5.Androids in the Classroom

In this section we discuss the issues of using a generic Android tablet in a math or physics teaching environment.  Since it is a hardware still in development and adoption, many issues will be fresh and nasty at the same time.

DISCLAIMER: If you were looking for a section on iPad in the science and math classroom, sorry. Until Apple does not reduce the price of their iPad or come up with an 7 or 8 inch iPad Lite for less than $150, I cannot buy neither use iPads to show their potential in the science or math classroom. I can just speculate from sporadic visits to my local MacStore.  Sorry, but Apple used to give away iMacs to teachers and faculty to test things, we are not in Apple lists since we last used a venerable Classic Mac (after that we used a NeXT, another Jobs’s hit!).

Our Android 2.3.3 Tablet – a generic MID

My Android tablet for this usability test is a generic, all-plastic case, 7 inch tablet brand MID, made in, where else, China. I could not afford the brand name Android tablets (Toshiba, Acer, Samsung, etc), they are frankly too expensive for the test. Another one I have available is a Viewsonic 7e (cost $130) which I will comment on in another page.

My MID is also known under so many names it will be almost an Impossible Mission to find out how many certain names this tablet actually has in the market. Some are: MID, ePad, APad, Maylong, iRobot, Superpad, etc. Mine came in a box with just the “MID” label on it, nothing more. It came with a USB adapter and a cell phone stylus which we adapted into a cheap gel-ink pen (see Stylus writing below). The included manual did not even correspond to the model at hand. Here is a picture of it.

MID Android Tablet with adapted stylus

MID Android 7 inchTablet with adapted stylus

For this tablet a USB/network was included and a keyboard dock/adapter was also available, as shown below. This last dock allows to work with the tablet as mini touchscreen notebook.

MID 7inch Tablet on a keyboard dock with a USB adapter

MID 7inch Tablet on a keyboard dock with a USB adapter

Technical specifications.

  • Model: MID m7206 #87
  • Chipset: WM 8650 (Wonder Media)
  • OS: Android 2.3.3, Kernel 2.6.35.7 based on Ubuntu, Build GRI40, non-root access
  • Screen: 7″ (6″ x 3-3/8″ or 153mm x 85mm), 16:9 format, 800×480 TFT LCD, Resistive single-touch
  • Front Webcam only
  • Internal Memory 256 Mb RAM, external included 4Gb, additional 32 Gb with MicroSD
  • Gravity sensor, to move the screen accoding to position
  • Google Apps: Android Market, Google Search, Gmail, Youtube
  • Other apps: Mail, Browser, File Explorer (MyPad), Camera, Music Player, Apk Manager, Clock, Calendar, eReader, News & Weather, QuikPik (photo picture viewer), Sound Recorder, Contacts, Settings, 3G Network Settings, Wi-Fi Settings.
  • It comes with a 3G CDMA/WCDMA cellular chipset, needs an external Cell USB adapter (which drains 60% of the battery!)
  • Includes a USB/CAT-5 adapter connected to a proprietary outlet
  • External plugs: Memory (TFT o MicroSD/SDHC), earphone stereo, power.
  • Other controls: Power On/Off, Menu, Volume, one front button which works as Back/Former app screen.
  • Two tiny speakers (barely heard with maximum volume), one mono microphone
  • Front screen has black border, case is plastic with aluminum fake color.
  • WiFi access, 802.11 b/g
  • Power: Li polymer battery of 7.4V, includes AC adapter (is the only way to charge it), claims to last 2.5 hours, but actually lasts about 1.2 hours.
  • Weight: approx 0.7 kg (about 1.4 lb).
  • Includes manual that is not up to date with what comes pre-installed
  • Cost: $79.99 (on eBay, US stock)

As a matter of fact I ordered it as Android 2.2 and eventually came with 2.3 and Android Market.  The only thing about this mini tablet computer we can be almost certain is that comes from a factory in the industrial town of Schenzen, near Qantzon, north of Hong Kong.  Having a cellular function behaves as such when first connect to Android Market, but since we already have an account it worked fine and allow us to download many important apps to demonstrate effective (or non-effective) teaching for science.

We have downloaded some important apps, like a whiteboard and handwriting recognition, to test its applicability for classes. Obviously that its limited power time takes a toll to make highly suitable for class unless one has an AC outlet nearby.

Testing Android apps to teach/learn Science

As mentioned above, the first three tools that come to mind for using it in the classroom: and office suite, a notetaking app, and eventually a handwriting recognition app. We first downloaded the Olive Office Suite, the Whiteboard from GreenGar and PenReader, respectively.

Another needed tool was one which will allow my screen to project on the classroom projector.

We first tested the Whiteboard for freehand writing our lectures, which also comes handy for student’s freehand notetaking.  Next is a picture of the Whiteboard app upon start.

