Tablets: the future of classroom curriculum

From digital chalkboards to overhead projectors, technology has played a large role in the advancement of education. With the advent of tablets across the world, though, students literally have knowledge at their fingertips.

Over the past five to 10 years, there has been a decrease in textbook sales at not only the school bookstore, but bookstores all across the country, said Chad Nale, manager of the University Bookstore. He said e-books and online renting sources such as Chegg have been a major factor behind the drop in book sales.

“Speaking in general terms, the entire industry has seen a steady and disturbing decline in sell-thru for the better part of a decade,” Nale said in an email. “We define sell-thru as the amount of materials sold as a percentage of total enrollment within a class section department or school.”

Phu Vu, a doctoral student in curriculum and instruction from Vietnam, said iPads and other tablets are a main factor in this decrease —and for good reason.

Vu said the amount of teachers who  advocate tablet use outnumber the opponents because of how easy it is for teachers to get students involved in class material as well as their relatively cheap nature  over an extended period of time compared to textbooks.

“Not necessarily an iPad, but any tablet can be a good choice to replace books in the very near future,” Vu said.

He said a few school districts have already spent money to bring tablets into the their educational system for teachers and students.

New York City public elementary schools have spent about $1.3 million on iPads, and approximately 200 Chicago public schools applied for 23 district-financed iPad grants that total to $450,000, according to an article in the New York Times.

Many tablet developers such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google plan to make smaller and more affordable tablets in the future,  and there will be even less of a reason for students to buy and sell back books once the new generation of hardware and the product becomes more accessible to more public schools, Vu said.

He said while a tablet may be more expensive at first, studies show how cost-effective a tablet can be over the course of four years.

According to the National Association of College Stores, a not-for-profit trade association that represents the $10 billion campus retail industry, the average student spends about $650 on textbooks each year, Vu said.

With the next generation of tablets priced at about $200, a student can buy the device and have money left to purchase e-books. This may result in a little more money spent in the first year, but this could save a student several hundred dollars over the course of a four-year education.

To compare e-books to their physical counterparts, the physical book “Media Ethics: Issues and Cases” can be purchased from Amazon for about $65 new, whereas the e-book version sells for $54.

A used copy of the book would cost about $50. If a student rented the e-book, it would cost about $37.

This is one factor why tablets may become a mainstay for the future of education, Vu said, and tablet companies have come up with ways to solidify that even more.

“E-book platform providers are increasingly improving it to meet the demands of the readers with prominent features such as bookmark, iLibrary, marking … etc.,” Vu said.

While not all teachers use tablets in the classroom yet, there is definitely a rise in the extent to which they are implemented in schools, Vu said. He doesn’t personally know of any teachers at the university who use tablets, he said, but there are professors who use the devices and want their students to bring other technology to school as well.

Cameron Carlson, assistant professor of educational leadership, said he is one of those teachers.

“I don’t use an iPad,” he said. “I use another tablet, and I encourage students to bring laptops to class.”

Joel Block, a junior from New Orleans studying linguistics, said while he believes tablets can be a great educational tool, most students would use the device to play games instead of learn.

“I think it would be distracting,” Block said. “If I were to bring an iPad to class, I would just want to mess around on it. You just have to discipline yourself.”

He said this problem may be alleviated with the requirement of iPads or tablets in high schools, or even grade schools, so students are adjusted to using them for educational purposes before college.

“In my hometown, there’s a lot of high schools that are requiring iPads now, so there’s 13, 14, 15-year-olds walking around with iPads so they can do their homework, so I think they’ll be fine with an iPad in the classroom,” Block said

Nale said e-books and online purchases will continue to rise in popularity with newer generations of students each year.

“The entering freshman class grew up using the Internet, and they are accustomed to the convenience the internet offers, whether researching a project or shopping for textbooks,” Nale said.

While there are many advantages to tablet use in the classroom, students need to realize these devices are more than just leisure objects, Vu said. After he conducted a study with freshmen about the amount of time and ways they use their iPads, he came to the conclusion students mainly used the hardware for entertainment purposes.

“Our findings also indicated that students were not encouraged to use their iPad in the classroom,” Vu said. “It seems that software and hardware for the digital age are already ready, but ‘humanware’ is still a hurdle.”

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About Austin Flynn

Austin Flynn can be reached at or 536-3311 ext.252.

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