Tablets in the classroom

Erica Sadun (my TUAW colleague) and I were discussing Amazon’s Whispercast last week. Whispercast lets IT directors in schools manage fleets of Kindles easily. As Erica said at TUAW, “Whispercast matters:”

“We believe that a truly successful tablet for K-12 and higher ed needs to command respect in all the natural areas of educational support: from document distribution, to platform control, to lesson planning, to assessment. Whispercast is a big step forward. We can’t wait to see how Apple responds.”

A report from Bloomberg Businessweek suggests that Apple will respond just as we hoped: by hitting the education angle hard. Tablets keep kids motivated because they’re “cool,” says Innovation Middle School math teacher Julie Garcia, but the kids aren’t the only ones feeling enthused:

“For districts around the country, though, it’s the price as much as the cool quotient that could draw them to a new, smaller version of the iPad that Apple will unveil tomorrow at an event in San Jose, California. Apple has long been a leader in education, and schools began embracing the iPad soon after its 2010 debut. Yet as fiscal budget shortfalls crimp spending all the more, schools in growing numbers are warming to the handheld devices as an alternative to more expensive laptops.”

The benefits extend beyond primary school. Consider the cost of collegiate text books. Young undergraduates typically have little money, and buying a stack of books that cost upwards of one hundred dollars each is a burden. Imagine being able to put them all on a Kindle, Fire or iPad for a fraction of the cost. Plus, an iPad is a lot easier to haul across campus.

Publishers benefit as well. Each year, university students sell texbooks back to their campus book store, which are then bought at a fraction of retail by the incoming class. Digital texts would allow the publishers to sell directly to students year after year, effectively killing the used textbook market.

Finally, electronic textbooks offer so many unique options for annotations, study prep, student/teacher collaboration, etc. Look at Inkling to get an idea of how it could work. Their developers are doing incredible things.

My interview with David Cleland exemplifies how students can excel with iPads in the classroom. David is the Vice Principal at Northern Ireland’s Wallace High School, which recently launched a 1:1 iPad initiative, the country’s first and largest. They equipped 530 students at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) with an iPad 2. The program has gained attention from Apple and educators worldwide, especially since Apple announced iBooks Author, textbooks in the iBookstore and its push for electronic books in the classroom. Cleland says the 1:1 program is going “better than expected.” Staff, students and administration have embraced the iPad and iBooks Author is a big hit.

Erica and I agree that whoever get tablets into schools successfully will win the tablet market. I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow.

Update: This topic spawned a great conversation on Twitter. I’ve moved it to Branch (see below).