1:1 tablets schemes, the way of the future?

CONTRIBUTORS:

  • Nassar Hussain, Regional Director for EMEA, SOTI
  • Niel McLeod, Deputy Head Teacher, Hove Park School
  • Mary Palmer, Director, Tablets for Schools
  • Daley Robinson, Marketing Director Stone Group
  • John Ronane, Headteacher Ickford Combined School
  • Mark Yorke, Managing Director, Tablet Academy

✥ What would you say are the three biggest benefits of implementing 1:1 tablet schemes in schools? 

Niel McLeod: Our experience has been that the introduction of 1:1 tablets represents a tremendous vehicle for leading a whole school development initiative that has the transformation of learning at its heart. Students and teachers are able to work in completely different ways once everyone is using a tablet and for us this has resulted in an explosion of creativity.

Daley Robinson: The overarching benefit that 1:1 device schemes create is independence, which is becoming one of the most important aspects of education to teachers and pupils alike. 1:1 schemes also create location independence by allowing location-independent learning – any environment can become a classroom. This represents such a big leap forward for lessons. A class is not tied to a certain room in the school for their learning; they can go ‘on location’ for subjects where seeing will add to the experience, such as geography or history. The use of technologies such as augmented reality (AR) on tablet devices in these situations is also transforming education. 

John Ronane: In my opinion there are certain benefits to tablet use in a 21st-century ‘thinking school’ although I believe them to be practical rather than groundbreaking in terms of advancing learning.

The portability of a tablet and the relatively long battery life enable quick access to digital media at any point in the day without any scheduling of an IT suite or laptop trolley and without the need for cables and electrical sockets in close proximity. The mobility of a device can enable learning both inside and outside of classrooms at an instant.

Obviously size of device is an issue and tablets can enable a pupil to ‘carry around’ everything all in one small storage unit. In an ideal situation it is rather like having all of your exercise books with you without having the heavy rucksack and in addition you can carry the library as well! 

Mark Yorke: With 1:1 device provision, students and teachers get to develop independent learning practices. The whole education process becomes more open. I also think that having a 1:1 device at school prepares the pupil for the real world of employment. It’s a rare job these days where you have to wait your turn to use a computer. Having a device to build your workload on and around and to empower you to succeed is a far more realistic situation. 

✥And what are the three main drawbacks? 

NH: IT administrators continue to be challenged with ensuring that students are using the technology appropriately in the context of a classroom.

This means protecting students from objectionable content and restricting access to applications that may pose a distraction. Educators are faced with ensuring that students understand how to use the technology and select the appropriate applications and content necessary to enrich the student’s learning experience. 

NM: Firstly you need to be sure that your wireless infrastructure can cope with the density of usage. It can be very frustrating to teachers and students if poor network speeds prevent them from accessing the resources and apps that they would like to use.

Secondly the introduction of a 1:1 tablet initiative is a relatively complex project. There is always a risk it can be seen as ‘yet another ICT project’ and therefore not embraced by the whole staff. In order to succeed it needs to be at the heart of the school’s improvement planning and that requires a lot of time and distributed leadership.

I think that one of the exciting aspects of the 1:1 tablet project has been that there is no firmly established tidy orthodoxy about the right way to introduce it. For that reason some schools may be put off. In my view, however, our staff and students have enjoyed experimenting and learning together, trying things, failing at times but always coming back with improvements and refinements. We are still learning every day.

Mary Palmer: a) Online safety. This can be a serious concern. Our recent e-safety survey found that 48% of secondary school students, and 28% of primary students have communicated with strangers on social media. Also, 29% of secondary school students and 27% of primary school students have experienced something online that concerned or upset them. However, our research also shows that students are aware of stranger-danger and the importance of setting privacy controls, and are keen to provide advice to other students about staying safe online. This same research has also found that tablet use at school increases the likelihood that students would tell somebody about seeing something online that has concerned or upset them. 

