Tablets for Schools, a charity who research the benefits of technology in education, recently found that almost 70% of schools are now using tablet technology. Despite this figure, some educators are still unconvinced as to the tangible academic benefits of using tablets and research on this subject is sparse.
As a primary school teacher and computing coordinator, here I share some advantages and disadvantages of integrating tablets in the classroom from my personal experience.
For me, the most obvious benefit of using tablet technology is the pure joy that the children have in using them. When we are using the iPads in my classroom, every child is engaged and on task. The children in my class absolutely love technology and interactive elements of lessons, and I feel that the exposure to tablets has definitely been an influence on this. Key groups that may have otherwise been disengaged with computing are involved and like the subject. It is well researched that when students are enjoying their learning, their academic progress is more likely to accelerate. Whilst they also enjoy working on our desktop computers, these are less convenient to incorporate into subjects other than ICT and also usually do not come with the fascinating touch screen feature which children love!
Another key advantage is the vast library of resources available for teachers and students to access. Whilst some applications do require a cost, there are also an abundance of free ones which can directly benefit children’s learning. In addition to incredible coding apps that target the needs of the new computing curriculum, there are lots of ways to incorporate apps across the whole curriculum. The main problem with this is that lots of teachers are not aware of the potential of these applications, don’t feel confident in using them or simply don’t know what is available for them. I believe that in order to fully benefit from the use of digital devices in schools, teachers need to receive appropriate training alongside continued support to reduce the anxiety some might feel in using tablets for their class.
In terms of practicalities, there is a clear contrast between the good and the bad. On one hand, they save a lot of time, being readily available to turn on and go as opposed to laptops or the ICT suite – which is particularly useful when using technology as just a small section of a lesson. They are lightweight and portable, with a wide range of different apps that make it extremely versatile for teaching needs. Opposing this, there can be issues with battery life if they are not plugged in correctly, and problems with connectivity or in-app bugs that can significantly slow down the lesson. Aside from this, the price of tablets is something that also needs to be considered and they should only be purchased if the benefits outweigh the expensive investment, especially as the lightweight design can be vulnerable to damage.
Another argument against using tablets is that they are too distracting for students. Personally, I have always found that students have stayed on the particular app or website that I have directed them to, although sometimes they are so fascinated by it that they want to do things other than the specific task set. A simple solution to this is to dedicate the first portion of the lesson to ‘exploring’ before starting instructions. By doing this, I have also discovered some extremely talented coders in my class who revealed things that I didn’t know how to do myself! This investigative approach additionally ignites their interest in programs used and makes them eager to learn different features and tools.
Overall, I am a huge advocate of tablet technology in schools. This is largely due to the positive impact I have experienced since using them. The potential is huge, however if this potential isn’t realised then the academic benefits will unsurprisingly be underwhelming. Schools should consider how they are going to use them and how they are going to train their staff in making the most of them before purchasing. If this is appropriately thought out, tablet devices can be a truly valuable asset to children’s learning across all subjects.
Gemma Sharland is a primary school teacher and computing coordinator at her school in Bristol.