Schools start using tablets for teaching - TechCentral

Schools start using tablets for teaching

Pretoria-based IT School Innovation (Itsi) wants to use tablet computers in South African education and believes that e-learning shouldn’t merely turn printed content into digital format but be used to enhance teaching materials and increase engagement in the classroom.

Started in 2000, Itsi’s original focus was on creating IT curricula for schools. Today, CEO Lieb Liebenberg says its aim is to provide “interactive digital teaching tools” that are aligned to and complement South Africa’s curriculum.

“The value of teaching with tablets is that you can enhance content,” says Liebenberg. Merely regurgitating print content digitally means ignoring the potential the devices offer.

A problem with many e-learning solutions, according to Liebenberg, is that they require Internet access. Itsi’s solutions try to address both the issue of content and access.

“There’s no perfect book out there — any teacher will tell you that,” says Liebenberg. He says it’s important that students and teachers are able to add to prescribed content.

Itsi’s solution is intended for tablet computers powered by Google’s Android operating system and uses a locally developed application called MobiReader to distribute and display content, which it gets from publisher Via Afrika.

The company offers content for grades four, five and six, and grades 10 and 11. Liebenberg says there will be content for every grade by 2014.

Schools distribute content to pupils over Wi-Fi and Itsi partners install a server and Wi-Fi — or the necessary software where schools already have infrastructure in place — to serve this purpose and to keep content updated. Schools pay R35/pupil for this, but there are no further costs for training, system maintenance or support. Liebenberg says lower rates are often negotiated with schools that have a large numbers of pupils.

Parents are responsible for the purchase of the tablet, and Itsi recommends devices running Android 4.0 or higher with 1GB of RAM. Thereafter, textbooks are R82 each, which Liebenberg says is roughly half the cost of printed equivalents. Each student has a profile that allows them to access content and add notes, and means they can download content again — complete with additions — should their tablet be damaged or stolen.

Teachers can add slides, videos, images and other content to course material, which is then pushed to pupils’ tablets.

From next year, 11 former model-C and private schools with 2 300 pupils between them will be using the Itsi tablet solution.

Liebenberg says Itsi wanted to support Apple’s iPad, too, but App Store restrictions were too stringent, particularly because the company’s application needs to push content to users’ devices. He says the company will consider developing for Windows 8 tablets should they prove popular.

Itsi stipulates that each teacher has at least 10 hours of training and provides ongoing training where necessary. “We know that some teachers aren’t as savvy about technology as their students are,” says Liebenberg.  — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media

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