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. 

Windows 8 Tablets Part 1: Review of the Surface Pro & Dell Latitude 10

Back in November I tried out the Surface RT tablet and liked it quite a bit, although at that time I still preferred my MacBook. This weekend I got to try out the Surface Pro and Dell Latitude 10, both with Windows 8. You can find the details and professional reviews all over the place, so I won't get into them here but basically these are basic laptops in tablet form - like an iPad that's actually a computer running Windows 8. I didn't get to really dig in and customize them over a long period of time, but I think I got a decent feel for them.

I got them at a perfect time, because I was training faculty on Camtasia a few hours later and I wasn't sure if everyone would have a laptop, so I decided to get the free trial of Camtasia on these tablets to see how they fared. Camtasia is a really important program to me for online course development. It can be used for screencasting as well as video editing in general. Two people used the the tablets during the training and it seemed fine. They jumped right in. I'd say the only difficulty was figuring out how to navigate between applications, which would be an issue with getting used to Windows 8. The only pervasive problem was that the tiny screen is not made for serious work, especially multimedia editing - but if you're doing this, you're typically going to have an external monitor. The mousepad built in to the Surface Pro's keyboard was important; the Dell definitely was found lacking without it. Overall, it was great to have them for this training because we were short on devices. The person who used the Surface wants to try it out for a longer period of time.

They both functioned the same for me overall: fine. The Dell seemed a little slow when I had 6 tabs open in Internet Explorer, a few in Chrome, and Outlook running. I had difficulty using my finger to close tabs or switch between tabs in Chrome - I could have used a stylus, but I don't want to. I'd definitely lose it. Also, it is not possible to make a Chrome window bigger just by pinching out with your thumb and forefinger, like you can on IE, so Chrome was basically unusable unless a monitor was connected because it was just too small to read (that was difficult to explain - hopefully it makes sense). Unfortunately, IE works much better than Chrome with the touch interface but when I used a mouse and a big monitor, Chrome was fine.

My only actual complaint is that I had a lot of difficulty connecting to wireless and it was slow to reconnect. You can't count "always on" as a benefit of a mobile device when it won't easily connect to the wireless. I don't know if this was an odd situation for me or a common problem, but it was frustrating and it happened both at my house and a coffee shop. When I got back on campus it was fine though.

The Dell is probably a better option because it is a lot less expensive and it has a longer lasting, removable battery and a docking station. I really didn't have a preference between the two as far as functionality goes though. I read that there are issues with the speakers going out on the Dell right now, but they are covered under the warranty.


Dell with Kensington Keyfolio case & keyboard
Surface Pro with Type Cover

Dell Latitude 10: The Dell came with the Kensingon keyfolio Bluetooth case and keyboard and I really was not impressed. First, the keyboard had trouble connecting for me and I had to restart it to work (could be user error, I admit, but I didn't have any problems with the Surface). It is very odd how the tablet just sticks to a sticky area in the case; I wonder how long the stickiness will last. Finally, there's just a lot of material that makes up the case. I don't think it's cleanable either.

Surface Pro: I am a big fan of the Surface Pro's kickstand and the awesome click-in type cover keyboard with mousepad (don't bother with the weird touch cover keyboard). I admit there is something about the click that is appealing. I just want to emphasize that having a mousepad on the keyboard was a huge advantage over the Dell case. That makes it truly a combo tablet and a laptop. It seems well thought out and is very cleanable - a key characteristic to me. The kickstand is brilliant. The Surface is the clear winner in the accessories department, compared to the Dell case I have now. However more cases will come out, so this is probably just a temporary win (I hope, because the Dell is better in the battery and price department).

Would I Buy One? (or ask my supervisor if I can get one?)

I'm on the fence right now, mostly because they are so new and there will probably be a better option soon (Samsung?). I don't feel I'm lacking with a Macbook Pro and an iPad because I don't mind using the Mac primarily and the iPad when I need portability, which isn't often. The main reason I have an iPad is to test things at work - I don't think I ever would have bought one myself. I kind of dislike Apple in general, but I love my Mac. My first smart phone was an iPhone but since then I've had Motorola Droids. So I try to be technology agnostic. But I digress.

If I was deciding between an iPad or Windows 8 tablet right now, I'd definitely get a Windows 8 tablet. Not a bit of hesitation - I primarily use a browser or apps that are fine within the browser on the iPad anyway. YouTube on the iPad has been really annoying every since they got rid of the YouTube app; the Windows 8 tablets' wide screen is amazing for watching videos. I could deal with IE until other browsers get better. I don't hate Windows 8, on a touch screen anyway.

However, if I had to decide between a new computer - let's say a Macbook Air, which I've been wanting for years - or a Windows 8 tablet right now, I think I'd go Macbook Air, assuming I already have a tablet since I do. This is because I like a bigger screen all the time and don't really care that much about having a touch screen, personally.

But if I didn't have anything and I needed something now, I'd go with a Windows tablet because it can do it all. I think I'd go Surface Pro mostly because of the case if money was not a big concern. I'd want to try it for a longer period of time and really customize it before deciding for sure though.

That's just my opinion! The beauty of technology now is that there are so many options to meet peoples' needs. 

Check out Part 2 of my Windows 8 Tablet posts: Educational Applications.

Kensington keyfolio case image from
Surface Pro image from