Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tablets - We're Almost There!

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

A whole lot of attention has been placed on the vast array of tablet devices that are on the market right now and their potential for changing the way we teach and learn.  Obviously with the release of the iPad 2 the discussion has ramped up a bit.  It seems to me that the talk about how the iPad 2, and other tablets, are going to "revolutionize" education, and how they are going to replace the computers and paper texts that we are using, is a bit premature.  Although I agree that the mobile computing platform is where we need to head, I still think that there is a whole lot of work that needs to be done.

Many people are talking about how the combination of  apps and e-textbooks are "the way to go."  There are so many great apps out there, and trying to cull your way through them can be cumbersome. Sure, there are ways to find the best ones but there are a lot that aren't viable either.  I think that we are still at the beginning of the true impact of  small applications that can be easily downloaded and are inexpensive and useful for the educational technology market.

The same goes for the way we are approaching e-texts.  There is a big difference between and e-book and an e-textbook.  An e-reader device or app works just fine for e-books because they are designed to be primarily flat text that is consumed in a linear fashion without any real interactivity. Just think about when someone is using a traditional book for study, not pleasure, they are going to interact with it in a variety of ways.  They will want to do what one would do with a paper text whether it be to annotate, highlight, or "dog ear" a page.   What I think we need to see are the designers of the devices, as well as the texts, look more towards interactive, dynamic and flexible content that will allow user to customize their experience.  The devices also need to be able to manipulate and create content in order to enhance any lesson that they are used for in the classroom.

I am not sure that they really have their act together yet on this because everyone is so busy just trying to get a product to market that they are trying to be all things to all people. Manufacturers, software designers and publishers need to get together and come up with a model that will make a tablet and digital text something that is more than just a tool for consumption.

The tablet creators are producing for a wide-ranging audience, not just educators, and I think that is where the challenges begin. A tablet that will revolutionize the way we teach and learn has yet to be produced because that device needs to be geared towards education as well. The iPad, which I am an owner of, as well as other Apple products, is truly a great innovation with a whole host of worthwhile educational apps. But, when I stopped and thought about it a bit, I have had a device similar, yet not as small, for a couple of years now and that is my tablet PC. Yes, it is a lot thicker and, a bit heavier, but not all that bad. I have a touch screen, stylus and a keyboard. Most importantly, I can produce content in a very efficient manner. It also costs about five times more than the iPad. Big downfall!!

So, we are still waiting for that fabled device that bridges that gap between a full-blown laptop and a powerful tablet that is affordable and capable of content creation, consumption and expandability. Now, don't get me wrong we are getting there and there are a few real players out there that are worth a look. One that I think is on the right track is the Kno Tablet.

The creators of the Kno have put together two models of the device, a single slate or a double that opens like a book. It has a built-in e-reader, notebook and browser. It allows the user to interact with their texts in a way that the others don't. They have also teamed with textbook companies to deliver e-textbooks that allow users to read, write and research all in one place. Users can write notes and highlight with their fingers or a stylus. You have the ability to keep multiple notebooks as well which makes it more of an "all-in-one," device. They are also offering a Software Development Kit (SDK) and recruiting developers for an app store to build upon its features. For now, it is marketed to higher education with the idea that e-textbooks are cheaper and that it will pay for itself in the savings they offer.

Check out this video to see its features in action -

In my opinion, and I want to hear yours, the concept of the Kno is good, but it is still a device that is primarily for content consumption and notation. Sadly, the producers of the Kno have halted production and there is a lot of speculation as to why. Some have speculated that the company is going to concentrate on developing their software and will team up with a better known hardware manufacturer for more market exposure. So, the future of the device is yet to be determined.

While we wait for that one device to come along that satisfies all of our educational technology needs it sure is fun to watch and see what innovations will take place. Early adopters need to give feedback to these companies and in turn they really need to reach out to consumers, educators and students. These conversations will continue to drive the innovations and really solidify the tablet's place in the educational market.

So, my question to you is this: "What features do you want to see in a tablet that could "revolutionize" education?

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