As previously covered in this blog, lessons using more than one semiotic system can offer measurable improvements in pupil attainment (Beauchamp, 2012). While an interactive whiteboard is often the main source of multimodality in a classroom, the increasing prevalence of tablet devices (typically iPads) offers a more individualised approach to multimodal learning (Beauchamp, 2012). But are iPads really a panacea which will finally help close the stubborn attainment gap, or are they an expensive, unproven distraction sucking up money that could be better spent elsewhere?
With Glasgow City Council’s recent announcement that 54,000 iPads will be given to its pupils and teachers (Stewart, 2018), the drive to embrace tablets in education isn’t slowing down. Nine years after the introduction of the 1st generation iPad, evidence is building regarding the educational worth of tablets in classrooms. A 2012 University of Hull evaluation of iPad usage in Scottish schools reached several positive conclusions:
- iPads opened up a wider range of learning opportunities and activities, encouraging teachers and pupils to explore new forms of teaching and learning.
- iPads promote greater collaboration between teachers and pupils
- Pupils report improved quality of ICT lessons following the introduction of iPads
- Parents report their children have an increased willingness to discuss their school work when iPad based.
- iPads helped deliver core, cross-curricular CfE outcomes
(Burden et al, 2012)
A more recent study evaluating iPad use in Welsh primary schools by Beauchamp and Hillier (2014) details similar benefits while cautioning that rises in attainment were not specifically reported by the teachers taking part in the study – a significant point worth serious consideration by any current or future educator.
Moving from an overview of iPad usage, a 2012 Guardian article offers an educator’s personal experience. Andrews (2012) details four broad benefits: user-friendliness, eBook access, powerful audio-visual tools, and multimodal creativity. But it’s Andrews’ list of problems which I find most interesting as they have largely been resolved in the period since the article as written, either by software updates or broader changes in the tech sector.
“Multitasking: A drawback with the iPads is the fact that multiple ‘windows’ or files cannot be kept open, side-by-side unlike on computers, although there are apps that allow multiple pages to be open side by side.” (Andrews, 2012, n.p.)
Multiple windows have been supported on iPads since 2017.
“Word processing: The iPad is quite limited as a device that you would use regularly to word process on. I much prefer to type lengthy documents on my computer, where I can switch quickly between browser, word processing and email.” (Andrews, 2012, n.p.)
When Andrews says “limited” he is referring either to the software or hardware. Today, fully capable versions of Microsoft Word and Apple’s own Pages are available for iPad and completely compatible with their desktop/laptop counterparts. In terms of hardware, I do personally prefer typing with a real keyboard (and, ideally, a mouse) but I wonder if this is just another generational difference and suspect today’s young people will be perfectly comfortably typing lengthier documents on touchscreens.
I have witnessed some good and some not so good iPad usage in schools. To give an example: I assisted with a class creating PowerPoint presentations on iPad minis. It wasn’t an especially successful lesson for two main reasons:
Wrong hardware. The size of iPad minis create challenges when they’re being used as productivity tools – the screen is simply too small for many tasks. For good reason, Apple tends to promote the iPad mini as a media consumption device rather than a productivity tool. Not that minis can’t be used for creative output but doing so requires appropriate apps, which brings me to…
Wrong software. Instead of the native iPad app, pupils were using a web-based version of PowerPoint which was not optimised for touchscreen use (several core functions were not possible due to the lack of a right-click option). Additionally, drop-down menus were difficult to access, some text was difficult to read, layers were horrendously difficult to control, etc.
It was a frustrating session for both teachers and pupils. And there were other occasions where the iPad wasn’t being used to its full potential or – even worse – was actually getting in the way of the learning. In my view, this underscores the need to ensure iPads are not just used, but used well. Similarly, the conclusion of Andrews (2012), Burden et al (2012) and Beauchamp and Hillier (2014) is that iPads are indeed a useful educational tool – but only when teachers themselves are trained to maximise the potential benefits. Glasgow City Council’s 54,000 iPads delivers a splashy headline, but the multi-million pound investment won’t mean much if all the devices are used for is taking photos and the occasional game of Sumdog.
Another aspect to consider is resource availability. In more than one school I’ve witnessed how a lack of iPads causes last-minute changes to planned lessons or lessons being cut short because another class is scheduled to use the devices. One of the key findings of Burden et al (2012) is that pupils having their own individually allocated iPad, accessible at all times, significantly boosts engagement and learning. The Scottish government, local authorities and head teachers clearly face difficult financial decisions but, at best, it is dishonest of the government to trumpet the importance of digital technology within education without providing adequate funding to support its effective use.
Our assessment task was to use an iPad to create an e-book summarising a children’s print book while introducing interactive elements. I had dabbled with e-book production before but hadn’t thought about it as a classroom activity. This assessment was a chance to evaluate the learning opportunities offered by e-book creation and, more broadly, assess the use of mobile devices for such activities.
