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Question of the Month: Tablets or Notebooks?

We see a lot of tech in the classroom come and go, but which will win out? In five years will we see tablets or notebooks dominate in the classroom -- or are reports of the death of the laptop a tad premature?


KeuterJay Keuter

Director – IT Client Services

Portland Public Schools

Portland, Oregon


No one could have anticipated the impact that a single device would have on the technology market, nor how it would influence teaching and learning – but you have only to look at the meteoric rise in the price of Apple stock to get a sense of what is trending in the mobile computing space. The iPad has truly caused a “revolution”, and one I believe will ultimately result in tablet-based platforms displacing notebooks as the dominant student computing tool in our schools.

While tablets position themselves as the preeminent personal computing device in our schools, notebooks or some semblance of them will continue to play a role in our K-through-12 environment. The demand for technology to support graphic design, engineering and computer programming still exists, a role notebooks can continue to fill though it is not unreasonable to assume tablets or a convergence of the two could eventually push into that space as well. 

This shift is not entirely hardware-driven though; the evolution and availability of cloud-based resources as well as custom apps have contributed to this shift. This diversity sets the stage for more customized student learning and will serve as a catalyst for innovation.

Textbook vendors who want to stay relevant and capitalize on this trend are feverishly playing catch-up, and we’re already seeing alliances developing and market leaders jockeying for position, which should translate into higher-quality dynamic content and more competitive tablet pricing. 

From a financial perspective, as we seek to connect more students and strategize 1:1 options, tablets are an obvious choice. Their relatively low cost will continue to erode the notebook market share, as will the maturation of the overall tablet platform. This competition should drive down the cost of tablets and, more importantly, spawn innovation whose rewards K-through-12 institutions will be able to reap.


John OrbaughJohn Orbaugh

Director of Technology Services

Tyler Independent School District

Tyler, TX



As a district we are actively testing numerous tablets for student, teacher and staff use. We have a lot of netbooks for students and all of our teachers and administrators have a laptop and docking station on their desk. Those laptops are getting rather old and we need to replace them, but personally I think the laptop is a dead-end technology. 

I’d like to replace them with tablets. We’ve put a lot of effort into virtual computing and tablets are a viable option for delivering a virtual desktop. I can currently provide our standard Windows desktop, with all the familiar productivity tools, via the virtual environment to a tablet and give our staff the lightweight, portable form factor of the tablet with all the cool tools available in the app world. 

Granted, for some of us old guys who still like a normal keyboard and aren’t keen on typing on the touch screen, there is still a place for a netbook. In fact, I use my old netbook everyday as a means to access my virtual desktop in meetings at work or when I’m at home or on the road. 

What is holding me back from doing more with tablets? Two things: the number and types of interfaces available and the type of integrated WiFi radio. In our classrooms we have a variety of USB connected devices, interactive whiteboards and projectors that I need to connect for our teachers. I need a tablet that has a dock for charging that will let me connect powered USB, VGA or HDMI video, keyboard and mouse. 

iPads are great devices, but they don’t offer the interfaces I need and neither do most Android devices. For example, the Android based tablets that have the right interfaces seem to only offer 802.11 b, g, n WiFi. This is fine until you get a classroom full of them and then the 2.4Ghz wireless spectrum is saturated and the devices lose connectivity or the data flow slows to a crawl. Apple did a great job putting in an 802.11a radio option that will broadcast on the 5.0GHz spectrum, but again, not the right interfaces. I have an Android tablet with the radio I need, but it lacks the docking options I want.

While I wait for the right product to become available we will continue to deploy small numbers of iPads around our district and continue to watch the market for the tablet that will meet all my needs. 


BrennemanThomas Brenneman

Executive Director for Technology

Kansas City Public Schools

Kansas City, MO



Neither will dominate...  It will be personally owned devices. Some of these bring-your-own-devices will be tablets (like the iPad) and others will be very thin laptops. Most systems in this BYOT (bring your own technology) world will not have applications on the device but we will host them in the cloud.

So, no matter what device you use, you will have access to all the documents and applications to run a digital classroom. 


Mark weedyMark Weedy

Retired Superintendent

Eastland-Fairfield Career and Technical Schools

Groveport, Ohio



The future of technology in schools is exciting! I believe access to the latest technology devices will be widespread and relatively inexpensive. While I believe this will be true, I also believe the classrooms of the future will look very different from those we have today. 

I believe the classroom of the future will be one without walls. Students will help develop individual programs centered on their unique interests and abilities.  Technology will play a very important role in this new “classroom” because students will be saving their work to a cloud-based system so their instructors and peers can view the work and offer suggestions for improvement. Students and instructors will not be on a schedule where there are a certain number of hours of seat time required by the state or national government. This type of schedule will be phased in gradually as students age and demonstrate the capacity to handle it. 

Students will meet periodically with their instructors to determine progress toward the established goals. Some of these meetings will occur face-to-face, but others will occur virtually by means of the technology devices. Students will progress to the next level of learning when they have demonstrated the level of knowledge that is required. This demonstration of knowledge by students will include presentations to the community in which they live so everyone is involved in the education of the children. The presentations will be designed differently based on the age of the student.

The devices for such a classroom will be as diverse as the students. Some students will have handheld devices while others will have laptop-like devices, such as an iPad or typical laptop computer. In some cases, the school will provide the device just like textbooks are issued. In other cases, students may own and use their own device. Students will use these devices to capture experiences and facts while they are out and about during the course of planned educational experiences. These experiences will occur at different times for different students. Some may occur during what we now call a typical school day while others will occur on weekend or evenings. Students will be aware of what they are expected to know and be able to do, and their goal will be to help plan their experiences so they meet the goals established for them.

Gaining knowledge must not be limited to a six or seven hour day, Monday through Friday with no knowledge gained during holidays or snow days. Instead of devoting millions of dollars to new buildings that sometimes are obsolete once they open, bus transportation, and other expenses related to the typical way of “doing school,” educational and community leaders, parents, and students need to embrace the classroom of the future.  Technology can make that happen.




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For me I go to Tablet, it has a lot of things to do like a desktop computer. Plus, the portability and design is so great. A lot of innovations has already released, so there's a wide range of choice. I also like the benefits it can bring to us.

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