An Android tablet computer is a complete mobile computer integrated into a flat touch screen that utilizes the Android (operating system) solution stack that is familiar to many smart phone users. Most often, it uses an onscreen virtual keyboard and most commonly features touchscreen technology, although a stylus can be used in some applications. The tablet combines the full functionality of a personal computer, along with the convenience of a screen that is larger than a Smartphone. As of June 2011, the popularity of tablets is growing rapidly but is still well below the number of Smartphone users.
The concept of the tablet has its roots as far back as Alan Kay’s Dynabook in 1968, but the release of the iPad in 2010 has reinvigorated the concept. Tablets operating using Google's Android software stack are slowly emerging into the marketplace, in 2011. At the Electronics Show 2011, over 80 new tablets were announced to compete with the iPad. Companies who announced Android tablets included: Motorola which released its Xoom tablet (Android 3.0) , Samsung came up with its new Samsung Galaxy Tab (Android 2.2), Vizio with the Via Tablet, Toshiba Thrive (Android 3.1), and the startup company Notion Ink's Adam. Many of these tablets are set to be running Android 3.0 Honeycomb (some are featuring Android 2.3 or above).
Despite this re-invigoration, sales of Android tablets have lagged far below sales of the iPad 2. An estimated 125,000 Android tablets were sold in the first quarter of 2011. In comparison, Apple’s iPad 2 first week sales were estimated to be between 350,000 to 400,000.
Honeycomb 3.1 is the latest Android version, as of June 2011, and was written specifically for the tablet. This page has a short version history of the Android OS. There are a wide variety of Android tablets currently on the market or soon to be released. Some of the key tablet features are its light weight, slim profile, excellent graphics capability and wireless connectivity, making it a strong competitor against laptops in an educational setting.
- Xoom - Motorola
- Samsung Galaxy Tab – Samsung
- Thrive – Toshiba
- Moby - Marvell
- Adam - Notion Ink
- Via - Vizio (scheduled release July 2011)
The following tablets are geared specifically for educational application:
As of June 2011, these are the relevant features and specifications of the Android operating system for tablets: Reproduced from work created and shared by the Android Open Source Project and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 2.5 Attribution License.
- Application framework enabling reuse and replacement of components
- Dalvik virtual machine optimized for mobile devices
- Integrated browser based on the open source WebKit engine
- Optimized graphics powered by a custom 2D graphics library; 3D graphics based on the OpenGL ES 1.0 specification (hardware acceleration optional)
- SQLite for structured data storage
- Media support for common audio, video, and still image formats (MPEG4, H.264, MP3, AAC, AMR, JPG, PNG, GIF)
- GSM Telephony (hardware dependent)
- Bluetooth, EDGE, 3G, and WiFi (hardware dependent)
- Camera, GPS, compass, and accelerometer (hardware dependent)
- Rich development environment including a device emulator, tools for debugging, memory and performance profiling, and a plugin for the Eclipse IDE
Planning and Logistics
Implementing any technology initiative requires careful planning to successfully launch. An initial task analysis should be undertaken that includes a cost benefit analysis and needs assessment that addresses the need that the new technology seeks to fulfill. Research should be conducted on relevant case studies and professional practice sites. The following key aspects should also be considered:
- Detailed Budget
Lay out the costs of implementation, ongoing maintenance and operation, and any insurance. Include needed network/infrastructure upgrades, repair costs, service contracts, and future upgrades.
- Security Plan
Develop a network security plan that considers storage, back-up and restoration of information, Internet connectivity, and usage guidelines. A separate Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) should be developed that considers how these devices will be used. The following questions may serve as a partial guide to the development of the AUP, as it pertains to these devices. Will the tablets be used solely in school, or will they also be taken home by students? How will activity be monitored and enforced? Are users limited in how they may use the devices in any way? How are users expected to use the device? Are there any other expectations for using, handling, and navigating with the equipment?
- Communications Plan
How will the new technology be communicated to the staff, students, and the community as a whole? Does the public embrace new technology? How will the AUP be developed and approved by the school and community?
- Staffing Plan
Who will be needed to implement and support the equipment?
