Talking tablets in school


Do the educational advantages outweigh the potential technical difficulties of tablets in schools? Luke Noonan asks the question.

A study by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) found that by 2015, 22 per cent of all pupil-facing: computers in schools will be non-windows tablets and 82 per cent of pupils will show an interest in using tablets for educational purposes.

It is clear there is a huge desire for the use of such technology within education, as both government officials and teachers strive to modernise the system.

However, it is not surprising that 85 per cent of schools in the survey had concerns about security and management issues; 71 per cent were also concerned about the purchasing and installation of apps.

It is clear that security is one of the main issues. A case study report by the Open University for Becta looked at the use of tablets in 12 schools between 2004 and 2005 and found that it was often underestimated how much time and resource is necessary to ensure not only the management of data, but also tracking devices and dealing with repairs and so on.

It is therefore essential that a school has good infrastructure with wi-fi as a prerequisite. This is expensive and of course less secure than a Local Area Network and one school from the Becta study recommends spending 20 per cent of a tablet budget on security.

Portability can be another issue and although a positive in many ways, it results in a bigger risk of theft or loss.

Tablets are also likely to be dropped more often than laptops or PCs. However, we have already seen providers of tablet-specific security solutions (which also charge the devices while being locked away for the night) for education appearing.

Security and flexibility

The question therefore stands – can the educational benefits of a tablet outweigh the technical and security issues associated with adoption and funding of this new and exciting technology?

The potential for new innovations such as this in schools is huge and with the correct support, it can certainly be maximised.

Android is the most adaptable and customisable operating system and these tablets can provide a good, cost-effective solution. The Android system has also improved dramatically when it comes to reliability. The cost of developing apps is low and relatively quick.

In light of this, by ensuring all tablet devices are well-protected and children are under supervision when in use, adopting this technology in schools can provide a unique portable learning experience.

Tablet pilot research 

A recent study by an Australian-based course company, Open Colleges, found that 81 per cent of US teachers think that tablets can enrich classroom learning while one in five students have already used a mobile app to keep them organised with coursework.

The research also forecasted that 11 per cent of textbooks used by the end of 2013 would be e-books. In the long term, this could in fact enable the cost of tablet implementation to be recouped as there is no longer the need to buy and replace some paper-based learning tools.

As more and more research such as this is being revealed and some authorities are still fighting the “mobile technology is a distraction” mindset, there are some schools in the UK that are already taking steps to trial these devices. Ten local authorities in Scotland are trailing both iPads and Android-based tablets in almost 20 schools as well as schools in Kent, Essex Northern Ireland and Liverpool. 

And as the results of these kind of programmes start to appear, such as those from a scheme in the US at Reed College in Oregon, it does seem to be the case that tablet technology is ready for student use and with the correct support, technical difficulties can be left behind (see further information for more details on these trials).

Price points

One of the key reasons tablets can now penetrate more easily into education is the lower price point that Android tablets can bring. The expensive iPad has made way for more basic, easy-to-use, cheaper devices that use customisable operating systems.

Learning and portability

The handheld tablet computer provides students with a world of information at their fingertips. Although this could be deemed as a security issue, with an easily downloadable secure app or with customisable software, research, access to e-books and more exciting content such as video, images and audio, provides a more engaged and integrated learning experience – something a traditional book just can’t offer. 

This information can also be transported on a thin, lightweight tablet between the library, classroom and home, therefore eliminating the need for heavy books and laptops with chargers and other accessories.

Integration with technology trends

Cloud-based technology is something that many schools and colleges are adopting in order to make the learning process easier than ever before. The ability to constantly connect using a tablet allows students to access work stored in a central location, wherever they are. Presentations, worksheets and text-books can be found quickly no matter what. They don’t need to wait for time to head to the library or a certain tutor’s office to pick up key information.

No forgetting teachers and parents...

A point that is often overlooked is the advantages teachers can take away from tablet implementation. A paperless desk may be a few years down the line, but registers kept on touch-screens, presentations that can quickly be altered and instant access to online teaching platforms and student results has to be of huge benefit to those teaching. 

And for parents, apps such as one created by The Oldershaw Academy in Merseyside, enabling parents to check the homework that their children have been set, are a great way to ensure discipline outside of the school gates.

What to look for

There is a wealth of tablet manufacturers out there, but finding a cost-effective, functional and basic device is key. Android software is, I believe, the easiest to pre-configure and develop bespoke apps for. There is also a wealth of apps already available for educational purposes, such as Attendance Tracker and Field Trip.

Size is a key factor when considering purchase. Small Android devices, such as those around seven inches, allow for easy transportation by both students and teachers. 

This helps the device to stretch outside the classroom and provides an exciting tool at home, when revision is required for example. The end to messy classrooms might also be imminent as they are no longer full to the brim with bulky books.

Finally, it is important to choose one platform and stick to it. Considering implementation with the rest of the school’s IT structure is extremely important and ensuring all tablet devices and software are the same will result in a decrease in IT problems for the future.

  • Luke Noonan is purchasing director with Disgo, a developer of consumer technology products.

Further information
More details of the tablet trials and apps referenced in the article can be found online.


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