Toshiba is marketing its Thrive tablet as a tool for education.

New tablets that aim to challenge the iPad, software for managing mobile learning devices, and innovations in student response systems, interactive whiteboards, and other teaching tools are among the latest developments in instructional technology for the new school year. Here’s an overview of some of these recent developments.

Mobile learning tools

With mobile learning taking off in schools, a number of ed-tech companies have released products that aim to make it easier to deploy and manage a mobile learning initiative.

Apple’s iPad might have set the standard for tablet computers—and, as we recently reported, some 400 school systems are rolling out iPad programs this fall—but companies such as Toshiba and Fujitsu are trying to cut into Apple’s market share with new tablets they’re touting for education. Among the advantages of these products is their ability to play Flash video, the companies say.

The Toshiba Thrive is a 10-inch, Android-based tablet that includes a front and back camera, so educators can use it for video conferencing. The Thrive includes both a full and mini USB slot, as well as an SD card slot for transferring files. It also comes with its own file management software to facilitate this, as well as a print function.

One feature that could be attractive for students is the ability to customize the tablet’s back plate, with colors including silver, dark blue, green apple, raspberry, and lavender. Another advantage over the iPad, Toshiba said, is that users can replace the battery themselves, instead of having to ship the device back to the manufacturer for a new battery. An eight-gigabyte version sells for $399, while a 16GB version costs $429 and a 32GB model costs $499.

Fujitsu, which specializes in pen and touch computing, argues that the iPad more useful for consuming information than for creating or collaborating. Fujitsu’s Q550 tablet runs Windows 7 on an Intel Atom processor and contains built-in security, a smart card slot, and a USB slot. At $729 for a 30GB model, it’s more expensive than other tablets, but Fujitsu also sells 10, 12, and 13-inch “convertibles”—mobile devices that can convert from a netbook to a tablet form factor—with a hand strap on the back for easy writing in tablet mode.

Brainchild’s Kineo, a tablet designed specifically for elementary students, was introduced earlier this year and already is being used in 25 districts across 15 states, said Brainchild President Jeff Cameron. The Kineo comes with Brainchild’s software for practicing math and reading skills and is helping schools meet AYP, Cameron said.

Another mobile learning solution designed specifically for schools is the KUNO, from uWriteTouch. This 10.1-inch, Android-based tablet features 36GB of Flash memory (with a 4GB hard drive) and a USB slot. The KUNO’s management platform gives ed-tech leaders the ability to control all KUNO devices within the district, and educators can push apps and curriculum tools directly to the tablet.

Mobile device management

The ability to manage the devices, as schools can do easily with the KUNO, is important for any mobile learning initiative to succeed … and several companies have developed solutions that can be used with other types of mobile learning devices, too—including devices that students bring from home.

For example, Absolute Software has released an add-on service to its Absolute Manage product, which enables ed-tech directors to manage PC or Apple devices from a single console using a set of simple, automated processes. The Mobile Device Management (MDM) add-on integrates with Apple’s iOS 4 platform, allowing users to wirelessly configure, query, and even wipe or lock Apple mobile devices such as iPhones or iPads.

AirWatch’s MDM solutions, meanwhile, enable ed-tech leaders to manage a wide range of mobile devices, including Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Windows 7 devices. AirWatch just released what it calls the industry’s first HTML5-based MDM platform, making its management console even more accessible from any web-connected device, regardless of the platform or operating system, the company says. Its platform fully supports all major browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.