- Training Plan
What training does the staff need to implement, use and maintain the technology? Will the students also need training on the devices? Is the school population familiar with the AUP and its consequences?
Much like a laptop, Android tablets can use WiFi technology and operate as a stand-alone computer. A key advantage in their use is that they can easily access an established wireless network. This means that the installed wireless network needs to ensure that it is capable of handling the anticipated traffic. Additional access points and routers may be required as increased network traffic may bog down the overall speed of the the network.
To build network capacity, evaluate the specifications of the installed network electronics and ensure that the network cables are up to current IEEE standards and that they are properly installed. Signal strength and location of the antenna and the overall range are also important factors to consider.
Network Monitoring and Evaluation
Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the wireless network is needed to ensure that the overall system is operating efficiently, once the tablets are implemented. There are a number of programs currently available to facilitate network monitoring. Here is a sample listing to explore: MRTG (freeware), NMAP (freeware), Nagios, Zenoss, Wireshark, and InterMapper.
Security is a key concern in any network environment and educational settings have an increased burden to protect children from harmful content. Content filtering applications are available to address these concerns, while still affording the flexibility to allow Internet access that enhances the learning experience. A reliable solution should protect against threats from malware, criminal activity and address any regulatory compliance requirements there might be. Barracuda Networks provides a great overview of these challenges and discusses their solution in a white paper published in July 2010.
An important aspect of securing a network is a thorough AUP that clearly defines acceptable and unacceptable uses of connected devices. An AUP can be very broad or specific in nature and should reflect the culture of the educational institution and its curricular goals. Resources regarding AUP development are widely available and a good place to start is on your state's Department of Education website. More information about resources for plan development can be found on Information Security in Education/Security Policies for Mobile Devices.
Maintenance, Repair and Upgrades
Maintenance issues are always a concern when implementing any technology, especially in a school setting, where devices are often subjected to hard use. As tablets become more commonplace, information on common problems and issues will be sure to surface. A good resource for the network professional administering these devices is the Androidtablets.net users forum. This forum and others like it, often provide the best resources for maintaining, updating and repairing hardware and software. There are user groups specifically focused on issues related to each of the major tablets released, its functionality, common issues, solutions and updates.
As is the case when implementing any new process or technology, training for personnel and students may be required. A training plan should be put together that incorporates a needs analysis and subsequent intervention to address the stated needs and desired outcomes.
Key to integrating technology effectively in an educational setting is the staff's comfort and familiarity with the device, its functionality, and potential for use. This often requires a shift in thinking and practice for which training should be provided. Case studies and examples of model programs should be included in the training, along with resources for ongoing user support and the process for how best practices will continue to be shared among staff. As the curriculum will most likely need to be adjusted, and any shifts should be covered, as well. The AUP, its implications, and how it should be monitored are other aspects that should be discussed along with germane network security issues.
The student population may be the most comfortable with using Android tablets, however, depending on the intended use, specific instruction will likely be required. The AUP will need to be reviewed and resultant consequences for breach discussed. For those cases where a student contract for acceptable use is in effect, that may need to be reviewed and signed.
Potential for Schools
Because of their flexibility, there is great potential for using Android tablets in schools. Key attributes:
- affordable - currently between $99 and $700 (as of June 2011)
- compact size (ranging roughly between 5" x 7 1/2" to 7" x 10")
- long battery life
- excellent graphics and media capability
- safe operating system
- GPS functionality
- great e-reading device
These attributes make the tablet a compelling choice in comparison to the purchase of laptops and make 1:1 implementation feasible. They are less expensive than most laptops and require less infrastructure to support. Because of their portability, the tablet makes an ideal tool for data collection outside of the classroom and also affords excellent communication and collaboration with peers. The size of the larger models seems better suited to teaching than the smaller versions. Whether performing administrative tasks such as recording grades, or actively teaching by guiding a class through a web-based activity, the larger screen would be easier to see and use in a group setting.
Programs that leverage three-dimensional graphics make it particularly strong tool for science, math and art instruction. Mapping programs can take advantage of the GPS capability in areas of social studies and science. Android developer tools and Google app inventor make app creation easy. Tablets also have the potential to serve as an e-reading device, with the capability of storing dozens of books. This creates the opportunity to save money on textbooks, while allowing students to take notes, look up words and highlight passages.
