Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Windows 8 Tablets Part 2: Educational Applications

First, a little background...

I've been really interested in mobile learning for about two years. I read that mobile learning was going to be this amazing, innovative way to change individual classrooms and the entire landscape of education. All the technology blogs were, and many still are, mobile! mobile! mobile! I attended workshops and full conferences about mobile learning that psyched us up for it, mostly with the rationale: "This is where things are going. Everyone has a mobile device. We need to take advantage of that. We need to be prepared for it." But I'd walk away still wanting more specific information and examples of how it impacts higher ed. The examples were often really vague or the applications were really obvious ("use mobile devices to take pictures!").

Most of what I read about mobile learning/teaching in the elementary or middle school realm makes a lot of sense because touch screens can increase engagement in younger kids, but I don't think a lot of that applies to older students or college students.

The reality I've seen in higher ed is mobile devices being used as laptop replacements, often with limited or no app usage. Without a 1-1 program in which every student has the same type of device, determining apps that can work across multiple platforms is not easy. And what if the apps have a cost? Who pays for it?

Not all students at UWEC have a smart phone or tablet and we don't have classroom sets for most of the campus, so what I consider "true" mobile learning activities (things that really take advantage of the mobility of the device and apps) are a bit difficult to implement here. I've offered my help to figure out how to do things across multiple devices, with little interest.

Most of the uses for mobile devices I read about I thought could be done more simply, easily, and better on a computer. The vast majority of students here do have a laptop, so that's an advantage. Many faculty I worked with just wanted to do things how they do them on a computer - using Microsoft Word or saving on the hard drive, for instance (saving in the app is still a weird concept). There are so many work arounds with an iPad - it's possible to use it for a lot, but it just doesn't seem efficient.

Some mobile pilots I've heard about focused on e-books, but we have a text rental system here, so we will probably have paper for quite a while.

Here's the most important thing: Much of what I read about mobile learning was, and still is, "here are a bunch of cool apps." We need to focus on the teaching/learning need and then determine the technology rather than letting the technology dictate the teaching. When I found myself trying to make mobile work rather than integrating into my toolkit of options for use when it was most appropriate, I realized I needed to scale it back.

I believe that Windows 8 tablets change all of this. 

As of right now, I'd recommend Windows 8 tablets for any school with students 7th grade or higher considering purchasing mobile devices for a classroom set or a 1-1 program. That's a strong statement because I'm basically saying forget about iPads.

I believe iPads are best used for/with

  1. Personal use for fun. There are so many games and I think they are nice to read on for pleasure, like a Kindle with more functionality. 
  2. Young kids who don't need productivity software yet (the interface has always seemed kid-ish to me). They are very intuitive and now that iOS devices are so popular, skills transfer from one device to another. 
  3. Discipline-specific apps, like those for special education, communication, etc. Apple will probably corner the market in disability accessibility for a long time. 
    • My husband works in the audio industry and he kind of wants an iPad because they finally have created apps to control the devices he works with, but right now the apps are only on iOS. So, there are specific reasons, at least now. 
  4. People who are in love with Apple products for no logical reason. Can't change them. 

People using iPads for mobile computer labs can now have the full computer experience with a Windows 8 tablet. They don't have to download apps (which is good because there aren't many) - they can just use a browser or download software. The IT department can make images for the devices that have the necessary software and they can be integrated with the university system so people can use their university credentials, no Apple ID required. (I'm not a "real" IT person, so correct me if my wording is off!) Basically, they are meant for enterprise management whereas iPads are more difficult to manage since they were primarily meant for personal use.

The main activity I thought had true value on a mobile device, that would work across OSs, are things involving taking pictures or video. The Windows 8 tablets have a camera facing both ways and a camcorder function, PLUS they can run real video editing programs. Students can really do all their video work on one device, plus everything else they need to do.

They are still ultra mobile, allow for writing with a stylus, and have a small profile. By "small profile," I mean they don't stick up high, putting a barrier in between the user and a person in front of them. There's value in that. 

When I attended a workshop a year ago on mobile learning, I thought the main thing we should do is provide mobile access to course content. The cool thing is that's not really necessary with Windows 8 tablets, but most students will not purchase one so mobile accessibility is still a good idea.

Faculty Use

Like I mentioned in the last section of Part 1 of my Windows 8 post, I think that it's a personal choice. There are faculty in math, science, and economics who need a way to to use their handwriting in order to create online tutorials - I'd definitely recommend a Windows 8 tablet to them because they are less expensive than a tablet PC (like the Dell XT3) and more functional than an iPad. My other recommendations now are a Wacom Bamboo (pretty unpopular, due to the effort required to have good handwriting) or a Livescribe pen. 

Overall, I would make sure to mention a Windows 8 tablet to anyone who is interested in purchasing an iPad since it may meet more of their needs and work as a crossover computer/tablet for them. 


  1. I would like to hear more, I am a grad student doing a project on Windows 8 tablets for children with special needs. This is new territory for me. Thanks, Milissa

  2. I would like to hear more, I am a grad student doing a project on Windows 8 tablets for children with special needs. This is new territory for me. Thanks, Milissa

  3. I appreciate the ideas and this is very nice article and have great information about Educational Applications