Taking on tablet tech

Rebecca Paddick asks some of the sector’€™s experts: are tablets the future for our primary and secondary schools?


Mary Palmer, Director of Tablets for Schools

Lisa Cowell, Director of Learning and Teaching at Penwortham Priory Academy

Derek Trimmer, Executive Headteacher, Hove Park School

Shaun Marklew, Sales Director at Clevertouch

✥Mobile tablets can definitely transform both teaching and learning. In your experience, how have schools benefited from using tablets in the classroom?

Lisa Cowell: Mobile tablets are definitely transforming teaching and learning in those schools that are using them with vision. If tablets are used in a truly mobile and 1:1 environment where children can create content, personalise their responses, collaborate and sometimes flip the learning, there are enormous benefits to be gained. Engagement is heightened, confidence is exuded from a child who might have been less able to access the curriculum, further research is possible and there are a wealth of resources being developed to get the best use out of the devices. Just having the instant ability to take a photograph and instantly embed it into a document has quickened the pace at which we can work as opposed to a couple of years ago where you’d have had to download photographs from a digital camera before using them.

Mary Palmer: Tablets for Schools are studying the effects of 1:1 tablets in 40 schools across England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Our research from these schools using 1:1 tablets shows us that pupils are learning in a way that prepares them for the future with the ability to research, make informed judgments, and present their ideas and learning. Specifically we see positive changes in:

✥Pupil engagement through better attendance, better behaviour, higher quality work – leading to higher attainment.

✥Pedagogy – we see pupil-led learning with the teacher as a facilitator and teachers able to tailor their lessons to every child’s individual needs, wherever
they are on the spectrum

✥Collaborative learning – teachers sharing with pupils and pupils with their peer group

✥Independent learning – pupils more capable of seeking out learning for themselves with the teacher transformed into a facilitator of learning

Shaun Marklew: From our experiences of DisplayNote and Wordwall Response some of the major benefits of utilising tablets in the classroom have been where students can collaborate together as well as work independently and share their resources.

Derek Trimmer: When tablets are introduced you can see a speeding up of the learning process. The range of tools available to staff and students allows for much greater creativity and for students to personalise the ways in which they work. Ready access to information, the ability to quickly process ideas and the speed with which students are able to share work can all add up to a transformed learning environment.

✥Do the benefits outweigh any security risks?

LC: Children need to be taught about risk. Parents and teachers teach them not to cross the road without checking it’s safe, we also need to teach them to consider their e-safety, not take risks and think about the consequences of their actions whilst online. The majority of risk will come from interaction with other, unknown agencies when gaming, using the internet, etc. but we have to distinguish risk from harm as the majority of these interactions are harmless as long as things like age restrictions on games are adhered to when downloading/playing, access to anonymous chat rooms and the like are blocked, they’re taught what is acceptable behaviour – from them and towards them and they know who to go to if they have a concern.

MP: Tablets for Schools research has shown that schools that properly prepare their pupils prior to receiving these transformational devices are much better equipped to stay safe online. 82% of the 3,500 secondary school boys and girls surveyed using 1:1 tablets, said that the ongoing programme of training on internet safely had equipped them to stay safe online. The key is preparing teachers, pupils and parents about the amazing power but also the dangers. It is all in the preparation! 

SM: Yes. Provided that the tablets are utilised with the right software and firewalls I cannot see any serious security risks and more than the risks of using pen and paper.

DT: These days many children have access to the internet on their phones both inside and outside school. By making the use of information technology a frequent, routine part of their daily work in school we are able to reinforce the safety messages as we work. Our job is to prepare students to live safely and to succeed in the world. We believe in making the safe exploration of technology part of their learning experience in school. 

✥Are tablets a substitute for traditional teaching methods, or do they enhance them?

LC: In our classrooms tablets are another tool in the teachers’ and pupils’ toolkits. They’re used as necessary but shouldn’t be used for the sake of it. If a topic or activity warrants their use, fine. If they’ll actually hinder progress because it might be faster
to look for the information in a book, draw a mindmap by hand, etc. then they’re not the right tool to use at that moment in time. What do we mean by traditional any more though? It’s becoming traditional for us to dip into the use of tablets to respond to the insightful and sometimes tangential questions that pupils pose. It’s excellent to be able to go ‘off plan’ and research an area because a pupil has brought up an interesting question. 

