Suffice it to say, the tablet market is booming.
Following nearly 10 years of speculation, in April of last year, Apple unveiled its’ Magnus opus; the iPad. This may have come as a surprise to many computer manufacturers that have been on a constant crusade to make laptops smaller, faster, and cheaper.
For sure, laptops aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, I’m typing this story on one. The iPad, or any other tablet for that matter, just isn’t ready to replace a laptop. Sort of like how your cell phone in the 80’s wasn’t ready to replace your house phone. However, Apple started a virtual avalanche of competition following its April unveiling.
According to CNET reviews, there are currently 23 tablets reaching for a piece of the tablet market pie. It’s big business, one that could be worth nearly $20 billion by 2014. Companies from Acer to Vizio either are selling tablet devices now, or will be by the end of this year.
I’ll admit, I have drunk the proverbial kool-aid. When a new piece of tech is scheduled to come out, it feels like I’m waiting up for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve with a plate of cookies in my hand. Yeah.
But beyond the glitz and glam of this massive technological shift, I dream about new applications for this relatively new platform. This newest application should be happening in education.
Sure, most people will still use a tablet only to listen to music, store pictures, watch movies, or play that awesome Angry Birds game. But it’s bigger than just that. In recent years, the numbers of people learning online has skyrocketed.
In a 2006-07 study, the National Center for Education Studies (NCES) found that 66% of 2-year and 4-year Title IV degree-granting post-secondary institutions offered online, hybrid/blended online, or other distance education courses. Of the estimated 12.2 million enrollments that year, 77% of these were purely online classes. In 2006-07 numbers, that’s well over nine million people taking online classes! Who knows by what percentage that number has grown since?
Even Chicago’s own Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) shelled out $250,000 for new iPads for all of its incoming freshman students last year.
Even so, there remain significant roadblocks to tablets realizing their educational potential and they have to do with the system, itself.
We have known for a long time that the educational system is broken. Thirty years ago President Reagan’s own Secretary gave the country a failing grade. The report found that the U. S. system was ineffective and unable to prepare its students with competitive skills in the work force. In many ways, we are still facing the same challenges in basic education that we were some 30 years ago. But, we are also learning new techniques to engage learners.
At the AAAS meeting in Washington D.C. this year, the “Communication Outside the Box” panel listed three “must haves” in science communication. Knowing that devices like the iPad are reshaping how content is shaped and delivered, they listed the following:
- Dialogue – radio shows like Science Friday that engage listeners about science topics.
- Visualization –
- Participation – pairing scientists with communities
Integrating all this stuff into a comprehensive educational plan seems near impossible. Add to that a 2.0 mindset that requires us to think differently about learning. We no longer live in a 2D world, and meaningful interaction is the Z axis.
This is precisely what is so amazing about the tablet. It pairs the multimedia experience with an internet database. It also allows the user to create their own programs, making the experience even more personal. It blurs the lines between the haves and the have-nots.
It seems that any approach that claims to be serious will have to deal with learners on their own – interactive – terms. And from the look of it, tablets like the iPad are poised to make the biggest connections.