As someone who works in the publishing world, I am frequently asked what I believe is the future of technology in education. Will every student have a laptop? Will students read textbooks on smartphones? Or is the latest gadget du jour, the iPad, the item every student will bring home from school everyday? (Truth in blogging: I just bought an iPad and am in the midst of total geek happiness. Not sure how I ever lived without it.)
The Common Core and the new assessments are hoping to force the issue. The consortia developing the assessments, Smarter Balanced and PARCC, both promise to deliver computer-based assessments. Many states, along with the Department of Education, are hoping to replace paper textbooks with digital instructional materials as schools seek new materials that integrate the Common Core standards.
For all of the above to happen, each student will need daily access to a piece of hardware that allows for regular access to the Web. The One Laptop Per Child initiative has struggled to find traction. Most schools have provided one computer per classroom and a couple of computer labs, which are usually occupied. Graphing calculators, especially the Nspire, have become more computer-like, but they lack flexibility and interoperability with other devices.
Amongst this uncertainty comes the iPad: a light and flexible device that can be used in an infinite number of subjects, across all age groups; it can even be easily adapted for special needs students. An early pioneer group has even made a first foray into the iPad as a textbook.
Tablet computing holds great promise, but I don’t know if the iPad is it. Among the challenges:
1) Right now, the price point is too high for schools to buy the quantities needed, even if mass discounts are available. Even with the 3G option, $500 is just too expensive.
2) For students to take them home, many would require the 3G option, which means additional access charges.
3) Apple’s current incompatibility with Flash makes a large chunk of content inaccessible.
Android tablets may provide a solution. As an open-source operating system, there are many vendors developing tablets, thus reducing the price point to a manageable level. Android cooperates with Flash. An open-source community provides great promise in being able to quickly and cheaply solve the myriad implementation issues that will arise.
Despite their shortcomings, and to (mis)quote Whitney Houston, “I believe that tablets are the future.” I also believe that migration to digitally-based materials and assessment will come when the technology comes, and that the funds for the technology will come when the assessments require it. (In Texas, for instance, I was able to get graphing calculators for my classroom when the new state test required their use.) If the Common Core consortia hold true to their promises, digital assessment is on the way and will be required. By 2014, the technology should be available and affordable—and then the onus will be on policy makers to fund it.