Are Tablets the biggest transformation in education since the internet?

Guest post from Dave Foord, Tablet Academy Trainer

Education is currently going through one of the most fundamental, rapid and exciting transformations ever, and what is most exciting is the transformation is for once being driven by the consumer (in this case the learner).

The transformation that I am referring to is the use of tablet devices in education. Many won't see this as being anything special as we have been using computers and laptops in education for years, but these technologies had significant weaknesses - mainly they were big, heavy, required power cables, took ages to start up, and were a headache to book or manage. The net result was they bought benefits to the learning experience but at a cost, and sadly the technology rather than being an enabler, sometimes became a barrier, and most teachers would naturally never use them to their full potential for fear of failure.

So why is the tablet so different? Put simply, it removes the barriers listed above and allows the technology to enhance learning without getting in the way. A teacher can ask learners to use the devices for part of a session, then put them away, then get them out again, then put them away etc. The devices allow genuine mobility, in that you are no longer confined to the restrictions of the 4 walls, or even the exact times that you have been timetabled with that group. The fact that tablets have been designed to be very easy to use, means we don't have to spend hours teaching students how to use the systems and the software so can focus on the subject in hand instead - all in all (in my opinion) the most significant technological improvement to education ever.

I mentioned earlier that this was being lead by the students. In the past many technological advancements in education have been driven by government e.g. Money to colleges to buy a VLE, money for schools to invest in loads of interactive whiteboards (but forgetting about training), requirements created by Ofsted expectation etc. The thing with tablets, is we have no choice but to embrace them, as learners own them (or at least smart phones) and will want to use them - and if what we provide is not good enough they will just reject them and use their own devices anyway, which although brings huge cost saving to an organisation it can create a headache for a teacher trying to plan activities for a multitude of devices, sizes, and operating systems.

For the last few years the tablet market has been dominated by 2 systems: Apple or Android, with most in education going for the Apple option, and both having their weaknesses. Luckily a third player in Microsoft has entered the market, and this offers a level of choice that has to be good for education, and I predict that within a 18 months will be the most popular organisation owned tablet system within education.

There are various reasons why Microsoft is so attractive:

It will just slot into most organisations existing systems, and as long as they have a site license for the Microsoft educational tools (which most have) then you have the easy access to the full range of tools that will cover most of educationist needs.

The real killer advantage of Microsoft over it's competitors is it will work really well when the devices are used by multiple different people, as all the learners have to do is log into the device at the start of the session with their Microsoft account (SkyDrive) details - they then have access to all they need, they can save their work, then logout at the end of the session.

The Microsoft tablet is dual functionality. With the keyboard and mouse attached you have a nearly full PC environment (enough for most educational needs) which is ideal for working on things like assignments where there are reasonable amounts of typing. Then you take the keyboard off, and you have the touch screen controlled device that is excellent for mobility and quick looking up of information.

And finally cost - at the moment the Microsoft tablet is retailing at less than the Android and Apple alternatives - this makes this more affordable both for organisations or students wanting to buy their own devices.

The most important thing for organisations to consider has to be an investment in quality staff development and CPD activity. We have (hopefully) learnt from the mistakes of the past, where organisations bought equipment (e.g. Interactive whiteboards, voting pads) but didn't train staff - the result was expensive cupboards and boards being used as projection screens. Some organisations have staff in house that can train others, but there are always limitations of this model - so investing in expert external staff development is proving to be money well spent, and this is where The Tablet Academy comes in. The Tablet Academy is made up of educators who have extensive experience both within education (many are still teachers) and in a training capacity. The company has been founded by educators who are passionate about teaching and learning and the ethic is to provide quality training and support at a reasonable price. The Tablet Academy is completely independent and offers training and support for all tablet devices  so are able to offer complete support even when a mixed economy of devices are used.

As an educator and a Tablet Academy trainer, I am very excited about these changes and opportunities - things that I wish I had had during my years as a teacher.

Dave Foord, Tablet Academy Trainer, will be on our stand at the AOC Conference on 19-21 November on stand F14.

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