Thursday, January 20, 2011

Which tablet (slate) device is truly best for education?

Our previous 3 year technology plan provided all (or at least most) secondary teachers with a Tablet PC and a wireless projector in their classroom. This was a great effort to put technology in the hands (literally) of our staff. Elementary staff received smart boards for their classrooms and a netbook (in a similar effort to put the technology in everyone's hands). These were great initiatives and I would say have been fairly successful as our staff is much more comfortable with integrating technology at least from a content delivery standpoint.

Our next 3 year plan calls for handheld devices (presumably iPod Touches, use of cell phones in the classroom, and 'tablet' devices like the iPad or a similar device. Ultimately, students would be encouraged to use either a device that they already have or those provided by the school.

We are looking to pilot several tablet devices before the end of this school year so that we can integrate a device in the classroom next year (most likely in the form of a mobile lab or units that could be checked out based on classroom need).

What device seems to be best for use in education? The first thought that comes to mind is the iPad. It's a beautiful device that seems to have a pretty strong hold in the app market (not to mention Apple's reputation in education. There are a few downsides for sure. No Flash. Heaven forbid!!! No USB port??? Multitasking now exists. I wonder if not including multitasking has it's own possible benefit. Without multitasking, the device responds like a champ. Of course, there are times where not being able to have a note taking app open in addition to the web browser (or another app) could be downright frustrating. I guess that is no longer an issue. From a classroom perspective, the mere fact that it has great battery life and almost instant 'on' are huge benefits. We spend too much time waiting for our laptops on our carts to start up, log into the network, etc.
Maybe I've already convinced myself that the iPad is THE device, but I can't help but wonder (and our tech department wants to explore other devices) if there is an 'iPad killer' out there. Is there a device that might lend better to online text books? Is the absence of Flash enough to detract from the value of the iPad?
Some of the competitors include:

  • The Kno 'textbook tablet' comes in a single tablet and dual screen model. Kno is focusing on the education market and seems to tout the great value in reading and annotating text books as well as the many other inherent tablet features.
  • The Samsung Galaxy Tablet is an Android powered device with pretty impressive hardward specs. Full Flash support is definitely a plus as are the front and rear facing cameras as well as the video recording capability. I can see great application in the classroom between the use of web based flash content as well as skype calls with classes or 'guest speakers'. Is the 7" form factor a plus compared to the larger iPad or a minus? In some ways the 7" device seems like a nice compromise between the small iPod Touch and the larger iPad. I'm intrigued. Will the Android Market's growth work in the favor of android powered tablets?

  • The NOOKcolor may not have all of the features of a fully functional tablet device, but it does have a variety of apps that might make it a viable option (compared to a more traditional eReader). Not sure, but figured I'd throw it out there for discussion. I believe I heard some type of rumor about the NOOKcolor running Android. Was that a dream? The price could be a selling point.

  • The Archos Tablets - Archos has a line of tablets ranging in size from 2.8" for under $100 to a 16 gb 10" tablet (not out yet) for $349. Archos has been big on delivering great multimedia devices, so coupled with the functionality of the Android tablet at a low price point, this is another intriguing product.
  • The Kineo by Brainchild learning is clearly geared toward educational use with it's rugged design and admin controls (for filtering content, etc.). The website doesn't provide too much in terms of detail, but it is slated (no pun intended) for a February 1 release. The specs look ok, but it doesn't look like there is a camera (rear or front facing) included. Thanks to @Kimbrell for the comment.
  • the enTourage Edge and Pocket Edge - enTourage has released two dual screen devices. The edge is a 10" e-Reader on one side and Android slate on the other. The Pocket Edge is a 6" e-Reader and 7" slate. Both fold like a book and are full of features. Reviews that I have read lead me to believe that the devices may have their share of design flaws making both the e-Reader or Slate less than perfect. But, then again, it's hard to tell as a number of the reviews were written prior to it's official release. I'd like to think the devices may have undergone some tweaking since then. Whatever the case, each provides the user with the ability to read (and highlight, underline, annotate) an e-book on one side, while taking advantage of the other side for the full functioning Android apps, allowing for note taking, email, organization, multimedia (music, video, presentations, etc.). Each device has a camera as well (3megapixel in the larger device and 2megapixel in the pocket edge).
    For more information, visit:
    CNET Review
    Engadget Review "Yes, the Edge is a combination e-reader and a Android tablet -- it just doesn't quite work well as either. " --Engadget, 2010
    Pocket Edge Promo Video
    Tiger Direct TV Pocket Edge Review
    SLJ Video (and Text) entourage Edge Review

    My thought after reviewing some of the reviews and videos is that I might lean toward the Pocket Edge as the full size Edge seems quite bulky. I like the idea of the large screen, but think it misses the boat in terms of the appeal of a slate when it gets so bulky. I am hopeful that with updates and such it has (or will) overcome some of the negative points made in the reviews. It's interesting to me that you can't easily find the technical specs. I can't help but wonder about processor speed. Anyone out there have one? I'd love any first hand accounts.

