William's home for discarded gems and concepts-in-progress.

Welcome to William Van Winkle's blog, home for everything from notes on his latest ebooks to leftovers from his articles in CPU, Tom's Hardware, Smart Computing, and other media outlets. Check out his author pages at Amazon and Smashwords!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are Student Tablets Worth the Price?

Everyone should keep an open mind and be willing to consider not just new facts but even opposing viewpoints, provided those viewpoints are cogently stated and based on observable facts. Back in January, I posted about the $750 price tag attached to iPads landing in classrooms, stating that while I pro-technology and even pro-tablet in schools, I thought $750 was exorbitant and unreasonable.

Since that post, I've seen more stories about school iPad adoption appear, including this one detailing adoption by the Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts in South Providence, RI. The article makes many persuasive points, including:

"At Trinity, the iPad has nearly eliminated the need for paperback novels. The school buys one book for $6 and downloads 34 copies. And there are many books in the public domain, such as the entire works of William Shakespeare, available free of charge. The potential for cost savings is considerable."

However, this is true of any tablet. Admittedly, the article notes a $500 cost per iPad, which is much better than the $750 I'd seen in January. But Providence Journal writer Linda Borg raises a critical point: much of the iPad's value rests in intangible elements. Apple is famous for it's "magic," that special something that helps Apple to command such high profit margins. Normally, I take a dim view of "intangible value" points. But I'm willing to modify my opinion in this case if student enthusiasm proves that such value exists in this context. As the Journal's Borg writes:

“When teachers say, ‘Get out your worksheet,’ I’m like, ‘OK,’ ” says 12-year-old Teri Thompson. “When they say, ‘Get out your iPad,’ I’m like, ‘Yes! The iPad!’ ”

If it turns out that this type of exuberance doesn't appear when students are presented with a tablet based on Android, Windows, or some other OS, then sure, Apple's iPad deserves its price tag.

Additionally, one of my Architects of Tomorrow interviewees, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker, gave me this bit of insight to chew on:

“I think these expenditures make smart long-term sense, not only for the schools but for the students as well,” Coker answered. “If you assume each device will provide at least three years of usage, that brings the annual cost down to $250 per pupil per year, which is negligible when you assume average expenditures per pupil are around $10,000 a year [see http://www.edweek.org/rc/articles/2009/01/21/sow0121.h27.html]. These devices will cut down on printing expenses, open up new learning opportunities, reduce backpack weights for kids, open up the opportunity for schools to acquire free or lower cost digital open education resources, and help automate myriad other tasks. You can also count on prices to drop dramatically over the next few years. Most importantly, we should never miss an opportunity to improve education for children. This is an investment in the future of our country.”

I can't argue with that. Between amortized costs and additional student involvement, perhaps the iPad really is justified. The question now is whether school districts will be willing to adopt tablet technology and harness it in a coherent, productive manner. Tablets can't end up like the PCs in my children's school, turned off and gathering dust because the district ran out of money to network them. We need to let technology be a tool to help students run forward with their learning at their own pace, with teachers standing by to help guide, clarify, and expand on concepts as needed. Tablet technology can help kids become more proactive with their development and assist with the potential debacle of 82% of our students failing the No Child Left Behind standards, but school districts need to take their own proactive steps first.

No comments:

Post a Comment