The first large-scale use of iPads for learning in UK schools a already a success, says report
The adoption of iPads in UK schools gets a further boost with the publication of the new Naace report, “The iPad as a Tool for Education: A study of the introduction of iPads at Longfield Academy, Kent” by Paul Heinrich.
Its conclusion is direct and positive: "There has been a significant and very positive impact on learning and teaching which, in time, should be reflected in achievement and attainment, thanks to both pedagogical changes and new ways of learning engendered by ‘anytime anywhere’ access to information and learning tools.
"Progress in the implementation of the scheme has been outstanding. By sharing such strategies widely, other schools can adopt similar processes."
The 54-page report (available as a pdf file), based on a series of questionnaires filled out by students, staff and parents on the online service SurveyMonkey plus a day’s on-site observation and interviews, was carried out by Paul Heinrich on behalf of Naace (The ICT Association) with support from the project consultants, 9ine Consulting Ltd.
iPads popular and preferred devices
The good news is that teachers and students find the iPads easy to use and prefer to use them rather than laptops. Although in a sense that’s old news too because that’s the very reason iPads were selected by Longfield following the involvement of teachers, students and parents in the purchasing decision (see “iPads changing the game for learning at Longfield”).
The report adds, "The implementation of a one to one scheme using the iPad has been very successful. The devices have been well received by students and by staff and are increasingly well-used in the curriculum as their attributes and limitations are learned.”
“The iPad as a Tool for Education” is written in the style of an academic report and the first section provides a welcome sift through the limited research on this technology along with existing insights into mobile technology for learning to set a helpful context. It finds other reports that chime with its own findings, However, its handling of rival Android tablets could have been tempered by rather more academic objectivity.
For example, evidence ought to be produced to justify a statement like “There is now strong evidence that devices such as the iPad2 (and indeed the iPad in particular rather than Android tablets) are valuable educational tools.” And quoting Fraser Speirs’ views on Android without pointing out the partisan nature of this source (ie an Apple evangelist) is disingenuous.
Of course, a report into the use of iPads in a secondary school doesn’t have to refer to other digital pads but, if it does, objectivity is essential. Those with long memories remember “You don’t get sacked for buying IBM,” and the effect that had in education – the effective and unfair exclusion of Apple and the failure of most government advisers and organisations to stand up for schools that wanted to exercise a free choice.
Good feedback from teachers and students but not from parents
That point aside, this report is important, especially given the paucity of feedback on the use of digital tablets for learning and the sheer speed of their adoption by schools. Questionnaires were sent out to all staff, all students with iPads (more than 800 out of a total of 960 on roll) and their parents. They were returned by 71 staff and 310 students. However, only 23 parents responded, a ratio of low statistical significance which, despite a caution, doesn’t prevent the author from venturing the opinion: "The fact that the overwhelming majority of parents have not responded could be taken as acceptance of the value of the iPad project." Not really and, curiously, the tantalising glimpses we get of parental opinion are curiously negative.
The bones of the feedback can be found in the executive summary: “...with the majority of pupils at the school now having iPads there has been a significant and very positive impact on learning together with further significant and still developing changes in pedagogy. In particular it was found that:
- The overwhelming majority of teachers regularly use iPads in their teaching;
- iPad use is particularly strong in English, maths and science;
- There is high demand from students for iPad use to be extended further;
- Teachers have identified significant benefits for their workload and have also identified cost savings;
- Use of the iPads is increasingly being developed for homework and beyond school activities;
- Students are more motivated when using iPads;
- The quality and standard of pupil work and progress is rising;
- Both staff and student feel they can work more effectively with iPads;
- Levels of collaborative working have improved;
- Appropriate use of Apps aids learning;
- All find the iPad easy to use.
"Minor technical issues have arisen, often due to user error, but are readily dealt with. Effective project management has been critical to the success of this development. The outcomes at Longfield clearly demonstrate the value of the iPad as an educational tool and the role that it can play in learning and teaching."
