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Shelby company launches Education-only tablet

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LearnPad will focus solely on learning

By Lisa King

Officials of a Shelby County company say they are very excited about the educational potential of  an instructional tablet intended solely for classroom instruction that was released last week.

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“This is a purpose-built-for-education tablet that will revolutionize the way tablet instruction is done in schools,” said Matt Simons, sales manager for Creative Image Technologies.

The company, located on Breighton Circle, is a Kentucky-based provider of audio-visual technology for use in the commercial, education and government sectors.

Simons says the company’s new LearnPad is following a movement that emerged in the United States last year when a U.S. company, Educational Resources, introduced a tablet that has been in use in the United Kingdom for the past four years.

“The big national education trend – and in Kentucky – is tablet-based learning,” he said. “iPads, they are clearly the best consumer – and that's the key word – tablet device on the market. It's awesome. You can watch movies, play games...there's all sorts of apps, I own two of them. But there are very few tablets built for education.”

Simons said the problem with using iPads in the classroom is two-fold.

“One, it's hard to configure them for student use,” he said. “It can be done. It's just labor intensive, The IT departments are pulling out their hair trying to figure out to do it.

“Also, another thing is they're hard to manage in the classroom, because if you turn your back, they [students] can go on the Internet, so it's hard for teachers to know what every student is doing with their iPad.”

That’s where the big difference between an iPad and a LearnPad comes in, he said.

The LearnPad is an Android tablet that works in what Simons call a sandbox mode.

“Managing an iPad for a classroom is a series of don'ts – block this, block that,” he said. “The LearnPad is locked, except for what the teacher gives the student access to for that lesson that day. So if a part of the lesson is to go to the Internet to do free research, they'll give them a chrome browser, but if it's not part of the lesson, their browser is locked, and only the content that the teacher gives them is available.”

The tablet is available only to school systems and costs $299 each. Simons said the Jefferson County System has purchased 15,000 of them so far, and although Shelby County School officials have watched the company’s demo, officials have not committed to purchasing them.

Shelby County Schools Public Relations Director Ryan Allen said it’s premature to say that the school system is ready to take that step.

“Right now, the district has a team called the Strategic Leadership Team, and their purpose is to start envisioning the next phase of teaching and learning in Shelby County,” he said. “And as we move into that phase, it will include some new technology. We don’t know what the will look like yet. We’re keeping our options open, and we’re meeting with everybody and anybody that wants to show us stuff.”

Simons said that attitude is typical in most school systems throughout the state at this stage.

“The LearnPad came out in the U.S. market one year ago this month and most people are in the dip-your-toe-in-the-water phase right now, just trying some out in a few classrooms,” he said. “Typically, they're [the LearnPads] on a charging cart; three or four teachers are sharing them, using them every other day, for part of the day. The next step, once schools start implementing this into instruction, will be the one-to-one phase, where every student and every teacher has one.

“After that, schools will have to allocate more funds to buy more of them so that more students can have them, and also, if it's a success, just getting them for more classrooms.”  

Simons said that the device, being marketed for K-12, has two other big advantages over an ordinary iPad: Teachers don’t have to go out and buy apps, and they can just use their own material they already have on hand from other sources, such as PDFs, spreadsheets, Word documents or whatever, to create their lessons.

Also it’s easy to use, he said. “These come shipped in crates of ten or twenty,” he said. “You just pull them out and turn them on, and they’re ready to go.

“LearnPads challenges that a group of fifth-graders can have their own LearnPads out and have them ready to go in twenty minutes or less.”