RM Slate – a report after a trial loan period

RM Slate- report on use during two week loan

The RM Slate is a Windows 7 Pro tablet available from Research Machines for around £400. Simon Williams from RM kindly arranged via twitter to loan me one for a fortnight to see if it would help any of my students.  On arrival, the Slate was set up with a basic Windows 7 Pro layout, no MS Office for example.  Rather than install a multitude of programmes that would have to be removed afterwards when reinstalling the disc image, I promptly added the following portable tools:

MyStudyBar – available from JISC RSC NE is a floating menu with access to more accessible versions of mainstream software such as mind mapping and accessibility tools such as voice recognition and magnification.

Students with accessibility problems including dyslexia find this portable toolbar useful and the beauty is that it can be used on any machine straight from a USB Flash Drive which is also where they store their documents etc. In use the Slate was ideal for this as the touchscreen meant students could access the various programmes quickly and could start work immediately.

The same organisation also provides the Access Apps toolbar which has lots of different programmes, all portable versions of popular things such as Firefox, Thunderbird email and so on. So with these two programmes we had the majority of software that we could possibly need for reviewing the Slate in use by students.

Daily use:

Students were given an introduction to the operation of the Slate and the various programmes on the portable toolbars. Open Office was one of them which meant they could use word processing almost from the start as it is similar to Word anyway.

Students reacted very well to the Slate. They found it easy to start, find things and operate the various functions as well as the programmes. The touchscreen capability was very popular as ‘it’s just like my phone’ and enabled them to work much more efficiently as they already knew the basic gestures etc.

Students were happy changing screen backgrounds, brightness and other graphic features to enable them to ‘see’ the words onscreen more clearly.

Those with ‘white paper blindness’ or Meares-Irlen Syndrome also found the Slate easier on their eyes. They also used a small eBook reader (Sony 500) which had the facility to enlarge text but those affected said they preferred the Slate as they could set things the way they wanted and these individualised settings could be saved if necessary by the use of different user accounts. The basic changes needed for these included different coloured backgrounds or font colours.

Simple but effective for their ability to read without words appearing to jump off the page for example.

I didn’t have time to set up a dozen user accounts so simply had Student 1 (M-I Syndrome) and Student 2 (Learning Difficulties including AHDH) and finally Student 3 was a simple ‘vanilla’ desktop and set of programmes to engage a couple of S1 boys who did no work or were easily distracted or disruptive in class.

Engaging disruptive students.

Basically we used the Slate as a reward for good behaviour or effort during lessons. I had two boys (one from overseas who was Low level in English ) and a boy whose behavioural problems were severe for the most part. When allowed to use the Slate for writing stories or mind mapping their plot both found it easy to use, and were thoroughly engaged in their work. Indeed I got more writing out of them in the two week trial than in the previous month! Another student with AHDH was reduced to silence and a hard work ethic when allowed exclusive use of the Slate in our lessons. Whether this was more to do with the fact that they were using familiar technology or that we were given a bit of ‘oneupmanship’ over their peers is debateable.

Whatever; it engaged them all and they produced some excellent work showing their actual rather than assumed potential to the Support for Learning Assistant and this teacher for the first time in a long time. It is significant that all three tended to be ‘kinaesthetic’ (physical/hands on) learners rather than visual or auditory. Although there was a lot of visual resources used on the Slates such as videos etc the act of using them, downloading, playing etc meant the boys were interested and anxious to go through the resources, lesson handouts on screen etc so they could keep up or try to get to extension tasks before their peers which was most unusual J

Many of the other students from S1 to S6 were allowed to use the Slate in lessons for typing notes, creating mind maps or revision harts for their peers. It was also used to play music and videos via the classroom projector. The art programmes also got a good workout which helped calm many students down as they quietly waited for their turn to display their talents on the big screen!

Main strengths:

Increased effort by challenging students and better learning for both these boys and those students with various Learning Needs such as M-I Syndrome.

Better learning? I like to think so as the boys keep asking me to buy a Slate! Their writing pieces were longer and better presented, and the reading of books (quietly and aloud to the class) was certainly much better during the trial period. Such a small sample cannot be used to say the Slate improves education/learning but in these individual cases for this short period it certainly did.

Areas for improvement:

The touchscreen did freeze on several occasions and boys being the impatient creatures that they are, some got frustrated on occasion. By the end though they had learned to wait with bated breath when required….

The Slate screen obviously got VERY grubby after each lesson and needed a thorough wiping/cleaning before we started the next one. I issued cleaning wipes and hand-gel to the students to clean their hands with which helped reduce the fingerprint problem.

The weight was a problem for the S1/2 students as their hands were usually too small to support the whole thing for any length of time. I used a laptop cooling tray to rest the Slate on at an angle that suited the students.

We also used two Bluetooth keyboards for the longer writing pieces ( Mini Di Novo and a Microsoft model) which the students preferred as their fingers got sore when trying to use the onscreen keyboard.

Overall impressions:

iPad2 or RM Slate? For ease of use and familiarity for students with the various programmes etc the Slate is much better and actually cheaper (£389) with a 32GB Flash Drive compared to the iPad2 (32GB model). Having dedicated USB/video ports and wireless etc also meant the Slate was easy to set up, update and use in the classroom without needing a 3G data plan for example. Ease of use out of the box and familiarity are the key points here.

That said, of course the iPad2 is a possible game changer here which is why I’ve brought one to trial in my classroom after the holidays. It is, however, a personal purchase so I’ll only trial it. For day to day use by different students and so forth methinks it might be too delicate for the classroom unlike the Slate which feels and looks much more robust. 😎

Personal opinion:

A couple of these in a classroom would be great for use by designated students with either Learning Needs or behavioural problems including AHDH. They would also be great if the teacher had OneNote or EverNote for example to collect and collate evidence of learning as she/he took the class. You could take videos of the students working, audio podcasts they do on topics, film talks, collect written work in ePortfolios and make notes on individual learning, behavioural etc incidents.

I have begun asking various people for grants, a portion of their lottery winnings etc to try and get them for my class!

Grateful thanks to Simon Williams of RM and Sue Duester (also RM) who organised the loan and delivery so well. Thank you both. I learnt a lot and it gave me so many ideas for future learning possibilities for my students.

 

 

 

2 comments

  1. Good review overall highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the product. I would add two things in my experience of the RM Slate.

    I can’t agree with you on the build quality of it. I found it to be good but not great, the iPad on the other hand has a great in hand feel and seems very sturdy. Both the iPad and iPad 2 I feel have this property. I have found it to creek from time to time when in use whereas the iPad is solid, no noise or no creeks.

    I think the next issue with the slate is that the interface/OS is standard Windows. This became an issue when typing a lot on the keyboard as you noted this slowed down/froze. I feel this is a combination of the processor used (Intel Atom) and the power being demanded by the operating system, it’s surprising how much processor power typing requires. The interface is also designed for a mouse rather than a finger which is significantly larger, I found in use trying to close a Window can be difficult as it’s right against the bezel which gets in the way. These issues aren’t so much of a worry on other tablets namely due to the fact they have to bezel that is raised against the screen, most other tablets also use an interface dedicated to touch rather than mouse which again is an expected weakness in the Windows operating system.

    Overall it’s a good attempt at a tablet for education although I feel a “cooler” device will be required to engage with some students. Also a device or interface dedicated to education that simplifies use and accommodates the touch interface would also be required.

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