Once it was `wow', now it's `whatever'

8th August 2014 at 01:00
Study finds that pupils' interest in tablet computers is waning

The novelty value of the tablet computer may no longer be enough to hold pupils' interest in lessons, according to research that shows teenagers are becoming indifferent to the devices.

A survey conducted by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) reveals that although primary-school pupils are still in thrall to the wizardry of tablet technology, their older peers are showing signs of boredom.

The results come at a time when many schools are investing heavily in tablet computers, regarding them as a way to transform student engagement. But according to the BESA study, teachers are reporting that secondary students no longer see the devices as "new, bold or inherently interesting".

The proportion of teachers who believe their students find tablets "interesting" has slumped by more than 10 per cent in a year, as the technology becomes part of everyday life.

Researchers questioned more than 600 schools to get a sense of how much they are investing in the devices. The study reveals that there are more than 440,000 tablets in UK schools today, with that figure likely to double by 2016.

But Caroline Wright, director of the BESA, said that as the number of tablets had risen, interest among students had fallen. "When we look at the data from secondary schools, just 78 per cent of teachers indicate that pupils have at least some interest in tablets," she said.

"What is surprising is that this is a decrease from the 2012 data, where 89 per cent of teachers said the students were interested. Once again, this is highly indicative of a product adoption life cycle. Students no longer see tablets as something new, bold or inherently interesting, but something commonplace in their digital world."

The number of schools offering personal devices to all students is growing and tablets are beginning to outstrip laptops and PCs in sales to educational institutions.

Such is the belief in the power of tablets to transform education that charities have been set up - Tablets for Schools, for example - to push for a wholesale adoption of the technology in classrooms across the country.

In an interview with TES in May, Andrew Harrison, the chief executive of retailer Carphone Warehouse who set up Tablets for Schools, said it was only a matter of time until the UK government introduced an initiative to get a tablet into the hands of every pupil.

Other governments do not appear to have lost interest in tablet computers either: the US is aiming to provide one-to-one access for each of its students by 2016; Singapore, Turkey and Jamaica have similar targets. The Indian government is subsidising a scheme to give pupils $20 (pound;11) tablet computers, in a bid to save on supplies such as textbooks.

Miles Berry, principal lecturer in computing education at the University of Roehampton in London and board member of UK ICT subject association Naace, said that although tablets had an increasing role to play in schools, it was to be expected that they would lose their "wow" factor.

"We shouldn't be surprised that replacing one medium for content and exercises with another produced no more than a short-term `wow'," Mr Berry said. "Tablets, as one example of one-to-one access to digital technology, really come into their own when used as a platform to support independent learning and for creativity and communication, as we see in the best primary school practice."

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