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How Many Back-To-School Gadgets Does Your Child Need?

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August 5, 2014 1:18 p.m.

How Many Back To School Gadgets Does Your Child Need?


Jim Barry, tech expert, Consumer Electronics Association.

Emil Ahangarzadeah, director of digital solutions, San Diego County Office of Education.

Related Story: How Many Back-To-School Gadgets Does Your Child Need?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The National Retail Federation says overall, family still spend most back to school budgets on clothes, but it does not feel that way in the electronics store. The amount of high-tech gadgetry aimed at helping kids learn better and play better seems to increase every year. And parents are also known to use back-to-school sales to upgrade their own electronic inventory. Joining me to discuss the latest gadgets on sale and to sort through will help students the most at school are my guests. Jim Barry is a Tech Expert with the Nonprofit Consumer Electronics Association. Welcome back, it is good to see you.

JIM BARRY: It's nice to be back, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Emil Ahangarzadeah is Director of Digital Solutions at San Diego County Office of Education. It is good to see you as well.

EMIL AHANGARZADEAH: Good to see you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jim, what high-tech item do you expect students want most this school year?

JIM BARRY: There are a couple of things that they are already buying a lot of. One of the biggest questions I get is, a tablet, computer, iPad, or laptop? That is an interesting choice, because tablets have been so successful. A lot of people are surprised it has only been four years since the iPad was introduced. It seems like it has been around forever. But I always told folks that I got a lot of this at the actuation time as well, kids going off to school, should I get him or her a laptop or tablet? You really need a laptop for school work. You need it for a couple of reasons, for the keyboard, for inputs and outputs you do not necessarily have on a tablet and for the memory and power, depending what you are doing. If you're doing real scientific work in school you need a more serious computer. The great news for parents who are buying these, prices are so much lower than they were when some of us bought for our kids going off to school. As recently as six years ago, when one of my daughters went off to college and we were hauling huge desktop computers ñ why are they always on the fourth floor of the dorm, up the stairs and installing those? Now, none of that anymore, and almost all of the schools are wired and wireless, so more of this stuff is being used.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about phones, anything trending among teenagers and college students?

JIM BARRY: They have them in their hands all of the time, speaking from personal expense of my house. There are a couple of interesting things happening. Smart phones are now well over half, three quarters of all phones being purchased. The other thing is, they are getting bigger rather than smaller. The 5 to 6 inch screens, some people call them fablets, big phone, small tablet. The thing that was very surprising, about two years ago Samsung and LG brought those out, and they have sold like hotcakes. I see Emil has one. That's actually leaning towards what Apple, whenever they reintroduce the iPhone six, that will be bigger as well because of the success of these other ones.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That comes out in fall, so that is supposed to have a bigger screen?

JIM BARRY: It will be a bigger screen, because bigger screens have been successful. Think of what students and kids use these four. You can talk on them, but texting, watching videos, schoolwork, all of that kind of stuff that is more of a challenge for those of us of a certain age, speaking for myself, looking at those screens. I can read a book on this, I can do all of the things and still put it in my pocket.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How does San Diego County Education approach the use of technology in the classrooms? What do kids start out with in the early grades?

EMIL AHANGARZADEAH: They tend to start out with smaller tablets. Often the iPad is still a pretty popular device. But there are more more brands of tablets coming online, specifically geared for education. Jim has a really interesting one from a company called Vtech, that something we can certainly discuss later on. A company called Amplify is putting out specific tablets that have only educational applications on them. As students tend to get into the middle school age, and certainly into high school, we see them actually transitioning from the tablet world, because the tablet is such a simple device, there are no buttons. But as they grow older, we see the use of laptops more often, because they need the power and the computer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much education is on my now in San Diego? Tests, homework, does it vary from school to school?

EMIL AHANGARZADEAH: It certainly does, I recall a few years ago, I read a statistic that was actually put out by the FCC that suggested that some 75% of educators across the country are assigning work that requires the use of the internet. We predict that over the next five or six years, a maturity of learning is going to take place. Both in the classroom and online, I think that is one of the things for parents and educators to note, there is a fear of the online world taking over, what will we do with teachers and classrooms? But there is a format of learning called blended learning, which is a concerted and targeted way of using the online platforms in the world wide net in concert with what is happening in the classroom. You get the best of both worlds.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jim, tell us a little bit more about the tablets.

