Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Which Devices Are Best as Digital Textbooks?

     If the school life isn’t sitting in rows waiting for the teacher to tell you what to learn, but instead is giving you technology to allow you to do your own research, wouldn’t you love to be in the class? Next month, Canada will start a new school–Inquiry Hub–with that sort of environment (for more information consult The School Becomes An Inquiry Hub).

     The picture below is the web page of British Columbia Ministry of Education, pointing out the need for change.

     Another recent research report talked about a fifth-grade class using Samsung Galaxy Android tablets as digital textbooks. The enticing preface ran thus:

    What happens when school children are given the tools they need to extend their learning beyond the four walls of the classroom and the limited hours of the school day?

     We’re finding out…

     Fifth-grade kids are only ten years old, so not all of them knew how to use these technologies. In one year, however, these children had become tech savvy, independent learners. They know how to search for their own answers instead of waiting passively for information.

     This experiment, Learning Untethered, wanted to know:

  • Is there a difference in performance between kids with tablets and kids with laptop computers? Will tablets affect a child’s writing skills?

  • Android tablets have cheaper options. Is there a difference in performance between kids using Android tablets and kids using iOS tablets (iPads)?

  • How do portable devices with 24/7 mobile broadband change the practices of learning?

     They called this plan “guerilla research,” and spent less than $200 on each child. The main conclusions are:

  • There is no difference in writing performance between kids with tablets and kids with laptops.

  • Laptops, with larger screens and keyboards, are suited for larger projects that needed editing and combining different formats of materials. Tablets are better for taking notes. It is harder to refine projects on a tablet, but much easier to take photos, record, videotape, or draft (author note: more and more apps are coming out to help make editing on tablets more convenient, maybe).

  • Android tablets are cheaper, but the ecosystem is not yet mature enough to be recommended to educators. For example, there is no guarantee of backward compatibility – that new apps will work on older devices. That is true on iPads as well, but iPads have only one provider (while Android has several, Android operating system, the hardware, the vendors, and the communications providers with no one completely in charge of everything), so they do not have as many compatibility problems as Android tablets.

  • When students have ownership of their own learning process, they often do not require supervision to prevent them from getting distracted. They became responsible and confident users, and often helped others without being asked. They would even find problems in the programs and look for solutions online by themselves.

  • The learning environment transformed from teachers providing information to students searching for information and contributing it to the class. Teachers and students grow and learn together. The two biggest factors are the technologies for students to use independently, and the freedom of exploring and experimenting.

  • Students learn to use small bits of time to learn as well–no more down time.

  • In one year, the students had learned how to use technology and resources, at project presentations, it is obvious that they had improved their capability.

     If you want to learn more, you can visit “Learning is Personal, Stories of Android Tablet Use in the 5th Grade“. Back to the Inquiry Hub project mentioned at the beginning, one of the leaders of it — David Truss — preferred the Bring Your Own Laptop program even though he uses and loves iPads, because laptops are more convenient in writing and creating. I personally agree with him that it’s easier to do complicated works on laptops, although I like to learn or play on iPads.

     The USA Department of Education had announced that they will universalize digital textbooks before 2017. At the time they also provided the Digital Textbook Playbook, to help educators evaluate the programs and devices schools and households needed, as well as share successes in other districts with this project. There are more experiments with iPads not talked about here, readers are welcome to share your own experiences. No matter what the device is, it is clear that the change in learning style is the key.

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Author Bio.

Aggie Garfield is a high school sophomore in Texas. This is her blog : Incoherent Ramblings of an Insignificant Person.

Editor note

High school or college students are welcome to submit your articles of thoughts and observations about learning or education to :


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4 Responses »


  1. (Infographic) A Quick Review on Learning with Mobile Devices | Classroom Aid
  2. BYOD Brings The Ownership of Learning to Students | Classroom Aid
  3. Digital Learning Now! Paper and Infographic | Classroom Aid
  4. Which Devices Are Best as Digital Textbooks? | Beyond Analytics |

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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