I’ve been using my Kindle Fire for about a month now.
I got it as a personal device, but was immediately struck by its potential as a tool for mobile learning.
With the popularity of Apple iPads in schools these days, the comparisons are inevitable. The Kindle Fire runs Android, while the iPad runs iOS, but functionally, they’re pretty similar. The iPad has a camera, which the Fire doesn’t (which isn’t necessarily a disadvantage for schools, but stay tune for the next version). The iPad is somewhat larger (7.3″ x 9.5″; 1024 x 768) than the Fire (7.5″ x 4.7″; 1024 x 600). The iPad can be configured with 16 GB to 64 GB of memory; the Fire has 8GB. (Again, stay tuned.) They both have beautiful, brilliant screens.
Currently, there is more software available for iOS than for Android (and particularly the Fire), but there hasn’t been much that I really wanted that I couldn’t get on the Fire. One minor annoyance with the Fire is that the Android Marketplace apps aren’t readily available (without rooting the device). Amazon has seemed to have begun to seen the error of its ways on this, and hopefully it will be resolved soon.
To me, a very big issue is PRICE. At $199 list, the Fire is well under half the cost of the cheapest iPad. Relative to education:
- Somewhere around $200 is the “sweet spot” for school pricing where one-to-one starts to make sense.
- I would generally rather see more devices in more kids’ hands; lower cost facilitates this.
For any of these tablet devices though, the question remains: Are they well suited to mobile learning?
Some have said that tablets are primarily media consumption devices and don’t inspire the kind of deeper creation that we want kids doing.
My responses to this are several. First, it’s hard for me not to think about all the great work, including writing and other work, that I’ve seen kids do in the past on Palm and Windows Mobile handhelds. And these handhelds of yesteryear are vastly inferior in every way to the new tablets. It’s one of the things that excites me most about these devices.
Secondly, there are a lot of great creation tools available for tablets. You can write using them with Office-type tools. (Google Docs is a favorite of mine.) You can collaborate and communicate with others. You can create graphic organizers, outlines, and notes. You can make presentations and even record audio and video. True that these devices aren’t well suited to editing and creating full multimedia presentations; that’s really a job for a more powerful laptop or desktop computer.
Finally, there are aspects of learning that do involve consumption — what we need is more differentiated, interactive consumption. Think about a textbook that is customized for each student’s needs and interests and includes opportunities for interactive practice and collaboration with others. That is the potential of tablets.
Now, if you are evaluating tablets against laptops for a one-to-one project, I personally would go with laptops in many, if not most, cases (especially for secondary students). There is little question that even a low end laptop has more capabilities than a Kindle Fire.
However, in a typical classroom, which is not one-to-one and which includes a variety of computing devices, including some laptop and desktop computers, I think the Kindle Fire is a cost effective tool that can greatly improve learning for many students.