JIM BARRY: Vtech is a company a lot of people with small children will be familiar with. They make a lot, like Fisher-Price. Vtech makes electronics, they have a tablet that's about seventy dollars, there's actually a smart watch the goes with it too for little kids. This is designed for children 3 to 6 years old. It gets them into the tablet world, it is parent controlled, it uses Wi-Fi but only gets you to the places that you want them, it has a lot of games and a lot of educational stuff as well. It does two things, it really gets them into technology, and it also frees up mom or dad's iPad, Kindle, or other tablet, which is probably going to be quite a bit more expensive than this. It does both of those, but there's a lot more of those. The other thing about tablets, prices have come a lot down. Yet the android operating ones from Kindle and other companies. You have Windows, Dell, and those are usually under $200. Even the iPads now start at a little over $200 for the mini. Your choices in operating systems, screen sizes and price range.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There is big interest in applications for school the season. Tell us about the popular apps.

JIM BARRY: Emil could probably tell more about these, but it's really age and grade specific. You have everything from flash card types all the way up to really specific things for scientific courses and that kind of stuff. You have apps, as Emil mentioned, tablets and smart phones are either educational or entertainment, they are really not for industrial work as we said. That is when you need a laptop or desktop. Laptops have really stolen a march from desktops, almost no one buys desktops for the stuff anymore. There are plenty of applications depending on your particular subject.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I was looking at some apps where you can rent textbooks. You don't have to get a real textbook anymore. You can have a virtual textbook, you have an organizer, my schoolwork, my homework, it basically organizes all of your schoolwork and classes. It's an amazing thing.

EMIL AHANGARZADEAH: Absolutely, I can tell you that industry is only growing. It is merely driven by publishers themselves, because they are noting that are have the educator does not need all fifteen chapters of this particular textbook, so why don't we put out a chapter or five or six chapters and have the educator customize learning curriculum. One of the hottest apps that I'm interested in is called TouchCast. It's a remarkable application design for the iPad, but there is a desktop application as well. It utilizes the camera of the iPad to record standard video, that in addition to recording video you can only edit the video, you can also add additional virtual applications on top of the video. For example, you can have someone talking about a particular country, and then you can add a pop-up of the map of that particular country, or you can add an additional YouTube video that gets embedded right into the video player the student seeing it on. It allows the student to be able to develop a much more interactive enriched presentation, as opposed what they're used to doing, which is turning on the camera and talking about a particular subject. It is free, and you don't have to have a iPad to use it, because there's a desktop version of it. If you're an educator and you haven't used TouchCast, now's the time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It can't be all work and no play for kids of all ages. What are some of the big things for gamers and music lovers?

EMIL AHANGARZADEAH: First of a say, I've seen TouchCast, and it's super. It has a lot of applications as an application. There's a lot you can do with it. For kids, going up to school, or gamers, we have the newest games platforms that came out last Christmas being the Xbox One and the new Sony PlayStation 4. There is a been doing really well, especially considering that the game market has changed to a lot more people using them on smart phones or tablets. But for music, just about everyone, certainly students going off to school will have music on the smart phone or tablet. One of the hottest areas are wireless bluetooth speakers. Some are waterproof which can be good in some dorm rooms I have been in over the years. Or you could use them out by the pool. Wireless technologies so good after the last couple of years and there are some people with music on their handheld devices. You can put one of those in the dorm. One is designed to fit in your cupholder in your vehicle. There's a lot happening with music as it expands, and people can listen to it just about anywhere.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I hear that you want to tell us about a magic pen.

EMIL AHANGARZADEAH: This is one of these devices, first I have to tell you it has been around for quite some time. I was showing it to Jim earlier, this thing has been around for a while. It is called the live scribe pen. It has so many things to it, you can see it because you're right in front of me, but to describe it, looks like a regular pen. But underneath the tip of the pan is a video camera, and the center of the pan is actually a microphone. Here's what happens. The student is sitting in class and the teacher is lecturing, the student is writing notes in the notebook, but the camera is recording what it is he is writing, and simultaneously pushing up his notes up to the web, so he has notes immediately posted on his private page or shared page. That is not where the real magic is. The real magic is, now the student later at home, maybe he wrote down something he can't remember why he wrote that down, he simply takes his pen and touch is the note on his notepaper, and here's the educator or teacher saying what she was saying while he was taking a note. It's a wonderful way to keep track of your notetaking skills. Likely, I slowly but surely lost my penmanship as I've been typing more. This is a good way to bring technology and old-fashioned notetaking into play at the same time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I can hardly believe it, rare most out of time. I want to end this by talking about costs. Jim, you have been optimistic and saying that many costs, things that used to cost a fortune to provide, are going down.

JIM BARRY: It's absolutely true, and the devices, the prices, and you think about computers for instance, I was mentioning carrying big desktop computers up the stairs and dormitories and stuff, not so long ago, those cost a couple of thousand dollars. Now they are well under $500 for a wireless laptop computer you can use anywhere. This is have come way down, and you've mentioned the live scribe pen, it's $100-$200 for really events once. We think that the way this technology has advanced and look at the prices now as compared to a few years ago, it is remarkable.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm out of time. Thank you both very much.