How Technology Will Revolutionize the Way You Homeschool
- Friday, August 17, 2012
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010-11 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Sometimes I wonder if the creators of The Jetsons were prophets. Sure, we’re not flying around in our space cars and I don’t have a robotic maid—yet, but that’s probably where the differences end. Obviously, shows such as The Jetsons and Star Trek were just science fiction, but some of the technology they dreamt up for their fictional shows is a reality today.
Technology is a strange word with many connotations. It seems to mean “success,” “progress,” and “the future . . . today.” All elements of society have always been affected as technology has advanced. As long as the technological industry grows, so will every other industry. Everything from farming to communication to portability has been affected by technology. And now, the last thirty years has brought technological advancement after advancement to education. Especially right now—technology is revolutionizing the way we educate. What will be next?
There are new ways to learn, new ways to teach, and new ways to live. So it’s no wonder that technology is making a huge impact on the ways we educate as well. Of course, technology does not replace quality teaching, nor will it ever, but when used effectively with one-on-one teaching, technology not only can enhance the quality of one’s education but also can ease the student’s acceptance of it. Like I was saying, education is changing. We’re in a special transitional age right now, from the old way to “the new way.” I’ll explain what I mean by “the new way” over the course of this article.
In the balance of this article, the latter half of which you’ll find in our next issue as a continuation, we’re going to look at some of the events, products, software, and services that are making an impact on the education market. Initially, though, let’s jump into some new hardware and concepts.
The Age of the Digital Book
Yep, it’s finally here.
The most inconvenient thing about traditional education has been one of its primary tools, the textbook. The weight (and cost) of dozens of books from which we traditionally learn and teach has been a burden we’ve had to accept. But not any more . . .
The companies mentioned below know this and have been developing several exciting products to address this very issue. Soon, very soon, textbooks will be completely obsolete. That’s right, the conventional method of teaching a student using a printed, bound book is now starting to sound quite archaic.
The Internet has become our library, and computers, our textbooks. This is perhaps the single, most notable advancement technology has achieved for education.
Increasingly, textbooks are now being offered in a digital format (E-Book). This is great for those of us who desire to save money and/or just want the product instantly. However, being chained to a computer can be a real inconvenience, and companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble understand that.
Ebook Readers (or just e-readers) are small, handheld, portable devices that specialize in storing and displaying complete books. While there are several on the market, I’m only going to talk about a few that are leading the industry.
First, Amazon’s Kindle. You may have heard of the Kindle—it was one of the first mainstream e-readers on the market. Amazon actively marketed this product as the ultimate e-reader. They also built a huge library of digital products (more than 670,000) that could be bought and downloaded to the device wirelessly and effortlessly. There are three models of the Amazon Kindle, ranging from $139 to $379, and all three hold around 3,500 books each. The least expensive, lower-end model has WiFi and a 6" screen, while the highest-end model has WiFi and free cell signal access (no contract required), which allows you to download more books without having to be located nearby a WiFi hotspot, plus a huge 9.7" screen to boot.
All Kindles have a very primitive, annoying web browser for light site viewing that makes me feel like I’m back on Windows 3.1. Nothing fancy here, but hey, it’s just an e-reader. Interestingly, the Amazon Kindle does not have a color screen but instead a super sharp, high-contrast, e-ink screen that some say is easier to read than a color screen. Not having a color screen is a disappointment if you intend to use this device for anything other than reading black and white text.
Next up, Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Barnes & Noble’s Nook is the new kid on the block. They saw what Apple was doing with their iPad (which I’ll get into below) and Amazon with their Kindle and tried to make a hybrid of sorts. The Nook sports two screens! The first main reading screen is the acclaimed colorless e-ink screen for easy reading (6"), and the second one is a smaller (3.5") color touch screen that sits right below the e-ink screen, mainly used for input. While this would seem like the best of two worlds, it’s really not. This second touch screen is both a blessing and a curse. It’s “clumsy at best” touch interface can be laggy and makes controlling the device difficult. But at the same time, it offers more usability than the Kindle in most cases due to the fact that this screen can double as a touch keyboard, an extension of the e-ink screen, or even as the control for the navigation. Also, you can select any part of the e-ink screen to show up on the color screen whenever you want to view a picture, graph, or webpage better.
Ah, yes, webpage. The Nook’s browser feels more “complete” (due to its second, color screen) and is a little bit faster than the Kindle’s browser, but not by much. The Nook comes in two models, the WiFi-only model for $149 and the WiFi+3G cell (again, contract-free) for $199. Both models carry only 1,500 books, which is considerably less than Amazon’s Kindle can carry. But the Nook has an expansion slot to upgrade the storage capacity significantly, whereas the Kindle does not. In addition to having instant access to a huge online library/store (more than 400,000 books), the Nook is backed up by Barnes & Noble’s physical stores. Taking your Nook into a Barnes & Noble bookstore makes additional content (such as free E-Books) available right from the device.
