Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Mobile Learning: Searching for the Right Device

Our school is soon to experience an exciting technology lead paradigm shift as whole site coverage WiFi is being installed over the summer holidays. Alongside this we are encouraging students to get their phones out (or tablets, net books, iPods) all in the name of improving learning. Whilst students will be encouraged to use what they already have we are also looking to offer a tablet to students via the e-learning Foundation's Donation Management Scheme and FSM students will be subsidised by the pupil premium. Over the next year or so I will be blogging our school's progress, commenting on how students and teachers have responded to the challenge and sharing any obstacles we have faced - and hopefully how we have overcome them! If you are involved in similar projects please get in touch.

For the last few months I have been searching for the right mobile device for our school. My journey has seen me try out the iPad (I love it but lack of Flash limits use in the class for our needs); RM Slate (Windows 7 and touch screens just don't work); Samsung Galaxy (I loved the size and it was very user friendly but lacked in features of newer Android devices); Hannspree 10st1 (good value all rounder but lacked some features and wow factor); HTC Flyer (the less said about this one the better - I'm still scratching my head as to how such a good smartphone manufacturer made such a naff device); Motorola Xoom (another superb Android device, second to my chosen one due to being more expensive and not yet having Proxy management).

But the winner is...

ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. When evaluating all devices I worked to a number of key criteria that the device had to satisfy:

  • Affordable: Compared to the very similar spec'd Xoom, the Eee pad is great value at £379.99 for the slate and £429.99 with the keyboard.

  • Proxy management: The Eee pad is the first (and at time of writing) only Android device to offer this without the need for additional proxy apps.

  • Robust: As soon as you hold this device you know it's been built to last. It has a tough, gorilla glass touch screen and the clip where the tablet connects to the optional keyboard is reassuringly durable. The trade off for this is it is a bit on the heavy side - even compared to my iPad 1.

  • Multiple devices centrally manged via a docking device: we are still waiting to hear back from ASUS on this but the rep believes it is possible.

  • Work with our Frog VLE: With flash installed there are still a couple of things that don't work but nothing that can't be worked around.

  • Support a wide rang of apps: It runs Android so there are plenty of apps on the market and these are catching up with Apple in terms of quality but it does take a bit more searching to sort the wheat from the chaff due to a far less stringent quality control process than with Apple. The idea of students and staff creating their own apps for this device using Google App inventor is a real plus.

  • Battery must last the school day: the slate offers 9 hours of battery life which isn't as great as other devices on the market but the nifty bit is that the keyboard adds another 7 hours of battery.

  • Wow factor for students: This device was a real hit with my tutor group and other students whom I asked to trial it. They loved everything about it and thought the detachable keyboard was the best thing since sliced bread. None of them have been able to give me an even better if (aside from my choice of apps which I quickly rectified downloading Angry Birds!) They were particularly impressed with the quality of the front and rear cameras. The device is also an attractive looking bit of kit, don't let the fact that it's brown put you off - it works.

  • User friendly: the only demonstration the students needed was how to detach the keyboard, other than that they were up and running with it in seconds. Some bits have taken me a little longer. I am very used to my iPad and there's no denying that Apple are still the heavyweight champions of the user friendly arena but this does come a pretty close second. The touch screen is very responsive, on a par with the iPad, however it is a little slower to process some commands such as when you flip the device from landscape to portrait. I also find the keyboard to be less responsive, sometimes I have to click on the mouse several times to open apps whereas it responds straight away when tapped on screen but these are all minor complaints.

It is not yet certain that we will go for this device, the governors need to be consulted and the summer holidays will be bringing a few more competitors such as the new Samsung Galaxy and the Toshiba, but I am confident it will be able to hold its own against these.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Food for thought about assessment

Having watched the below video I am now inspired to change the way I assess next year. Will it do the same for you? Let me know...