A snapshot of tablet use in British schools

The adoption of tablet technology in schools has not always come with positive news. As we move from the ‘innovators’ into the ‘early adopter’ phase of the technology adoption life-cycle, we are starting to see a realisation that successful implementation requires an understanding of the technology’s full potential, rather than simply a consideration of the hardware itself.

Our annual ICT in UK state schools research into 1,238 schools (731 primary and 507 secondary) issued in September 2013 revealed that 24 per cent of schools plan to invest more than expected in ICT this year (2014/15). The investment in desktop and laptop computers remains fairly static. It is a shift in investment towards tablet technology which is increasing. 25 per cent of schools indicated that investment in pupil PCs and specifically tablets will be one of the main areas of spend, which is good news so far.
However, at this early phase in the technology adoption life cycle, schools must carefully consider all aspects of the use of mobile solutions in the classroom before investment.

Gaining an insight into how tablets are being used to enhance teaching and learning means that planning for implementations and professional development can make the most of the learning opportunities that these devices have the potential to enable.

Making it work
Our research suggests that schools recognise the importance of developing a full understanding of the factors affecting successful implementation; approximately 40 per cent of the teachers surveyed stressed that they will require training into the use of tablet technology.
One BESA member, LearnPad Group, who supplies educationally aligned tablets into schools, has always stressed that the successful outcome of any tablet implementation is not based on the hardware. Nik Tuson, managing director at LearnPad, explains: “Ultimately a tablet is a tablet. A positive outcome from an investment in tablet technology is based on the content. This is not just the learning content from high quality education suppliers, but also the management system which gives teachers the power to supervise the activities the children are carrying out. Being able to display any child’s display on the classroom whiteboard, block another child’s activity and restrict access only to approved websites are all features of a tablet management system that help define effective classroom use.”
As the trend for hardware in schools moves towards mobile devices, the demand for continuous site Wi-Fi access increases accordingly. In the past, schools may have considered themselves well‑resourced with Wi-Fi if they had access in administrative areas, staff rooms and library/resource centres. Such access may now be considered limiting as teachers and pupils need Wi-Fi access in classrooms.

Effective classroom use
Our most recent research published at Bett 2014 in January was carried out in association with ICT association Naace. This research also found an increasing trend towards the use of mobile devices in schools as teachers and pupils become more familiar with using tablets as part of their learning experiences.

The report, Evolving Pedagogies for mobile technology in schools, focused on how tablet technology is used in schools from initial implementation onwards. The findings revealed that the application of the tablet technology does change through time. Schools start by using them for creator/consumer activities in the early adopter phase, to community activities at the later stage of implementation, with teachers increasing the use of the technology over time.
Catalysts for effective classroom use include time for familiarisation, experimentation and regular training, backing up our previous research where teachers stressed a need for training. The Naace research also highlighted the point made by BESA member LearnPad. The schools who took part in the Naace study indicated that being able to mirror the pupil device display on to a large screen or interactive whiteboard was an important part of the progression of use over time. Other factors included reliable internet connectivity and the availability of tools and apps designed for learning, rather than ‘focused solely on engagement or ‘edutainment.’
Evidence for the study was collected from teachers at the initial stages of tablet implementation and compared with teachers who had used the technology for a year. Different tablet types were used by the teachers, but a similar range of learning activities were apparent despite these differences.
The study focused on pedagogies for effective teaching and learning, rather than including other uses of technology that might be more administrative or organisational.
In terms of the technology’s use, referring to research by Melhuish and Falloon (2010) and Clarke and Svanaes (2012), the study concluded that the use of mobile technologies can increase collaboration and communication in the classroom including peer feedback and facilitated engagement with learning.

Taking the findings forward
While the scale of this project was very small, with teachers from five schools being surveyed, informal conversations with a range of educators seems to indicate that the conclusions of the study are valid. As the adoption of mobile technology in schools increases, it is important to understand the factors that facilitate learning to ensure their success. Whilst not conclusive, when compared to other studies, it appears that inclusive tools designed to manage classroom use, the availability of appropriate learning resources along with initial training and adequate time for familiarisation are vital.

Further information