Tablets or Interactive Whiteboards?

Posted: October 26, 2010 in new technologies
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Reading this excellent blog post from @Chickensaltash and the more complete article from TES rekindled my passion for Tablet PCs in the classroom. Though I believe IWBs are a great tool to enhance Teaching and Learning and I agree with Dan Roberts when he tweets that we have to do with what we have got, I find it difficult to understand why very few schools went down the road of installing Tablet PCs instead of IWBs (I am talking about schools that installed IWBs after the first boom and when Tablets were already well known). Here are my thought on why I believe Tablets are a much cheaper and more versatile option.

1. I bought my first Tablet (a Toshiba Portege’) 2nd hand for £400, my second one (Toshiba Tecra M7) new for £800 and my current Toshiba Portege’ M400 for £890. This is to say that they are quite cheap. In fact, most schools would have at least a projector per department (if not per room) these days, so a tablet PC is all you need to go with it to have a fully interactive kit to share with your pupils. Buy a normal PC/laptop and you still have to buy a multi-k £ whiteboard. Moreover, the newest Tablets are multitouch, giving a more interactive experience than some IWBs.

2. Tablets are fully portable. Ever had to fight to book the only room with IWB in the department? And having to put up with the dirty looks of the teacher (often the least likely to actually bother using an IWB and that uses it as a post-it holder) being kicked out from his class? It is understandable that departments start with what they can afford, but this unpleasant situations would be avoided if the department had bought two Tablet PCs for the price of one IWB (and you still have to buy a PC/laptop with the IWB, so you might be able to fit three Tablets for the same price). This way it is the Tablet that moves rooms, not the teachers. This is a lot better for everyone (teachers and students) and the lesson can start on time.

3. You can’t pass an IWB around, but you can send the Tablet around the classroom for the pupils to use and contribute actively to the lesson (well, you either need a very long projector cable, or a wireless projector).

4. You can place your Tablet PC wherever you want, so you can stand away from the line of view of the children and you don’t project your shadow on the screen. The latter is really annoying for both the audience and the person using the IWB, because it makes it really hard to write, as you don’t actually see what you are writing (I know there are some projectors that project right from the top of the board and get rid of this problem, but I have seen hardly any in the schools I have visited).

5. You can actually work on your interactive resources even when you are away from your classroom, as a Tablet PC allows you to write on the screen just like you would do on an IWB. It’s just not as big and as heavy! I have used it to annotate and mark pupils’ electronic work, draw mind maps (one example on my previous blog), etc, and obviously get my pupils engaged with the same rich experiences.

6. You can download free software for IWB on your Tablet PC. KindleLab is an example, but you can also try the free trials from Promethean and SmartBoard to compare and then decide to buy the software if you want, so your Tablet PC is just as good as an IWB on the Software front.

I really think Tablet PCs are a fantastic tool in Education and I wish more schools used them. I thought they deserved at least a mention in the TES article, but they didn’t, so I felt the need to write about them and share what a great asset they have been in my practice.

  1. interesting article, unfortunately it is incorrect in one very important respect. The licence for SMART NOTEBOOK does not permit a user to install and use the software on another touch or pen enabled product. That means you cannot use NOTEBOOK on a tablet only set up in a classroom. Neither SMART nor Promethean software is free, they both have end user licences which the school and teacher needs to understand and adhere to. And before anyone gets upset about this, why would any manufacturer of IWB software which has cost a great deal to develop, give it away free? For the very same reason that my local supermarket does not let me take groceries away for free.

    On the value for money front, it is true that more tablets can be purchased for the cost of a single IWB, but you are not comparing like for like and you are only thinking about initial costs and not the total cost of ownership and value you get from an IWB. An IWB is an interface to your computer rather than the computer itself, so it will outlast the computer connected to it and run for years giving the very latest functionality as the manufacturers give users free of charge updates to the software. A tablet PC will become obsolete in 4 to 5 years, and even quicker if you drop it on the floor, which unfortunately can happen in a busy classroom.

    Finally it is very easy with IWB software to work on lessons away from the board (point 5). Most pages are built from text and images and mouse and keyboard functionality are all you need to design these. Annotations and ink can be added during the lesson, and as the teacher is working directly on the screen rather than hunched over a tablet, the drama and involvement in the act of mark making is more effective as a teaching tool.

  2. Alessio Bernardelli says:

    Hi Matthew,
    Thanks for your comment. I have installed and used the Promethean Software for free after two friends told me it was possible and legal to do, but I will now double check and update this thread with what I find. I apologise in advance if the information above was inaccurate.
    About the long term costs, a good Tablet PC is not more expensive than a good PC/laptop these days, so it might become obsolete in 4-5 year, but so would the normal computers you use with an IWB. So I’m afraid your argument stands only if you never update your PC/laptop as well as your IWB interface, and I am sure that’s not what you meant. Sorry, but I really don’t understand this point!
    I have used my Tablet(s) for years and never had an accident in the classroom, or because of the children. The two times I dropped them it was when I was on my own in a very quiet environment and I dropped my laptop bag with the tablet in. Funny enough, though the bang was really hard and stopped my heart for a few seconds nothing had happened to the functionality of my machines, so they might not be as delicate as you think. The second time the Tablet got a dent on the side, but still works perfectly!
    Lastly I agree that you can design lessons for IWB away from the classroom, but I was just pointing out the fact that with a Tablet you can do the same things that an IWB can do anywhere. It is about greater flexibility again. I would never dream to say that IWB are not effective, or useful, just that I prefer Tablets for the reasons I quoted.

    • Alessio Bernardelli says:

      Hi again,
      I have run some checks and it appears that the Promethean Software licence has changed since I downloaded it. So, ignore what I wrote about it above. Apologies for misguiding people and thanks to Matthew for pointing this out.

  3. Thanks for that Alessio and for posting the original article. As is probably apparent I have a vested interest in IWBs, well not vested, direct as I work for Steljes the UK distributor of SMART. If I take that hat off for a moment, then I do think that all hardware manufacturers targetting education users will face a lot of challenges over the coming year as functionality and platforms and the form factor of devices changes. I like working on an IWB personally and if back in the classroom would want one, but maybe that’s because I’ve done so much work on them that it’s second nature to me. In other words I prefer IWBs because I have used them so much. And teaching is a very personal thing, we all do it differently and have different preferences so no single system will suit all. It will be exciting to see what happens over the coming years.

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