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).


Amazon teases direct sales of Potter ebooks [Update]

Amazon has teased direct sales of Harry Potter books on its Kindle ebook store. AllThingsD reports that Amazon has posted a teaser image (above) to its Kindle ebook store, featuring an owl and the line “Wizardry is on the Way” in a font similar to that on the cover of paper Harry Potter books [1. Note that I could not get the image to appear, despite refreshing the browser a few times. Ten points off for Gryffindor.].

Potter author J. K. Rowling made electronic versions of her books available for the first time in April, but required customers to purchase them through her own Pottermore website. Amazon’s tease suggests that’s about to change, though representatives were elusive with AllThingsD when reached for comment, saying, “We’ll have to ask you to stay tuned for an upcoming announcement.”

As of this writing, there are no similar hints on the Nook store or Apple’s iBookstore.

Update: Amazon has confirmed that the Harry Potter books are coming to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

“Starting at $99”

Amazon’s new Kindle Touch looks great. Small form factor, nice and light, fantastic battery life and more. It’s got me interested in buying an e-reader for the first time. Plus it’s so inexpensive at $99.

That is, it starts at $99. At that price it runs ads as a screensaver. You can get rid of them for an additional $40, bringing the price to $139. Also, the AC adapter is not included, but you can buy one for $10. Now the entry-level Kindle Touch is $150. The ad-free, Wi-Fi only Nook Touch ships with an AC adapter for $139.

Before you berate me for whinging over ten dollars, note that I’m a frugal New Englander and notorious cheapskate. Yes, I can connect the Kindle Touch to a computer via the supplied USB cable for charging, or use any old USB charger I have lying around. Most geeks has several.

But at $99, the Kindle Touch will attract people who don’t hoard USB chargers (the $79 Kindle even more so). It’s not a monumental deception, but feels unsavory to me.