Are tablets the first step toward mobile or non-existent classrooms?

Are tablets the first step toward mobile or non-existent classrooms?

Summary: When students can use tablets in school, instead of books, does it mean that we're about to see completely mobile classrooms or no classrooms at all?


Tablet computers in schools might eventually transform our classrooms into empty shells. Is this a good thing? And who is it good for? Teachers? Students? Parents? I'm not sure. As a former student from primary, secondary, college, and graduate school, I'm just not sure. It's possible that within ten year's time, traditional classrooms will only exist for special needs children. I have mixed feelings on having mainstream students work entirely or mostly remote from other students and teachers. It's a tradeoff that I believe that we need to consider seriously before making the evolutionary leap from classroom to living room.

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Education, at all levels, has been in flux for some years now. I first noticed the beginning of these changes in the early 1990s with the proliferation of "Earn your degree online" advertisements on and other places. Sure, so-called correspondence courses have existed since the 1960s, or perhaps before that, but online learning has changed education's landscape for good. Correspondence courses, like online learning, are overpriced alternatives to traditional educational experiences. But as more colleges and secondary schools opt for classroom technology such as tablet computers, the prices will fall--or should.

First, consider the change from traditional to mobile classrooms at secondary and university level education. My assumption is that, for the time being, elementary education will still be conducted in traditional classrooms and schools.

Tablets used in classrooms:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Microsoft Surface
  • iPad and iPad mini
  • Android tablets
  • PC-type tablets

Mobile classrooms mean that teachers and students aren't bound to a particular location. This doesn't mean "learn from home." Mobile means that instead of meeting in a stuffy classroom, the instructor or professor can gather his or her students in corporate conference rooms, libraries (at least for as long as those still exist), sports arenas, outside on the grass, in museums, or really anywhere the teacher chooses.

There are no more limits to where classes can be conducted. Whiteboard apps, long battery life, WiFi, Cellular connectivity, and the Internet make mobile classrooms a real option. And I realize that "field trips" have always been a part of student lives, you now have the ability to take notes, take pictures, record audio, and even run an interactive Skype call or other type of teleconference with your tablet computers.

And how about those students who are too sick to come to school? There's no longer a need to force a student to attend classes if they're under the weather, or if they miss a bus, or if they have an unattractive nose zit. Mobility is a very good thing for those bad hair days, where one may still interact with other students but from behind an electronic curtain.

For those students who must travel with family, mobile classrooms are an invaluable asset for children who otherwise would miss out on an interactive, teacher-led course of study.

As for the eventual transition to no classrooms, I'm all for it if it lowers tuition and fees. There's no doubt that it lowers the cost of room and board. And for a state-supported university at almost $20,000 per year, I'm for anything that removes some of that cost. I don't believe that a college education is worth that kind of money.

The downsides of education without classrooms might outweigh the plusses for students of the future. Some of the most obvious downsides are:

  • There will be far fewer MRS degrees* available.
  • Parties will have to be arranged via Social Media.
  • No campus life.
  • Little to no face to face interaction with other students.
  • Academic cheating will be rampant.
  • Laboratory classes will cease to exist.
  • Conversations will all be via chat or texting.

Alternatively, there are a few positives to consider in the no classroom dilemma:

  • Fuel savings for cars and busses.
  • Savings on clothing.
  • No dorm space required (College).
  • No costs for room and board (College).
  • Less academic probation from too much partying (College).
  • Fewer school days missed due to illness.

But is it possible that someone could potentially attend high school, college, and graduate school, including professional school, such as Law and never see another student or a professor? I hope that the answer to that question is "No." I don't want to think that someone could earn a degree or multiple degrees with no personal interaction. 

And trust me, leaning away from remote learning is a bit of a departure for me. I didn't particularly care for school. I didn't really like competing for grades and recognition. I would have preferred to take all of my college and graduate studies online. Unfortunately, I couldn't have because I majored in Chemistry** and went to graduate school in Biochemistry. I was forcibly made to interact with other humanoids and chemicals. I much preferred chemicals to carbon-based life forms.

I digress.

