Tablets in School
All across the country, “1:1 technology programs” that aim to get a mobile computing device in the hands of every student are gaining popularity among educators. Schools are spending educational resource dollars to acquire tablets for students to use for classwork, homework and educational games.
In early 2013, schools in Los Angeles allocated $50 million to start buying tablets for every student, a project that is likely to cost $500 million to complete. Schools in McAllen, Texas spent $20.5 million to provide 6,800 Apple tablets to students. Guilford County, North Carolina was the first paying customer to the newest major player in the educational tablet market, Amplify, electing this year to put a tablet in the hand of every student and teacher in 18 of the county’s 24 middle schools.
What does a tablet offer that a standard textbook, paper and pens can’t? Supporters focus on the ability for teachers to tailor lessons, exercises and homework to individual students so they can progress at their own pace. Students are often hesitant to stop the teacher during a lesson and admit to their classmates that they don’t understand. The use of a tablet device with engaging game-based lessons, or self-progressing course material allows each student to take more time when they need it and move quickly through material that’s more easily grasped. This reduces boredom and the stigma attached to having to hold up the class to get a concept explained differently.does your tablet need repair? our nerds can fix it!
Modern parents are constantly cautioned to “reduce screentime” for their kids. From impaired social skills to over stimulation, experts in the field of child development agree that too much time spent in front of the TV or computer can be detrimental to our children’s development.
So why give them tablets in school? Proponents argue that kids are already spending too much time in front of the wrong technology. Wouldn’t it be great to recapture some of the seven-plus hours per day that the average middle schooler spends in front of a screen for more educational pursuits, like playing a game that teaches fractions, or reading a choose-your-own adventure style story? Games being developed for Amplify tablets (those provided to students in Guilford County) are designed to feel like free play but they are calibrated to national standards in reading, math and science.
Many teachers are concerned that introducing tablets to middle schoolers will lead to disconnect between teachers and students, with students staring at screens instead of engaging with the teacher. To allow for more real-time interaction and teacher involvement, the software included in Amplify tablets includes a system of immediate feedback where in the teacher is able to see in real time when a student is struggling to grasp a concept.
Proponents assure educators that the use of this kind of technology will give them the ability to give more specialized attention to students exactly when and where they need it; encourage one that has grasped a concept and independently gone on to learn even more, pair a struggling student with one that has a better grasp of the course material, or spend some one-on-one time with a student that’s having difficulty with the topic at hand or falling behind.
There’s also the benefit of increased access to current course material. Textbooks are static, typically updated every six years due to the high cost of acquisition. E-Textbooks offer the potential to be easily and constantly updated, never out-of-date and less expensive to acquire and maintain. Then there’s the definite advantage to students no longer having to carry around hefty tomes that get damaged or left behind.
How much is science and how much is big business? With roughly 99,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. spending about $17 billion each year on educational materials and technology, it’s no surprise that tablet makers are quick to sing the praises of the “1:1 technology programs.”
The Rupert Murdoch-founded media conglomerate News Corp has spent an estimated $540 million to develop Amplify, the company that creates the Amplify Tablet (as well as other education technology products) and educational software being rolled out in Guilford. Some 2,000 schools have partnered with Google and are utilizing its Chromebook tablet in classrooms. Apple has a division dedicated to getting discount iPads into schools. Many districts are entering into long-term exclusivity contracts with tablet suppliers to provide equipment, educational software, and insurance to replace lost or damaged devices. This makes the claims of educational revolution offered by Amplify, Google and Apple hard to trust. It’s difficult to gauge the long term effects of a program that’s still in its infancy.