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Keith Fowlkes
Keith Fowlkes
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Why Tablets Will Kill Smart Boards In Classrooms

Tablet computing opens a whole new world to faculty and students, a world that's within reach financially.

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When does smart give way to smarter? When smart is expensive and hard to support.

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

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Orange juice
Orange juice,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2014 | 12:24:35 PM
Tablets killing smart boards?
As an experienced and tech savy teacher (6 years elementary 1 middle school) I am writing to appreciate the attention given to the need for optimum performing technology in classrooms, college lecture halls, or business conference rooms. At the same time I want to do away with the misconception that a tablet can replace a smart board. "Smart classrooms" of fortunate teachers like myself depend on the dynamic interaction and presentation of media provided by smart boards coupled with the indispensable versatility of a tablet (with a keyboard) or even better a compact laptop. Just to illustrate, my middle school classroom goes "smart" on a daily basis using the online available TCI social studies curriculum in both lecture, small group, and independent learning formats. Going "smart" in the classroom is addictive because it is fast paced, instantly gratifying, question driven, and interactive. Everyone in the classroom is empowered, yet I fundamentally lead the way with my Mac book air/iPad connected to my Smart Board. Rather than making inappropriate comparisons, I agree attention should be given to reducing costs of technology and solving bandwidth problems for streaming, or proper software improvements to wirelessly and safely link laptops/tablets/smart boards when needed. Thank you for reading.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/15/2013 | 8:36:17 PM
re: Why Tablets Will Kill Smart Boards In Classrooms
Keith, I fully agree with you that the tablet should and will become the primary technology tool for accessing and delivering information in the classroom...and beyond. Our distance learning model based on critical thinking (RIP~ing Across the Miles) would gain immensely by adoption of the tablet throughout the K-12 arena as this technology adds magnitudes to the ability to collect and share data between between, within, and from and to outside the classroom. The mobility of the tablet makes scientific inquiry-based (scientific & engineering practices-based; thematics-based) learning content all inclusive and accessible to all. However, as you mentioned, until the apps for quantitative data analysis and data presentation are refined, the tablet will not realize its fullest potential for classroom use as the "traditional" computer will still be necessary.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/10/2013 | 7:13:25 PM
re: Why Tablets Will Kill Smart Boards In Classrooms
As someone who graduated just as the iPad was beginning to pick up I'm really jealous of the learning experiences that students just a few years from now are going to be having with their tablets.
Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/10/2013 | 3:08:00 AM
re: Why Tablets Will Kill Smart Boards In Classrooms
Keith - as a technology professional that's spent a good deal of time in the classroom as well as working with educators (albeit, a little earlier in the progression - they're middle/high school instructors, not college-level), one of the biggest things that I've seen is that the technology provided in the past was tough to work with because it was "foreign" to the users. Teachers would get smartboards, get about 30 minutes of training (including the "this is how you turn it on") and left to go at it.

Given the consumerization of technology, tablets are accessible to everyone (or at least that's the goal) - so, it's a technology that people are familiar with, and more importantly, instructors are comfortable with. In order to achieve ROI in a classroom enviroment, the technology needs to 1) not impede the learning process and 2) provide access and learning materials in a way that is useful to the student.

When it comes to building infrastructures that handle providing access to tablets - how does that really differ from providing access to PCs? What are the challenges that need to be overcome? At the base level, data is data, packets are packets, no matter if the end device is a supercomputer, a netbook, a tablet or a WiFi enabled phone device. Video distribution and caching devices are available in situations where a network segment can be overloaded with streaming, etc. The key is to really bring the content closer to the end user as opposed to having to continually drag it over the WAN and tax the expensive pipe - X Mbps of WAN vs. X Mbps of LAN still has a pretty good price differential.

I think the big issue that you bring up that needs to be addressed is the proper (i.e. compliant) handling and storage of information/files. Integrating that storage with a classroom or learning managment system (I tend to recall Northeast State, just down the road from your location used Blackboard when I was a student there), but integrating the storage with the student's other information/work and keeping it secure is quite possibly the solution that you're looking for there. Once you move that from an on-premise solution into a cloud solution (especially in the arena of distance learning), things start to get more "interesting".

Something else to consider, and this may put it all in better perspective - students generally don't need heavy duty computing power in their hands to learn (unless they're doing serious computer science, data analysis for the sciences, accounting) - these days, the big thing seems to be content distribution. For a purely technological perspective, the metaphor is that we're going back to the days of the "green screens" where computing power is centralized and the end user just gets a display of the data that they need. Everything old is new again...

Andrew Hornback
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