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It’s hard to argue against those who claim we are currently experiencing a technological boom. Ever since the introduction of the computer in the 1970s, the size, speed, and usability of electronic gadgets are in a constant state of improvement. Just last year, the Pebble watch, a watch which doubles as a streamlined smartphone, was presented to the public. Gadgets are undeniably fun to play with, but they also have a profound impact on how we tackle daily tasks. An environment in which this is readily apparent is the academic campus; according to the 2013 Student Mobile Device Survey, 83% of college students believe that tablets will transform the learning process. It isn’t just the students who have this optimism about growing technologies; college administrations across the world are taking measures to make sure campuses are mobile-friendly.
A Wireless Campus
Few colleges are without a wireless internet network, and with good reason. Internet access has become a necessity for researching and access to online cataloged resources. Colleges like Purdue University are taking mobile accessibility a step further with innovations like the Purdue Studio, a collection of apps and programs designed to be used on smartphones and tablets to facilitate learning and to extend the possibilities for class interaction. A program called Course Signals automatically alerts students in danger of failing their courses and offers resources and suggestions to get back on track. According to Purdue research, this application can help improve students’ marks by as much as a full letter grade. Colleges have a performance incentive to make their campus as mobile-friendly as possible, and students are readily taking advantage of this new resource through mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Tablets, Smartphones, and eReaders
When it comes to choosing a mobile device to enhance your learning, there are a plethora of options arranged from brand to function. Smartphones, arguably the most common mobile device, can be used for researching, communicating (either by text or online post), and reading with eReader apps. Due to their size, they are not optimal for typing or extensive editing work, but they provide an almost instantaneous link to information through wireless and network access to the internet, working with many websites that are already optimized for mobile browsing. Many innovative students use their smartphones as a study guide as well, with apps like Flashcards, Encore Study Platform, and Exam Countdown. For a device no larger than an index card itself, a smartphone provides a wide variety of uses.
Tablets, by contrast, can do almost everything a smartphone can, and more. A tablet is like a small, book-sized, flat computer that can be carried around. Many tablets offer on-screen keyboards, and there are even a few models, like the Lenovo S2110, that have an attachable keyboard. The size of the screen allows for easier reading and researching, and many computer programs have tablet equivalents which allow students to take advantage of both mobile apps and the computer programs they’ve grown to rely on. Students can even use tablets to make online phone calls through the Skype app.
eReaders are devices created exclusively for the purpose of reading. An eReader can store an entire library of books, both for class and for leisure reading, in under a centimeter of flat space. In addition to reducing storage issues in cramped dorm rooms, this can mean tremendous savings for students, since the digital version of books are sometimes cheaper than their printed counterparts. For students who are looking for a lightweight, easy way to carry around their textbooks, an eReader may be the perfect solution.
To Buy or Not To Buy
The decision to purchase a mobile device is one entirely dependent on the needs of the purchaser. It all depends on what you want the device to do. For students whose courses rely heavily on reading and writing, a tablet may be the answer with its eReader capability and transportable typing. Art and design students may have to do most of their work on a computer with the processing speed to keep up with rendering, but a smartphone could help with art history reviews and organization of when assignments are due. Students of all disciplines could benefit from an eReader, which would allow them to bring their textbooks on vacation, to study in the “wasted space” between classes, and save a bundle on print textbooks.
What’s This Mean for Your Wallet?
Mobile devices are flashy, but it can be hard to see the savings through the glitz and not every device will save you money. A smartphone can cost as little as $100, but be careful when buying one – many phone companies will only sell a smartphone with a 2-year phone contract bundled in, and big data packages can tack on an extra $50 fee each month. For a cheaper way to buy a smartphone, look for a refurbished model and a flexible, no-data phone plan (you can still connect to the internet through the campus wi-fi service). Setting the phone plan aspect aside, a $100 smartphone can easily be used for the full four years of college, which makes the cost per year a measly $25.
The price range of a tablet is all over the place, since they come with so many customizable features. A good ballpark price is about $400, and the savings you get with that depend on what you intend to use the tablet for. If using a tablet to replace a laptop, then you just saved around $100-$300, and you can easily carry your tablet to class for PowerPoint presentations or quick textbook access. However, there are plenty of good laptop deals for the same price as a tablet, so make sure that the mobility of the tablet is what you’re looking for, and be prepared to invest some extra money in thumb drives and a protective carrying case.
eReaders are easily the cheapest item on the list; Amazon’s Kindle costs a whole $70. Keep in mind that you’ll still have to pay for textbooks, but you can expect to pay $40 in Kindle for a book that would cost $100 in a bookstore. This could be a great way to tackle the books that you can’t avoid buying, and remember that many textbooks can be rented for even cheaper than their listed price in a digital bookstore. Digital bookstores will also have cheaper versions of mainstream print books, so if you’re an avid reader with a penchant for new books, an eReader is a great way to keep all your literature – textbooks included – in one place for many years after graduation.
Resources and Information
- Exploring Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education
- Once Sideshows, Colleges’ Mobile Apps Move to Center Stage
- How Students Can Use Smartphones as Learning Tools
- How to Choose the Right Tablet
- Choosing an eReader (PDF)
- Mobile Learning: Transforming Education, Engaging Students, and Improving Outcomes
- Tablets for Informal Language Learning (PDF)
- Tablet PCs for Classroom Use: Technology and Application
- Penn State Opens Up World of Possibilities Through Wireless Mobile Technologies
- The Future of Higher Education: How Technology Will Shape Learning (PDF)