11:34 AM
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.

Not Nirvana -- Yet

Perfection is still a ways off, though. The industry must still develop a long list of tablet and cloud computing features for the higher education community. First, we need cloud services for applications that require a lot of processing power. Higher-level statistical software, high-end audio/video editing and graphic design applications are just a few services that come to mind. We need extensible apps that support multiple tablet operating systems, or adoption will not be possible in many academic disciplines. Costs must be reasonable for small and large institutions alike. Educators are nothing if not loyal to a vendor that understands that our budgets are shrinking.

Mobility also comes at another price: size. If touch tablets are to accommodate everyday office applications, the industry must develop larger companion, touch-based monitor attachments. Like the laptop docks of today, the tablet attachments will have to accommodate those, like me, with failing eyesight.

Another issue that must be addressed is standardization of wireless video connectivity for tablets. Apple and Microsoft just love open interoperability standards (wink, wink). What we need -- if not a device that supports multiple wireless video standards for the major tablet OSes -- is a Web conferencing service for classrooms using multiple types of tablet computers. We use for some of these needs, and it works, but more work should be put into developing a true application that will address the needs of the traditional classroom as well as distance education.

The final issue isn't an easy one to solve: file systems. One of the most frequent questions I get from new tablet users is: Where are my files stored? My answer is usually: Heck if I know! As many tablet users know, user documents could be stored locally in any number of places depending on the app being used. There's typically no single file system. This setup tends to confuse new tablet users who wish to edit documents in multiple apps. Dropbox,, iCloud, Skydrive and Google Drive are just a few of the cloud storage services out there, but choosing among them is difficult and sometimes costly based on which apps people prefer to use.

This is obviously one of those pesky training issues that will linger for a while, but it has significant institutional implications. Storing FERPA and/or HIPPA information offsite on storage services that could be hacked is a big problem in higher education. As a CIO, this is one of my biggest concerns of this new era. If tablet computing is to take off in our colleges and universities, we must address cloud-based storage security first and foremost.

Making The Leap

Are we ready for this transition? Are we prepared for courses where 40, 50, 100 or 400 people need to connect simultaneously to our wireless networks and stream video? Are we prepared to provide that level of bandwidth to the commodity Internet? What will we do with all of those "smart" boards that we purchased over the years? Are we prepared to purchase, set up, distribute, support and repair tablet devices that will be everywhere, from boardrooms to bathrooms? I'll stop here. I’m beginning to hyperventilate.

The fact is that many of us aren't prepared for such a shift in campus computing. Then again, it's a momentous time in the history of computing, and as Virgil said: "Fortune favors the brave." Budget-wise, I think the shift will be a good one for all of our institutions in the long run. I'm optimistic that tablets will offer immeasurable benefits, both to bean counters' ROI and our faculty and students. We just have to take the plunge.

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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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