Can Slates Replace Laptops in Your 1:1 Program?

This has been a challenging year for anybody making decisions about what devices to bring into their schools. The reason for this is that mobile computing is turning what we know about 1:1 learning inside-out. When the iPad made its stunning debut and educators began wrestling with the idea of these fast, light, battery-endowed devices as learning tools, the belief seemed to be that if you already had a laptop program, moving to slates would be a step backward. What did slates bring to the table that wasn’t better served by a laptop or convertible tablet? That was, until the wave of Android tablets began to show and we began testing these and iPads in classrooms with real kids.

In a post on The K-12 Open Source Classroom Chris writes about the place that Android tablets have in learning. Though his views on 1:1 access are less aggressive than most, he is right on in suggesting that these devices have a bright future in learning. With the release of the Kineo by Brainchild, which works under the paradigm of suppressing student choice and digital citizenship rather than promoting it, the view remains a bit murky as to which direction schools will choose to go with tablet computing.

What is clear is that these devices are poised to make a tremendous impact on schools and learning. The question of whether they have a place in the classroom or are capable enough to support and extend learning is one we’ve been exploring in our school since the first Samsung Galaxy Tab landed on our distant shores.

The first question teachers have is whether the learning and productivity ecosystem is in place. If your school has made a substantive effort to move to the cloud in recent years, you will find all your documents and services are readily available and work well together. These devices are built with the cloud in mind; it is not an afterthought or an add-on like it is on a laptop. Sharing files on Dropbox, Google Docs, Flickr, or even between devices is seamless and available from almost any app. The question “where do I save it?” will never need to be answered; instead, it becomes “How do I share it?”

Collecting digital media for projects is mind-numbingly easy with the built-in microphones and cameras that integrate with so many of the apps and online services. Video codecs pose far less of an obstacle than they do in the laptop world because there is no transfer or translation needed between the device that captures them and the device that plays them back. Once they’re shared online the web provides the benefit of nearly universal conversion and playback (unless of course you have an iPad and need to watch a Flash movie.)

The web research experience is great, and services like Evernote and Diigo fill in the bit about capturing and organizing information and, even better, collaborating with others. Where slates shine is their ability to read QR codes and utilize the camera in conjunction with GPS for on-location inquiry. Try that with your laptop.

The elephant in the room is the e-reading experience. Providing anytime anywhere access to a vast library of e-books and magazines is the trump card in this game. There is not enough room on this blog to emphasize how big this will be, but anybody who has ventured into the world of e-reading will know what I mean. Pair this with a device that has amazing battery life and can add dynamic content, sharing, and annotating to the e-reading experience and you have a glimpse of the future of reading, simply put.

The question that one must ultimately answer, however, is not whether mobile devices are great for kids and great for learning, but whether or not they can replace their laptop and serve as their sole computing device. That’s a tough question to answer, but I would have to say yes – if you are willing to give up some of your familiar favorites – at least temporarily. If you require your students to use powerful software tools to edit videos, produce graphics, and publish richly-formatted documents, current device hardware limits much of what you can do in this sphere.

Also, though many of your favorite online Flash-based services work great on an Android tablet (see video demo below),

several others such as Glogster have some bugs to work out. None of these, of course, work on an iPad yet and may never will. Other compatibility issues involving screen size, resolution, and other hardware interfaces mean that apps may not be available on all devices. One service that promises to alleviate the app compatibility problem is Adobe Air, which easily allows developers to deploy a web app to variety of mobile OSs so that they run like native apps.

Though change is rapid in this space, if you choose to move to slates it would be wise for the moment to at least keep enough laptops around for a 3:1 or 4:1 relationship and have some available in mobile carts as well for a complete digital learning toolkit.

Are you considering an iPad or Android implementation in the near future? What are your thoughts on making this shift?

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