b) Distraction. Distraction was seen to be a potential drawback when our research schools first rolled out tablets. In a survey of students at one school, 24% said that they got distracted in class “because I’m often sent messages or games by my friends”. However, in most cases the novelty wears off and schools continue to work with students to develop appropriate ways of using technology in the classroom’

c) Time and money involved with training staff and Wi-Fi set up. Lack of connectivity in certain parts of the country can be a problem. We surveyed 21 research schools and found that 53% felt that they required external help with Wi-Fi. 27% found obtaining this external help to be difficult. 45% had to install additional broadband. Support for teacher training and ongoing CPD is another consideration. It takes, on average, 11 months to implement a tablet scheme, however, most schools took one–two years. The majority of the schools we surveyed had found it necessary to offer professional development for teaching staff for that time period. Participants in our research emphasised the importance of not viewing training on tablets as merely an extension of other training such as learning how to use apps.

JR: Portable devices are heavily reliant on a fast broadband service and in a rural school such as mine, this just isn’t the case. Furthermore, where the school may have a good broadband connection, children’s homes may not and this compromises access and makes achievement outside of school inequitable.

Unless pedagogical approaches and curriculum are designed to accommodate such personal and autonomous learning as tablet use may manifest, then the benefits will not reach fruition. In my opinion, a 1:1 ‘vision’ may compel school leaders to have a very narrow view of learning and to dismiss other forms of teaching and learning in pursuit of the tablet-based classroom.

Although I do not have the expertise to be certain, I am under the impression that it is much more difficult to monitor what portable devices are used for particularly if they are taken out of a school setting. The benefit of autonomy and portability is at best balanced and at worse outweighed by the potential for a pupil to access harmful and inappropriate material or to use their device to propagate harm.

✥When choosing the tablet model, are schools considering all the options available to them, or are they simply opting for the most popular? Do you think there is enough variety? 

NM: In my view schools are all considering their options carefully. It is a significant step to take. We trialled all available tablets before opting to focus our learning transformation project on iPads. We benefited from placing the focus not on the technical specs of the various tablets but on how their ecosystem could enhance teaching and learning. When you evaluate against those goals, the differences between the tablets become much clearer. 

DR: There’s certainly enough variety – in fact many schools find it hard to choose the right device because there are so many choices to be made. The tough decisions are around offering a device that is best for the school, the pupil, the budget and the tasks it needs to do, whilst fulfilling the imagined desires of a technology and consumer tech-savvy school-age child. The right answer to tablet provision is not always the most popular brand outside school. In fact, opting for the most popular tablet brand can be a short-sighted decision. 

JR: I think that the iPad from Apple appears to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of tablets and that when one purchases another brand there is almost a sense of being a ‘second class’ citizen such is the power of the Apple image.  I imagine that other more reasonably priced devices are equally as good as an iPad but don’t have the same kudos.  I would be looking for a light, relatively robust device with appropriate functionality and a good warranty. In fact a less ‘fashionable’ brand would probably reduce the risk of theft or resale! 

MY: In Tablet Academy’s experience, most schools opt for what they see as the most popular devices, taking their inspiration from other schools, or from the most recent marketing campaign they’ve received. There’s not enough awareness of what else is on offer, particularly from, say, Google or Microsoft for example.

✥ E-safety has been a cause for concern in the past, what steps have we taken to reduce risk?

NH: Educators and IT administrators have learned from high-profile incidents in the past year where students had figured out how to circumvent security policies. Device manufacturers and enterprise mobility management vendors continue to work closely to enhance the security of 1:1 e-learning solutions. Schools are employing enterprise security advancements like geo-fencing policies and ‘kiosk’ mode to protect both students and technology investments. 

NM: We adopt a proactive approach to e-safety and try to take every opportunity to reinforce learning and good practice in this area. As well as using acceptable use policies with students and families we encourage students and parents to consider the issues. We have written and shared e-safety courses for students and parents through our iTunes U site. The courses bring together practical advice and guidance from a range of experts and are the focus of work in our tutorial programme. We monitor internet use across our site through a mobile device management system which gives us clear information about what students are accessing and how they are using the technology. We encourage responsibility in the use of the technology at school and outside school but we also take a proactive approach to monitoring it. 

