Tablets Go To The Head of the Class?

As pleased as I am to upgrade my own tablet later this month, I’m just as excited about the potential for this device, and others like it from Apple’s growing cadre of competitors, to significantly and positively impact the classroom.

I’m frequently asked my opinion on this subject, particularly when I talk with representatives of organizations which interface with primary and secondary schools about app projects. Without a doubt, the positive impact of tablet technology on education is already underway. iPad pilot programs have already tested how the first tablet on the market works in the classroom. (Some interesting perspective from teachers on these experiments can be found here and here.) Best practices for classroom tablet use are already being distributed in the blogosphere, as are detailed debriefings from pilot programs.

It’s a technology which fits nicely within a classroom setting since it extends into areas where classrooms have been focusing for many years now. Links and rich media provide an additional dimension to student content. Distribution and collection of assignments and resources becomes more frictionless. Classroom administration becomes more efficient. One of my son’s friends, a 7th grade student at a local parochial school, already receives assignments and reads on a tablet distributed by the school on the first day of classes, along with his traditional textbooks. Tomorrow is today. (Useful infographic here.)

But it is the affordability and the portability of tablets which will I think make the greatest impact. Tablets are generally on the lower end of the price scale, with costs measured in the hundreds of dollars, while desktops and laptops are on the top end of the 3 digit scale or even edging into four digit territory. The simple fact that you’ll be able to get three (or more) iPad Minis, Galaxy Tabs or Kindle Fires for less than a grand will allow school administrators to purchase more devices. There’s even a report, which came out today, of a $99 tablet coming from Google.

From the student’s perspective, though, the portability is what makes the revolution. Students can be much more in control of the technology. It’s a powerful democratizing force. Being able to move about the classroom or team up with another student to read an interactive book, use an app or complete a project just makes a lot of sense. (I love how mgleeson talks about iPad’s being great content creation devices in his blog, here.) And kids are quick to pick up the gestures of controlling a tablet. It’s much easier to ‘pick up’ and far more intuitive than figuring out how to use a mouse.

There are plenty of educational apps out there, from simple math skill-practices to interactive books. (My own little one girl focus group is currently entranced by Motion Math‘s Hungry Fish.) With Apple’s well-known concentration on the educational market, I’m sure that a greater adoption within classrooms will bring greater interest by educational publishers, support companies and related institutions.  In fact, Amazon announced today their Whispercast product which allows the updating of a small group of Kindles, like in a school setting.

Companies and institutions whose mission it is to engage youth should be giving serious thought into how they want to engage this new technology. Although there’s still questions to be answered about how tablets will be used in the classroom, integrated into school IT infrastructure and more, I believe this is the next great shift in the classroom.