Android Whiteboard app

Android Whiteboard app from GreenGar Studios

Once the pens are set, which are selected by the colored buttons on the bottom (or right side) of the screen and the width and opacity are controlled by the center sliders, you are ready to write on.  Once set you press the arrow at the bottom and you are on the writing screen, as shown below.

Whiteboard writing/drawing screen

Whiteboard writing/drawing screen

You then use the stylus to write on the notes for teaching or the notes from the instructor.  The example below introduces the definitions of the trigonometric functions on the Unit Circle.

Using the Whiteboard to teach Trigonometry

Using the Whiteboard to teach Trigonometry

Unit Circle trigonometry with the Android tablet

Unit Circle trigonometry with the Android tablet

It is easy to see the clarity and sharpness of the trace on the screen and how easy is to write on the screen. This is due to the fact that is a resistive touchscreen. It takes a few strokes to get familiar with it.

If the keyboard dock is added then it becomes an almost full-blown mini notebook as shown below in a spanish writing class using the Writer app of the Olive Office Suit.

Writing with keyboard dock and Olive Office Suite

Writing with keyboard dock and Olive Office Suite

This is handy to take more extensive notes on class. One problem tough: the keyboard drains the tablet battery.  So if there is an AC plug nearby, better to plug it (fortunately the AC adapter is very lightweight.

Stylus writing

One observation: in the pictures above you will see two styli, one green and the other black. The green one is available as a pen/stylus at your local office supplies store (it was intended for people with Palm PDAs). This one showed a little problem: it scratches the plastic cover of the tablet, and most plastic screen protectors.

The MID tablet comes with a small cell phone stylus, which we found barely scratches the screen protector (you really have to press hard to show a scratch). It was too small to work with, so we took a normal $1 gel ink pen, we took out the ink barrel and spring, and cut the tip off to accomodate the cell phone stylus inside. It nicely snapped into place. This is the stylus you see in the first picture and with the keyboard dock.  I would recommed to install a scratch proof screen protector, although the best I found is as half as expensive as the tablet itself.

Power to last

Perhaps a remedy to the short battery life (did we mention that more than half of the battery energy goes to the useless CDMA cell phone module?) will be to install a larger capacity Li-ion battery inside. This requires to find one that has the same voltage and current drain while having a larger Ampere-hour capacity, and that is equally slim and not larger than two-thirds of the length of the screen; the fact is the battery is on the back of the screen and stick to it with glue or a very slim velcro.

Projecting the lecture notes

It will be of little use to have a tablet in the classroom as a lecturer and not be able to project its work on the room’s projection screen or whiteboard. I found one available through the Market: MirrorOp (www.mirrorop.com).

MirrorOp requires a local WiFi wireless network and a pc connected to the same WiFi subnet to project the tablet screen into the room’s projector by using the pc as an intermediary.  I installed the receiver software into my regular classroom pc (Windows 7) and the sender software into my tablet.

At first the app gave several errors, among them connection and firmware errors. After updating the software on the tablet and udating Windows in my pc, everything seems to work.

I managed to send the tablet’s screen to the pc’s screen. The app on the tablet initiates by looking at receivers in the same Wifi subnet. Once the receiver is selected it shows two buttons: Start and Stop. Once you press Start the signal is send to the pc. On the pc side the app takes over the whole screen showing the local IP address of the pc and waits for connection.  Once the signal is sent, the tablet’s screen is shown fully on the pc’s screen.  See the pictures below.

MirrorOp on tablet and pc, pc's screen on top, tablet's on bottom

MirrorOp on tablet and pc, pc's screen on top, tablet's on bottom

As can be clearly seen, the images are identical, by the single exception of the screen format.  Tablet is 16:9 while the pc is slightly different (11:6.5). Image on the pc is as sharp as the original from the tablet.

Everything seems fine, except the mirror app runs in the background and the whiteboard app on top, both of them consuming memory and cpu performance. This makes the tablet to run a lot slower when painting the stylus’s strokes on the screen of the app, as compared to using the tablet alone.  For a lecturer this may be a problem since it makes the presentation slow. Perhaps the results may be better in a better performing Android tablet, as the Viewsonic 7e available to us.

The next test will consist on sending the mirror signal on the pc to a projector, both wired and wireless.  For wireless projection we have a Warpia USB wireless adapter, which uses a different signal spectrum than WiFi.

Android Science Teaching & Learning Apps

This is topic that is becoming large to fit as suptopic here, so I will dedicate a special page to it. Keep coming back.

—————————— LAST UPDATE —————————————————–

Yes, it looks like wired news, and it is.

This is to let you know the Little Android Tablet that could, is not working. The machine starts but the touch part of the screen is not responding. When I have time I will disassemble it and check what is wrong. Perhaps one of the sleeve connectors of the touch screen module is not making a good contact. We’ll see.

Ciao!

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