MP: A tablet will never replace an inspirational teacher, nor should it! But 81% of teachers trained in how to use these transformational devices tell us that they saw a dramatic and positive change in the pedagogical learning of pupils. Most of all though, teachers report collaborative learning as one of the greatest benefits of introducing 1:1 tablets. 75% of teachers noticed an increase in pupil motivation. 

SM: They enhance them. Tablets will never substitute traditional teaching methods, for example, front of house teaching, but will enhance the lesson making it more engaging.

DT: The majority of our tablet use initially was blended in with traditional models of teaching and the lessons were enhanced. As we began to explore the huge potential of the iPads to deepen and personalise learning, we began to explore different models. By publishing our courses to students and parents through iTunes U for example, we are hoping to use more and more flipped learning. When students arrive in the lesson having studied the lesson material online beforehand, we are able to spend more of the lesson applying, analysing, evaluating and creating new knowledge and skills. Using this approach our students have become more confident and independent.

✥Do children enjoy using tablets in schools?

LC:They thoroughly enjoy the instant access to information, the alternative methods of addressing a task, the creativity that can be brought to the table and the personalisation that working on a 1:1 tablet brings. The fact that work can be started and then continued on the go is a particular bonus for them.

MP:Again in our research, in the 40 schools using 1:1 tablets, 87% of pupils agreed that using their tablet had helped them enjoy learning at their school. We have noticed marked improvements in pupil engagement through better attendance, better behaviour, higher quality work leading to higher attainment. 

SM: In our experiences children using tablets in the classroom find the lesson more exciting providing the tablets are used in a way that benefits the lesson or activity.

DT: Our students have reported significant benefits in using the technology. Student surveys have reported that their enjoyment of learning has greatly increased. Sanctions have dramatically fallen as well.

Students report that they enjoy having greater responsibility for managing their own learning, appreciate the improved communication and speed of feedback from their teachers and the increased creativity they are able to show by using the tools. The many and varied ways in which our examination students have been able to share resources and support each other online has been a great boost to their exam preparation.

ʉϴAre tablets a good investment? And, can every school realistically provide 1:1 tablets?

LC: In my opinion they’re an essential investment to prepare pupils for their future. They need to be digitally literate and if schools can’t afford to invest, I’d seriously advise them to look at charitable donation schemes and/or ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) schemes. Lifting the ban on the use of mobile phones that some schools impose would mean that they could utilise the massive potential for mobile learning that many pupils have at their fingertips. The average teenager has more technological power in their pocket than sent man to the moon – use it for learning and it becomes about more than texting and social media.

MP: The benefits to pedagogy mean that tablets are most definitely an excellent investment. Our most important recommendation is to do your research before you make that significant investment. Tablets for schools has put together a downloadable toolkit with advice for schools for a successful implementation of 1:1 tablets.

Our research has shown that there can be cost benefits too, 19% of schools using tablets said they had removed or were in the process of removing their computer suites. Schools noticed cost reductions on stationery, computers, textbooks and printing. On balance, schools have told us that the cost savings balance themselves out with the costs of the tablets so that schools come out even. Half of the teachers questioned welcomed the flexibility and improved access to IT that tablets provide as well as the much larger range of learning content than provided by traditional textbooks.

As for realistically providing 1:1 tablets – we believe that the benefits of tablets should be available for all students, not just those privileged enough to have tablets at home. We are committed to ensuring that a ‘digital divide’ doesn’t develop as a result of unequal access to technology. Tablet use is increasing exponentially across the world, and we need to prepare UK students for this competitive environment. Tablets can play a crucial role in helping our students reach the levels of attainment and technological awareness needed for the UK to compete globally.

SM: The ideal dream has always been for every child to have the use of a PC or laptop. The restrictions on budget have meant that in studies children sometimes rarely get access to computing in the classroom. The revolution of the tablet means that the dream of every child having their own personal computing device is now more of a reality.

DT: We introduced iPads as part of a strong partnership with our parents who got behind our vision for working 1:1. We believe that a strong vision, thorough staff development and the engagement of students and parents on the journey can produce a transformation in the way students learn. That is our core business so we invested in this rather than other priorities. Each school will make their own decisions.

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