Part 2 of a three-part series: Tablets in Education
The accessibility of high-quality content might be the most important factor for successful deploying tablets in education.
To that end, companies such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a leading textbook provider, are creating innovative digital content appropriate for schools.
“We’re seeing significant opportunities that have impact on instruction,” said Mary Cullinane, chief content officer for Houghton Mifflin, based in Boston, and a former Microsoft technologist in the education division.
Cullinane believes the high interest for tablet deployment in schools is being enabled by environmental factors such as devices being ready and students owning or having greater access to tablets and smartphones. These factors allow content providers to customize the learning experience for students.
“We can create a more collaborative and data informed environment,” Cullinane said.
In the 1:1 education space, all states are going digital, and educators need to expand the conversation of how they see changes happening in learning, she said.
Innovative Teaching Required
With the new content, educators will be able to find ways to deliver it to every type of student.
“I get to think differently of how kids get to visualize data or experience an idea. I get to think differently about content and resources I provide to teachers,” said Cullinane.
However, this isn’t an easy task given the variety of devices, browsers, operating systems, bandwidth, and varying levels of digital literacy among teachers.
“We didn’t have to think about that when distributing content via books,” noted Cullinane.
Tablets as Textbooks
Some educators said there are many free resources for digital textbooks that also meet education standards such as the Common Core.
There are great open resources that eliminate textbooks, said St. Paul’s Etheredge.
“We spent 1.5 years culling content,” she added.
Resources like the Open Textbook Initiative bring together sources of learning for higher education that provide greater affordability to students.
The Open Textbook is like any other textbook except that it was created in a way to be openly shared, said David Ernst, CIO of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development in Minneapolis. Content is delivered on students’ iPads.
“In my experience, we survey the students and ask them [how they would like content to be delivered] on paper, electronic to your iPad or electronic on your computer,” said Ernst. “2:1 they prefer electronic versus paper. What the tablet does [provides is] a device that’s acceptable. It’s an electronic book.”
One of Several Alternatives
Educators don’t seem too concerned whether the device delivering the content are iPads, Android tablets, or Windows devices.
Instead, experts believe it depends on the content, how it’s delivered, and what’s actually used in schools.
“It’s important to know that faculty in higher education make the decision about what to use in the classroom,” said Ernst. “In K-12, the districts decide.”
Regardless, tablets are making headway into education, although the more recent adoption of Chromebooks in some schools and scrutiny over contract bidding has placed enormous pressure on tablet vendors.
Recently Los Angeles schools stopped a billion dollar contract with Apple and its sub-contractor Pearson after questions were raised about the bidding process. The first phase of the $30 million contract with Apple was approved last year and was expected to add an additional $500 million over the next year with another $500 million slated for expanding the infrastructure in schools.
Challenges to Overcome
Overall, education experts believe in the value of using tablets as textbooks, but numerous obstacles can impede the growth of digital learning.
Transitions need to account for three factors: people, process, and the environment, said HMH’s Cullinane. There needs to be the right people in place to support the skill sets required, change the way teachers teach students rather than just handing kids a device, and ensure the appropriate infrastructure support happens both at school and the home environment, she said.
It’s a bit of a challenge to help everyone understand the bigger picture for shifting away from traditional learning models, agreed Etheredge.
This shift not only comes from using tablets, but also delivering content that students can consume via their preferred methods.
For example, Amy Hollingsworth, a lab coordinator at the University of Akron, who also teaches high school and continuing education for adults, breaks her 1-hour lectures into 7 to 10 minute video segments so that students can watch them in snippets to accommodate their time outside the classroom. Those videos can be viewed on a tablet or smartphone during different times the day.
Finally, managing the plethora of devices, poses its ownchallenges. Not only do institutions need to increase the bandwidth of their infrastructure for Internet access, but also mobile device and application management for blocking inappropriate content is a necessity.