I have used all sorts of "smart" classroom tools and devices. Electronic whiteboards, clickers, projection systems, video capture systems and classroom control systems are just some of the devices that have entered my classrooms and my IT repair benches over the years.
As a CIO in higher education, my budgets have felt the strain of some of these devices. Some were good and some were bad and, all too often, the ROI was hard to show. But now, finally, classroom devices are becoming smarter with the advent of tablet computing.
[ Read how iPad has spurred a whole new class of results for Apple: Apple's Education Phenomenon: iPad. ]
In 1983, when Steve Jobs said that one day we would be carrying a small, fully functional and networked computer device around anywhere, I was both excited and skeptical. For many years, I've longed for a way to easily do research and develop teaching materials at home, in the office, on the airplane and in the classroom. In the 1990s, I was sure that notebook computers were the answer, only to be disappointed by their cost, their lag in processor speed, their longevity and their sometimes ridiculous weight. When netbooks were introduced, I was at first excited but later appalled by their lack of functionality.
Now we have a device that can do much of what's needed for classroom teaching and is as compact as a folder or small notebook (the paper kind). I was an early tablet adopter in the hope that my dreams had come true. For the most part, they have, with some caveats.
Tablets To The Rescue.
In the 1990s, classroom devices were a nightmare for a small college’s bean counters, IT support staff and, especially, the teacher and students. Inconsistent performance, costly supplies and persnickety control systems were not only difficult for support staff but a drag on class time.
Sharing files between one office computer and a classroom computer was time consuming and cumbersome. Projectors and smart boards were unreliable and easy to get out of calibration. Through the 2000s, they got much better, but anyone doing an ROI calculation was appalled by their lack of efficiency and the class time these devices consumed as teachers tried to get them to work in concert to actually teach students! Tablet computing opens a whole new world to faculty and students, a world that's within financial reach. Faculty members are now able to walk around with their work desks literally at their sides. Music, books, documents of all kinds, Internet access and much more are at the touch of a button.
Faculty can take that tablet and connect it to a video projector, digital monitor/TV or Internet broadcast stream to draw, highlight and interact with whatever is on their screens without the aid of a smart board. With conferencing services and the newest wireless video systems, tablet users can share their screens with the instructor and the entire class in real time. This is finally the "smart" classroom we all envisioned for higher education so many years ago. Now it's possible for our students to access electronic textbooks and other literature, library systems, Internet resources, LMS systems and so much more and use them in a real-time discussion inside the classroom. I foresee the transition of IT funding from in-class PCs, smart boards and control systems (and the support involved) to tablets. The ROI will be evident as we spend less time on problems with PCs, "smart" devices (and their moving parts) and control systems and more on teaching our students