14 October 2013

New qualitative research report on tablet use in UK schools

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Tablets for Schools, a UK campaign organisation that seeks to “prove the categorical case of tablets in schools”, has just published its second qualitative research report.

“The report summarises findings from an evaluation study that is looking at the feasibility and educational impact of giving one-to-one Tablets to every child in school. Research for this stage was carried out between September 2012 and April 2013.

The research included an evaluation of four secondary schools that had chosen to give pupils one-to-one Tablets in September 2011, two schools that had introduced Tablets in autumn 2012, and three schools that were given Tablets by Tablets for Schools for Year 7s between 2012 and 2013. Methodology included qualitative and quantitative research. Results suggest that long-term use of the Tablet has a profound effect on pedagogy, and that pupils benefit from having access to content both at school and at home.

Pupils appear to have greater engagement with learning, collaboration with peers increases, and teachers can monitor individual progress effectively. There are some concerns about pupil distraction and managing time effectively. It is clear that schools need time to adjust to the introduction of one-to-one devices, and that the functions of the Tablet need to be understood by teachers, together with the changes to pedagogy that are brought about by an increase in independent learning. Strong leadership helps this process. Infrastructure, insurance or self-insuring, and protection for the devices need to be considered before introduction takes place, and access to appropriate content is key to using the devices effectively. For schools considering the introduction of one-to-one Tablets, learning from schools that have undergone this journey is highly beneficial.”

The Tablets for Schools team has summarised the key research findings below.

The benefits

  • Pedagogy: Tablets enhanced pedagogy by enabling teachers to adapt their teaching style to suit the needs of individual students, and allowed for innovative ways to learn. This was particularly beneficial for special needs students.
  • Engagement: Tablets improved student, teacher and parent engagement with learning. In particular, parents engaged more with the school and with their child’s education… “Somehow that engagement [learning composition] was much more intense with the tablet, and they were much more motivated and engaged, and worked quicker. The task didn’t feel like it was work.” – Teacher, Dixons City Academy.
  • Independent Learning and Collaboration: Tablets were found to foster both independent learning, and collaboration with teachers and other students.

Dealing with issues surrounding tablet use

  • Infrastructure. Infrastructure (including security) is a concern and one of the keys to successful implementation. Participants indicated the limits of their expertise, for example, schools are not experts in procurement so how can they compare the different costs of Wi-Fi?
  • Sourcing Educational Content. Finding reliable resources (particularly for maths) is an issue. However, teachers continued to be creative in terms of both customising content, and creating new content for teaching purposes (including multimedia tutorials) “…on the whole teachers like to create their own content because they know the content…it’s much more difficult to teach without your own notes…” Deputy Principal, Wallace High School
  • Students Being Distracted: Observation sessions noted that students multi-tasked during lessons (with messaging apps, etc). Though when asked what they did on their iPads during learning sessions, 95% said they focussed on work”. The concept of “distractibility” is unclear. For example, some students claimed music helped them concentrate, others were unable to multitask, and it was also found that a large number of the 5% of students who were “distracted” during lessons were actually “also” doing work. However, the key is to have clear rules, effective classroom management, and educating students in using tablets responsibly.
  • Teachers being Constantly Available: One of the key benefits for students was near-constant access to teachers. Teachers were comfortable setting their own boundaries around the resulting increased communication. One teacher pointed out that answering a student’s email on Sunday afternoon could save “significant amounts of time” on Monday morning.
  • Training and Preparation: There was a need for strong leadership, and the adoption of initiatives such as “device champions” and “parental consultation evenings” were identified as beneficial for implementation. Adequate preparation (such as training for both parents and teachers) was also essential.

A conference is planned on Monday 9th December in London, where attendees can gain practical experience of successfully implementing tablets from some of their research schools.

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