Distance learning, no classrooms, mobile classrooms, and traditional learning all have their places in education. I don't believe that there is a single correct answer for everyone or every field of study. I think that tablets might revolutionize the classroom in very positive ways. I have little faith in our educational system that whatever the outcome is that it will be in the best interest of our students. One thing is certain; tablet computers will change education but only time will tell if it's for the better.

What do you think? Do you think tablets will change the way students attend classes or do you think they'll just carry tablets instead of books and notebooks? Talk back and let me know.

*MRS (Mrs.) degree refers to young women who attend college simply to find a husband. They typically major in areas such as Elementary Education; Radio, TV & Film; Mass Communications; Psychology; General Studies***; Art, etc.

**I switched to Psychology so that I could graduate from college and escape from Texas A&M University. Long story--meet me for a beer sometime and I'll tell you the whole sordid tale.

***General Studies - The degree for people who couldn't decide on a real major. Used to be referred to as Undecided, in college phone directories. I still laugh out loud when someone tells me they majored in General Studies. I always say the same thing: "You majored in Undecided?" I just can't help myself.

Topics: Education, Cloud, Collaboration


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • agility

    Education, at least in the US, is not agile enough to see such a profound change in just a decade. Taxpayers, this very day, are paying bucketfulls of money to build brand new, massive school buildings, campuses, administration buildings. Even if we in the tech world felt differently, the administration structure would fight tooth and nail to keep the buildings, and keep themselves relevant.

    Also problematic for tablets, is how to preserve the textbook publishing business, which the current structure will absolutely not permit to perish.

    Instead, expect tablet and mobile to proceed more along the lines of supplementation and professional development. Where it makes little sense to de-campus a student in an 18hr/semester program, it also makes little sense to drag a 40 yr old adult down to a campus to take a single 3hr credit course.
  • That would be the worst thing ever.

    Kids barely know how to resolve issues now, can you imagine if they had no real friends?
  • Asimov Predicted This

    Check out an anthology of his stories, chosen because they did NOT involve space travel, titled "Earth is Room Enough." Published in the early 1950's, it included a story titled "The Fun They Had" or "What Fun They Had." A brother and sister explore the attic while their "teacher" is being repaired (the author was thinking in terms of a standalone teaching machine, like a family television), and find some very old books about children going to a school building and learning with the other children in the neighborhood. Asimov had a talent for imagining how people (or aliens) in other cultures might look at our world and way of life.

    The social aspects of learning that were mentioned in the article and comments have also prompted parents who home-school their children to make arrangements, either with other parents or with local schools, to assemble their children for the non-academic activities that school provides. One "advantage" is that they can restrict their children's social interaction to children in the "right" neighborhood and ideology, which may or may not be a good thing for society in the long run. In any case, children who learn and amuse themselves entirely alone certainly miss human company.

    Enjoy your research! And check out the other stories also.
  • Limited used

    It's not exactly only physical books that tie the kids to the schools. Being part of an educational and creative environment, learning how to interact with real people are far more important. Take a look at flip teaching instead, where the use of the school is questioned and given a new purpose.
  • this is such a BS... I can not belive it....

    Is this guy consider himself a journalist or even a writer?
    If yes I would ask him to hand over his creds. RIGHT NOW
    and leave the field for people more suited for this line of work.

    Unfortunately he is not alone.
    I see this kind of “News” gems popping up quiet often all over the place.

    I always wonder why is it an introduction/adaption of some new way of doing things must lead to the abundance of the whole way of performing the whole task at hands?

    Tablets replacing books, certainly do not mean dropping the current way of educating, and whole new way of education process to begin.
    Books are only a tool in the whole process, not the means to it.
    Educational system was developed before the books were even widely available to the masses.
    Children have been taught and educated without use of books for many years.
    So why a change in the medium used for delivering information that is used in the education process should lead for overhauling of the whole process .

    I do not know why use of tablet instead of books (according to Ken) means that student now can go out of the classroom. I seams to remember me going out of classroom just fine, even when books were used. What is the difference?

    Ken seems to be mix up between remote computing and widespread of remote access options
    And use of tablets in lieu of books with in education system.

