In the past two weeks, as is often the case after an Apple launch, the geek world splits in two. Some of us were downloading E.O. Wilson‘s “œLife on Earth“ textbook and showing it to everyone regardless of his or her interest in technology or for that matter, Biology. Fanboys became convinced that Apple was now set to revolutionize yet another sector, education, with the launch of “œTextbooks“ in the iBook store. Non-fanboys, on the other hand were pre-occupied blogging about the limitations of 4 Gb textbooks or the draconian clauses built into the iBooks Author contract. In the midst of this debate however, one institution appears to have already put its money where its mouth is and turn the tertiary education sector on its head by revolutionizing the role of the tablet computer in education. This is refreshingly not another silicon valley start up but PC Training and Business College, a local South African educational institution.
Inspired by the launch and planned role to be played by the Aakash Tablet in the Indian Government‘s plan to link 25 000 colleges and 400 universities in an e-learning program, PC Training College‘s CEO, Jay Ramnundlall, believed that the time was right to enhance the educational landscape in South Africa. However, an evaluation of the “œ$35“ Aakash tablet revealed that the 7“ Android based tablet was not the device to deliver the dynamic and interactive experience envisioned. A task team then began the rigorous evaluation process that crossed the boundary between operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows), cost and performance in search of a suitable tablet to spearhead this program. Although there were many factors considered in the evaluation process, key amongst them were:
Affordability: As PC Training College was effectively embarking on this program without a government subsidy (like the Aakash initiative enjoys), affordability or rather value for money, was one of the key considerations in the decision making process.
Hardware: The tablet needed to have a capable processor with expandable memory. It furthermore had to be a 10“ tablet (to make the reading of notes and textbooks easier) equipped with a capacitive touch screen.
Availability of Apps
After Sales Service
After 5 months of research, the team entered into negotiations with Telefunken to develop together the Tablet that they required. They found in Telefunken, a company with over 60 years of presence in South Africa and an appetite for innovation. The initial Teleunken model offered was seriously “˜pimped‘ (bigger processor, more memory, capacitive touch screen) and due to the volume of tablets ordered, PC Training College also secured a 2 year warranty (1 year swap out and second year repair) a free protective cover and a pair of headphones. Due to this collaboration, the tablet being offered to students is therefore unique and cannot be purchased off the shelf in South Africa.
What is truly inspiring however is that this initiative goes beyond being a mere marketing gimmick to boost enrollment numbers because the tablet comes equipped with all the course notes and study guides required for your studies. Agreements and access has been arranged to the digital libraries of some of the major textbook publishers. Related videos and lectures have also been bundled into the tablet to further enhance the learner experience. The tablet is not all work though. Popular apps bundled into the tablet include, Youtube, twitter, Skype, a video player and a music player. Since the device belongs to the student there is furthermore no restriction placed on apps that can be loaded onto the device.
PC Training College also factored in the social factors prevalent in our country before rolling out this program, realizing that for many students, this would be their first interaction with a computing device. There are therefore designated charging stations throughout the campus and internet access (vital when your textbooks are primarily accessible via the cloud) is catered for with free wifi hotspots for students.
It was inspiring to note in my discussion with the project team that they were not content with sitting on their laurels. They were already hard at work making course manuals more interactive, finding relevant vibrant media to augment their courses and developing and accrediting a very comprehensive eLearning programme to cater for the high demand shown by neighbouring African countries. The tablet PC initiative has also been presented to the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize who has supported the initiative and an audience is now being sought with the Minister.
The buzz on the internet with cloud computing, e-learning and media rich learning material, leaves one with the feeling that we are on the verge of a renaissance. Reviewing what PC Training College has achieved thus far, is akin therefore to viewing one of the earlier works of Leonardo da Vinci. I am anxious to see how this program evolves and adapts and also how the tertiary education sector responds to this kind of initiative.