Tablets are taken, but who will swallow the bill?

12th October 2012 at 01:00
iPad trial sees `enormous' increase in use of technology and understanding

Tablet computers may offer new ways of learning that fire up pupils and parents as well as enhancing the personalisation and choice to which Curriculum for Excellence aspires, a study shows.

Parents, however, are concerned that the benefits may be diluted by asking families to foot the bill.

The research, commissioned by Education Scotland, tracked classes in five primaries and three secondaries across six local authorities. In seven schools, each pupil involved had an iPad, and in six they were able to take the iPads home.

There were about 365 iPads issued in total, leading to an "enormous" increase in the use of technology on a daily basis in school: from 10 per cent of pupils beforehand to 81 per cent during the study.

Almost all pupils (94 per cent) said the iPads helped them understand difficult ideas, while 92 per cent said they learned more and just under 100 per cent thought lessons were more fun.

But 45 per cent still felt they were not allowed to use them as much as they would like.

The most common use at home was for completing homework (77 per cent) whereas only 64 per cent used them for leisure. Some 84 per cent of parents said their children were more likely to complete homework if using an iPad.

"Parents did not see the mobile device as a learning device at the start of the initiative but they changed their views by the end," said research team leader Kevin Burden, of the University of Hull, who spoke at a "learning through technology" event in Glasgow this week.

The director of postgraduate professional development told TESS he had been "struck by the level of parental engagement - parents seem genuinely enthused". He said 51 per cent of parents were now prepared to buy a personal device.

The use of personal devices such as iPads "maps very well" against Curriculum for Excellence, Mr Burden added, whereas in England "they are more hamstrung by the national curriculum", which does not give the same prominence to skills and competencies.

Mr Burden stressed the independence of his research, although he acknowledged that Apple had helped train school staff involved in the project.

Projects took place over three to six months earlier this year. A P5 class of 32 at Sciennes Primary in Edinburgh was involved, with each pupil getting an iPad to use in and out of school.

Teacher Fiona Barker said that, at first, iPads were a means of doing standard lessons in different ways.

Then pupils started exploring apps: "Personalisation and choice are not easy with 30 children, but with the iPads it became very easy."

The tablets drove creative projects - for example, by allowing children to explore old road-safety videos, then make their own for younger pupils in the school.

The only downside was that at home one or two children only used their iPads for games, although that was resolved by removing certain apps.

Sciennes Primary depute head Lucy Gallagher said the ideal scenario would be for all pupils to have their own device from P5.

Tina Woolnough, of the National Parent Forum, believes it likely that all pupils will use handheld devices in the near future, but is concerned that this will be "probably at parental expense if local authorities can get away with it".

A report on the project will be published by Education Scotland in the coming weeks.

Device dilemma

Scottish educators have been raising concerns on Twitter and other forums recently that the Scottish government favours a national "bring your own device" approach - a policy that they fear would create technical compatibility difficulties and exclude some pupils. A government spokesman said: "Local authorities are responsible for schools infrastructure; this includes provision of IT equipment such as mobile devices. So in effect, at present, there is no overall national policy of the kind mentioned in the Twitter trail."

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