficult to come up with a tablet for each and every student, and some are looking at the options to find a way around it.
But many experts still believe the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to general tablet use in education–not only do students find it much more exciting to learn with a tablet than a textbook and pen, but there are many apps and a lot of software designed for kids to better understand the material.
Which Tablets Make the Grade?
Bill Gates once said that the iPad is “good for reading, but not necessarily for creating.”
But an Apple patent was recently discovered revealing an iPad pen, built specifically for eduction. This pen and others like it can be easily adopted in schools to get students interested in doing classwork and to “create,” making it an even more valuable school instrument. Whether or not this will secure the iPad in future K-12 classrooms or if tablet PCs or some other device will win the battle is yet to be determined. Some experts have said the iPad 2 will lead for a year or two and then Android tablets will take over, while others are saying that the iPad will hold the market for many, many years to come.
Robert Baker, an expert in mobile technology and Director of Technology for Cincinnati County Day School in Ohio, said he thinks the iPad is a “particularly constraining device” and that it is a “limiting rollout compared to what we can do with our devices.” The students in grades five to 12 who go to CCDS have been using a tablet PC with full notebook functionality instead for the past three years; the Toshiba Portégé M750, a PC that got two big thumbs up from Baker. He said that he doesn’t think CCDS will ever switch to the iPad or anything that isn’t a tablet PC.
Nonetheless, he said he would still like to have a tablet PC that can come apart completely and convert to a lightweight tablet, saying he would like students to be able to “rip” their screens away and carry them around more conveniently.
Following that train of thought, Baker predicts that the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 hybrid (LePad) and similar devices may be in the works for CCDS and could have a lot of potential for other schools in the future, too.
District-wide Instructional Technology Leader Dani Herro for the K-12 schools in the Oconomowoc Area School District in Wisconsin said the students currently have limited use of iPads and Kindles in the classrooms. Out of 5,200 students and over 300 staff members, Herro said that the students in the district have access to about 50 iPads and a sporadic number of Kindles in certain classrooms, as well as classroom set of iPod Touches used by students in one of the K-4 schools. She also mentioned that the schools will soon integrate Samsung Galaxy Tabs for an upcoming gaming club.
Herro said officials “have been very happy” with the performance and apps the iPads provides for the students, adding that she hopes to make them more personal for the students to own or lease in the future. Herro believes Kindles just won’t cut it, though—saying they have limited functionality in the classroom and that the educators and students alike prefer the iPad over the Kindle. She said she thinks the iPad is the best device to use in the classroom because of not only of its functionality, apps, and battery life, but because it’s appropriate for all students across the K-12 spectrum.
She believes the iPad will be the “hot” device in the upcoming years for schools that can either afford them district-wide or allow for students to bring their own tablet into school. Because she thinks it’s more likely going to be the latter and because the iPad is the most commonly chosen device outside of schools, she believes this will lead to it being the most popular device across the board.
Software and Apps Schools Use
Besides the apps and collaborative software available on the iPad, Baker said most schools are utilizing Web 2.0, Microsoft OneNote, and DyKnow software in the classroom. He said it’s useful for teachers to receive their students’ homework as soon as they enter the classroom thanks to the active sync connections between the PCs using Web 2.0. He went on to say that in CCDS, digital ink, stylus use, and video editing is also important—all of which is an integral part of “active” learning in the classroom, in every subject.
For example, students may use Web 2.0 and any word processor for English combined with eTextbooks and activity sheets, while using DyKnow and portable smart boards for practice math problems. Baker also added that there isn’t much of a learning curve with most of these applications.
Herro said her district has decided to stop purchasing and loading software into the tablets, and instead uses Google Earth, Diigo, Blogger, YouTube, Web 2.0 tools, Google Apps and several other free websites, apps and software.
It’s also useful for teachers to be able to mark up the students’ homework, quizzes, and more on screen, provide comments anywhere without having to worry about running out of space or not being able to read the handwriting—and then send it back to the student electronically.
Many experts think it is completely feasible to see an influx of tablets, tablet PCs, and eReaders with educational software and loaded eTextbooks in numerous classrooms the near future, in what several are call it “embracing technology.” Even though what device is chosen is based on individual classroom and school needs and wants, many experts and educators agree that the new technology can go beyond the physical walls of each classroom and open up a plethora of learning opportunity for our students.