In my aim to find an answer to the question: "can our teachers replace laptops with tablets?“ I've done a little testing. But before we look at that, let's just have a short look at the presumptions one could have about using tablets and that, in fact, I did have before starting out.
The tablet is a window to the web and android being a google-thing it's easily assumed that doing stuff in the browser is easy. Because more and more of the stuff that needs doing is done online one could also assume that the tablet is a good tool: light, great batterylife, always on, always online (when at all possible), easy to use in a variety of situations. Well, well, not quite.
How wonderful it is to be able to break false assumptions, especially ones own.
When i started testing my greatest concern was about writing using the touch pad. But that is not a big problem. Already it's working pretty good on the touchscreen. The problem is simply that web-sites have not been designed with tablets in mind. Since our customers are schools I picked a few of the services that I know is being used here in Finland: moodle, wilma (a tool for teachers, parents and students alike), wikispaces, prezi and GoogleDocs. Let’s see.
First Moodle. Ok, so Moodle is customizable and no one moodle is exactly like any other. The ones I have seen though, all have an abundance of small icons and small text-input-fields. Unless you constantly zoom in and out it’s hard to navigate. Maybe needless to say, zooming should be an option, not a mandatory thing to do for simple input and navigation. A big screen with a normal mouse and keyboard feels like heaven after a few minutes.
Wilma is a very popular intraweb-type service for schools that include schedules, e-mail, e-portfolios, results from exams etc. It is used daily by teachers and students. I found that it works ok with the tablet, although far from really convenient. The problem is the same as in moodle, but to a lesser degree, simply because there’s less stuff crammed into one page.
I have become a great fan on wikispaces. It’s easy to learn, both for teachers and students, and wikispaces makes a point out off giving educators “plus” -versions for free. I’ve been training teachers in it’s use and it’s only natural to test out how it works. Apart from the one time it completely crashed the browser not much needs to be said. To read others wikis goes smoothly, to edit is far from convenient, but possible. It’s a bit hard to say how much the usability is about habit.
Prezi is a nice cloud-service that lets you do presentations online in a novel way. I like to recommend it because it solves all the compatibility issues between different office -suites in one go. You do it and store in online and access it anywhere. Unless, you´re using an android tablet, that is. It either jams up working very slowly or crashes completely. The most recent I found on this is here.
Finally, GoogleDocs. The logic of presumtion here goes like this: android = google and google = GoogleDocs, thus: Android and GoogleDocs = friends. But that turns out to be false, because GoogleDocs is not designed for tablets in the first place. It’s certainly possible to write with Docs on the tab (in desktop -mode it crashed though) but you completely lack the editor menu. So text goes in, yes, but you only have the keyboards functions. There is a GoogleDocs app available, but it is apparently designed with phones in mind, not as full-fledged tablet app. I soon found out that using Evernote (a note-taking app that works offline, available from android market) and copy-pasting into a GoogleDoc for later editing on a computer works best for me. But that is hardly something I could recommend in general.
So, it seems to me that everything needs it's own native android application or / and websites need to have tablet -versions. As it is now, I would not recommend changing from a laptop to a tablet if a great part of the users work is done online. Since tablets are getting more and more popular, this will probably change. For an interesting discussion on native vs. web apps have a look at this.
Time to look at what these things CAN do for teaching.