Schools Shift from Textbooks to Tablets

By Samba Lampich

The days of hauling a heavy backpack filled with textbooks may soon be over. Tablets are quickly becoming popular among K-12 students and teachers, replacing textbooks and computers.

A Growing Trend

A new research report from International Data Corporation (IDC) shows that tablet shipments into the U.S. education sector expanded by 103% in 2012 and is expected to grow even more in 2013. This growth is driven by lower tablet costs. The increased sales are also happening because manufacturers, content creators and educators are working together to create better delivery and quality of content in the classroom.

Benefits of Tablets

Most tablets today have a large memory. They can hold hundreds to thousands of textbooks, learning games and puzzles. They can even run software for homework assignments. All of these features are available in a small device that is easy to carry around.

Tablets also offer an exciting, visually stimulating way to learn. With interactive tools and software as well as, videos and audio files, tablets can bring the words in a textbook to life. Instead of trying to visualize an aerodynamic theory, students can watch a video that explains how a plane flies. The students can connect with peers and teachers online and share ideas with other students around the world.


Photo Credit: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education

Chicago teacher Jennie Magiera was a tech skeptic, but she has since successfully integrated technology into her classroom

Tablets are also cost-effective, offering savings for schools. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the United States spends about $7 billion per year on textbooks — many of which are seven to 10 years out of date. In total, the FCC estimates the United States could save $3 billion. This estimate assumes that a tablet would cost $150, as schools buy them in bulk and also as hardware gets cheaper with technological advances.

Electronic versions of textbooks are easier and quicker to update than printed editions. This concept will save millions on printing costs and ensure that the information getting to students is up to date.

Do Tablets Improve Learning?

There is some evidence that in the long term, student readers are better able to remember what they read in printed books than what they read on an electronic screen. Kate Garland of the University of Leicester in England conducted a study in which psychology students were bombarded with questions on economics after reading digital and printed versions of text. Garland found that students reading the unfamiliar text in digital versions had to read it several times before gaining the same knowledge as print readers. She also found that students reading printed material understood it better.

Educators need to be aware that students may take longer to absorb material when reading on a digital device and should take this into consideration when creating lesson plans.

Classroom Discussion

  • What are some challenges that would arise from exclusively using tablets?
  • Would tablets work for every student population? Why or why not?