    They both are gaining momentum at being accepted as a viable tools for the trade but neither one indicates that a change in the whole process of doing things is needed or even inevitable.
    It’s like saying that since we now have a power screwdrivers , we should drop the use of nails and just use screws everywhere. Thus we do not need the hummers anymore.
    But that conclusion would be wrong, wouldn’t it?
    Since we use hammers for more things than just to drive nails.
    • @vl1969

      I think you kinda missed the point. I'm asking the question and giving pros and cons. I'm not trying to convince you of something, just making you aware of the possibilities. So, your argument seems to deny the reality of online and distance learning. I'm saying that devices such as tablets could be the first step in the walk out of the classroom. And it's certainly a debatable topic but to attack me personally is just...weird.
      And do you attack anyone whose opinions differ from yours?
      • sorry Ken, but your blog reads as a statement not as question(s)


        I think you kinda missed the point. I'm asking the question and giving pros and cons. I'm not trying to convince you of something, just making you aware of the possibilities. So, your argument seems to deny the reality of online and distance learning. I'm saying that devices such as tablets could be the first step in the walk out of the classroom. And it's certainly a debatable topic but to attack me personally is just...weird.
        And do you attack anyone whose opinions differ from yours?

        sorry Ken, but your blog reads as a statement not as question(s).

        I am do not deny the “reality of online and distance learning. ”
        But you need more than a tablet for that to work.
        Tablet are first and foremost a consumption device good for reading a book, watching video
        And do some light browsing. As a companion device for educational use it’s very, very good.
        The fact that we can replace a ton of books with a single small and light tool capable of doing a better job than the tools it replacing is great, but it does not mean that since now we have a better tool we can change the way we do thing all together, and forgo other things that the current system comprised of.
        Also, a wide spread use of tablets do not indicate or promote a shift to online or remote learning paradigm that you seam to imply in your post.
        I simply so not understand why it should,
        As a matter of facts we have the ability of distant education right now.
        And we had it available for master’s and PHD degree for years.
        Student in many universities do not require to attend classes when pursuing Master or PHD .
        They get the assignments via email/web and submit them in the same fashion showing up on campus only for exams.

        For online and distance learning you require several things and none of them is a tablet. That is you can have and use the table but it is not required.
        The good and powerful book readers have been available for years now, some even had internet access.
        Why didn’t they trigger this revolutionary shift in educational system? Why tablets?

        We have had the high speed internet up and running for years now,
        A readily available WiFi and cellular hot spots are growing in numbers every day.
        A light and portable laptops have been in existence for ages. This laptops are more capable than a table.
        Have more storage, better cameras, more options for connections.
        And yet, in your opinion, it takes a less capable device to trigger a revolutionary disruption in educational system.

        Sadly like I said before you are not alone.

        I was not attacking you personally,
        But I was venting my frustration of hearing this “opinions” that simply do not make sense, coming from people
        Who should IMHO know better.
  • Worst idea ever..

    A tablet replacing a book does not mean it can replace traditional teaching methods. The regimen of the classroom may be remembered as a miserable part of life but it works. Young people especially need to learn the discipline of learning and doing so via an online device is not the way to do it. Nothing can take the place of human interaction between the educator and the student and between the students themselves.
    I could go on and on about this but I believe a professional educator would be able to do it better. I just know that learning on your own, which this article basically implies, is very difficult and most people would not have the self discipline to do it. And remote locations away from a formal classroom? That remote location becomes a classroom if everyone meets there.
    Just as in a business environment, nothing is better than face time. I want a sales person in front of me at work if I am looking to buy something; I don't like to have to deal with a person on the phone when I want to get some personal attention. Same holds true for other business interactions. If you never meet anyone in person you never develop any kind of rapport. The same holds true in education.
    A society with the type of education system presented in this article would produce a lot of socially dysfunctional people. It is bad enough that computerized social media is already altering social interaction, this would just exacerbate it even more.
  • Lets hope so.

