We've bantered and battled about the costs and effectiveness of using tablets in the classroom -- focusing mostly on the use of tablets in colleges and elementary schools. We haven't talked much about using them in high schools, however. Luckily, I've now gotten some insight from someone who's actually starting to deploy tablets in a high school setting.
Damian Baraty is technology integration specialist at Fountain Valley School (FVS) -- a private boarding school for grades 9 through 12 -- in Colorado Springs, Colo. At the beginning of this school year, FVS began deploying Barnes & Noble Nooks on a trial basis.
(Of course it must be said that Fountain Valley School's budget, operations, and spending will be rather different from public high schools. It's also worth noting that all Nooks are far cheaper than iPad 2s. The bare bones e-reader, the Nook Simple Touch, is $99. As for the tablets, the Nook Color tablet costs $199 and the Nook Tablet -- which has more battery life and twice the storage of a Nook Color -- is $249, which is half the price of an iPad 2.)
FVS is testing out the Nooks as e-readers and tablets in three classes: junior-level English, freshmen physics, and the Advanced Placement computer science course that Baraty himself teaches.
"The results are mixed," he said. "It was easiest to find books for the English class. The [digital rights management] on science and computer science books make it a little more difficult to employ Nooks regularly in those classes. It seems it will take publishers a few more years to get the balance of DRM and usability right to make using a tablet solution possible."
Although the science and tech classes' use of Nooks as e-readers is limited by publishers of those e-textbooks, the teachers of these classes have found plenty of other exciting ways to use the tablets. To squeeze as much classroom richness out of the tablets as possible, Baraty has been able to root some of the Nooks (which use the Android OS).
"Rooting makes Barnes & Noble nervous, and may make it impossible to manage the devices through them," said Baraty, "but I teach computer science, and my students were using rooted Nooks to program robots, control them remotely, and bring up richer content and load apps that would not be possible on the stock. Our physics teachers like to use Flash-based animations and simulations."
The last time I wrote about tablets in schools, you smart E2 readers and I started discussing whether or not using e-textbooks for math and science classes (specifically those developed for iPads) was cost-effective for college students or high school administrators. We discussed the pros and cons of letting students purchase the tablets from the school. Baraty has thought of that too.
"Students will return the Nooks at the end of the year," he said. "If we continue the trial, we can see cycling the Nook after two years and letting students keep them after that time, having broken even on the cost of books."
I told Baraty he was a trailblazer. "Maybe not quite a trailblazer," he said. "Perhaps a bulldozer."