I wanted to approach this task a little differently from those before. All previous assessments had been solo efforts and this time I wanted to collaborate with a fellow student. Working with a partner, particularly when using an unfamiliar app such as Book Creator, is a great way of discovering aspects of the program you may have missed otherwise. It also means immediate support if you’re stuck. And frankly, it makes the process feel like more of a fun challenge and less of formal task – something I will bear in mind for future classroom practice.
What struck my partner and I before we started the task is how many CfE Experiences and Outcomes can connect to the creation of an e-book. To give just a few examples from the Technologies Es & Os:
“TCH 0-01: I can explore digital technologies and use what I learn to solve problems and share ideas and thoughts.” (Scottish Government, 2019a, p.4)
“TCH 1-01a: I can explore and experiment with digital technologies and can use what I learn to support and enhance my learning in different contexts.” (ibid)
“TCH 2-01a: I can extend and enhance my knowledge of digital technologies to collect, analyse ideas, relevant information and organise these in an appropriate way.” (ibid)
And for this particular task – creating a summary of an existing story – the links extend beyond the Technologies. From the Expressive Arts Es & Os:
“EXA 1-02a: I have the opportunity to choose and explore a range of media and technologies to create images and objects, discovering their effects and suitability for specific tasks.” (Scottish Government, 2019b, p.3)
And from the Literacy Es & Os:
“LIT 2-06a: I can select ideas and relevant information, organise these in an appropriate way for my purpose and use suitable vocabulary for my audience.” (Scottish Government, 2019c, p.4)
These are but a few examples. Evidently, e-book creation is a highly adaptable activity with links to multiple curricular areas across all levels. The Book Creator app itself is simple, intuitive and can produce attractive projects. The book I created with my partner had a charmingly homemade vibe but isn’t as good as a professionally produced e-book and likely never would be, regardless of how much time we spent on it (we’re not graphics designers, after all). So while the app could be used to create custom books for pupils or groups – and this could be particularly helpful when creating materials for children with learning or physical disabilities – I believe its true value, given the wealth of connections to cross-curricular Es & Os, is as an expressive tool for the pupils themselves.
Creating a project directly on an iPad was a fairly new experience for me – I habitually switch to a desktop or laptop when word processing, editing photos and so on. For this task, however, I discovered the iPad was ideal – a slick, easy-to-use, all-in-one solution. The devices are compact, have great battery life, and are generally straightforward to set up and maintain. And they are, of course, cheaper than equivalently capable laptops. There is also something undeniably appealing about being able to your work in your hands and interact with it in such a direct way. I can understand how the tactile nature of tablets appeals so much to children.
Overall, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that iPads do indeed offer educational value in the classroom – when used appropriately. It’s crucial that 1) resourcing is adequate, and 2) educators themselves are trained to understand the pros and cons of the devices in order to avoid frustrating or unproductive lessons.
Andrews, D. (2012) An Apple for the teacher: are iPads the future in class? The Guardian. [Online] 13 August, non-paginated. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2012/aug/13/schools-secondary-schools [Accessed: 11 February 2019].
Barrett, B. (2017) Adobe Finally Kills Flash Dead. Wired. [Online] 25 July, non-paginated. Available: https://www.wired.com/story/adobe-finally-kills-flash-dead [Accessed: 11 February 2019].
Beauchamp, G. (2012) ICT in the Primary School – From Pedagogy to Practice. [Online] Available: Dawsonera. [Accessed: 14 February 2019].
Beauchamp, G. and Hillier, E. (2014) An Evaluation of iPad Implementation Across a Network of Primary Schools in Cardiff. [Online] Available: https://www.cardiffmet.ac.uk/education/research/Documents/iPadImplementation2014.pdf [Accessed: 11 February 2019].
Burden, K. Hopkins, P. Male, T. Martin, S. and Trala, C. (2012) iPad Scotland Evaluation. [Online] Available: https://digitalteachingandlearning.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/ipad-scotland-evaluation.pdf [Accessed: 10 February 2019].
Jobs, S. (2010) Thoughts on Flash. [Online] Available: https://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash [Accessed: 11 February 2019]
Scottish Government (2019a) Curriculum for Excellence: Technologies – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/Technologies-es-os.pdf [Accessed: 10 February 2019].
Scottish Government (2019b) Curriculum for Excellence: Expressive Arts – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/Documents/expressive-arts-eo.pdf [Accessed: 14 February 2019].
Scottish Government (2019c) Curriculum for Excellence: Literacy – Experiences and Outcomes. [Online] Available: https://education.gov.scot/documents/literacy-across-learning-eo.pdf [Accessed: 14 February 2019].
Stewart, C. (2018) Glasgow schools digital strategy to see 54,000 iPads for school pupils. Evening Times. [Online] 3 December, non-paginated. Available: https://www.eveningtimes.co.uk/news/17271078.glasgow-schools-digital-strategy-to-see-54000-ipads-for-school-pupils [Accessed: 11 February 2019].