Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Help! Should we get every child a mobile device to carry and use in lessons?

Dear Paul,

On the subject of technology to improve learning generally can I ask your advice?  I'm chair of governors of a school of 900 pupils.  We are actively considering the possibility of giving a tablet computer to each pupil, and making use of it in teaching and learning.

As Chair I am keen (desperate actually) to avoid the technological trap of investing in technology that goes out of date quickly; that distracts management attention; and that turns out to have little impact on learning.  But the opportunity seems huge too.

So my question is a rather vague one: where can I find best advice about this area?  Do you know of schools that are using tablets (or other per-child devices) in a creative way? Is there any research to look at?

I'm sure you have far too much to do, but if you had any "oh yes, you should look at X and Y" thoughts, I'd love to hear them.



Hi Bob
I've lots of anecdotal experience from supporting schools through this from a delegation from Catalonia last year (where they bought every child a lap top and nothing much changed) down to a schools in the UK like in Hull where there is an interesting story to tell of success in getting poor children home access and other schools where the devices are now as normal in classrooms as books and pens.

The overall message is swamping the students with the devices before the virtual e-learning infrastructure is in place pedagogy well on the way to changing (obvious chicken and egg argument here) has often led to a flop- the teachers don't ask the children to bring and use the devices, the children stop bringing them, the teachers can't ask them to use them and the downward spiral continues.

We've held back on getting every child a device (whether that be us buy or help parents buy) and gone for a hybrid system of our school devices and policies/ technical set up to let children use their own devices but I see this as a stepping stone to each child carrying their own rather than unsustainable hardware refreshes for computers not used in evenings, weekends and holidays. This is because we have normalised the place of the virtual school in many areas of the school to the lack of access to 1:1 is now holding us back not the harder issues to crack of virtual infrastructure, staff confidence and pedagogical change.

The other big issue is the choice of hardware- I've met with Apple resellers who have shown me clever software for managing a school wide fleet of iPads but obviously they are expensive and a departure from the largely windows/ PC architecture of most schools. We feel the new generation of netbooks, perhaps with flip over screens, ultra fast boot to browser etc have the flexibility to serve curriculum area who all want something different. The tablet market is moving fast though...