Technology - Students upwardly mobile with iPads

1st November 2013 at 00:00
Tablets allow for freedom and flexible learning, study finds

Students become more creative and independent when given their own tablet computer, according to a study on the use of mobile technology in Edinburgh schools.

The research appears to bolster the case for moving away from fixed computers and dedicated information communications technology rooms towards providing all students with a tablet or mini-laptop for use throughout school and at home, known as "1:1 mobile learning".

Students showed more enthusiasm for school after mobile digital devices were introduced - mostly in 2012-13 - in two primaries and two secondaries in Edinburgh, according to University of Hull researchers Kevin Burden and Trevor Male.

Students had already been more likely to use mobile technology than school ICT even before it was sanctioned: more students regularly used mobile devices such as smartphones in school (35 per cent) than school computers (25 per cent). But their use of technology in school "increased significantly" during the 1:1 projects at Sciennes and Broomhouse primary schools and Forrester and Gracemount high schools, the research states.

The allocation of personal tablets or mini-laptops "alleviates many of the problems and complaints which teachers have traditionally made about using fixed technologies in the standard IT laboratory", Dr Burden and Dr Male write.

"There is evidence that teachers are shifting their practices in ways which might prove to be very significant," the report states. "Personal access to the internet enables teachers to set more authentic and realistic tasks for students," it adds.

Student autonomy was "an immediate benefit", particularly at Sciennes Primary, where children were given considerable freedom to personalise iPads.

Parents were also enthusiastic, with many buying tablets for their children on the strength of the study. One Sciennes parent said: "It has definitely helped him to be more independent; his creative writing is now that of a child way beyond his years as he is not held back by the slowness of pencil and paper."

But problems were identified: teachers found it difficult to support simultaneous use of different types of devices, so the report recommends that schools choose only one.

Questions were also raised about the ability of Glow, the digital network for Scottish schools, to support the technology. And there is growing concern among parents - although less so among teachers - about internet addiction and overuse of games.

Edinburgh already has about 6,500 iPads in its schools to share among the city's 44,000 students. The council has promised to match-fund any money that secondary schools put towards providing entire year groups with iPads over the next two years.

"We are quite convinced that it's the way forward," said senior education manager Karen Prophet. "What's been fascinating is that this technology has not been stolen or damaged, because young people value it."

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland said that, given that tablets were expensive and required a reliable broadband connection, it would be a long time before each student in Scotland could be equipped with one.

However, he said the fact that "not everybody can get (one)" was not an excuse to delay their introduction: it was simply a case of being "sensible" in targeting the initiative. He suggested that tablets might be used to help narrow the attainment gap in Scotland, with struggling students given them first.

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