Tools For Schools: Slates? But I Thought We Were All About 21st not 19th Century Learning?

It would appear that 2010 is the year of the slate.  Windows in conjunction with HP is working hard to launch their version of this new tech tool and just today Apple showed off their iPad, which was long awaited by geeks everywhere, but how do they factor into the field of education?


At CES 2010, HP premiered their “slate” PC, which is pictured to the left.  Different from past generations of the PC tablet this is not limited to a stylus or single touch navigation.  This prototype allows for multi-touch functions.  It seems to be an all encompassing device.  It is perfect for delivering media to the user.  It can be an e-reader, a video player, a web browser, etc.  It isn’t going to be your go to for composing documents or e-mails.  It will get the job done in a pinch, but isn’t going to be the most efficient way to work. Video info


Today Apple presented its much gossiped about secret weapon of 2010.  It is called the iPad and is Apples long awaited take on the “tablet” device.  If anyone has seen an iPod Touch, it seems that they have already seen the iPad in action at simply a fraction of the size.   Many, including me, are disappointed to find that the iPad while clearly a powerful tool is not much more dynamic than its close cousins the iPod Touch and iPhone.  Apple boasts its ability to download via access to three online stores (App, iTunes, & iBooks).  They are also proud of the upgrades to the calendar, map, notes, and contact applications that come standard on the iPad as well as their almost full size keyboard.  Oh and don’t forget about that motion sensing feature that allows you to play cool video games with the Apple products! Check out the video


As excited as I was about the potential of what Apple could be launching at the end of this month, I have to say that I don’t think what has been delivered by either HP or Apple is worth much to the world of education.  In fact I am down right disappointed in the products.  As I reviewed HP’s take on the slate the other day, I thought to myself, “ha, those PC designers still can’t hold a candle to the ingenuity of the Apple team.  I just know Apples will be something more that a super-sized iPod!”, but I was wrong.  I won’t dispute that the iPod Touch has provide schools with a great “low cost” tool for connecting with the outside world, but the fact that it was cheaper than a netbook was the big draw.  When it is a choice between $500 on an iPad, Slate PC, or a tablet netbook, I am going to choose the tablet netbook for my classroom.  The iPad and Slate have been developed for the purpose of entertainment not productivity and though they have great features like the e-readers with internet connection and touch screen keyboards, it still doesn’t scream efficiency to me.  These products are focused on the consumption of content and media, but in my classroom I want my students to be the producers of those things.

I am not willing to count out all slates just yet though…Microsoft has a secret competitor that they are working on called the Courier and it looks like it could give the tablet netbook a run for its money in the classrooms of America.


From watching the demonstration of the Courier it seems like it could be the next step in educational technology, though it too is lacking a few necessary features.  It does seem to come much closer to the needs of the classroom than the above mentioned, but is it a case of teaching a new dog old tricks.  The Courier is based on the idea that it is a digital journal.  It has the appearance of a journal with two side-by-side multi-touch color screens, but everything is recorded and manipulated with digital features (really, watch the video it is impressive).  While it is fabulous, because it would allow students to take notes by scribing with a stylus, it is lacking a keyboard for those who struggle with motor skills or just prefer typing.  What it seems to be lacking for the needs of the classroom is the opportunity to create media.  It seems to allow for more creation and personalizing content than the iPad and Slate PC, but my kids won’t be producing video commercials or podcasts from these things.  In my mind, these shortfalls will continue to make the decisions difficult for school corporations as they try to select the best tools for their classrooms.

Though I am a huge Apple fan, my hope is that Microsoft takes their time on the release of the Courier, and listens to the feedback on these other products that have hit the market a little earlier.  I just keep asking myself, “Why are these companies not building tools specific for the classrooms?”  If they were smart they would realize that there is a market of impressionable digital natives (tomorrow’s consumers) who are in need of a tool that is functional and efficient for their learning.  Grab their attention while their young and you’ll have customers for life!

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