Finally, Apple’s iPad. Wow, this is a big one. By the time this article comes out, the new second-generation iPad should be the latest news, but unfortunately I have only the first-generation iPad to talk about here. I guess I’ll start by saying that this really isn’t an e-reader, per se. I mean, it is, but it’s so much more than that. Apple’s iPad is more like a souped-up smart phone or a slimmed-down computer. This really is a whole different animal but still deserves to be in this article since it’s dominating parts of the E-Book market right now. Well, it’s dominating more than the e-reader market; it’s destroying sales of competing tablets, netbooks, and even smart phones. But let’s put the iPad’s flaming success aside. Why is the iPad so special? How can you use it to educate your child?
First, if you haven't seen the iPad, it’s important for me to describe it, in order for you to understand how it can be used. The iPad is all screen. Yep, you’re literally holding a giant, backlit, 9.7", color screen, but it’s as thin as a pencil (0.5" thickness). The iPad has hardware specs that are more comparable to your old computer than to an E-Book reader.
Warning. Geek zone! The iPad has a 1Ghz A4 processor specially designed by Apple for the iPad, *probably*—not officially announced but tests show a total of 256mb of RAM, and up to 64gigs of storage space.
Now these specs might not seem all that exciting in a computer, but in a device like the iPad, running an efficient OS (i.e., operating system) like iOS4.x, these specs are great (IOS is the operating system that Apple uses on their iPhone, iPodTouch, and iPad)! With all this said, it’s no surprise to find that the iPad has the poorest battery life of the three e-readers, with only ten hours of constant use (both the Kindle and the Nook are said to last for weeks). The iPad is also considerably heavier than the others (1.5 pounds compared to the others at about 11 ounces each). So you might get tired faster holding it for extended periods of time. Also, don’t expect it to cost the same as these other e-readers. The iPad will run you anywhere from $499 to $829! Another added expense is a monthly fee for cell tower use (optional). This is understandable, though, since you’ll be doing a lot more than just downloading books with an iPad.
But more important than the hardware are the operating system and apps that the iPad runs! The iPad is (currently) running iOS 4.2, which is one of the most futuristic mobile operating systems in the tablet/e-reader market. IOS 4.2 has the most intuitive, user-friendly interface; has probably the best mobile email client I’ve ever used; handles WiFi and printing effortlessly; and has the most up-to-date, advanced mobile browser. Period. (I’m not going to go into the lack of Adobe Flash in this article. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, just know that HTML5 is the answer.)
Okay, still wondering how this can be used in your homeschool? Well, here’s where it gets good.
Apps, BookStores, and the Web
On top of a great OS, Apple also has its own proprietary application store, the App Store (creative name, I know). I will talk about this a lot more in Part Two of this article, but I wanted to mention that this could be the single most valuable mobile source for education on any e-reader.
Apps are basically little programs (like the ones on your computer) that run on your IOS device. If I search for educational apps on the App Store, instantly I get results for geography quiz apps, history apps, ABC alphabet kids’ games, etc. On top of this, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have their own bookstore apps in Apple’s App Store. So not only do I have a wealth of educational apps, I now also have access to all the competitor books as well. In addition, Apple recently launched their own proprietary e-bookstore app called iBooks, and their library of books is growing very quickly.
As if this weren’t enough, since you have an Internet browser, you also have access to Google Books, which is currently the world’s largest online library, containing more than ten million books! Many of these are totally free. I will talk more about Google Books and the many other online resources the web has to offer in Part Two.
Anyhow, it’s hard to explain the value of this, but the amount of hands-on, tutorial-oriented, educational apps on the App Store is phenomenal. For example, I needed help with my Java programming class, and within seconds I had a step-by-step Java programming tutorial in my hands helping me better understand the subject. This is a major resource.
So . . . Recommendations?
Like I said, the iPad is obviously a totally different animal; it’s more like a computer. And when you look at it that way, $499 doesn’t sound all that bad, after all. Since this thing can almost do everything your computer can, you may be relieved to know that the parental controls on an iPad are quite advanced. You can limit access to just about any type of app and control the usage of almost every service. It’s really a well thought-out device.
These are some amazing products. Each of them serves as an excellent textbook replacer. Currently, I believe the iPad is the best mobile educational tool on the market (in case you couldn’t tell). However, if we’re simply talking about E-Book readers only, I’d say the Kindle is the best buy for the money. Again, the Nook is just too glitchy and slow for my patience (or lack thereof).
As remarkable as these devices are, I don’t think they will do away with the book-publishing industry as we know it. There’s nothing like relaxing next to the fireplace with a paperback novel or reading to your children from one of their favorite storybooks. However, I do believe that these devices will make textbooks as we currently know them obsolete.
I hope this article gave you a sneak peek as to the direction education is headed and helped you understand some of the cutting-edge technology being developed for the market right now. The next article will highlight some online services and software that can greatly enhance your homeschooling.
Paulie Suarez is a Christian homeschool graduate who is now in college pursuing a degree in computer science. Paulie has a specific passion for mobile electronics and SmartPhone development. He has extensive experience in Linux, Mac OS X, iOS, and Windows. Hobbies include Ultimate Frisbee, bass guitar and music studio mixing, and mountain biking. Visit Paulie at ShatteringWindows.com, or you can contact him at Paul@ShatteringWindows.com.
Publication date: August 17, 2012
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