Friday, March 30, 2018

The New Landscape of Tablet Computers in Education

Over the past week, we have heard from both Apple and Google about their ideas for what the future holds for tablets computers in the classroom. Full disclosure, the device that really sparked my interest and began my journey in educational technology was the iPad 2 back in 2011. With this device, along with an Apple TV, I fundamentally changed the way that I was able to engage my students.
It opened up my band classroom to a wide range of resources that I previously was unable to access. I could record audio, take pictures, record video, display video, play musical examples, and show music excerpts on the large screen display. My music scores were saved on the iPad where I could annotate and leave notes that would shape my future rehearsals. Using a tuner app, I could wirelessly walk around the room and tune instruments. I utilized the metronome app to program a click track to speed up and slow down when the tempos fluctuated in the music. I really fell in love with what the device could do and its potential.

The New iPad

Fast forward to today, and not a lot has changed. Processor speeds have gotten faster, storage sizes have increased, the camera takes higher quality video and images, screen resolution has improved, more apps have been created, but at its core, the device remains the same.

Don't get me wrong, the iPad is an awesome device for the classroom. With newer apps like Apple Classroom and the Clips app along with a slew of other great apps, it is a really creative and powerful tool.

But why is it such a difficult device to manage? Why hasn't Apple devised a better way to manage these devices? If Apple wants to play such a major role in education, why are the devices so expensive? Apple says they are revolutionizing the way students learn, but why do I feel like they are falling short.

After watching Tuesday's Apple Keynote, I was disappointed. The speculators leading up to the Apple Keynote event, held at Chicago's Lane Tech High School, anticipated a price drop in the device to make it more affordable for the education marketplace. I thought to myself that finally, Apple was going to make a play to reinsert themselves as a competitive player in education. After viewing Tuesday's keynote, I now feel quite the opposite.

Not only did Apple not lower the price of the iPad, $329 normal pricing and $299 educational pricing, the same as the previous generation, but the big selling point was adding Apple Pencil support to the non-iPad Pro model. Apple Pencil pricing is $99 normal pricing and $89 educational pricing. In order to utilize the full features of the device, they essentially increased the overall price. Add the Logitech keyboard case and the price tag jumps another $100. This makes the fully outfitted device around $488. I can't help but feel that Apple is pricing themselves out of the education market. Add the additional headache it causes to manage these devices and why would this be the device of choice for most schools? Especially when you are trying to compete with the much cheaper and easier to manage Chromebooks that already have an overwhelming share of the market.

Enter the Chrome OS Tablet

The day before Apple unveiled their new device, Google and Acer confirmed what had been rumored at the BETT show in London. A tablet device running Chrome OS. Where Apple has stalled, Google has been revolutionary in its Chromebook devices. First, in 2013, Chromebooks started getting touchscreen capabilities with the introduction of the Pixel Chromebook. By itself, not completely game-changing, but in May of 2016, Google announced the integration of Android apps and Chromebooks. This fact, combined with touchscreen capabilities, meant you had a device that had touch interface with the ability to run many of the same apps that could be found on the iOS App Store for a more affordably priced device than what Apple was offering with its iPad. Apple would eventually lower the price of the iPad to help them compete, but currently, you can find touchscreen 3-in-1 devices, like the eduGear CMT, that has access to the Google Play store for $10 less than an iPad. Comparing apples to apples, to have an iPad with a keyboard would cost $399, over $100 more than the similarly equipped eduGear Chromebook.

Being more affordable is definitely a plus in the education market where funds are already tight, but couple that with the ease of management that Google provides with the Google Admin Console and you got yourself a device that has positioned itself to change the game once again. The new Acer Chromebook Tab 10 brings all the benefits of the Chrome OS to the tablet form factor.
It even includes a stylus for no additional cost. How does the price compare? It is priced the same as the newest iPad, that doesn't include a stylus, at $329.

I've always felt that the tablet form factor excelled in the younger grade levels and I feel like students in the K-3 grade levels are really the target audience for tablets. Touch is so much more intuitive for younger learners. The fine motor skills that the keyboard requires is not the optimal interface method for these students.

When you take into consideration the tablet form factor, price, and ease of management, I really believe that Google has created a formula for a hugely successful device. Google has been able to achieve what Apple has not over the past several years. They have been able to innovate and create products that are changing educational technology in new and innovative ways. I still have fond memories of that iPad 2 device that changed my career seven years ago, and I still hold out hope that Apple will deliver that next magic bullet product for education, but unfortunately, they are missing the mark. I hate to say it, but it feels like Apple is following in the footsteps of Microsoft and because of it, is losing its innovative edge, especially in education.

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