Nobody can fail to notice that more and more people are using tablets to read books. On airplanes, on the beach, everywhere books are being read on tablets. A change that publishers thought would take years to happen, is quickly reaching critical mass.
It may be “all over” for the book within a couple of years. Already universities and colleges in the developed countries are opting for the “one to one” solution where each student gets a laptop. More and more these laptops are being replaced by tablet-PC’s.
Tablet PC’s, made popular by the iPad and Kindle, are good replacements for books because they are light, portable and less cumbersome than traditional laptops and net books. They are portable devices that connect to the Internet either via local wifi networks or mobile networks (3G, 4g, GPSR etc.). Apple recently announced its iTextbook program that will certainly mark the end of the traditional school book market.
Tablet PC’s function a very similar fashion to modern smart phones that many young people in St Lucia are familiar with. Students would have no problem understanding these devices and dealing with the lack of a physical keyboard. The popularity of the Tablet PC is not hard to understand. Tablet PC’s have a “cool” factor.
There are many different tablets to choose from.
At the recent CES 2011 fair over 50 new tablet PCs were presented. Prices range from USD 200 to USD 1000 for these latest models.
Last year’s tablets are
of course selling for
much less. The prices of tablets are coming down rapidly. All indications are that prices will go the same way as the cell phones, with prices falling or even given away subsidized by telecommunications companies. A price of under US$100 is almost here.
Consequences for learning
What does all this mean for education? It means that any system designed for the future has to take into account that every student may have, and probably should have, a mobile device like a tablet PC. Tablet PCs can be used for everything done by today’s PCs and “paper-based” aids:
– Read digital books
– Watch educational videos
– Watch animations
– Do exercises
– Do tests
– Collaborative learning (use of Wiki, Forums and sharing of comments)
– Scheduling and much more
In a future where every student has a device the possibilities for communicating with the school, viewing schedules and receiving assignments will be greatly enhanced. For schools tablets means everything will change and nothing will change: Instead of looking at page 3 in a book, students will read the page in digital form on the tablet. Instead of sending a note home teachers will send a message on the tablet. Instead of a calendar on paper the calendar will be on the tablet and perhaps instead of handing in homework students will e-mail a link to a Wiki, This does not mean that teaching really changes. It will just be more efficient. What will change teaching is the vast repository of information available on the internet and it is important that the system provided to the schools does not get in the way of any new methodology.
Network provider partnership
In a partnership with a telecommunications company it will be possible for each device to be connected to a mobile network perhaps under a plan with unlimited Internet but with a charge for mms, sms and calls. This would not only provide all users with connectivity at school but also at home and most places in between. Depending on the connection speeds available there will not be a need for a “wifi” network at school. Tablet PCs are able to switch between both types of networks.
Even if there is some uncertainty as to what communications and tablets will be available in the future, any system designed for tomorrow’s school must take into account these possibilities.
There are great saving to be made. As mentioned above the need for a school to have any IT infrastructure may be eliminated. Air-conditioned, high security labs will be a thing of the past.
But the greatest saving may well be digital books. There will not be a need for students to buy any textbooks. College students buy books for over EC 500 dollars every year. If books can be provided digitally then this will mean the cost of the tablet will be covered within a couple of years.
The cloud computing revolution
Cloud computing is simply that data and services are stored and provided by one or several central locations somewhere on the Internet. The advantages are obvious: access from any connected device, centralized backup, one point of edit, sharing of knowledge and community building to mention a few. A user who is fully integrated with “the cloud” is no longer dependent on any one computer. If his computer crashes he just logs into another one, enters his passwords and is up and running again.
The drawback of cloud computing used to be a lack of connectivity. What was the point of a cloud if you could not reach it? However with the improvement of broadband and mobile networks this is more and more a problem of the past. In fact users are doing more and more online, e-mail, storage, word processing, spreadsheets, social networks virtual desktops, online banking, taxes. The concept that all this be accessible through any computer or mobile device that happens to be available at any given time or place is no longer a novelty —it’s taken for granted.
