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No One Talked E-readers at the WirelessEdTech Conference (Pt 1)

This past Thursday found me up in DC. I took the commuter bus up for the day so I could attend a conference. You can probably guess the topics covered by WirelessEdTech 2011 from the name, and while it didn’t have much that was relevant for TDR I did pick up some interesting bits and pieces here and there.

I didn’t know much about gadgets used in education before I attended, but I half expected to find a balanced discussion between ereaders, tablets, laptops, and various proprietary devices.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. No one I met or heard at the conference had a program based on ereaders. All the discussion was about how connected devices like tablets, laptops, and smartphones contributed to the classroom. E-readers are not on anyone’s radar.

TBH, I should not have been surprised because I know of at least one good reason why ereaders aren’t as popular. It’s not that most ereaders aren’t connected; I expected those models to be ignored (it’s a wireless conference, duh). No, the biggest strike against ereaders in education is that they’re not conceived as a way for the user to add and share info. That’s why I think they were sidelined.

Sharing is the key. Everyone there wanted to put a gadget in students' hands that could not only give the students info but also allow the students to contribute their own work. Most ereaders are designed as the end-point for information. And while that’s fine for the consumer, it’s not fine for the classroom. Interaction is how students learn to think – and that is the whole point.

Now, Amazon are slowly moving away from the current ebook reader paradigm, but they’re still feeling their way. Also, Amazon don’t quite have a platform that can be used in the classroom – at least, not one that would make a Kindle better than a tablet or smartphone.

Smartphones are the Future …

Smartphones dominated the morning sessions, much to my surprise, and it was one that I truly should have seen coming. A number of speakers in the opening sessions talked about how smartphones are the wave of the future. There were several demo videos showing things like a nature project with students carrying around a smartphone (measuring stuff, taking photos, sharing data, etc).

I shouldn’t have been surprised because I had bumped into someone at CES 2011 who was working on just this kind of smartphone based system. He wanted to put the phones in the hands of as many students as possible so he could teach them technical skills. Of course, he wanted to teach them programming (not do science projects), but that was only half a step away from what I saw on Thursday.

BTW, I’d like to pass along a really cool trick that one speaker shared. Did you know that you can use your Android device as a metal detector? No, seriously, the g-sensor found in a lot of Android gadgets can also be used as a metal detector. All you need is an app (check the Android Market or Amazon Appstore). Isn’t that shiny?

… But They’re not the Present

In my next post I will discuss the one to one programs I heard about on Thursday. This post was getting kind of long and I didn’t want to lose anyone’s interest.

But before you go let me make a prediction. I’m betting that we’re going to see a growth in the use of the iPod Touch or cheap Android handhelds. Either qualifies as a cheaper relative of a smartphone and given the hardware (wifi, bluetooth, camera), I would think that they would make an excellent mobile tool. I don’t see smartphones taking off simply because they cost too much. Unless the schools are getting a heck of a discount on their 3G bill I don’t see how they can afford it.

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