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Tablet 2.0: An Open Market for Education



The upcoming tablet devices from Steve Jobs and Michael Arrington’s crews have the potential to greatly impact how people interact with digital media and the Internet.  Aside from being easy-to-use Internet companions and multimedia centers, these two devices could reshape the way teachers teach and students learn.  Much different than what we traditionally think of as Windows-based Tablet PCs, this new generation of tablets, Tablet 2.0, appear to be focusing on entertainment and convenience.

The Need for Tablet 2.0 in Education
There is a great need in America’s K-12 public education system to embrace emerging and popular technologies as a way to enhance lessons and improve educational achievement.  Largely due to a lack of funding, concerns over control, and untrained faculty members, schools have been resistant to implement mobile labs in classrooms (or allow students access through their personal devices).  Notebooks rather than netbooks continue to reign supreme in the labs that do exist.  Devices like netbooks are cool but they are not innovative; there is nothing new in the design or use of a netbook compared to a laptop.  However, the popularity of ebook readers and the surge of all things multi-touch have opened the door to a new breed of Internet devices.

In this day and age, it is difficult for average teachers to compete with video games, text messaging, movies, and the Internet.  An easy to use tablet device could help teachers capitalize on these technologies, using them to help students learn.  Schools could benefit from tablets as it would remove the dependency on textbooks which contain information and history written by companies.  Instead, students could discover their own information and view many different perspectives, creating their own understanding of history.

What it Would Take for Tablet Success in Education
There are many debates about what the upcoming iPad and CunchPad must do in order to be successful.  Many are questioning whether consumers can be shown a need or the devices themselves can be exceptional enough that people will fork over the money to buy them.  These new tablet devices have the potential to be what Mobile Internet Devices (MIDS) intended to be and what Tablet PCs failed to be.  Aside from the obvious form-factor, battery life, and hardware requirements, software will be key in whether these devices take off.

With regards to a school environment, the software must be easy to use, simple, and attractive.  Students and teachers should be able to navigate, understand, and access features with no previous working knowledge or experience of this  tablet platform.  The operating system should be visually pleasing and draw users in, encouraging them to interact with the device.  An on-screen, functional keyboard is a must.  Natural input or inking is also a must regardless of whether it is the primary method of input.  If packaged in affordable deals, these tablets could benefit students of all ages.

Why Would iPad and CrunchPad Want to Get their Feet in Education’s Door?
Getting these tablets into the school setting would raise up lifelong consumers if these products are all-around solid and well designed.  These devices will create the standard that future tablets will follow.  The formula used to determine if these devices will succeed or fail is simple.  A tablet such as the iPad or CrunchPad will succeed if it appeals to teenagers, is strong enough to withstand a classroom environment, and is easy as a microwave to use.  I am certain that we will one day see these devices in backpacks rather than books, pencils, and paper.

What do you foresee as roadblocks preventing this platform from succeeding?



  1. Sumocat

    08/10/2009 at 12:55 pm

    Matt, I’m with you on everything except the part about removing “dependency on textbooks”. It’s a good sentiment, but once textbook publishers wise up and realize they can license their content each year with no printing cost (as opposed to selling books that are expensive to print and last for more than a year), I think we’ll see them push digital books on reader devices. The physical books may disappear but that doesn’t mean the source of the content will change.

  2. Corrupted Mind

    08/10/2009 at 2:30 pm

    As someone who evangelised to Teachers about the benefits of technology in classes a few issues are worth highlighting”

    1) Basic Literacy – technologist often make the argument that basic literacy should transition to not merely reading and writing but also using a computer. But there remains no clear roadmap to this type of literacy, kids start out with a pen and paper and are unable to transition their “inking” directly onto PC’s, they learn (at least in formal education) about PC *with keyboards” later and then this is reinforced in higher education. This is further reinforced in the workplace where research is showing a decline in handwriting. Until a clear roadmap exists which supports both input methods up and down the chain then investment in tablets will fail to gain traction in education institutions.

    2) Cost – until the costs are neglible either for education providers or the students then there will always be a worry that basic literacy and its provision would be locked into economic means. This is an issue that many educators feel strongest about – either its technology for all or it cannot be a component of early learning and basic literacy.

    3) Need – this argument breaks both ways, slates are a fantastic tool, but also a fantastic distraction. Its one thing having college grads multi-tasking and another to have teenagers and younger doing the same.

    4) Success – I think cost and a clear roadmap rank highest, but I’d add software to that too. I think however this is market driven. If the devices are there then the software will follow.

    5) Ipad/Crunchpad I like your sentiment but these two devices are targeting the entertainment space and so would only result in disappointment if they were shoehorned into the education space.

  3. sbtablet

    08/10/2009 at 6:30 pm

    As a teacher in higher education, I use my tablet pc in my classroom everyday. My students normally stick to pencil and paper, and few show interest in bringing a “regular” pc to class, much less in buying an expensive tablet. Makes me sad. I try to sell them on OneNote, but costs are prohibitive for many of my community college students. They have a desktop at home, but mobile computing feels extravagant to them, or they use a laptop, but don’t carry it to class and don’t see why they should.

    I can see ebook readers with internet access for students becoming mainstream as textbooks. The textbook companies will DRM them to death, but it still might push textbook costs out of the $600 per semester range for my students, which would be good.

    I can’t see textbooks for high school and elementary students going away anytime soon. There is too much need for an integrated curriculum that moves smoothly from K to 12 getting all the basics covered. I also find well designed textbooks very helpful for my college students. One of the biggest problems I have with their idea of “research” on the web is their inexperience in identifying reliable sources of information and separating them out from pretty sites with bogus or highly biased and inaccurate “information.” Sometimes it’s nice to have some pre-selected and high quality information in the form of a good textbook to give them the basic background to be able to ferret out and discard the worthless stuff. Web literacy and bias detection taught in earlier grades might help here.

    I really wish that schools would adopt tablet pcs with handwriting capabilities rather than touch tablets with poor or nonexistent inking. Three reasons: 1. I think it would be a real boon to students to take notes directly into a searchable program like OneNote. 2. Using the slate format is less distruptive of eye contact and discussion than using a keyboard. 3. Teachers have more view and therefore more control over what a student is doing on their computer when it is flat on the desk in slate mode.

    That’s not to mention learning to write and avoiding carpal tunnel injury.

    Anyway, I can see these things as ereaders, but not nearly as useful in classrooms as a convertible tablet pc.

  4. harv

    08/10/2009 at 8:18 pm

    When I read your first paragraph I resented the idea that there was anything new to the concept of tablet pcs in education. Many smart teachers have been using them for years. Apple and many late comers have only added to the “electronic jewelry” class of internet-connected, but wildy overpriced, devices which are little value to education for the well established reasons stated above. I also fear the DRMing of online textbooks. And the widening chasm between those students who have money and access to these devices, and those who don’t, but deserve just as useful and as state-of-the-art an education. We can wait until they become cheap enough for every school department to buy each student one, as was envisioned in the OLPC program. Apple can go sell status symbols and jewelry.

  5. C.

    08/11/2009 at 6:20 am

    I wish someone would create the perfect tablet for writers. There are A LOT of writer out there who would gobble up a tablet that had all of the properties described in the article.


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