OEMs Benefit as Schools Hike Tech Use

Technology product announcements, especially from brands like {complink 379|Apple Inc.} and {complink 11480| Inc.}, rarely go unnoticed these days. You just have to watch the live blogging and Twitter stream to see the excitement — and criticism — about things like the Fire tablet, the latest Kindle e-reader upgrades, or the iPhone 4S.

For many years, pent-up enthusiasm among individual consumers and the perceived coolness of devices have been the main drivers of sales boosts, especially in the run-up to the holiday season. What's interesting to note now is that much larger groups are taking notice, too. These products, spurred by the falling prices of technology, are trickling toward widespread adoption in large-scale institutional environments, like schools in both the Western and developing worlds.

We're already witnessing the early transition away from PC-centric classroom technology. Some schools are pioneering the way. Check out the blogs I've written recently about e-reader pilot projects in Ghana and Florida. In some pockets in the US, like Zeeland, Mich., tablets are being used to lighten the backpack load of students and teachers.

Cities like Seattle are considering whether mobile devices, tablets, and e-readers belong in the classroom and how social networking could be used as an educational tool. Some teachers are sketching their lesson plans with handheld technology, and other developments are giving parents tech food for thought. I'm sure you could think of several other examples if you gave it about 30 seconds of thought. (Feel free to jot them down in the comment section.)

Though these initiatives have been spearheaded largely by progressive-minded individuals, organizations, or school districts, a new wave of classroom technology adoption soon could become a Main Street event. Policymakers in Florida, California, Texas, Virginia, Indiana, and other states are evaluating and passing mandates that will require public school districts to spend some percentage of their book budgets on digital content within a few years or, at the very least, redefine what kinds of print and digital materials can be used.

And we can't ignore a basic technology edict: Lower prices and better technology tip the buying scales. A $79 e-reader filled with advertisements may not win immediate appeal from educators, but the falling price point for an entry-level Kindle and the $149 price for a Kindle Touch 3G with free cellular service could win smiles from school district bean counters torn between technology adoption and budget caps.

Should mobile device OEMs start shifting marketing efforts and next-gen technology development away from one-off consumer sales (which are obviously still significant) and start looking at the problems they could solve for larger, institution-level buyers (which could open many new markets and niches)? Has the classroom consumer finally come of age for e-readers and tablets?

6 comments on “OEMs Benefit as Schools Hike Tech Use

  1. AnalyzeThis
    October 10, 2011

    I think it's obvious that mobile device OEMs should start at least thinking about shifting some of their efforts towards the institution-level, however I do think we're still a few years away before OEMs should begin making a full-court press towards these buyers.

    I've said before that e-readers would be a lot more mainstream once they hit the $50-100 price point, which obviously now they have. Now the challenge will be figuring out a way to deploy such technology in a way that makes sense for a school district. Amazon is actually very well-equipped to be a significant player in this space as they already have things like EC2 and presumably it wouldn't be too difficult for them to eventually figure out a way to sell customizable and administratable Kindles to schools at a premium price.

    On the other hand, perhaps Amazon is hoping that consumers themselves will buy the devices and end up using them for both school and personal use. And perhaps institutions will not get involved in purchasing the hardware directly and merely suggest that students buy their own readers. Actually, this approach seems more realistic.

    Anyhow, like I said, I do think we're a few years away before mobile devices become a gigantic part of the mainstream education experience. But we're getting close.

  2. Jennifer Baljko
    October 11, 2011

    DennisQ – I agree… it will be a few years away, and will likely follow regular consumer electronic purchasing trends – first movers will buy first, others will latch on, then it will ripple out to the masses once “best practices” have been passed along via the press, industry conferences or word-of-mouth experience. I think whether the mass distribution model starts taking seed in 2012 or 2014 will largely depend on how quickly device prices fall from 2011's levels, what's drafted into legislation, and how school administartors assess pros and cons.

    Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if OEMs see more interest – at least initially – from the developing world. In places like Libya, Liberia, and other Northern African countries where the end of dictatorships and civil war will eventually lead to educational reforms and a need to literally re-write history books, it's easy to see how an e-reader, a tablet, or even a cell phone, which can hold thousands of book, may be a way to improve literacy and influence the shift towards democracy. In some ways, too, it may be easier for teachers in the developing world to move with technology; because they have such limited access to books but generally have access to mobile phone networks, they may have less 'emotional' attachment to printed materials being the standard tool for learning and adapt to whatever format the 'written work' comes in.

    Like you said, there will likely be some cross-over marketing between institutional buyers and individuals who uses various devices in their personal/professional/school lives. The starting point may be different, but the end result may lead to the same place – more e-books in classrooms.

  3. Daniel
    October 11, 2011

    Jennifer, like smart class room, smart teaching methods also has to develop. Most of the B schools have their syllabus and prescribed or reference books listed in college website. Some other colleges are preparing soft copies of essay and short answers along with case study materials and distributing its through either USB or CD. I think this all methods are static and not dynamic. I think we have to think about some dynamic mechanism, where the class room chatting and presentations are to be communicated through handheld devices (PDA, Smart phone etc) in real time basis.

  4. jbond
    October 11, 2011

    My biggest question regarding this is cost and availability. If schools want to replace books with electronic media, how do the kids get this material home? If they are assigned a tablet or e-reader, who pays for it? Parents are responsible if their kids destroy a text book, but what about a piece of electronics? I watch adults who handle their phones, laptops, and tablets like they are kids. Who's going to protect the reading device from thrown back packs or just being dropped?

    There are many reasons why parents don't buy their kids some of these devices. I for one get nickel and dimed every time I turn around from the schools and sports, and I sure don't want to be responsible for how my kid handles school electronics that are assigned to them. And I certainly don't want to pay even more to have to buy these things, especially since I know how my kids treat their stuff.

    This might be good for the companies selling it and it might make the schools look better, but there are other sides to the story that the schools won't bring up. 


  5. Ariella
    October 11, 2011

    @jbond There are schools that buy laptops for the each student. Certainly, though, it is not yet universal, and what the district provides is subject to change. For example, several years ago, high schools started requiring scientific calculators that cost about $100 a piece. The year after I bought one for my son, the practice of the school providing it for each student kicked in.

  6. AnalyzeThis
    October 11, 2011

    @jbond, your concerns regarding who assumes the cost of replacing damaged, assigned e-readers/tablets is indeed a valid one: kids are kids, these devices will inevitably get lost or destroyed. And this is a big reason why the price point is so important and why e-readers have a huge advantage over tablets when it comes to educational use.

    Losing a $200-$400 tablet is a big deal. Losing a $50-$75 e-reader? Not so much. And this will become less of an issue over time. The price of e-readers have dropped dramatically in just the last year or three… it's not unrealistic to expect $50 e-readers next holiday season.

    And obviously until we get to the point where e-readers are near-disposable, they will not really be suitable for younger students: adoption will probably start at the college level and trickle down into High School. It'll probably be many, many more years until 1st graders are strolling around with “My First e-Readers.”

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