Thoughts on Android in Education – Affordances and Extensibility

Recently, I became the somewhat proud owner of two new devices, an HTC Incredible S – a slick, 4-inch mobile sporting Android Gingerbread and the HTC Sense user interface – and ASUS eee Pad Transformer tablet, which includes Honeycomb 3.1 and the nifty ability to dock in a keyboard station. As a fairly long-time iPhone and iPad user who likes his technology to “just work” (so I can get on with teaching and learning), I found myself on a very steep learning curb. I’m only now – after two months – getting the hang of things and beginning to think about how Android as a platform might work in education. Since there is very little research on the relationship between operating systems, devices and learning outcomes, I’m interested to investigate this a little further – and quite enjoy being the technology guineypig.


Screen Shot 2011 08 09 at 6 17 41 PM


First Thoughts – Affordances/Extensibility and the 1-1 Question

So how do we come to terms with an OS like Android and what it might mean for education? In answer to that, I’m reminded of the frustration I’ve had with iOS in recent times and the stranglehold that Apple continues to have over software development, often to the detriment of the user. Recently, a system leader in my area asked me if I would consider the iPad a viable 1-1 learning device in systemic Catholic schools. Despite being a huge fan of iPads, I had to point out:

1. the lack of Flash functionality on web pages renders many LMSes – such as Moodle, Blackboard, LAMS and so on – quite unusable for many purposes, especially those that are more interactive and require pop-up screens, multiple tabs and so on;

2. typing on an iPad without a keyboard for any length of time is unwieldy and bad ergonomics. Typing with a bluetooth keyboard is costly and drains the battery much faster;

3. current and future apps are subject to Apple’s terms of use/development and anything which competes with core system functionality (including other browsers, productivity tools, social networking apps and so on) can be denied, curtailed, pulled, etc.;

4. getting data out and in – or in and out – is not always easy – consider the fact that a Numbers spreadsheet saved on Mac Numbers and opened in iPad Numbers is “converted” – with loss of formatting, formulaes, sheets, tables, etc.;

5. productivity apps like Pages look good when demo’ed (and everyone loves twisting the butterfly around) but can be alarmingly inflexible, difficult to navigate and problematic when format-shifting to other formats/devices later on… consider editing a complex table and see if you don’t become the least frustrated after half an hour; and

6. access to – and the ability to open – a range of different file formats is problematic at the best of times… consider video codecs that Apple doesn’t like and the fact that the VLC media player was pulled from the app store shortly after it launched a few years back.

So in pointing out the above, I had to say that, no, I didn’t consider the iPad viable as a 1-1 device, even considering its huge potential as a media-making tool (think of apps like GarageBand and iMovie), or the fact that it still benefits from being the dominant player in terms of app development. In other words, while devices like the iPad and iPhone have a huge range of affordances, their extensibility is conditional on the fundamental design of the OS.

So how does Android stack up? Well, in the next few posts, I’ll be considering this question as a teacher, a technology leader and as a university student. Having now become familiar with both platforms, I aim to be as objective as possible and really delve into Android’s potential for future teaching/learning experiences in the classroom and the real world. I’d love to hear from anyone who uses Android in any way that relates to teaching/learning and your thoughts so far.

About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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3 Responses to Thoughts on Android in Education – Affordances and Extensibility

  1. I’d be curious to know what more you have discivered since this post. I am a personal Android user and whilst i ee some benefits of the platform I see some distinct limitations in terms of school deployment and use..

    Concerned greatly with the openness of the market place and the sadly proliferation of content which we just don’t want kids exposed to in schools.. It’s this ability to secure and manage the device that is probably my greatest concern.

    Life cycle is another. How long do these devcies work. All tablet vendor devices appear to have a much shiorter life span (if they didn’t they offer 3-4 yr warranties).. Compare this to laptops which in many cases can cost not too disimilar price points but can have the warranty etc to back them up.

    Yes there are apps etc to add value and can add to the expereince and news way to learn but it comes down to need…. just what is the need. This will determine devcie.

    Anyway, looking for any insights on management, security etc that you may have as many are jumping before looking.and sadly i think realising too late they have something that does not do what they need.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Adrian,

      Thanks for your comment! Yes – I feel that I’m at somewhat of a stand still on the question of whether Android devices are viable 1:1 tools. My biggest concerns at the moment are the inherent limitations in the available browsers. Since we’re a Google Apps for Education school, a lot of what we do in the classroom requires a full-featured browser.

      While Android should work well with Google’s web apps – and does to a fair extent – there’s yet to be a decent browser available that will let you really use web apps in a big way for productivity and collaboration. Of course, the argument is that tablets are not productivity tools – but why not?

      Would love to hear more on your thoughts – have you posted on this?


  2. curtis says:

    Ubokia for Android would be the answer for a fully featured OS.

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