Tablets In Education, A 2000 Year Old Idea

Today is the day that the iPhone 5 releases and there have been many breathless articles in tech and mainstream media about the new phone, the rush to acquire it, the Apple Store lines and the excitement about all things Apple. The brilliance of the day has been diminished slightly by the poor reception of Apple Maps, but, in all, a good day for Apple fans. Yet despite the momentous day, there are many, including me, who are looking ahead to the Next Big Thing. What’s that, you ask? The iPad Mini, of course. I don’t think that Apple has confirmed its existence yet, but that hasn’t stopped the press from declaring that it’s around the corner and speculating on its existence, specifications and release date. Creating a smaller tablet certainly makes sense for Apple for several reasons. Over at Pocket-lint.com, they’ve put their finger on it. In addition to having a lower price point,

The second, and perhaps equally as compelling reason for Apple to create an iPad mini, is education. Cook, and other Apple execs also on the earnings call, mentioned the word education over and over again. That’s no mistake, or chance….The Apple execs talked of how education districts in the US were opting for the iPad over regular Mac computers, how teachers were using the iPad in the classroom to help pupils learn and play. From a school’s perspective you can see the appeal. The iPad, although expensive, is still cheaper than a laptop. Dedicated apps are easier to run than apps on a laptop, and as a visual tool they are far easier, as there isn’t the risk of the keyboard and plenty of other parts getting broken.

There’s much to be said for a smaller iPad. Smaller academic (and consumer) budgets can accomPhoto courtesy of Lexie Flickinger; Flickr.com; Creative Commonsmodate an iPad Mini, when a the expense of a fully configured laptop would be out of the question. Smaller hands can handle a lighter device much more easily. And cracking that educational market makes a lot of long term sense for Apple, or any other company with business intentions in the youth market. Apple has always had a robust education friendly sales policy. (Full disclosure: I bought my first Apple LC under a student program.) This seems like a logical extension of it. Other technology and youth-oriented companies have realized the potential in the convergence of tablets and education. Toys R Us may trying to slip in the door a little early with the debut of their Tabeo device, which will come preloaded with 50 apps and have another 5000, including many educational apps in a dedicated store, all for around $150. Of course, market leaders like Leapfrog planted their flat in this market segment long ago, and also came out with their own ‘tablet’, the LeapPad, a year ago, with an update, the LeapPad2 for this holiday season. TabTimes sums it up:

The consensus seems to be that of all the markets, a smaller and cheaper iPad could have significant impact in education.

“It would clearly have some traction in education based on a low price and small size….”, said Stephen Baker, VP of industry analysis at the NPD Group.

Universities are already fitting iPads into their teacher training curriculum. Wake Forest, for example, has already integrated the device into student teacher lesson plans.

Wake Forest senior Kaela MacPhail ('11) teaches a lesson using iPad tablet computers in a kindergarten class at Ashley Elementary School in Winston-Salem, N.C. Photo courtesy: www.wfu.edu

Wake Forest joins scores of schools at all levels adding iPads to the curriculum. Educators have embraced the tool, still less than

a year old, as a way to strengthen their students’ skills and savvy: According to a recent Pew Study on the Internet and American Life, most people will connect to the Internet primarily through a mobile device by 2020.

Bennett said her students are so excited by the potential, they’ve asked to buy new apps out of pocket after their software budget runs out.

“They don’t feel daunted by the technology at all,” she said. “They’re looking at a range of applications – downloading virtual picture books, practicing skills with a variety of apps including complex games, and creating mind-mapping tools. I anticipate that my students will discover new and exciting ways to use this mobile technology.”

Companies which service the educational market either primarily or secondarily can definitely benefit by finding ways to moving into the app world with education specific apps that would work in a classroom setting. It’s a market with huge possibilities.

If tablets (all be it slate) were good enough for the Romans, then surely 2000 years later the concept of them should work here too.