Today’s guest post is by Brian Burton, a children’s book enthusiast and online publisher for childrensbookstore.com. He discusses the future of education technology and digital learning in the classroom. Brian writes on the topics of reading and parenting.
In the world of education, the past and the future are waging an epic battle that may very well determine how children learn for years to come. In the past, we have the more traditional tools: books, pencils, and paper. In the future, we have laptops, tablets, and cloud computing. Why are some educators so willing to jump into the future of learning while others have determined it’s not the path they want for their students?
Some educators have hailed Apple’s extremely popular iPad as the tool for the next era of education. Some schools are pushing for laptops for every student. Some already have them. Others want nothing to do with iPads or laptops.
There’s solid reasoning behind the resistance. A tablet or laptop for every student in a school or school district is costly and many taxpayers don’t wish to carry the burden. During the 2012 election, voters in Idaho shot down a proposition to introduce laptops into the state’s classrooms over several years. The proposition was pushed hard by state officials, including the governor, but voters decided it wasn’t what they wanted. In fact, 67 percent of Idaho voters rejected the measure, with the price tag of about $180 million playing a huge role in its failure to pass.
Another issue with introducing tablets into classroom environments is the swiftness of the availability of newer devices. Manufacturers dole out new products, update hardware and firmware on a constant basis. Six months to a year after a tablet has been purchased, it’s wholly outdated.
You might be thinking that there is no reason to continually update. I don’t know many people who buy the newest iPad every year. I know a few who are absolutely adamant about it, but for schools to do the same would be exhausting in both time and money. However, the model presented by Apple and others — support and compatibility — make it difficult not to update. App developers are constantly updating their products to stay current with the latest and the greatest. As such, there is no way of knowing if an app being used by a school will still function properly in a year, or if issues arise, developers will bother to support it, since for them it’s outdated and not worth their time.
Plus, given the youthful nature of the app economy, we don’t know how long we’ll be able to access downloaded material. Textbooks, we know. While they’re constantly going out of date, as history continues to be made, they have known longevity. So, will long term reliability and accessibility be an issue? We’ll have to wait and see, unfortunately.
Speaking of textbook longevity, one major complaint from teachers and students is the outdated textbook. It usually comes down to budget, since there generally isn’t much of one for new textbooks year to year. We’re back at the issue of money and if schools can’t afford updated textbooks, they certainly can’t afford tablets or laptops. But what about liquidating the textbooks and going purely digital?
One common argument in favor of the devices is the ability to update the e-textbooks. Updating textbooks becomes a painless task (or in the very least, nearly painless) since it all happens instantly and wirelessly. It may cost to update, unless the publisher offers free updates, but that cost will be much lower than the cost of buying a new set of hardcover texts. Plus, teachers can know all their students have access to the same material.
Depending on the route educators choose in regards to individual students—laptops, tablets, or just textbooks—there are going to be downsides, just as there are upsides. It’s almost a no-win situation, but for the schools struggling one way or the other, the kids can’t remain in limbo forever. The struggle is detrimental to their education.
One thing that can be said for certain is the future is digital. How long it takes for that future to be completely realized is the question. There will be a day when the publishers many schools rely upon for their books won’t have any stock to give them (at least nothing physical).
At that point a decision will have to be made: stay in the static past or make the jump into the moving future? We should only hope by that point in time that economic situations allow for movement into the future for the sake of the students.