Friday, July 5, 2013

Tablet computing as we know it has taken on new functionality. The technology supplied via the tablet is the perfect learning aid. The touch screen interaction provides a clear educational advantage to children of all ages because it offers better engagement, enhanced knowledge retention, increased stimulation, and decreased “time-to-learn”. Tablet technology is a preferred change to fixed computers or laptops because the size and transportability enables students to include it in a myriad of learning activities.





What are tablet devices being used for in the classroom?


Tablets offer a portable learning experience reflected in their long battery life which outlasts traditional mobile computing solutions. As a result, it lends itself to a better use of technology within the classroom. Learning can now be enhanced in a multitude of manners including the ability to quickly access reference material in the middle of a lesson to enhance learning. Tablets can be used on field trips, during physical education lessons, or in workshops to instantly gather evidence and present research. By bringing these devices into the classroom students have access to video resources, reference books, internet research, and document preparation, document reviewing and audio resources. Tablets are now a versatile learning tool.
Touch tablets dispense with the burden of carrying around a handful of books. Now it seems 27% of middle school students and 35% of high school students are turning to digital textbooks. An additional 58% of college students actually prefer a digital format to traditional textbooks and tablets are the ideal window for said content.




What are the most popular apps?


In terms of reading apps for young children some of the most popular apps include:


- The Rescue of Ginger (for Android and iPad)
- LOL Libs (for Android)
- Mystic Maggie (for Android)
- Brain Pop (for Android and iPad)
- iWrite Words


For older students some of the best apps include:

Evernote
- Polaris Office
- DropBox
- Studious
- Skedule
- My Gradebook
- Write
- iAnnotate PDF
- Dictionary
- Lecture Notes
- OfficeSuite Pro 7


What technology are schools using?


The iPad was the first tablet device launched in 2012 using the iOS mobile operating system from Apple but has since been followed by tablets from such industry leaders as Acer, Samsung, and Toshiba each of which utilizes the mobile OS from Google, the Android.
Given the vast array of available technologies one must question which device is best suited for learning in schools.


Apple iPads

Apple’s iPad is already seeing large demand and has readily been adopted in schools due in part to its intuitive user interface and in larger part to the wide array of applications. The main advantages to the iPad tablet is that it is simple to use, offers high quality, great performance, long battery life, and a range of applications. The main limitation associated with the iPad is that the single source hardware does not support any existing connectivity resources, network resources, or content resources. The limited configurability means that it is costly to manage content for multiple devices and difficult at best to secure.


Android Tablets

Using the Google open source OS many leading manufacturers have released tablets which run the Android OS. The key advantages to this operating system are that with so many hardware manufacturers schools have varied price points. These devices support external USB devices as well as Adobe Flash content. The Android systems offer greater connectivity support and network resources which make it easier to manage and control. The main limitation to the Android tablets is that the content is more limited.


LearnPad 

The LearnPad is one of the most cost effective and flexible platforms available. It has a secure web browsing feature which can be limited to an approved white-list of websites. Teachers can create profiles for each student or each subject area which can then be accessed via the management portal. In addition this tablet is pre-installed with a range of eLearning applications which are aligned to the current curriculum. You can add eLearning activities through the online activity store.


Windows Tablet

These tablets have greater support for existing network infrastructure and content. They also support external devices. The main limitations associated with the Windows tablet is that they are most expensive than alternatives and they applications are not suited for other tablet forms.
Amazon has already taken advantage of the growth of tablets in education by selling Kindle devices at bulk discounts for schools. Trials for the Amazon Kindle have taken place in over 100 schools in Texas and Florida. Barnes and Noble’s Nook have been seen in Chicago Public Schools and a Colorado high school so far. Barnes and Noble is offering discounts for accessorizes and services that are tailored to education and the classroom. 



What are the advantages/disadvantages of using tablet technology on-campus?


By deploying a significant number of tablets, schools will need to create a system for managing, maintaining, and controlling them the same as they would for computers or laptops. One concern is monitoring and controlling access to applications and marketplaces that are not appropriate for children under a certain age. As of now tablets have the power to alter the way in which eLearning resources are accessed by students. Tablet deployments are expected to grow quickly and in large numbers due to their flexibility and versatility. Nonetheless it is imperative that the educational environment makes appropriate changes, ensuring that external ICT Support specialists are available to assist existing internal IT experts who do not have experience in deploying tablet hardware.

There is an increased demand for mobile connectivity. While schools may have wireless networks, there is now a need for wireless connectivity available to a greater number of devices across a wider geographic area. This means an existing wi-fi infrastructure needs to be increased in order to support the additional bandwidth. Many schools are located in buildings made from older construction materials with unusual layouts. There may be remote classrooms that do not have wireless connectivity. Combine this with a large campus which has distant buildings and you are faced with a costly and challenging adaptation.

The total cost of tablet ownership, management, and maintenance can be quite expensive especially if the devices are damaged or broken. Certain tablets are limited to proprietary content which means the overall cost will increase each time a new activity is loaded which the tablet does not currently support. The positive results of tablet implementation school-wide rest in the increased battery life which reduces overall costs.

While the costs may be high at the moment, there is a trend growing among the business world and some of the academic world: bring-your-own-tablet. Some educational establishments are providing a voucher system which enables students to purchase their own device and reduce the overall burden. Some potential measures to offset the costs of these tablets is to ask students to bring their own, and those who cannot afford them could be equipped from a smaller school-owned collection.

A case study completed by Learning Untethered stated that the cost of equipping an average 5th grade class with 7-inch Samsung tablets cost $200 per student and in spite of some technical issues, student engagement was overwhelmingly positive.

Tablets which are compatible with existing eLearning resources like localized online platforms or online testing and assessment activities take higher priority when comparing the available hardware. 




Conclusion.

Tablet technology will only continue to grow. As new applications become available and costs are lowered this technology can become widely implemented in schools. While deploying tablets in schools offers clear benefits, there are also issues which must be overcome first in order to unlock the true potential of the tablet. Once this is done we can truly begin to bridge the digital gap.


Author Bio:

David is currently taking a break from IT, working for bvarious technology companies across London helping them with promotion and social media activities. 

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