As the popularity of tablet PCs continues to increase, there is an ongoing debate as to the cost versus educational benefits of using tablets in the classroom. Depending on who you ask, tablets can save schools thousands of dollars and revolutionize education or eat through budgets and severely hinder a student’s attention span. It is only fair for educational decision makers to examine both sides of the cost-benefit issue to see if tablets would be appropriate for their classrooms.
Cost of Tablets
From a purely monetary standpoint, proponents of tablets in classrooms cite the Federal Communications Commission’s 2012 report that E-textbooks could save K-12 school districts between $250-$1,000 per student per year (FCC, 2012). Additionally, tablets help cut down on the use of paper and ink for handouts and other assignments. A typical school of 1,000 students spends between $3,000-$4,000 per month on paper, ink, and toner (Johnson, 2011). Conversely, those opposed to the use of tablets would argue that implementation of these devices costs 552% more than a textbook when the entire lifespan of a standard book is taken into account (Wilson, 2012).
So which estimate is correct? The simple fact is that the overall cost of implementation will vary per school and will require some additional research on a situational basis, but ultimately the implementation of tablets is likely to cost more than traditional textbooks. The real question is whether the additional cost can be justified by the benefits that tablets provide to the classroom.
Educational Benefits of Tablets
The response to tablets from schools that have chosen to implement these devices has been largely positive. According to a survey conducted by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 81% of K-12 teachers surveyed believe that tablets enrich classroom education (Mills, 2012), and an additional 77% believe that technology increases a student’s motivation to learn (FCC, 2012). These finding correspond with a similar survey conducted by two school districts in Maine that found 83% of students felt more interested in school when they were using a tablet (Ion, 2012).
While general opinions are great for gauging interest in these devices, most curriculum directors are looking for concrete proof. As it relates to test scores, schools that have implemented iPads and other tablet PCs have seen an overall increase in test scores. One middle school in California experienced 20% higher scores on a state math assessment among students who used an interactive Alegebra application versus those who used a traditional textbook.
Tablets offer the ability to constantly update material rather than waiting for an entire book lifecycle, which would allow students to receive the most up to date information in rapidly evolving subjects such as science. The wear and tear associated with tablets will need to be managed by school systems, but most companies offer insurance policies with their devices that could minimize any potential headaches for administrators. The jury is still out on tablets in the classroom, but the early results seem to be promising as more and more schools choose to make the switch.