Tablets in education: The pros and cons
The use of Tablets in schools is starting to pick up pace, with hundreds of schools introducing them as a learning tool, either through a government scheme, or part funded with parents. I will look at some of the funding challenges in part II of this blog, but first I thought it would be good take a look at the actual pros and cons of introducing tablets into the classroom.
The one (teacher) to 30 (students) model of learning is fast becoming redundant. Classes are getting bigger, and students are receiving less and less individual attention. Personalized learning is the model that will replace it, with students empowered to take control of their learning by working at their own pace – and tablets will be the means to do this.
2. More flexible learning
Traditional curriculums are rigid, and any changes take time to provide the feedback required to make the necessary tweaks to ensure the right balance between keeping the targets achievable whist still stretching the students. Trials rolled out in schools like that in the Stephen Perse Foundation have set the benchmark for rolling out tablet learning, including training teachers, evaluating apps, and shaking up the strategy when the students race through courses quicker than expected. This kind of dynamic academic curriculum setting is simply not possible in the traditional classroom.
3. Integrated learning
Often, computer rooms are completely segregated from the normal classroom, meaning kids are shunted off to a different part of the building to get on the computer. Tablets allow learning to continue to take place where they are, as part of the subject they are learning about. The very nature of tablets makes them more collaborative as they are one plane rather than two planes (horizontal and vertical), meaning there is no physical barrier between the teacher and child or between children collaborating.
4. Enhanced student – teacher communication
Student participation in the form of a ‘show of hands’ is a great way to demonstrate a key point, but is not very scientific in larger classes, but can be overcome by the use of polling apps. It’s real-time, accurate and fun for students to participate. Communication can also involve the ability to ask questions and make comments during lectures, which is great for shy students who want to contribute to the lesson without having the spotlight on them – indeed, we’re starting to understand that introverts generally can offer better insights, if only they spoke up!
5. Students love them It’s sounds obvious, but students love
tablets. They are ubiquitous in their lives already, and they are more than familiar with this technology outside of school. Tablets in the classroom undoubtedly get even the most stubborn and uninterested students engaged in learning.
6. Elimination of networks
Network problems and issues with logging in actually account for a huge amount of lost time, and there is an over-reliance on technicians to fix simple issues. Tablets on the other hand are ‘always on’, have very little maintenance and software installation is as painless as downloading an app. In short tablets put technology back in the hands of the people that matter – the children and the teachers.
Tablets have a superb battery life, but just in case, progress is automatically saved in the background constantly. Children therefore don’t have to worry about saving their work regularly, and teachers no longer have to hear that time-old excuse of “I lost my work”.
8. Huge library of apps
You only have to do a quick search on Google for Educational Apps to see just how many there are available, catering for every imaginable age, subject and skill – there are over 65,000 educational apps available on the iTunes store alone! The thing about Apps is that they do one thing very, very well, which is why they are so perfect for developing very specific skills. Students will also be able to take advantage of the audio-visual tools the tablet offers such as the camera, mic and video, to enhance creativity in the classroom.
9. A lighter school bag
No more back-breaking textbooks that are out of date the moment they leave the printing press. I remember lugging around so many textbooks at school, it almost seemed cruel. All of those books could easily be available as e-books, which generally cost less, and significantly, never go out of date, with publishers having the ability to update as and when necessary. Not only that, you could essentially replace all of the contents of your schoolbag with one single tablet crammed full of apps to cover all your needs. Exercise books? Use Evernote. Pens and other writing instruments – not needed, or use a stylus if you really have to! There are however pitfalls to introducing iPads in the classroom.
Here are the key Cons:
This is probably the biggest issue for schools and educational establishments. It’s not just the cost of the tablet itself, but also, cases and repair costs. Of the schemes that have been rolled out across the country, there have been a range of financing mechanisms, ranging from fully funded by the school, to optional ‘Bring Your Own Device’ solutions, with a range of options in between where parents part fund their child’s tablets. Part II of this blog looks at the various funding options and the challenges faced by both parents and educational establishments to avoid a two tiered education system where only the kids of well off parents have access to a tablet.
2. Teacher training
Whenever a new technology is introduced into schools, there is inevitably a challenge to varying degrees to the teachers who need to get up to speed with it, and understand basic trouble shooting. Things are different now, and most teachers are far more comfortable working with new tech, but there will inevitably be training required, as well as on-going technical support to ensure tablets remain locked down, and deal with any issues that may occur.
3. Security concerns
Tablets are highly desirable items, as they are valuable and very portable. Many parents would feel uncomfortable allowing their child to carry around an item of such high value and putting them at risk of muggings and theft. The option is to keep the tablets on school premises at all times, but that would not be making optimal use of them, and it’s been proved that students that can continue their school work at home on the tablets have an enhanced learning experience and attain better grades than those that only have access to them at school. There have been studies to show that by giving children responsibility for their own tablets by giving them clear guidelines on their care, in addition to a policy for parents to sign up to laying out the insurance and excess policies, the risk of the tablets coming to harm are much reduced.
Tablets are not the most robust items in the world, especially when they transported around in a school bag which may be used as a goalpost during lunchtime, along with the usual rigors of school life, the risk of breakages, particularly cracked screens are very real. This can be negated to some extent by investing in a good shockproof case as well as providing guidelines on how to look after the device, but it’s a risk nonetheless. Other factors have been cited as reason for tablets unsuitability for school use, but these have either been addressed by manufacturers (such as Apple’s Mobile Device Management featurewhich allows administrators to restrict access to certain sites and apps – something this LA school could have benefited from), or the availability of alternative solutions that render the concern invalid (such as a lack of USB ports, or in iPads, the lack of Flash.