Avantis readies Android tablets for schools with LearnPad version 3 – Chris Drage reports
LearnPad, the 10-inch interactive touch-screen tablet computer designed specifically for use in schools, continues to evolve, much to the benefit of all potential school users. It now offers a secure teacher screen and the ability to directly launch files from its fully customisable, ‘SafeStart’ student interface.
It sports a new and better graphical layout and there is an ever-expanding library of new educational content. All this adds up to a huge competitive advantage over other tablets marketed primarily for the retail market.
I profess to being a fan of tablet devices ever since I was fortunate to review one of the first Windows Tablet PCs back in 2001 – the now venerable RM Tablet (Windows 98). This enthusiasm has been reignited by the Avantis LearnPad and the thrust to providing schools with the management and content services they need to make tablets work for learning and teaching, and at a price they can afford
In version 3, the LearnPad takes the Avantis philosophy further, offering schools a device with both a secure and easy management platform, and access to content that they may already have invested in.
Management tools let schools personalise tablets for teachers and students
New to LearnPad version 3 is a secure ‘teacher’ screen. This is a password-protected ‘desktop’ that allows teachers to add their own apps, content and links, including access to system and administrative settings. The teacher screen also provides the ability to join LearnPad to ‘grouped profiles’, changing the student interface to pre-configured layouts created using the online management portal.
Another really useful new feature is the ability to add ‘shortcut’ links to files and documents directly on the launcher screen itself. Unlike standard Android tablets or the iPad, students can open, edit and save document files or launch content such as videos, music, pdfs, eBooks or any other supported file types, right from the SafeStart interface itself.
LearnPad associates file types with specific applications, so pressing on a file will open it in the relevant application automatically. Arguably one of LearnPad’s most useful new features is the ability to completely customise the student user interface, creating your own categories and adding your own backgrounds, images and icons.
Teachers can use the online portal to build their own device layouts and categories, creating unique profiles. This flexibility allows LearnPad to be configured for different user scenarios, such as layouts for individual students or custom profiles for an entire department, subject or even topic.
When pupils switch on their LearnPads, they immediately arrive in the LearnPad’s SafeStart environment. SafeStart is an intuitive, secure and customisable graphical user interface for pupils. It is at the heart of LearnPad system and in many ways echoes the RM ‘Window Box’ of the past.
It provides the ability for teachers or network managers to control which applications, content, websites and documents students can access. SafeStart replaces the traditional Android ‘desktop’ and provides a more intuitive, easier-to-use way for students to access the content they need. This interface also allows ‘shortcuts’ to documents or individual files to be created, a function not currently supported in other tablet devices.
This enables students to launch any type of content straight from the interface, rather than launching each application and having to browse for files to ‘open’. SafeStart can be managed either ‘on device’ or via the cloud-based LearnPad content and management system, which allows grouped profiles to be created and applied to any number of LearnPad devices simultaneously.
Access to sound educational content is an all-important reason for using tablets in schools, and the LearnPad now includes new foundation and key stage 1-2 content from recognised educational publishers including Sherston, Yellow Door, NGfl Cymru and eChalk. For secondary and HE/FE students, LearnPad provides access to office documents via Quickoffice Pro, supporting Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Custom SEN content, including cause and effect, reactions and timing and a a speech application for non-verbal children, is now available on the LearnPad. However, for me, the most significant development is the new online content and management portal.
'Group profiles' can be used for classes, years or key stages
One of the key aspects of the management portal is the ability to create LearnPad ‘group’ profiles. These profiles store all of the configurations, applications, content, files, documents and website links that will be applied to the LearnPads when they join the group. Any number of group profiles can be created, allowing teachers to create custom configurations for different classes, years, key stages or even individuals. The profiles are stored securely in the cloud portal and applied automatically to LearnPad once they are joined to that group – very slick!
Using the portal, teachers or network administrators can effectively create ‘backups’ of the devices' content and configuration. Each profile stored online is in essence a complete copy of the device's content and layout, essentially a ‘cloud image’ of the device. This provides a simple and efficient way to add new LearnPads to the group and have them configured the same way automatically, or to restore a LearnPad to a specific group configuration.
Network managers can deploy and automatically install new applications to any grouped LearnPad. This makes adding new content to multiple devices an extremely simple task, negating the need to manually install it on each device. System applications can be updated by a simple click of a button and new content added to a group profile will automatically be deployed when the LearnPad checks into its group profile. This can be set to occur on a scheduled basis.
The portal also provides a secure repository for both applications and content, allowing storage of class timetables, reference material, images, ebooks, videos, music files, document or any type of supported content in the cloud. Using the group profiling, content can be automatically downloaded to each LearnPad within the group.
LearnPad is easy to use, reliable and has an eight-hour active battery life. It can be secured to desks with the optional desk mounts or moved between classrooms and stored in portable charging trolleys. As the LearnPad powers on in seconds, pupils can start activities straight away. It is the only tablet device designed specifically for schools and school networks, supporting Flash content and websites (Purple Mash, Espresso, Education City etc.).
With its centralised management and unrestricted content delivery, group profiles and cloud storage, configurable, customisable and secure user interface it ‘ticks’ all the right boxes for effective management in schools. When you add to this list the secure, integrated web browser (for use away from a school's ‘filtered‘ network), the pedagogically structured pre-loaded content (for use with or without a network connection) and USB connectivity for keyboards and other devices, the only question remaining is “how much…?”
The short answer is: at much lower cost than other comparable systems. That would clinch it for me. And the really good news for schools is that this Avantis management technology could be adapted for whatever Android tablet a school would like to use, not just the LearnPad (see also "Asus pushes Android envelope with Eee Transformer").
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 5
Ease of use 5
Value for money 5
LearnPad (version 3)
Android Tablet device with a range of pre installed content, one year’s support and maintenance for the device as well as one year’s subscription to Avantis' cloud-based content and management system, £295 ex VAT. Bulk purchases possible, eg 20 LearnPads with protective cases, content packs and charging trolley for £6,999
Optional accessories: LearnPad Perspex desk mount £20; LearnPad protective folio wallet £25; LearnPad docking station £45.
LearnPad fact sheet