So, help if you can. Do you have a personal tablet? Do you use a tablet in Education? Can you share some insights (positive or negative) about the particular device and integrating it in the classroom? Any thoughts on educational oriented apps (apple, android, or other) woudl help as well. I appreciate any feedback.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

ProCon: Cell Phones and Handhelds in the Classroom

Should Cell Phones and Handhelds be allowed in the Classroom as a learning tool?

This seems to be the pressing question.

Mary Bjerede wrote a blog post titled, "Cell phones in the classroom:
Surprising field studies suggest cell phones could be effective learning tools". In the article, she cites research that demonstrated the potential benefits including the ability to provide students with a multimedia approach to practicing math problems, compared to the more traditional textbook practice. Additionally, she speaks to the benefit and potential issues related to 'unfettered instant access'.

My general thought is that we should encourage and embrace the use of cell phones and handhelds with internet access in the schools. However, I say so with caution and understanding of the concerns of liability. I believe that responsible use can be achieved if :
  • The school's AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) is very clear as it pertains to use of personal devices
  • Teachers are provided with clear guidelines for monitoring use of these devices
  • Parents are informed and included in the conversation related to expectations including the rationale for their use in addition to the responsibility placed on the child.

It's not a simple matter and I am meeting with our principal and Technology supervisor today to discuss the possibilities of allowing the otherwise 'banned' cell phones into the classroom.

I am very interested in any thoughts you may have and encourage comments, feedback, etc. If your school has a policy, please share what that might be.

Thank you in advance!


Monday, January 17, 2011

Do you ooVoo?

Sometimes it's great to have children that are 'Millenials'. I tend to think that I know what's going on with technology, but I can be suprised on occasion. Yesterday, my daughter kept pestering me to download something called ooVoo that all of her friends used for video calling. My daughter described to to me as being like Skype, but you can video chat with multiple people at one time. Since I hadn't heard of it I put on my 'cautious parent' hat. I told her I would search for it, which I did. Everything seemed to check out as she explained it. I installed it on my laptop figuring it was best to let her use it from my computer with my supervision. After a quick installation and a few text messages from her friends she received her first video call. It was like Skype on steroids in a sense. Nice looking interface, easy to use, and, like she said...we were quickly able to be in a video conference with two of her friends.

It seems like a great tool and I can see wonderful application in education. Wouldn't it be great to have a global conversatoin with classes from different countries / cultures online at the same time? The possibilities are certainly there for positive educational application that takes a typical Skype call to another level. Not to knock Skype at all, I'm a huge fan. Kids could work on collaborative projects in real time with video.

Beyond the educational uses (which it clearly was not intended for), the business and personal application is great. The whole family could get online at the same time to wish Grandma a Happy Birthday and on and on.

And must admit ooVoo is a pretty catchy and cool name :)

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Controlling my TV with my Android Phone

It might be old news, as I just located an article from last February about the launch of the FIOS remote for Android, but this morning I had no choice but to search the market and find it out of frustration (you know, the missing remote that I of course later found in buried in the couch). I will say that I was excited to download it and see it install on my phone. As I got ready to use it, however, it prompted me to first click the menu key on my actual FIOS remote. This was a little frustrating as I was hoping to bypass my need for the missing remote. Well, I found the remote and got my phone set up. It seems to work through my home wireless network. Now that I'm set up, I imagine I am in business the next time the remote goes missing.

The remote allows you to control the DVR functions, access the guide (on the TV), change channels, volume, etc. I believe it has almost all of the functionality of the larger, bulky, remote that likes to hide in the couch. In addition to the standard features, the first additional feature that I found and really appreciated, was the ability to display images from my phone on the TV. I will explore it some more as I am sure there are more features to play with, but all in all, it's a nice little app. Now, I just have to hope that my phone doesn't take a dive for the couch cushions!