Tablet Time for Education

SMARTER SCHOOLS | by Michael Spencer

As textbooks fade, a new technology moves to the head of the class. But will it make the grade?

Austin, Texas-based New Media Consortium recently released their annual Horizon Report: 2011 K-12 Edition and interestingly, cloud computing and mobiles were named technologies to watch for the second year in a row. This year, they’ve been moved forward to the near-term horizon. That means within the next 12 months they’ll likely hit mainstream use for teaching, learning or creative applications in the K-12 environment. Makes sense when you look at the business sector, which is always several years ahead, but what’s even more interesting is what this means for education. Tablets will very likely be the mainstream 1-to-1 computing solution in K-12. Schools are still struggling from the recession of 2009, but mobile technologies never slowed down. Textbooks as we knew them, though entrenched—are expensive, outmoded and inefficient. Content resides on the cloud, and mobile delivers. Cell phones have potential but are too small screen wise. Laptops? Too expensive for 1-to-1 everywhere. Netbooks never quite caught on. However, they did set the baseline trend for 1-to-1 computing. The timing couldn’t be better for tablets in education. With regard to five key areas, here’s why.

1. Economic. Controlling costs while increasing quality has always been a challenge, but in tight economic times—and in beyond-tight times for school districts—there must be a better way. If, in the past, it seemed impossible to reform education, the current fallout from the recession makes budget-saving innovations very welcome and change strongly supported.

2. Technological. Tools, gadgets and gizmos all come and go in cycles, but more generally, they mature, strengthen and costs go down. This means wider coverage areas, better results with cloud computing, more robust infrastructures to ensure reliability and functionality, and better bandwidth to accommodate an overall increase in online, always-on traffic. Then there’s always a game-changer, in this case, the iPad, which means an android tablet boom as well. All factors considered, tablets are where it’s at, they’re answering the call for schools and if you look at the economic factors involved, you can’t afford not to take them seriously.

3. Social. Facebook and Twitter combined with more than 1.2 billion mobile devices produced each year have pushed social media to a whole new level. It would be dangerous to ignore this area, but what is the impact for schools? A lot more instant collaboration, better and more relevant content, and more immediate, dynamic and accessible resources.

4. Industrial. The textbook industry has its ways. And now, its ways are finally changing. Have a look at what educational companies are doing in the education sector and you’ll see that nothing stays the same. It’s all about digitization, devices and delivery. We are living in exciting digital times for education!

5. Generational. Personalized Learning Environments (PLEs), are another area that the above-mentioned Horizon Report explores.  Learning is becoming personalized, customized, tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of an individual. With more digital natives on the scene, it’s never been a better time for tablets. Chalkboards are electronic white boards, overhead projectors are smart document cameras, pagers and payphones are androids, and now, basal textbooks and print resources are tablets in education.

All that said, to really be successful, tablets will need to take some lessons from blended learning environments and must include these basic elements, preferably in a basic suite of pre-installed applications:

• Segment / Grade Specific Applications

• Update and System Management

• Settings Security

• Accessories (USB port & Camera)

• Price Point (must be under $200 to customer)

• OS (Linux or a remix distro) with Flash Capabilities.

Tablets will also need to be segment-specific—they must address the particular needs of Elementary, Middle or High School students that they serve. It won’t be one-size fits all. Their content must be “stepped”—built on a gradient-levels approach. It’s time for tablets. What are your thoughts?

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Michael Spencer is Senior Director of International Business Development at K12. He is past SVP at The American Education Corporation and past president of One2OneMate, with extensive experience building businesses, designing and manufacturing innovative consumer electronic products and successfully marketing them into the US, European and Latin American markets. He is a regular columnist writing the Smarter Schools column for EdTech Digest. Write to: mspencer52163@gmail.com

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