Tablets for what ails you

various tablets

As the world has turned gonzo for tablets, I have not been immune.

While we do not yet have a district-wide student device implementation plan (hey, it’s California – we barely keep the electric bill paid), I frequently field the same question from educators and parents alike: Which device do I choose for my student?

So, I turn to my closest reference material:  my kids, and for one of them, the answer turned on her algebra book.

I have a slender, 75-pound 7th grader at home, one who was issued about 25 pounds of textbooks in late August.  Visions of Dickensian, hunched-over 12-year-olds hauling firewood danced in my head.  When, during back-to-school night, her algebra teacher said the online, digital version of her text was preferable due to its interactivity, I had a new 7” tablet ordered within 24 hours.

While the algebra book was PDF-based, the interactive features were dependent on Flash, so the entire Apple suite was out of the picture.  Another of my daughter’s teachers was having students set up Google accounts, so that piece of information led me to seriously consider Android tablets as I was aware that the integration of features and tools in the Google-verse was pretty seamless.

This illustrates the crooked path to the answer to the “which device?” question; it’s not like choosing bed sheets.

Following are some of the factors to be considered in choosing your tablet:

  • Which suite of apps will serve your student best?  Each of the major app warehouses (Apple, Google/Android, Kindle) provide often mutually-exclusive applications.  There is some overlap between them, so you need to do your research.
  • Over the lifetime of the tablet, will your student age out of one app suite and into another?
  • What level of productivity apps (word processing, etc.) will your student require?  Is one better than another for keying-in data?  Our home experiments indicate that a negative data-entry experience will result in non-use pretty quickly.  This also informs what size tablet to consider.  For instance, our 7th grader’s hands fit the QWERTY touch-pad of the 7” far more comfortably than a larger tablet.
  • Will the on-board browser run the textbooks you need?  If not, will the tablet’s operating system permit you to download a compatible browser such as Firefox?  Are the texts perhaps available as an ebook download?
  • Does your student have access to Wi-Fi in the location the tablet will be used?  Do you have Wi-Fi at home, or does your student’s district have an open Wi-Fi network?  Bring-your-own-device policies vary widely, so check with your child’s school.

In addition, you’ll have decisions to make about on-board memory, how the tablet will be used by your student, etc.  NPR recently did this overview story on tablets, Tis the season for tablets, well-worth consulting.

“A video’s worth how many words?”

My recent conversation with Thomson Reuter’s Science & Environment reporter Ben Gruber regarding the California Roadkill Observation System for which I am a “citizen observer” evolved, naturally enough, into a discussion regarding ed tech.  Any reader of this blog might expect my side of the conversation to devolve into my usual rant regarding the American preoccupation with traditional instruction and the consequent loss of our national competitive edge in science and technology to those countries willing to make the necessary investment in their children.

In the spirit of “You’re going to hate this…,” Ben mentioned a story he recently completed regarding the aggressive South Korean national investment in education technology, understanding the inherent service to their national self-interest as they look to the future of their country.

Ben’s resulting Reuters video story is far more powerful than any further words I can offer.  Please invest 2:26 of your time and think hard about the cultural back story:

Living as we do in a nation that popularly refuses to acknowledge the link between education and technology presumably because it requires we spend money on children instead of warfare and pleasure seeking (we can afford chalk and pencils for them, can’t we?), it is comforting that someone in the world sees fit to prepare their children for their troubled planet so they may address its problems with all the necessary tools they will need.  I remain sad that my own country is not counted in that number.  No one needs to “bomb us back into the stone age”** to win at the civilization game.  We need only stand still while the world passes us by.

♦♦♦♦♦

** This phrase, ironically enough, came into popular usage amidst the coverage of twentieth century American policy toward Asian countries.  See this article on the topic if you’re interested.

Add your 1:1 fantasy here…

There is growing interest among educators in my district, technical and curricular alike, in the reality of students increasingly making WiFi/cellular-connected devices part of their daily life-gear. There is keen interest in the kimble readermomentum on the equipment-side toward inexpensive tablet devices (most recently hacked out of the near-capable Kindle) that were they to reach the commercial market in that configuration and price-point it could revolutionize not only device acquisition, but the way we budget for text-based materials.  The impact on instruction would be dramatic, revolutionary even.

Colleague and Blue Skunk blogger Doug Johnson recently probed this issue with his post, Specs for Student Devices.  The response to this post was interesting, and the conversation stopper was cost of the $400-$500 devices that dominate the discussion, as equity is always the deal-breaker in public education.  So what happens when we throw Marvell’s $99marvell moby tablet Moby tablet into the discussion?  Suddenly conversation turns to textbook budgets, open-source becomes a favorite sidebar, and discussions around educational equity become laced with “What if we [add your favorite topping here].”

Our departmental water cooler discussions are now drifting toward considering the feasibility of universal WiFi to serve students and staff bringing their devices to school.

What will be the evolution and changes in campus behavior once this happens?  What will be the best practices in service to equity of opportunity for all students?  How do we guide system-disruptive technologies to further our effectiveness as educators?

I’m asking readers to take a break from the work routine and wax fanciful here.  Let’s say that in the next year or so we can think of all students as “haves” and the cost-of-device issue disappears.  Let’s add to this assumption that our legislators will see the digital light and crack open the means by which we bring information to students allowing us to fund the best future.  How do we move educational structures into the future with relevance and a smile?

E-books R Us?

We here in California have made a startling discovery.  We’re out of money.  Suddenly, the educator’s fondness for cuddling a warm, bound pile of ink-enhanced cellulose is giving way to open-source texts and ebooks, not to mention a sudden recognition of the environmental impact of all that printing and binding.

image of sony ebook

We know there have been a number of fantasies in this direction, but the rubber has hit the road in our state.  What are readers finding?  Searches on ebooks in schools yield a number of library-based experiments around the country, but is there anyone on the verge of making The Great Leap at a district or county level?