MP: Our recent research with 7,443 students showed that schools using tablets are doing a great job of teaching their students about online safety. 90% of primary and secondary school pupils say their school talks to them about being safe online. However, half of secondary pupils and over a quarter of primary students have communicated with strangers when using social media and 30% of secondary pupils and over a quarter of primary pupils have experienced something online that concerned or upset them.

It’s true that security and e-safety has been a concern, and it is still a primary concern with parents. However, recent research shows that kids are much more savvy in this regard than we think. Also, through publishing our research and making it widely available, we aim to enable students and teachers to learn from each other and reduce the risk to young people. Peer-to-peer advice is extremely powerful, as can be seen by the popularity of our internet safety poster based on advice from over 5,000 students.

JR: Within school, we have built e-safety into our curriculum and discuss it with children in lessons and in assemblies. Our older children have had specific lessons on e-safety and we ensure that we have some posters emphasising the need for caution in our IT room. The local community police officer comes in and does a talk each year with year 6 and this is always well received by the children. Nonetheless, the biggest factor for us is the overall expectation on behaviour that we instil in our children and the ethos of the school that we create.

Outside of school is more difficult. We do try and work with parents and have regular workshops about supporting children at home that includes discussion on internet use and supervision. However, one has to be careful not to make assumptions about families from different socio-economic backgrounds and one also has to be wary of trying to impose a set of ‘middle class values’ that in themselves may be flawed. 

MY: The risks are the same whether a child is using his own mobile or a school-supplied device. They haven’t changed. 1:1 devices can be managed using software which prevents pupils from accessing content and networks, but staff training and understanding is a big part of combating e-safety too.

Can every school realistically implement 1:1 tablet schemes, and do you think they will become a permanent fixture in our schools? 

NH: Mobile technology will be a part of the learning experience in schools regardless of whether it originates from the district side or by virtue of students bringing their own devices to school. The challenge becomes one of equality – how do we ensure all students have access to these empowering technologies? It’s up to educators and the technology industry as a whole to rally around innovative programs focused on ensuring equal access for all students.

NM: We strongly believe that the use of iPads in our routine teaching and learning has transformed the progress of a large number of our students. Their ability to access information, course materials and their peers and teachers whenever they need to has had a powerful impact. Personal technology in the form of phones and tablets are changing the expectations of society about access to knowledge. Our students are growing up with an expectation of being connected globally to people and information whenever they need to be. I think that schools can harness the power of the technology to support each child’s learning and that in fact we should be at the forefront of supporting our young people in exploring the power of technology with teachers guiding them on the way.

DR: Absolutely, every school can implement a 1:1 device scheme. However, not every school will be successful unless they have three key steps in place: the support of the parents; the support of the school’s administrative and governing structure; and a strong senior leadership team with a clear vision. To become a successful, permanent fixture, a scheme needs to have policies and procedures in place that have been agreed and a chain of responsibility set in. The devices themselves are the least likely failure points. 

JR: At this time, I know that not every school can do this because we certainly could not. The cost is too great and in our own situation the lack of a good broadband speed and reliability make it impossible to rely on such devices. Schools in big cities with bigger budgets and infrastructure may be able to but for many schools it is not a possibility.

Personally though, I hope that it isn’t the future as I think that there is a great deal more to successful learning, inspiring children and good education than the latest technology. I would love a tablet for each child just as I would love a wallet on the back of every chair to put their, pencil cases and dictionaries in so that the tables were clearer. 

MY: I think in around five years, 1:1 schemes will be a permanent fixture. Within that time, most barriers will be overcome. Financial constraints can be eased, supporting infrastructure can be upgraded, and staff confidence in devices will be higher due to their proliferation domestically.  

LAST CHANCE TO SAVE A SEAT

Five hours of live discussions with influential heads addressing lockdown plans, diversity, nutrition education strategies and cross-sector partnerships.

Days
Hours
Minutes
Seconds