From textbooks to tablets

Schools are outfitting students with tablets. Will the iPad or another brand win out?

Schools are outfitting students with tablets. Will the iPad or another brand win out?

BIZMOLOGY — As more school districts adopt tablet technology, the opportunities for manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung — not to mention Amazon, with its tablet-esque Kindle Fire — will mount significantly. Tablets have all kinds of advantages for schools and students, according to the National Education Association. However, there are plenty of pitfalls for the unprepared school district.

First, a big win, from the NEA:

Big news in the tech-ed world: The Los Angeles Unified School District — the second largest school district in the country — recently spent $30 million to deploy 35,000 iPads to students. It’s part of a multi-year commitment with Apple that will eventually equip all 640,000 students with iPads.

The article goes on to add that the iPads will be loaded with textbooks from Pearson.

Here are some of the advantages of tablets in schools:

  • Schools will no longer have to use outdated textbooks. Updated content can be uploaded seamlessly from the publishers. Schools will likely pay a subscription fee for new installments.
  • Tablets will lighten the load for students. At a time when even elementary school kids are lugging around heavy backpacks, the ability to carry a single tablet with textbooks, workbooks, school papers, and homework will be a boon to students.
  • Tablets will make learning interactive, helping engage those students who are reluctant learners or otherwise disconnected from school. Content can include text, video, chat, even Skype.

Now, the downsides, and they are considerable:

  • Theft. This one is obvious. The size and portability of tablets, which make them so beneficial, are exactly what make them vulnerable to theft.
  • Inappropriate use. Schools have been struggling with controlling access to the Internet for a while. Districts will have to investigate their options for ensuring proper access.
  • Training. It’s a cliché that kids these days are born tech-savvy, but their elders, not so much. Teacher training will be essential, but it will also be necessary to prepare students for how to get the most out of their new school tablet.
  • Tech infrastructure. Before handing out tablets, schools will have to upgrade their school-district technology backbone, or that interactive science lesson will slow to an unusable crawl. According to the NEA article, the New York City public school system has banned new iPads and mobile devices from using its wi-fi for exactly that reason. Cash-strapped school districts may not want to go back to taxpayers with another bond request.

It may be that tablets aren’t the answer and that schools will bypass portable devices completely, opting instead for connecting directly to the cloud for textbooks and classroom instruction. Or an even newer technology will come along, leapfrogging our children farther into the future. We might have some nostalgia for textbooks, but they are already a memento of classrooms past.

It’s time for technology that is not all bells and whistles but about substantial change.

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Photo by Patrice Sarath.

Patrice Sarath

Patrice Sarath is a writer and editor for First Research, covering the health care, insurance, and construction industries.

Read more articles by Patrice Sarath.

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