For any school, the decision to invest in tablet technology can be a daunting prospect. With so many devices available, how can you be sure you are investing in something that is suitable for your teachers’ and students’ needs? How do you know which tablet will support the schools’ learning and teaching goals? Nik Tuson, Managing Director at LearnPad shares his advice for successful investment and a seamless transition
A clear vision
First things first… before you even start considering your options, step back and consider the bigger picture. What are your objectives for the investment? How do you envisage using the devices? Creating a vision is important, and sharing it with all stakeholders is too. It could be that you’re looking to invest in tablets to support the development of 21st Century skills, or it could be a financial reason – to reduce your school’s IT costs perhaps?
Either way, your required functionality will be different, and there may only be one particular tablet that fits the bill. Ultimately, the device you choose should meet your schools’ learning goals and needs; it should also align with your curriculum and management style, and fit your budget.
Enhance, support and simplify
It might sound obvious, but always ensure the technology you’re investing in enhances, supports and simplifies teaching and learning for your school. Is it going to be effective in your schools’ learning environment? There’s no use investing in something that is aesthetically pleasing, but completely useless with regards to offering appropriate, high-quality learning content. Bear in mind, some tablet devices provide more ‘edutainment’, which is great fun, but it’s not always curriculum aligned so could be ineffective!
Research has indicated that the need to purchase, install and manage new apps is cited by many schools as a significant barrier to the adoption of tablets (BESA, Tablets and Apps in School). All is not lost. Educationally aligned suppliers will work with publishers to provide content that is pre-installed on the device and supports the curriculum. Even so, tablets should be easily networkable to enable you to use pre-existing or purchased content.
The significance of content and tools
You may have noticed that so far I have focused on the software: content and tools, rather than the hardware. The reason for this is that to a certain extent, a tablet is a tablet, although some are more expensive than others. When considering implementing tablets in the classroom, access to available learning content and classroom management tools is key. Classroom management tools for tablets provide teachers with an intuitive and effective way of controlling their students’ devices, supervising lessons and activities, and enabling differentiation of learning.
For teachers who are used to standing in front of their students and directing instruction at the whole class, the idea of mobile devices can be a little daunting and lead them to feel like they aren’t necessarily supporting each individual child’s learning. Classroom management tools enable teachers to monitor each student’s tablet display and in turn, personalise their learning.
In choosing the most appropriate tablet solution, it is also important to facilitate that shift in teaching, from whole class to personalised one-to-one learning, which enables teachers to set work at a different pace and level for each individual student, depending on their specific needs and ability. This is one of the best things about tablets in the classroom; teachers can have the ability to create different content for everyone – from the shy child in the corner who prefers providing his answers anonymously, to the student who likes learning visually.
With ever-shrinking budgets, schools can’t afford to overlook the possibility of introducing ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) initiatives; a noteworthy buzz phrase. BESA’s research shows a willingness to consider this option, with parents covering the cost of the technology. However, it’s not always quite that simple and any schools considering it must be aware of the risks.
Firstly, your IT department will usually need to pre-approve devices to ensure they will connect to the network. This can create a barrier for a streamlined process; for example, will all tablet brands pass the approval stage? What if a device doesn’t meet the security measures that are in place (software to protect against viruses, for example)? That’s not forgetting important legal considerations, such as potential claims for indirect discrimination from students from low income backgrounds, data protection laws, the terms of your school’s software licensing and hidden costs such as repair and data roaming charges. These are all things that must be carefully considered, but that’s not to say it’s not possible!
One final thought. To ensure the successful implementation of tablets in your school, don’t forget to make the most of the training and support, which should be included within the package. Training is essential in providing teachers with the confidence to use the devices to their full potential; the implementation simply cannot be successful without it. On-going support and good warranty terms are just as important, so always check it is included. Make your investment worthwhile!