Delving into the responses is fascinating and well worth the time. Overall, it's clear that the main use of the iPads for learners is for online research and note-taking in lessons, as you would expect, and that teachers have been enthusiastic in using their iPads in and out of class. What will be even more interesting is how the use develops and is extended into new areas, and the indicatrions are that the students will be a powerful motor here.
The report makes an interesting point about the issues surrounding the use of 'consumer' technology in enterprise environments like schools and colleges. This is the downside that those who hail the "consumerisation" of technology are reluctant to broach. However, it offers very little detail or insight. Identifying the positive aspects of using digital pads for learning is the relatively easy part of this project. These are the points that everyone is happy to talk about. What schools and their advisers also need to know is how to deal with the challenges and the obstacles, and the report feels rather forgiving here.
“The iPad as a Tool for Education" mentions that managing apps and licensing is an issue for schools because no site licences are available (as they are for schools using other technologies). This is a known issue and has put some schools off dipping a toe in the water. They are worried about breaching copyright, and no one, yet, is recommending iTunes as an appropriate tool for managing class sets of iPads or iPods. However, there is little detail here about how Longfield deals with this issue, which would be extremely helpful to know. Interestingly Longfield is using the Puffin browser as a way to view content that uses Flash software (banished by Apple for iPads and iPods).
'The iPads have revolutionised teaching'
The sound bite that is likely to travel the furthest from this report comes from a teacher: "The iPads have revolutionised teaching." That could be debated for a very long time, and the author does try to contextualise it as "the opinion of one teacher, a statement that, while not necessarily shared by all, sums up the views of most students and many staff". Whatever outsiders might think, there is no doubt that the use of iPads have been part of a step change for ICT for learning at Longfield. And that senior managers feel that hey have helped to change the relationships between learners and teachers (“iPads changing the game for learning at Longfield”).
“The iPad as a Tool for Education” is a welcome contribution to the growing understanding of the importance of digital tablets for learning. It makes it clear that Apple’s iPad is a powerful tool for learning both in and out of school and that it is sufficiently robust for the job given a well thought out school strategy and implementation.
That was certainly the approach of the Longfield Academy, part of an impressive group culture for learning and ICT at the Leigh Academies Trust in Kent. And the report does a favour for schools wanting to create a 1:1 project for their own students and staff by sharing Longfield’s own nine lessons learned from the project (so resonant of the general consensus on ICT implementation that developed within the BSF leadership work – apart from the "even if it is" No 7! – and also shared on the 9ine website):
- Develop a clear vision and strategy for your 1:1 scheme;
- Define your learning culture;
- Define and create your user experience and support model;
- Work with a traffic light and reporting system;
- Evaluate your existing position;
- Know how many staff and students already own, in this case, an iOS device;
- Get everyone involved – don’t let a perception grow that it is a ‘done deal’, even if it is;
- Get devices in teachers and learners hand as soon as possible;
- Record and share your experiences.
Given the level of responses and the fact that Longfield had only been using iPads for two terms, there is some really interesting feedback on their use. As one of the first UK schools confident enough to invest in an Apple-only policy (there is also interesting use of open source for ‘back office’ functions), Longfield Academy is the ideal subject for a longer-term study. More time could also get closer to a more definitive answer to the question "Have the iPads helped raise achievement?" This is just the beginning of the story – for that's what it really is rather than hard-nosed research – and an excellent school like Longfield Academy will be certain to extend and improve the use of this technology.
However, there is another reason here for Naace to be more astute and rigorous about its objectivity when it comes to technology platforms and devices. The key reason that this project is so successful is undoubtedly the quality of the school and its vision and strategy – rather than the technology, although that certainly suits. If Longfield Academy had chosen to delay this project and implement it with Android tablets and a top-quality partner like 9ine, does anyone, anywhere, really think that it would not be a success?
“The iPad as a Tool for Education: A study of the introduction of iPads at Longfield Academy, Kent”, by Paul Heinrich, was undertaken on behalf of Naace (The ICT Association) with support from 9ine Consulting Ltd.
The 54-page report is available for free download from the Naace website or from 9ine (9ine requires registration but also offers other useful information on 1:1 projects).