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Tablets in Higher Ed, Part 2: A Focus on Functionality

  • January 21, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

Tablets are a prominent part of today’s college campus culture, but oftentimes their use is not inspired by educational purpose. Instead, tablets are used primarily as extensions of students’ phones in their personal lives. Can technology industry heavyweights change this?

Amazon has been active in this space, recently announcing an affordable ($50) tablet. This offering is paired with compelling services, such as rental e-textbooks, which give students a way to spend less on reading material that may only be of use to them for a single semester.
Amazon’s device, similar to others, is about convenience. It’s essentially an e-reader, which is great, but does not unlock the full potential of tablets. Mobile devices can (and should) be about more than just convenience and entertainment; their success and usefulness is tied closely with their ability – or inability – to help students be productive.

The reason for the disconnect between education and available digital tools is likely tied to practicality. Students need to be able to actually complete work on these devices, not just access information. As Derrick Wlodarz wrote in an article for betanews: “Real student work comes in the form of content creation, not consumption.” The tech industry is just now beginning to supply the functionality that could be key to meeting those needs. Many manufacturers are recognizing and addressing the apparent gap between entertainment and productivity on tablets.

For example, it seems as though Microsoft may act as a trailblazer that finds tablets a place in educational settings – and their promise doesn’t stem from entertainment or convenience.
Microsoft has recently released Windows 10. Its introduction brings forth new features, such as a built-in digital assistant, that teachers or students might find useful for streamlining tasks, research, and other handy shortcuts. The digital assistant, Cortana, could “help keep users on task,” according to Martha Jez, the director of professional development programs at Fair Chance Learning. Additionally, Windows 10 comes in conjunction with Microsoft’s new browser, Edge. Edge ups compatibility for users to take notes or draw as they browse websites.

However, the most compelling feature from Windows 10 is Continuum, which creates an adaptable user interface. Continuum can aid users in making the most of versatile devices, automatically shifting to cater to whatever a user is experiencing at any given time. Microsoft describes the Continuum feature as follows:

“Windows 10 adjusts your experience for your activity, device, and display, so you can do your thing in any mode, anytime you want. Onscreen features, like menus and taskbars, adapt for easy navigation. Apps are built to scale smoothly from screen to screen so they look good from the smallest app window up to the largest 8k displays. You can even change from desktop to tablet mode anytime you want – your screen will give you a smooth transition and a beautiful display.“

As mobile PCs begin to offer an effective balance between entertainment and productivity, it appears that the notion that pure tablet devices would supplant laptops seems less likely. Instead, the cannibalization of tablets by mobile phone seems a more likely scenario. Phones are slowly but surely, inch-by-inch, getting bigger screens, more functionality, and looking remarkably similar to tablet devices.

At the end of the day, students need to work – and that requires the ability to create and communicate seamlessly from a wide range of locations. Portability and functionality will be the cornerstones for devices that boost adoption rates.

Reference Articles:

1. “Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education: A Multi-Year Study” EDUCAUSE. June 22 2015.
2. “Pearson Student Mobile Device Survey 2015” Pearson. June 2015.
3. “Why tablets are failing miserably in higher education” Betanews. May 18 2014.
4. “Does Amazon’s Edtech Strategy Involve $50 Tablets?” EdSurge. September 9 2015.
5. “4 Reasons Windows 10 Makes Sense for Education” EdTech. July 31 2015.
6. “Online Shoppers Prefer to Use Their Phones” U.S. News. November 25 2015.
7. “Continuum” Windows Central. 2015.