Educational Technology 6205: Tablet or Laptop?

Suppose there were a budget of $10,000 and a task–to outfit one classroom with WiFi-enabled devices. The question is posed:  Laptops or Tablets?

MacBooks iPad2s
cost n=11 units
$9891 =11 MacBooks $6,000 = 11 iPad2s
ease of use
requires keyboarding and mouse manipulation skills

user interface (UI) is easy, but keyboard based

very intuitive, requires little instruction or adaptation

user interface (UI) is instinctive

availability of academic programs
many that are written only for OSx

many more that are web-based

not many yet for iOS, but a growing number of “apps”

many more that are web-based

printing capabilities
WiFi, connected, and bluetooth enabled printing WiFi, connected,  and bluetooth enabled printing
designed for
content creation and consumption content consumption

Question 1: In terms of overall features and performance which one do you think is better?  Provide a rationale?  

Questions of comparative merit (“which is better?”) in technology all depend on the purposes to which the technology will be put. The tool’s overall features and performance can only be evaluated with respect to the end user’s intentions.  If measured solely on a scale of application volume, the MacBook would win, since it has much of the same functionality of the iPad (mostly content consumption), but also more options for content creation than the tablet. It holds memory and accessibility advantages over the iPad, too.  And since our elementary students need to learn keyboarding (touch typing), the MacBook may also have the advantage of a built-in keyboard and mouse. It is also more closely resembles most other computers the child is likely to encounter away from school. 

But for my students, for whom ease of use and engagement are most important (basic functioning provided), the iPad wins.  My school’s at-risk children have had limited or no prior experience using digital media, and the iPad’s intuitive design and quick functionality make it better for the target student.
Question 2: Which of the two solutions would be most suitable for your school?  Provide a rationale? Keep in mind that although your budget is $10,000, if you provide a valid justification you might be able to get an additional 15%.

Since it is one elementary classroom we are outfitting, where touch typing and “traditional” keyboarding is required, along with the engaging “gamified” and “visualized” content of the tablet, I would suggest a combination of both types of machine for the room, according to the following itemization.

 5 MacBooks = $4,500
 10 iPads = $5,400
 total cost = $9,900

In this way, the features of each machine are made available to all students, who can rotate between team (duo/trios with MacBooks) and 1:1 activities (iPads).  With both types of machine in the same wireless environment, total class engaement (with light supervision) would be possible. 

The collaborative teams of students in 2:1 ratios also allow for the development of important interpersonal skills that their working individually on iPads does not. Another option, if the curriculum called for more keyboarding, add-on keyboards for the iPad (average retail price: $45) can be purchased relatively easily and shared among the iPads.
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