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Mobile Devices in Schools – Why Bother?

The new term has begun with vigour as yet another media debate simmers about the usefulness of allowing/welcoming/fully integrating mobile devices in schools.

First things first: debate is good! As a charity whose priority it is to be the go-to resource for schools needing guidance on how to implement the mobile devices they’ve invested in, we’re glad to be able to clear up some vital points. So if your school has introduced mobile technology (or is about to), especially one-to-one tablets to play a significant role in teaching and learning and you still have questions about how to make it work better for you, then read on!

 

There’s a huge difference between debating the wisdom of ‘allowing’ pupils to access their smartphones in lesson time (or debating lack of parent discipline) and a debate about the difference technology can make to learning, pupil engagement and readiness for the demands of employers. Our research shows that in schools using technology in their teaching, nearly all have a ‘responsible use’ policy in place. While 76% of the 6,565 secondary pupils interviewed this year regularly use a smartphone, only 29% use their phone regularly in school.

 

What we’re most concerned at Techknowledge for Schools with is the discussion around the coordinated, systematic, well-planned integration of technology into the teaching system and methods. We devote our energies to help school leaders weigh up how to introduce and integrate a new way of teaching and learning so that their pupils have a fighting chance of emerging as tech-savvy and engaged with technology as we know they’ll need to be.

 

And of course we help teachers make it happen in the classroom, by guiding and coaching them throughout the integration process, over several years if necessary, with online and in-person practical support and materials. Alongside all of that, and this part is crucial to the current debate, we constantly monitor and measure the reactions, enlightened discoveries and stumbling blocks of teachers and pupils, the impact on pupil engagement and learning and increasingly, the impact on their achievements.

 

Our 2014 research* found that 69% of UK schools are using tablets in teaching and 6% are using one-to-one tablets. They won’t stop now, so let’s learn from them! We work closely with 40 schools who have taken the step of introducing one-to-one tablets. Despite the well-publicised efforts of a few cynics, many schools’ firm commitment to using mobile technology to transform learning won’t diminish or go away. In our research, 49% of schools interviewed were seriously considering introducing tablets and 42% might be introducing tablets in the next year.

 

Clear advantages to using tablets are cited by the hundreds of teachers and pupils we talk to, and of course a number of barriers to full integration so that tablets and online learning work seamlessly alongside traditional learning methods. No one needs to dispute that. It’s happening. Using mobile technology offers teachers the valuable choice of teaching at the pupil’s pace, instead of teaching to the middle (even more valuable for students with special needs). Students are now working in a way that is relevant to their world and which enables them to employ workplace skills such as presenting, collaborating, producing videos, tutorials and improving and research and analysis skills.

 

But although we have plenty of robust research to share on that, don’t just take our word for it. There are hundreds of fully engaged teaches and heads willing to share their views. These videos tell the story.

 

Tony Ryan, head of Chiswick School, is crystal clear about the benefits of integrating tablets into everyday learning:
 
“With my reasonable hat on, I can see the points that critics of mobile devices in schools are attempting to make. Of course students can potentially abuse tablets to access inappropriate content if allowed, but is our job not to educate them to take a positive, active role in an ever more complex world? With education, guidance and training, these tools can bring learning alive.”
 

“On their own, I will happily agree that mobile devices are not a solution, but they have the potential in the right set of circumstances to assist differentiation, encourage extended learning and allow students to apply context to the knowledge that they are acquiring, whilst at the same time learning new skills.”

 

Tim Cross, head of Learning Technology at Leigh Academies Trust, agrees:
 

“Comments about removing mobile devices from schools undermine the excellent work done by teachers every day seeking to make the curriculum accessible and relevant to today’s learners. The solution is not to remove tablets but rather invest further in helping staff and students harness the opportunities they provide.”
 

The bottom line is (to address the latest debate) that if teachers are simply using tablets as pacifiers or if pupils are misusing the tablets, then those schools need more help. We’re here to give it. Get in touch with us and find invaluable resources at Techknowledge for Schools.
 

* ‘The Use of Tablets in UK Schools’, Techknowledge for Schools, September 2014.

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