I’ve now carried out a few reviews using the tablets and have started to settle into a routine.
There was some initial preparation work to be done. The office software on the tablet has significantly lower level of support for table features and some of our forms used merged cells quite heavily.
Ideally it’s been nice to find an online solution rather than adapting paper forms, but there are so many rules and regulations about what has to be on them that it’s almost impossible. Something as straightforward as electronic signatures for example are not yet accepted for contract paperwork – indeed we recently got pulled for having two signatures on the same document in a different colour pen, and at one point within the past few months there was still debate among our partners about whether having learners type rather than handwrite their review comments was adequately ‘authentic’.
This cultural barriers will need to change before the tablets become entirely as useful as their potential, but it’s a slow, slow cultural process.
So we’ve adapted the paper layout with as few changes as possible for now.
As will our ‘old’ method we fill in as much of the plain factual information beforehand and talk through it with the learner and employer on the day. I’ve then been saving this partially completed review document to DropBox and using the ‘Favourite’ function to make sure it’s synced offline so will still be accessible in case of loss of connectivity.
Out at the workplace I run through the factual stuff, chat with the learner and employer to add any outstanding information then hand round the tablet for the learner and employer to make their comments.
The learners were comfortable with the device fairly quickly while the employers have been a bit more tentative and tend to take some getting used to the onscreen keyboard, even though it’s fairly large on the 10inch tablets. Interestingly the audio or vibrate feedback seems to make a noticeable difference in accuracy and confidence, albeit at the cost of irritating the life out of everyone else in the room — for some reason it seems to be more noticeable than ‘normal’ keyboard clicking. Perhaps people just aren’t as used to it!
I then collect signatures – normally I’ve taken blank signing sheets with me rather than print out the whole thing on site which usually involved swapping of USB sticks or similar.
Is it better? Comparing to handwriting yes by a country mile – compared to taking a netbook, not so much. The Dropbox syncing does saving faffing about with storage (but could equally run on a netbook). On the other hand it’s physically easier to tout about and with 3G you’d have always on connectivity (we haven’t yet gone for that option although I sometimes tether it to my phone).
So, useful, but not yet the ‘killer app’ that scores over a low cost netbook.
I’ve also started doing using them for observing learners for their NVQ assessments in the workplace and there are a few extra advantages there which I’ll talk about in the next post.