    The classroom is a 19th century concept to train children to be better factory workers and follow orders. Throw in the indoctrination of rote allegiance-pledging and you have the perfect system to produce generations of followers. The human race needs more self-leaders and fewer followers.
    • ooohhh NOT THIS CR@##$ AGAIN.

  • Relevance and purpose

    This trend can only lead to students coming together (parent induced not gov induced) in a voluntary (think home schooling on the next level) fashion based on relevance and purpose. Students no longer will be herded together like cattle in a feedlot. This is if people are allowed to make decisions for themselves without external forces. Student will continue to meet in groups, just not the same groups we are familiar with.
  • Tablets: a tool with limitations

    I put an 8.5 x 11 periodic chart on my 7" tablet and found that the only way that I could read the names of the elements was to expand the size in landscape mode and the only way that I could the table as a whole was in portrait mode. It's sort of like watching a baseball game through a knot hole in the outfield fence. There some issues to resolved in area of digital rights management. It is interesting to see some of the arrangements that are made to bring students being home schooled together for various activities.
  • Bad News

    Kids loose in public ALL DAY, more Vandalism More Crime, Keep the Varments in school at least they wont be loose for half a day !!!
  • this would be good and bad

    The good:
    * with social disorders would have a better chance at educatiin
    *end huge school killings
    *no more bullying about apearances
    The bad:
    *easier to cheat
    *kids not doing work

    As for the textbooks, I talked with a local professor and he said he no longer does textbooks! He tells his students to give an email address they will check daily and sends the text he needs them to read, he claims textbooks add alot that he deems nonimportant. He tells his students if they just need a textbook jump on the web and order an old copy way cheaper than the campus bookstore charges!
    it is just a matter of time before paper books are extint, ereaders, tablets, and smartphones have access to all the books we could ever want.
  • Our school system has already switched (mostly) from text books to iPads

    And I see pros and cons. Traditional classroom use is starting to disappear in favor of other types of meeting spaces. At least in our school system, hands-on subjects actually have better hands-on facilities.

    Our school district is quite rural and only a handful of years ago a full two-way video conferencing system was installed to combine classrooms in other rural districts and share the teacher. It was as close as possible to the full interaction of the teacher and students, students and teacher, and students with other students. Since implementing tablets, the video conferencing center has been abandoned. As far as I am concerned this limits the student/teacher and especially collaborative student/student interactions.

    On the plus side - kids aren't carrying 1/3 their mass in textbooks, and there is no such thing as errata stickers as all textbooks are simultaneously revised.
    Jim Johnson
  • before public schools

    There was an educated elite - self taught and a garden for genius to flourish. And a giant mass of barely literate masses.
    • Hopefully the next step will be

      availability for everyone to become self-taught. The poor huddled masses couldn't educate themselves because they lacked the resources to do so. Now the potential exists for them to have all the access they need.
      Jacob VanWagoner
  • A very bad use of the word mobile

    Last time I checked, corporate conference rooms, libraries, sports arenas, museums, etc., were not in the least mobile. Try informal, ad hoc, situational, repurposed, anything else but mobile. If you get this wrong, why should we believe anything else?

    Oh, and bookmobiles worked out so well, too.
  • There are some things I hope to see out of this trend.

    For one, containment of cost. Textbook prices are propped up by the publishers constantly updating the edition, with no meaningful content changes ever, only changes in the questions in the back so students can't use the old ones for homework. Otherwise textbook prices would be cut down because new ones would have to compete with used ones.

    I also hope that education is viewed as more than a credential, so we can have cost-competitive solutions that step away from the credential monopoly institutions.
    Jacob VanWagoner
  • Kids are all different!

    How much individual students needed teachers has always varied. We should have had a National Recommended Reading List decades ago. But most teachers are not interested in the idea today. No teachers I ever had ever suggested any particular books outside the curriculum, but a math teacher ridiculed a kid in class for not knowing about the biggest bookstore in town.

    Now we have Project Gutenberg. Easy to find writers smarter than teachers.

    The Tyranny of Words (1938) by Stuart Chase

    A Short History of the World (1922) by H. G. Wells (not sci-fi but an SF writer's perspective)

    Thinking as a Science (1916) by Henry Hazlitt