The full potential of tablet technology

Nik Tuson, managing director, LearnPad, discusses the elements that should be considering when investing in tablet technology

Research carried out by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) in September 2013, revealed that 24% of schools plan to invest more than expected in ICT this year (2014/15), with a shift in the investment of tablet technology, which is rising. 25% of the schools surveyed suggested that pupil PCs, and specifically tablets will be a key area for spend over the coming year.

At the early phase in this technology adoption cycle there is a realisation that, for the implementation to be successful, there must be an understanding of the technology’s full potential. For it to provide a significant return on investment, considering the tablet itself isn’t enough.

Nik Tuson, managing director, LearnPad, a supplier of educationally aligned tablet solutions into schools, discusses the elements that should be considering when investing in tablet technology, focusing on the important factors that can impact on a successful implementation.

“The research carried out by BESA certainly indicates that schools at least recognise the importance of fully understanding the factors affecting the successful implementation of tablet technology. It’s how they go about it that they perhaps require guidance on; introducing a new technology to the classroom is after all an extremely daunting task for any teacher.

So, what can schools do to ensure that the successful outcome of tablets isn’t just based on the hardware?

Planning ahead

From the offset it is important that schools know what their objectives are for the technology. How do they imagine their teachers and students will use it?

BESA’s most recent research, published at Bett 2014 in January, was carried out with ICT association, Naace. The report, Evolving Pedagogies for mobile technology in schools revealed that the catalysts for effective classroom use includes time for familiarisation, experimentation and regular training.

With the trend for hardware in schools moving towards mobile devices, there also comes higher demand for increased Wi-Fi access. Whereas before, access to Wi-Fi in communal areas such as staff rooms and school libraries was enough, this may now be considered limiting, with teachers and students requiring access in the classroom too.

Appropriate content

At the end of the day, a tablet is a tablet – it’s the content and its management that’s important. This isn’t just necessarily the learning content from reputable educational suppliers, but also the management system that is in place, which enables teachers to monitor their students’ activity, we’ll come on to this shortly.

Firstly looking at learning content. e-learning resources, that is available on some tablet devices has been described by teachers as ‘edutainment’ rather than high quality curriculum aligned resources. Suppliers of tablet devices should be partnering with publishers to provide content in line with the curriculum.

The devices should ideally be networkable, to allow schools to also use pre-existing content, or resources that have already been purchased.

Classroom management

Moving on to classroom management, it is vital that schools consider these tools that are available for the tablet device they are purchasing. The mobile learning environment that tablets create, means that students are spread over a wide area. This can leave teachers feeling like they have no control over each individual child; unaware of what every student in the class is doing and unable to fully support personalised learning journeys.

There are classroom management tools available, such as ClassView that enable a teacher to see each student’s display through a thumbnail image on their PC. They can mirror a student’s device display onto a large screen or interactive whiteboard, with the option to freeze any one device, instantly putting the teacher back in control. Other available tools limit internet access to certain websites and support personalised learning pathways, enabling a tablet to become more than just another piece of hardware.

Adopting BYOD

The education buzz phrase, ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) is another element of tablet adoption that needs consideration.

For schools considering this option, there are many things they need to be aware of. Important legal aspects, such as potential claims for indirect discrimination from students from low income backgrounds, data protection laws, the terms of a schools’ software licensing and hidden repair and data roaming charges, for example.

A successful inclusive management portal should enable learning content to be agnostic of brand; working seamlessly on an iOs or Android device.

Protecting the device

Although they come at an additional cost, protective covers for tablets are worth the investment. Many of our schools purchase covers to protect the hardware and see the benefits; despite students carrying the tablets around the school on a daily basis, the majority haven’t experienced any damage yet! Even if they do get damaged the replacement cost is minimal.

Trial period

Once schools receive their devices, it is worth teachers spending time getting to know them, before rolling them out to students. We recommend taking a few days to use the tablets, and looking at the free content within the LearnPad store that can then be downloaded to each tablet.

Why not introduce the technology to a trial group to start with? By using a small group to complete one activity, one day at a time, teachers will learn what works, and have the opportunity to address any issues before getting every child, in every class involved.

To summarise, whilst it does of course take some serious consideration, the hardware itself isn’t the most important aspect of reviewing the available tablet technologies. It is combining the content and management tools with the hardware that can make the implementation process seamless and help your school experience the technology’s full potential!