Before getting into the content of this blog, I want to ask the flame brigade to hold off until they get to the end of the message. This blog is not anti-iOS, not anti-Android, not anti-tablet. It is simply my view of how things seem to be turning out. So here goes:
Schools around the world have diven into the deep end of the tablet pool, purchasing these devices by the thousands (or more) in the quest to bring powerful technology into the hands of students. The reasoning behind tablets is that they are rugged, have amazing battery life, and provide access to various apps that may be of value in the classroom.
This last point has been a sticking issue for some. I’ve argued for decades that the choice of a computer platform for kids needs to be driven by the software they will use, and this message has been lost on some districts who chose the platform first, and then tried to figure out how best to use it. As with the Apple vs. Microsoft battles of the past, the fight quickly broke down into two camps – the iOS folks (iPads) and the Android enthusiasts. While some have found ways to use these tools in remarkably powerful ways, the question arises: should we have been looking at tablets at all?
In a 2012 piece in THE Journal (http://goo.gl/HNOy6), Therese Mageau argued that the race to buy iPads (for example) largely came without thinking about the deeper educational shifts implied by every child having his or her own connected device. While she is correct, I’d like to take a different approach to the question – to ask if tablets were the right choice at all!
While the world was focused on iPads and the like, Google announced the Chromebook at their developer’s conference in May, 2011. Like tablets, Chromebooks have long battery life (8 hours or more), virtually no boot time (8 seconds from a cold start), a low price (under $300) and the ability to run some applications (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation tools, watch videos, etc.) without Internet access – although this tool was designed to be used when you are online.
While some schools started to adopt Chromebooks, many did not, even though the Chromebook looks like a thin laptop with a full keyboard and high quality display. But, once again, the question arises on the application front.
Google has done a wonderful job of helping developers create apps for the Chrome Web Store (http://chrome.google.com/webstore) and amazingly powerful educational apps abound – a great many of which are free! For example, you can get Geogebra, the Scratch programming language, even all fifty of our own Knights of Knowledge inquiry-starter videos that span grade levels and subject areas. The list of educational apps is growing daily, along with the adoption of this tool as the one-to-one device of choice for many.
And this brings us back to tablets – or more particularly to the schools and districts who purchased so many of these devices for student use. Given what we now know, would different purchasing decisions be made? As the pundits say, hindsight is always 20-20.
The fact is that the Chromebook emerged as a wild card in a field that never seems to stop and catch its breath. Does this relegate tablets to the storage closets? Of course not. It merely suggests that we need to base our purchasing decisions on the best information we have at the time. And, make no mistake about it, there will be something someday that eclipses the Chromebook. This just reinforces the importance of ensuring that whatever purchase we make is based on the actually utility of the device to kids in support of their learning. As long as we do that, we are on solid ground.