Touching technology in the classroom

The good news from our research over recent months is that schools’ budgets continue to rise significantly above the level of inflation. Our annual Resources in English Maintained Schools survey of 900 English maintained schools (597 primary and 303 secondary) revealed that actual budgets and budget forecasts continue to show an increase in almost all areas of expenditure. The bottom line is that primary school budgets have increased by 4.1 per cent to £1,022,000 and secondary budgets are up by 2.2 per cent to £4,502,000.
Looking ahead, forecasts predict a further increase of 2.3 per cent across all schools for 2015/16 resulting in a typical primary school seeing an additional £28,000 per annum and secondary schools expecting an extra £70,000. This increase is likely to be realised across all levels of expenditure including audio visual (AV); a technology category that has become synonymous with engaging children in learning.
In fact one education sector AV product category, used in the majority of UK classrooms, is of course touch screen collaborative technologies, namely interactive whiteboards and more recently tablets. While touchscreen technology was pioneered in the late 1960s, schools were actually the early adopters, using interactive whiteboards from the late 1990s. Government funding and the high adoption rate in schools has led most of our digital natives expecting to interact with information by touch.

In fact it is through this evolution, that some of today’s younger students, don’t even know how to use an electronic mouse, believing that the only way to interact with digitally displayed information is via touch.

Tablet Technology
While interactive whiteboards are fully integrated and have now become the ‘norm’ in classrooms, the latest growing technology is tablets. The low cost per unit and mobility makes the Tablet very attractive for schools. Schools’ aiming to achieve a 1:1 ratio of computing device to child are certainly more able to achieve their objective with these lower cost devices.
A year ago, back in June 2014, approximately 56 per cent of schools were reporting the use of tablets with pupils in the classroom. A further 17 per cent of the sampled schools were soon expecting to do so.

Our most recent tablets and connectivity in schools (June 2015) research of 632 schools (335 primary and 297 secondary) suggests many have done just this, with 71 per cent of primary and 76 per cent of secondary schools making use of tablets in the classroom. There are currently estimated to be 721,000 tablets for use by pupils in classrooms across UK maintained schools and academies and a forecast that by the end of 2016 the number will have increased to over 946,000.
And this upward trend appears to be continuing with 15 per cent of schools suggesting that they will have 1:1 access to tablet technology by 2016 and 44 per cent of schools having one Tablet per child by 2020.

Barriers to adoption
What is interesting to note however is that a fifth of primary and a sixth of secondary schools have no fixed plans to introduce tablet use in the next few years. Last year our research suggested that this was due to inadequate broadband and Wi-Fi connectivity in some geographical areas of the country. At the time BESA called on the government to drive the provision of appropriate bandwidth nationally.
Thankfully, to a certain extent, this appears to be happening, albeit slowly. 53 per cent of primary schools now feel that they have the ideal bandwidth (up from 50 per cent last year) and 65 per cent of secondary schools feel the same (up from 62 per cent in 2014). Of course the issue remains that 41 per cent of schools do not feel they have adequate bandwidth and therefore the benefits for them adopting the technology are limited.
Interestingly, this year our research reveals that a lack of suitable bandwidth is no longer the main barrier to adoption of mobile technologies. In total, 88 per cent of primary schools said that the management and security of tablets is significant or a very significant barrier to adoption. In secondary schools the barriers to adoption in order of significance are training and support (91 per cent), funding (83 per cent) and management and security (83 per cent).

Touch Technology
There are a number of advantages to using touch technology with students, one of which is the additional engagement that the touch interaction with the content brings. There is a clear educational advantage to be gained from better engagement, including increased stimulation, decreased ‘time to learn’ and enhanced knowledge retention.
eBooks have also become increasingly popular in schools, especially proven to encourage reluctant readers to learn to love reading. Various research papers show that e-reading devices with touchscreens positively affects a child’s motivation to read; something I feel applies to any learning material.
Research showed that 33 per cent of primary and 49 per cent of secondary schools say they make some or extensive use eBooks on tablets. However it is a shame that with the proven benefits of e-books our research indicates that 58 per cent of primary schools and 17 per cent of secondary schools say they make no use of eBooks.
But maybe we shouldn’t be too concerned about such findings. The fact that touchscreen technology is such a ubiquitous part of our daily lives, it is easy to forget how new the technology is. As with all technologies, especially newer ones, the rate of development and adoption is rapid, and changes on virtually a daily basis. So recognising that touchscreen technology is the way we all engage with content, how do schools ensure they are investing wisely, in something that is not going to be obsolete tomorrow?
The first consideration is which touchscreen technology to use; there are apparently 18 different technologies available (according to Geoff Walker, Some use visible or infrared light while others rely on sound waves or force sensors. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages, including size, accuracy, reliability, durability, number of touches detected and of course cost.

Looking ahead
Undoubtedly over the next few years multi‑touchscreens will be revised and refined in terms of their resolution and number of simultaneous touch interactions that can be registered. However, the experts are suggesting that the biggest changes in the near future will be in software; this refers to the actual design of the interaction: using finger motion to flip pages upside down and turn them around, and swipe things off the screen to delete them. Undoubtedly, biometric access will grow and be enhanced; an interesting consideration for schools in terms of student registration and security.
In fact the next step in technology innovation actually removes the ‘touch’ from the ‘screen’; in other words the touchscreen evolution is transforming into one that recognises gestures. To a certain extent the technology is already there but very much in the early adopter phase. And of course you can’t input text yourself; call me old‑fashioned but I still want my children learning to use a traditional keyboard or digital keyboard to input information.
So, at the current time gesture interaction software is still quite imprecise with limited application software but things are moving forward rapidly in this area, so for schools this is one to look out for. Because there are so many different touch screen devices, schools must ensure they have interoperability between their hardware; how each device connects together, to support collaboration and a seamless learning experience for the student, is a big consideration when investing in any technology.
And therefore the good news is that the current market suggestion is also that over time, interactions with software across all platforms will become more standardised.

Students will learn how to interact and manipulate information on one platform and this will not be contradicted when they move to another platform at home, in another school or in their future work place environment.

Further information