Schools are ready to exploit the new wave of digital tablets, says new report
The digital tablet revolution moving from retail into corporate markets is now getting traction in UK schools too, according to new research by the British Educational Suppliers Association (Besa).
The report reckons that 6 per cent of "pupil facing computers" in UK schools will be tablets by the end of 2012 (4.5 per cent in primary, 6.9 per cent in secondary). Schools in the survey expect this figure to rise to 22 per cent by the end of 2015.
Tablets are popular with learners – 82 per cent of the teachers questioned in this survey of 500 UK schools said their pupils are interested in using tablets and apps. Despite the user popularity however, most of these schools (72 per cent) are "adopting a research-driven approach to tablet take-up", says the Besa report. They are looking for evidence of the effectiveness of tablets and expressed caution about platform issues and "the need for greater convergence of operating systems".
The Besa research – The future of tablets and apps in schools – was carried out with the National Education Research Panel (NERP), to provide an analysis of current adoption of tablet devices and apps in schools and insight into future use. Apple UK, the leading tablet supplier, has not responded to the report but insiders consider the Besa findings conservative.
“This is a very exciting time for schools and educational technology providers," says Besa director Caroline Wright. "We see that, in the absence of DfE [Department for education] directives, schools are becoming increasingly savvy in their ICT procurement and also taking their time to make the right decisions for their pupils based on research evidence, financial and educational value-for-money considerations. Schools increasingly support the view that they need to consider ways to integrate the technology and learning that pupils’ experience inside the classroom with their use of IT outside school.
Will tablets become 'pupil provided' items?
“This research also raises questions about the models of provision that we may see in the future. Though beyond the scope of the research this year, does the trend of the reducing cost of tablets raise the potential for tablets to become a pupil-provided item with the school responsibility being the integration of the personal device and some provision of the content and apps?"
Schools are getting more interested in what is becoming known as BYOD (bring your own device). A quarter of the secondary schools surveyed would like parents to pay for and own tablets, while conscious of the need for support for low-income families. Only 14 per cent of secondarioes said they would not consider this option. Primary schools were less keen. The tablet price points that would encourage more take up were reported to be £205 for primary and £195 for secondary.
The report also records that, even after two years of Coalition Government silence and lack of action on ICT for learning, schools still feel that government support for adoption of ICT in schools is important (61 per cent of primary schools and 39 per cent of secondaries). A clear majority of both primary and secondary schools are aware of apps being used in classrooms.
Significant barriers to tablet adoption they reported to researchers were "funding constraints (82 per cent), concerns about the management and security of tablets (85 per cent), the value and portability risks (73 per cent) and initial installation and payment for apps (71 per cent)".
Apple dominates sales but more schools investigating Android tablets
Apple currently dominates sales of digital pads with its iPad, and some schools are already moving over to Apple – for example Essa Academy in Bolton and Longfield Academy in Kent now base their school systems on Apple technology. But Android tablets are also now making an appearance through innovative companies like Avantis which is selling its LearnPad2 to schools, with bespoke, easy-to-use management software, from just £200. Avantis tablets also support the use of popular school content like Espresso and Education City, titles which Apple will not allow users to see on its iPads because they are created using Flash software.
Avantis managing director Nik Tuson commented: "We have seen a sharp increase in the number of schools investigating and trialling tablet technology this year. Initial interest is in the physical tablet itself, but schools soon realise they need to consider the wider picture, including how the device will integrate into their school network: will it support their existing curriculum content and websites, how do they provide device and student security and how can a deployment of tablets be controlled, managed and updated remotely?.
"There is also the key consideration of cost, not only the cost of the device itself, but the additional cost of 'apps', services, licences or additional hardware required to manage them."
Do schools have platform preferences? Yes, the report says: "46 per cent of primary and 29 per cent of secondary schools currently have a preference for Apple iPads, while between a fifth and a quarter show a preference for Google Android tablets. Around 16 per of respondents have no particular preference. There is keen interest in upcoming Windows 8 devices."
Companies predict Apple will lose lead in schools market to Android
The report also asked companies their views about tablet uptake. The response to questions about tablet use by 2015 will have Apple acolytes spluttering into their lattes as it presumes that Apple's current dominant position will have been undermined. Company bosses reckon that while Apple will sell 46 per cent of home tablets, it will only provide about a third of those in schools – 40 per cent will use Android tablets and 23 per cent Windows 8 tablets.
The industry view could be based on what is already happening in the mobile phone market (or wishful thinking!). However, Apple insiders are highly resistant to parallels being drawn between sales of mobile phones and those of iPads. They point out that the 'provider deals' skew sales of mobile phones and those pressures simply are not present in the tablets market.
What is clear from the report is the enormous interest in digital tablets and apps for learning. And the predictions of uptake could indeed be conservative as they are based on a 38.5 per cent response rate from 500 schools and from 46 industry responses. However, the concerns about cost and management are real. As 'consumerisation' of technology becomes a reality, so does the difficulty of using management systems designed for individual consumers (eg iTunes and the iTunes Store, or the licensing arrangements for the humble Kindle) in a busy school environment.
Wolverhampton's Learning2Go advising schools on iPad integration
Schools, used to dealing with providers who meet their needs with all sorts of site licence opportunities, need help organising their apps and content for learners (hence the Avantis web-based tools for schools for Android devices). Interestingly, one of the UK's pioneering projects for mobile learning, Learning2Go in Wolverhampton, is hosting a special 'Learning2Go meets Apple' event on June 13 to answer the many questions schools have about "the integration of iPads/iPods into schools, the licensing of apps, curriculum opportunities and models of good practice".
Besa'a Caroline Wright points out that BETT 2013, in its new home in London's Docklands, will be important for sharing new technologies and expertise in their use for learning. “Teachers of the future must receive initial teacher training that equips them with the IT know-how to allow them to unleash the full learning potential of tablets and educational apps in the classroom," she said. "The growing desire of schools to understand these educational benefits underlines the increasingly important role that the Bett Show plays in showcasing the wide range of educational technology devices, platforms and software available within the UK.
"As well as providing valuable professional development opportunities for teachers the show can also help schools get the best value for money out of their ICT spend by trying and testing new products in an informative and supportive environment. With BETT moving in 2013 to ExCel [January 29 to February 1] there will be more space and facilities for CPD seminars.”
LearnPad v iPad