Tablets like the Kineo and mySpark, which are specifically targeted for educational settings, may provide an attractive solution to tablets developed for the larger consumer population, as they will be equipped with software that is designed to interface neatly with existing school platforms. These tablets will provide content in a "school friendly" manner, by featuring content blocking software and supporting other commonly used school applications.
While schools have been cautious to adopt cell phone use, the tablet has the potential to be a game-changer. Cell phones have widely been viewed as distracting in the classroom, but tablets are quickly developing a more positive reputation. Perhaps the largest potential risks center around the human factor. For instance, students may use the devices inappropriately to communicate, record/video others, and cheat. This Wikibook page, contains an excellent overview of information to consider when weighing potential risks associated with implementing mobile devices in educational settings. This reinforces the need for a thorough and clearly defined AUP, as well as for consistent network monitoring and security tools.
According to an article published in eWeek in April of 2011, the Android operating system has ten critical flaws it needs to address in order to continue to gain ground in the marketplace. Several of these flaws seem particularly relevant when considering an educational implementation of Android tablets.
- Android fragmentation - A major issue for software developers, the many different Android versions are difficult to support. This has implications because desired software may not run well on the installed version.
- The software update process is cumbersome and inconsistent - There are frequent complaints that updates to the OS are slow to be released and are not released for all devices at the same time.
- Security considerations - in May 2011, Google was forced to remove several applications from the Android market because they were found to contain Malware.
As of this writing in June 2011, there are few published case studies specific to Android Tablet use in educational applications outside of those funded or provided by specific hardware or software manufacturers. Primarily, these studies are offered by the tablets that are strictly geared for educational implementation, namely the Kineo, by Brainchild, and MySpark Technologies. The Moby tablet educational website, Mobylize, also has resources and case studies related to implementation.
The Barbara Jordan Elementary School in Odessa, TX, realized improvement in reading, math and science as a result of implementing online assessment and instruction with Brainchildʼs TAKS Achiever! and Mechanics, in this 2009 case study. Using an automated approach freed up and teachers and allowed them to focus on small groups of students and those who needed individual attention. While the focus of this case study was related to software it produces, Brainchild is also set to release the Kineotablet in 2011. The tablet will run on the Android 2.1 operating system and is targeted specifically for school use.
- needed to be used in conjunction with a wireless network, for maximum benefit
- needed be implemented in a planned way in conjunction with the school's vision, technological infrastructure, and taking staff development into consideration
- increased motivation
- supported moves to more independent and collaborative study
- when used with a wireless data projector, provided a better solution than desktops, laptops and hardwired interactive whiteboards
- were viewed as being more versatile than laptops
Links to Resources
Further reading on Acceptable Use Policies:
Acceptable Policies in the Web 2.0 and Mobile Era. From the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).
- "What is Android?". Android Developers. 17 June 2011. http://developer.android.com/guide/basics/what-is-android.html. Retrieved 2011-06-20.
- "Android Tablet sales low, estimated 125,000 sold in the first quarter of 2011". 4 May 2011. http://www.androidtapp.com/android-tablet-sales-low-estimated-125000-sold-in-the-first-quarter-of-2011. Retrieved 2011-06-20.
- "10 Critical Android Issues Google Needs to Address Soon". eWeek. 19 April 2011. http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Mobile-and-Wireless/10-Critical-Android-Issues-Google-Needs-to-Address-Soon-847119/. Retrieved 2011-06-29.
- published by the Brainchild Corporation"Case Study: Exemplary in TX Subgroup Gains Rise in School Rating". Brainchild Corporation. Spring 2009. http://www.branchild.com/Pdfs/EctorISDcase.pdf. Retrieved 2011-06-20.
- "Tablet PCs in schools". The Open University. 2005. http://c9s.e2bn.net/e2bn/leas/c99/schools/c9s/web/public/Curriculum%20teams/primary/menu/documents/Action%20Research/tablet_pc_case_study_report.pdf. Retrieved 2011-06-30.