Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
One million iPads. That’s the number of tablets Apple sold to schools and colleges in the year before the current school year. It’s roughly double the number sold in the education market during the previous year. In the same conference call where Apple announced the exponential growth of iPads, they also announced a decline in sales of Macintosh computers to schools and colleges.
Education, traditionally slow to adopt new technology, is bucking tradition snapping up iPads faster than many people have expected. K-12 schools all over the United States are integrating tablets into their classrooms and opting for iPads instead of laptops or desktops.
This rapid growth of tablets in education will have far-reaching implications on digital publishing. That’s why I’ve started this DBW column dedicated to education.
Tablets are appealing to educators and it’s easy to see why. They’re portable, powerful, connected, colorful, interactive—and kids think they’re cool.
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Tablets contain cameras for taking pictures of science projects, video players for watching movies, and apps that allow students to look at 3D models. They play music for humanities classes and voice-overs for language learners. And of course, they offer email and the internet so students can communicate with far-flung experts.
Tablets are less expensive than computers and students can carry them easily from class to class. They carry infinitely more information than a stack of text books—information that doesn’t go out of date—and they weigh a whole lot less.
Students with tablets are no longer tethered to computer labs, and they can’t hide behind a big box to avoid attention from their teachers. They let children move forward with lessons, or review, at their own pace.
Related: The ABCs of Kids and Ebooks
Problems with tablets in the classroom
As versatile as tablets are for learning, educators are still in the infancy stage of integrating them into their academic curricula. A quick survey of the environment reveals the three essential problems today:
Problem #1 Not enough dollars to purchase content
Budgets are always a concern in education. In a recent survey of more than 225 Kindergarten through grade-12 educators in the United States, 57% of responders selected “No budget to purchase applications/e-books” as the biggest challenge in integrating tablets in their lessons.
Though educators were able to select more than one answer in the survey, more than half of teachers felt they did not have access to funding for making full use of the hardware. The survey was sponsored by the web site E-booksandKids.com, a blog that addresses digital
publishing issues for teachers, librarians, and independent publishers.
Problem #2 Input
Getting information into a tablet has never been easy. Tablets are more about receiving information than inputting it. Schools, however, require students to read and respond. Still, entering responses in to a tablet can be awkward.
Teachers complain about the lack of keyboards on tablets. Separate, connected keyboards sap battery power. Accessory keyboards also reduce the simplicity and portability that make a tablet so appealing. Plus, though many schools have purchased iPads, very few of them purchased keyboards to go with them (see problem #1, budget).
Sure, many apps have onscreen keyboards. But generally they are small and quirky, and they often cover up part of the viewing area. Still, if digital publishers want to take the education market seriously, they are going to have to address the input problem by coming up with new, graceful ways for students to share their thoughts onscreen.
Problem #3 Monitoring use
Though tablets allow students to learn at their own pace, some educators are worried about how to handle a classroom full of independent learners. The e-booksandkids.com survey included opportunities for write-in answers and several educators expressed concern about monitoring children while they use their tablets.
One teacher wrote of her concern about finding it “hard to control what ‘other’ activities students do other than the lesson.” Another educator commented that her biggest problem with tablets was “students visiting sites other than those for learning.” Of course students who stray around the Internet is an issue with desktop and laptop computers as well. A third teacher wrote that her greatest difficulty was “keeping students on target” while they used the iPads.
Other problems expressed buy educators
With more than half of those surveyed selecting “no budget” as their biggest complaint about using tablets in the classroom, educators noted other issues as well, though in much smaller percentages:
- 17% of respondents answered: Don’t know how to evaluate or guide kids in their tablet use
- 16% answered: Don’t understand how applications integrate into my lesson plans
- 8% answered: Don’t know how to get applications/e-books
- 7% answered: Applications/e-books aren’t educational enough
- 7%: The technology is confusing
- 22% filled in the “other” form with comments, mostly about monitoring tablet use.
Some schools have had problems with stolen iPads, but the thieves generally come from outside of the school communities. Very few educators have complained about misuse, breakage, and loss among students.
Related: The ABCs of Kids and Ebooks
A new column for DBW
Now that an unprecedented torrent of tablets has entered K-12 schools in the United States, new learning methods—along with new modes of digital publishing— are on the very near horizon. This column will be a record of these changing times in in education.