Chris Drage finds a tablet device that has been tweaked to cope with the demands of schools, the LearnPad

Avantis LearnPad LP10iPads, Samsung Galaxy Tabs and Windows-based tablets have their limitations and compromises. However, the newly launched Avantis LearnPad LP10, with its attractive £295 price tag, seems to have overcome most of them – and very neatly.

The LearnPad is an interactive tablet computer designed specifically for use in schools. It’s small enough to be portable yet large enough to be used as a standalone device with dedicated eLearning content, or it can connect to your school’s network to access traditional online and Flash-based educational websites and online content.

The Avantis LearnPad comes with a small range of its own pre-installed digital content, Adobe Flash capability and connectivity to the school’s internal and external resources. It measures 267x173x14.3mm, weighs in at about 800g and comes with a power adaptor, USB cable and user manual. It’s worth spending an extra £25 on the Folio Protective Case which doubles as a stand as well.

The device has a number of ports around its edge: Micro SD card slot (up to 64Gb), a USB port, a mini USB port, a docking port and a headphone socket. Similarly, its wireless connectivity is equally impressive: Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth 2.1.  In addition, it is equipped with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, G-Sensor (accelerometer), light sensor and stereo speakers. The review sample included the Android 2.2 operating system. With the optional docking station (£39), both HDMI and Ethernet ports are added to provide connection to VGA or HDMI projectors and directly to the school’s LAN.

School security issues addressed

The LearnPad can be used as a mobile device or it can be secured to a desk via an acrylic stand (£20) that's just 4mm thick. Visitors to the BETT 2011 educational technology show in London would have seen this secure desk mount on the Avantis Systems stand. The LearnPad can be easily slid into it and locked in situ. Avantis have thought carefully about all the security issues that surround tablets and have largely addressed these.

An overnight charge provides approximately eight hours of use with the LearnPad which should be more than enough for a typical school day. On one occasion I actually continued using it for more than nine hours. On switching on it is immediately obvious that this is an Android (Google’s operating system) device; it's just like the start-up screen of the Samsung Galaxy Tab (another eye-opener for where tablets are going).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEpBR-H1Za4

However, the LearnPad has a huge and distinct advantage over other current Android devices – it allows you to add a proxy server and port plus username/password in the wi-fi network setup – a fundamental requirement for most schools using wi-fi. Currently, only the LearnPad overcomes this severe restriction with Android OS. This feature will enable schools to access the internet and Flash-based websites such as Educationcity.com, Espresso and Planet Sherston.

Similarly, it can be set up to connect seamlessly with the shared drives on the school’s network so files can be exchanged and worked on. However, the jewel-in-the-crown of this device lies in its SafeStart control feature. Harking back to the successful RM Window Box-style of management, SafeStart is a controlled interface that allows children to access only approved applications and websites. SafeStart also includes a dedicated web-safe browser that will not allow pupils to leave the current site via hyperlinks or on site search facilities. This provides a safe way for children to access the web without fear of them accessing inappropriate content.

LearnPad also has its own pre-installed education applications for foundation stage and primary, like ContentSuite, along with other education apps from the Avantis eStore. At the time of writing this is somewhat limited and is mainly content from the USA. However, Avantis assures me that this is just the start and talks are underway with a number of major publishers and software providers to ensure a steady flow of quality content from this side of the ‘pond’.

LearnPad supports mounting Windows network shared drives and is able to map and store these. This allows students to access network data, such as documents, and view and edit them on LearnPad. There is a QuickOffice app for LearnPad, which also integrates with Google Docs and other online cloud file services, such as Dropbox. It’s not as powerful as the MS Office suite, but it’s functional enough for most students and does serve well as a mobile solution.

Being a native Android device, the LearnPad syncs harmoniously with Google Docs, even picking up your Google Mail contacts, calendar and other data. It also syncs particularly well with Mozilla’s Firefox v4.

Avantis also provides a centralised content delivery and management solution for LearnPad. This allows schools to deploy multiple LearnPads and ensures they are kept up to date with content, hosting local content delivered by leading publishers, as well as simplifying the configuration and management of them.

Avantis provides a service to wirelessly update LearnPads with content and apps

So how can you easily update a class set of LearnPads? Avantis has thought this one through as well, offering a content update service:  each LearnPad automatically connects to the Avantis content servers to update its content on a daily basis. Thus each LearnPad receives new and updated content including eBooks, applications and system updates. This service is available from individual LearnPads and does not require any further system components. It’s a bit like the way Espresso updates.

The Avantis Centralised Content Server, a small device that connects directly to a school network and provides a central store for shared content and online resources. E-learning content from a number of publishers can be delivered directly to this server for school-wide access from LearnPads as well as from existing desktops and/or laptops.

The LearnPad Content Management System (LPCMS) also supports locally hosted content such as that from Espresso and provides additional functionality as a school caching server.  It is this seamless integration with a primary school’s existing infrastructure which underlines Aventis’s commitment to the education sector.

Avantis will soon release its e-learning content store for LearnPad. A simple interface will allow teachers to 'pick and mix' content from multiple publishers, selecting different applications for different subjects from many popular eLearning content providers. These applications will then be delivered directly to the LearnPads, or the LPCMS if installed, providing a great way to access new and exciting content, quickly and simply. All content in the eStore will be written specifically for education and vetted and approved for use in schools.

Each application will be filtered and tagged for specific areas of the curriculum, so if you are looking for a key stage 2 maths fractions application, you can search for this and view and download all applications that are relevant. Maybe we are on the brink of a new era of ICT with learning experiences becoming more individualised and personalised but with greater socialisation possibilities through the ease of communication that tablets offer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC3iNnZU03Y

I can’t help but be enthusiastic about the LearnPad as a device for learning. It is the first tablet that really puts the learner at the centre with its ease of access to the ‘cloud’ and the commitment of Avantis to education. The company seems to have done so much to make this device the one to use in school, and although the focus is currently firmly on nursery and primary education, secondary schools will, in time, find a huge number of applications and niche areas where the LearnPad could play a central role.

'So much more than just a Samsung Galaxy Tab on steroids'

So much more than just a Samsung Galaxy Tab on steroids, the LearnPad offers education the versatility, connectivity, integration and low total cost of ownership that schools require today. If there is one shortcoming it is the relatively few number of apps that really exploit the LearnPad’s full functionality. However, it should only be a matter of time before the content trickle becomes a torrent.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose   4
Ease of use               5
Features                    5
Quality                       5
Value for money       5

Avantis LearnPad LP10
Android interactive tablet for foundation and primary pupils. Dimensions 267x173x14.3mm; 10.1-inch LCD capacitive multi-touch 1024x600 screen; processor - Nvidia Tegra 250 1Ghz (Dual Cortex A9); 512Mb DDR2 RAM; 16 Gb storage; micro SD expansion slot; 2 x USB Ports (one of them mini USB);  docking port; 802.11 b/g WiFi; built in 1.3M front camera; Bluetooth 2.1; G-Sensor (accelerometer); light sensor; built In stereo speakers; 3.5mm headphone socket; 3500 mAh 7.4v Li-Polymer battery with 8-hour active usage; Android 2.2 operating system. Price £295.
www.avantisworld.co.uk
Avantis, First Floor, 105 Bute Street, Cardiff CF10 5AD ?
Tel: 0845 862 0390
Fax: 0845 862 0391
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
For further information watch promotional video below:

Chris DrageChris Drage, a former teacher, is a consultant and journalist covering learning with ICT. You can contact him by email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 


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