“A Tablet PC costs too much for use in schools,” an educator told me at MEC this week. “I think we’ll wait until the cost drops below $1,000.” Rob Bushway and Robert Scoble offered similar comments earlier. Of course, they each have a good point, but I’m not sure that a sub $1,000 Tablet PC (even one designed for schools) will be the same as a state of the art Tablet.
I heard this argument for the first time in 1982 from a corporate information management director when we talked about the feasibility of a university converting more instructional assets to electronic devices. (Faculty bristled at the idea of instructional assets. They also insisted that nothing could ever replace a teacher. I first heard the replacement argument in 1964.)
In 1982, the cost of a state of the art microcomputer was about $1,800, plus monitor, software, mouse, etc. (People were trying to distinguish a micro- from a minicomputer, much like more recent attempts to distinguish between a laptop and a notebook.) Someone loaned me one of these systems. He paid over $5,000 for it.
As late as 1997, individuals, corporations, and school districts routinely paid $3,500 and up for each state of the art personal computer system.
Today, a state of the art Tablet PC can cost about $1,800 to $2,000, with software, “monitor,” digital pen, etc. Some exist at the $5,000 level.
Given the relative price stability of a state-of-the-art PC in various iterations, how might an educator justify purchasing a Tablet PC? Perhaps the same way an educator justifies buying a car, textbook, desk, or any other tool for a school. Prorate the cost across time, a proxy for time, or some other measurable variable.
I prorate the cost of a car across the number of miles I plan to put on it before selling it. I paid $18,000 (1.8M pennies) for a then new 1991 Explorer. I have driven it 200,000 miles. If my arithmetic is correct, the purchase cost of the car is about $0.09 per mile. The more I drive the car, the lower the purchase cost per mile.
An educator may prorate the purchase cost of a Tablet PC across time. Instead of figuring it costs $1,800 for a year, figure it costs $900 for two years. Or, use a variable other than time.
For example, an educator or homeschooler pays $1,800 for a new Tablet PC and downloads free Tablet PC software from TabletPCPost.Com. A student uses the Tablet PC and software to solve 25 new mathematics problems per Tablet PC contact hour. That student uses the Tablet PC for one contact hour per day and 180 school days per year. That equals 25 problems a day or 4,500 problems per school year for one student.
Five other students use the same Tablet PC for an hour each, bringing the total number of math problems solved to 27,000 in one year, and 54,000 in two years. Prorating the purchase cost across the number of math problems completed yields a per-problem cost of $0.15 and $0.08 each for one and two years of use respectively.
Educators may use other measures and other proxies for time considered relevant to learning or another criterion in order to prorate academic costs of a Tablet PC. For example, use number of transactions (such as attempts to solve a problem), number of pages read or written for an English class, number of online digitized maps unavailable to the student elsewhere reviewed for a history class, and number of minutes on-a-study-task.
And, for example, an administrator may prorate the purchase cost across faculty instruction time saved, as well as increased quantity of faculty correcting and editing student work submitted electronically.
Almost any explanation an educator may submit for purchasing or not purchasing a Tablet PC for student use can be tested empirically, frequently with a proxy for time. Educators can use variables from experimental learning research to identify what to count as proxies for time or to replace time.
These tests, or analyses if you prefer, allow an educator to calculate part of the effectiveness and efficiency of buying a Tablet PC as a learning tool.