The Education Tablet

Two hours ago I had a thought – and wrote a series of tweets – about the impact of a, possible, Apple Tablet on the educational environment. Seconds later I found myself closing my eyes and envisioning my old elementary school classroom, with one big difference: everyone had an Apple Tablet.

Bear with me here…

Education is a conservative profession, in which computers have not even been omnipresent for the whole of the past decade. Back in that elementary school class, there was one computer, and it was only actually used for one small game about the environment. Computers in education have taken quite a leap since then, but are still widely seen as more of a threat instead of the enormous opportunities and improvements they could bring.

Elementary School

But I digress… Imagine an elementary school classroom with One Tablet Per Child. Tablets are mandatory in the classroom, textbooks are gone. There is a whole spectrum of educational apps, filled with the great content that used to be in textbooks.

Children get content fed into their tablets by their teachers, for example:

  • Words, sentences or stories during language related classes. The teacher could even be reading a book and the students could see where exactly he was reading, this would – I believe – improve their speed of language acquisition quite rapidly.
  • Numbers and calculations. Calculations can be played back – much like the playback feature in Google Wave – so the children can more easily see why something is the way it is. Deconstruct the calculations so that they are more tangible for the young mind. Complex calculations could be played back too, so the kids would get a quick insight into more complex calculational thinking.
  • Interactive maps for geography and history, in which the kids can get a lesson in a linear fashion, or the teacher opens up the content so they can interactively find out how the world looked in medieval times. Add (interactive) video to that and we have another content-level that opens up the possibilities of such app immensely.
  • … and what about foreign languages? Logical thinking? Visual insight? Multiplication tables?

This is just the content that can be pushed down from a teacher to the students. What about content creation and collaboration? Children could – at an early age – be shown the value of collaboration and teamwork. And yes, I know they are currently supposed to learn this innately from sports and such, but this can connect the dots for them much faster.

High School

In high school, especially the collaboration part could have large impact. Both centralized and decentralized content could complement each other towards much more study material that is currently available to students. Students working in groups could easily be able to share notes and other kinds of media regarding a certain topic. This makes the writing of essays and giving presentations – individually or as a team effort – much more accessible to young high school students.

And on the topic of note; a classroom of a certain course could have their own centralized location to put information onto. Information can then also be equated, so teachers and other educational personnel could analyze the amount of input certain students offer. This can show the fanatical qualities of certain students and, but also show the slackers.

More importantly, this can give mentors an insight into the preferences and passions of certain students, and if they do good all-around such student could be allowed to focus on a certain subject at a very young age. This is in line with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule. Greatness is achieved by investing time and practice. Certain children have the discipline to focus on a subject, some get pushed by their parents. It would be great if there would be a broad, data-driven way to see the passion and interests of young students, so they can find their way in life and what they want to do with it.

But apart from this, what about content? I had a really big problem understanding the whole “x + y = 2x+3, what is y?” thing, back in high school. Half a year I was stuck in a situation, in which I had to do a lot of these assignments and I had no clue on how it worked. Eventually I got a different math teacher and one single lesson later I had a “Eureka!”-moment and fully got how it worked. Students should not be held back by these possible situations. Sure, the influence of teachers is important, but in a situation where a lot of content about a subjects is available via a tablet-app, every student can find their own way of learning something.

Interaction and Communication

But what about blackboards? Blackboards became whiteboards, and some whiteboards became interactive whiteboards. But all interactive whiteboards, I have seen up until now, are royal pieces of fecal matter. So what if one could easily wirelessly connect a students Apple Tablet onto a projector or a screen of some kind. Referring back to the presentations, this would negate all reason to use that godawful Powerpoint. Presenting would become more free and accessible.

Statistical analysis within class could be easily shown on a screen in meetings with parents or in internal staff meetings at a school. The teacher could have his tablet connected to the screen and – while pushing content to the student’s tablets – he could interactively run through an educational app. Students could then on their own digress from the teachers path or put annotations at certain points of the lesson. Teachers would then be able to see these notes and find out on which students he or she should focus.

The Cloud

And now the technical beauty of this; everything is stored in the cloud. Dogs will not be able to eat homework. Sure, a dog can eat a tablet, but there should be a replacement-program – since it’s the most important tool the student will have.

Something even cooler about this? Fanatical kids and prodigies from all across the country could communicate and collaborate on the subject they are passionate about. If you want to find out “How long a person would survive a wrestle match with a Velociraptor based on their size, fitness and weight”, you could probably find another person, around your age, that wants to find out the same thing. Together, you could make the ultimate spreadsheet. If you are a musical prodigy who finds it difficult to socialize, there would be a bunch around, in an accessible, open environment.

Sans idealism

I have not even begun to scratch the surface of possibilities that an Apple Tablet could bring to education – especially when looking at the IKEA Tablet Mock-up Video but I cannot imagine it wouldn’t bring great improvements. The importance here lies in good content and good interfaces. The biggest threat to this idea is some big lobbying corporation that eventually gets a lot of contracts and produces a shit product. Hence the use of the Apple Tablet as the product of choice for this purpose.

If this decade will bring even half of these awesome possibilities along, in any way, shape or form, I guess we will be well on our way.