The Intime systemfor secondary school and beyond
The Intime system was built for cloud computing from the start. This has proved to be a great advantage and a successful strategy as our program has shown with over 14,000 registered students and now aiming for the entire primary population by the end of the school year in June. This would not have been possible with a decentralized system with servers in every school. Here are some of the exciting features a new and updated system will have:
Content in a new way
All the great content that we have created so far would of course be available. Digital books for the new Intime system will be optimized for computers and mobile devices. These digital books will be fully searchable and students and teachers will be able to comment and share comments as they see fit. Videos and interactive content will be available directly within the books. There will also be diagnostic tests for students and teachers to monitor their progress.
Use of Mashup
Mashup is a term for integrating external systems in your system. We already do this in Intime. We use Youtube for video. In the new system this concept will be taken much further. Google, Windows Live and others provide services like calendar functions, office applications, wiki-tools and blog-tools that you can integrate in a similar way. Wolfram|Alpha provides a great mathematical search engine.
There is no reason to re-invent the wheel to provide services that others do better, that others keep updated and does not put our servers under more pressure than necessary.
Many school education systems today are seen as a limitation by the users rather than a resource because they force users to use only the tools provided by the system. The new “Intimeeducation” will be as open as possible to what the internet has to offer.
Communication in a new way
Teachers will be able to communicate with their class in many new ways. Each group/class will have a blog run by the teacher. Here the teacher can write what is going on, what the students should be focusing on and present how the work is progressing.
The group will also share a calendar with important dates. All calendars that a student has access to are merged into one (as in Google calendar). Assignments will be sent to students and appear on each students “home” page. When an assignment is done a message will appear on the teacher’s page.
Each user should be allowed to personalize their start page. It is an important part of modern Internet usage. They should be able to “hide” books, groups and messages that they are not working with at the moment. Perhaps there should also be possibility for individual expression, i.e. choose a background and upload a picture, and let other users see select parts of this personalization. There is nothing to be afraid of here. It is the Internet.
Mashup features will allow users to identify themselves using their favourite social network or webb-mail provider. Facebook, LinkedIn, gMail, and Windows Live all allow users to identify themselves and share information.
This means that users that log in via Facebook can automatically provide our system with picture, name, date of birth and other information. Users will also be able to integrate their web mail and calendars in the Intime system if they wish.
Social integration and collaborative learning
Social integration is the communal side of personalization. What’s the point of being an individual if you cannot show others? It means allowing students and teachers access to their favourite social tools. Again, through Mashup technology, we can easily integrate such services as Facebook and Twitter. The Intime system will provide tools for collaborative learning such as comment sharing, wikis, blogs and forums. This can be achieved through Mashup services or our own tools.
Secondary school and primary school adaptation
Secondary school is differently structured from primary school. The most obvious example is attendance. Students in secondary school have several teachers often in different classrooms. Attendance will be per lesson and not, as in primary school, per day. Another big change is that several teachers will have access to students’ records and be able to communicate with students. A third example is that students will belong to several different groups – not just one class. Changes will have to be made in the system to accommodate this.
Student history and national ID number
The system will be updated to allow student and staff records to remain intact as they move through the system between different schools, and progress from primary, secondary and eventually tertiary levels.
We will introduce a form of national ID number for each user of the system. This number will uniquely identify each individual, and be the key to accessing that person’s records. All this will provide invaluable data and statistics for the Ministry of Education and the country’s administrative system as a whole.
The final facts
There is truly a unique opportunity in St Lucia. Because of its limited size and student population coupled with a great desire to learn and use new technology, St Lucia presents a controllable environment for an education IT venture. In many other countries of greater size there are many different wills and conflicts over standards and approaches. In St Lucia we have one environment and we can control the technology and methodology used in all schools. St Lucia is a perfect testing and proving ground for new approaches to learning. There has never been a better time to embark on such a project with the coming together of cloud computing and cheap portable devices for the users.
In St Lucia we have also enjoyed the support of the Government, Lime and the Embassy of Taiwan, which provides technical and financial stability during the implementation stages. Together with the already proven Intime system and its educational content at primary level, we have the perfect combination of partners to achieve great progress in the world of education.
Hyperbole is an oft used rhetorical device in St Lucia, but in the case of the InTime Education Program it is true to say that this is the most advanced, all-encompassing, national teaching-learning-administrative system in the world, and it will be a great export item “Made in St Lucia.”