11 November 2012

Finally a serious research study on tablet use in schools

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Although there are many tablet deployments in schools worldwide, there is a glaring lack of serious research on what actually happens in the classrooms with these devices. In fact, there is so far no aggregated evidence that tablet technology significantly aids learning. Obviously, official endorsement for the widespread use of tablets in schools cannot really happen without substantiated, independent evidence to convincingly prove the case for tablet technology.

Carphone Warehouse (corporate site), a UK mobile phone retailer, recently commissioned the Family Kids and Youth research agency to conduct a qualitative study of schools situated in Belfast, Kent and Essex where children are already benefiting from tablet use. The aim of the research, which ran from April to July 2012, was to find out more about how tablets are actually being used in education.

Family Kids and Youth carried out focus groups and ethnography at one of the schools (Honywood Community Science School, Coggeshall, Essex), interviewing pupils, staff and teachers, and observing the way in which different subjects and age groups used tablets in learning. Research was also undertaken with teachers, pupils and parents in one control school and two primary schools. In addition, an online quantitative research study was carried out between 22 June – 2 July with a UK nationally representative sample of 1,120 parents of children aged 3-16, 933 children aged 7-16, and 202 teachers.

The research findings (pdf) are generally rather positive (assuming that Family Kids and Youth has done its research properly, given the obvious interest of Carphone Warehouse in tablet sales): tablets enhance learning, improve communication, engage and motivate pupils, and stimulate proactive querying, initiative taking and creativity. Interestingly, the study points out that particularly less engaged pupils, those who had previously struggled with their homework, and pupils with special educational needs appear to be benefiting most from tablet use in schools (read the short report for more details).

Often cited fears – about distraction, misuse such as gaming and texting, time spent, theft, loss of writing skills, challenges in terms of classroom management – were clearly not confirmed by reality.

Yet, it is worthwhile underlining what Carphone Warehouse considered to be three primary issues regarding the use of tablet technology in schools (as summarised in the introduction of a follow-up project that is running during the school year 2012-2013):
1. A lack of specialised training for teachers around the use of tablet technology
2. Concerns for students when faced with sitting traditional paper-based examinations
3. The growing mass of unregulated content in the app world and the lack of appropriate interactive content
(“Teachers have the impression that educational publishers are merely publishing text books in the form of an app without fully appreciating the possibilities that tablets can offer.”)

If you read French, you may also be interested in the dossier “Tablette tactile et enseignement (école, collège, lycée)” – on the website of the French Ministry of Education. The (very long) web page provides an overview of what is currently going on in France, contains many links, but does unfortunately not include a deeper analysis (unless you delve deeper into the linked reports, such as this one from Paris and this one from Fribourg, Switzerland).

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