Monday, 13 June 2016

iPad Research



I've been undertaking research into 1-1 iPad projects as part of my present role. In order to get some context I've been reading past research. There isn't a great deal of work yet done on iPads so the number of papers was pretty small. If there is anyone reading this who is aware of good research work please let me know. The following are my summaries of some of the more interesting pieces.


Rana M. Tamim, Eugene Borokhovski, David Pickup and Robert M. Bernard, Large-Scale, Government Supported Educational Tablet Initiatives

This isn’t a review of large scale educational initiatives in tablet computing in schools, but an extended rant. That the rant is justified is also very clear. What ever happened to the idea that policy should be evidence based and rigorously analysed? There is precious little evidence in this study that it is part of global approaches to technology in education. Massive funds are being spent without any clarity about why or what the outcomes were.

The study starts by admitting that there’s plenty of evidence that technology can enhance outcomes. Tablets are currently the most fashionable educational technology initiative. The study sets out to answer these questions:

· What explicit and implicit factors are motivating governments to launch tablet initiatives?

· What financial and organisational models are governments using to implement their tablet initiatives?

· What are the intended educational outcomes of the tablet initiatives?

· To what extent are the tablet initiatives aligned with educational policies and strategies?

· To what extent has the use of tablets been integrated with the curriculum?

· What provisions have been made to develop or provide access to relevant educational content on the tablets?

· What provisions have been made for teacher, student and parent preparation for the use of the tablets?

For an overall conclusion this is pretty damning; “the task proved to be more challenging than expected because of the limited amount of publicly available information, the overall findings of the review confirm the original assumption: that the majority of the tablet initiatives are launched with a hasty and uncalculated approach, often weak on the educational, financial or policy front.” p. 21

Questions and Answers

What explicit and implicit factors are motivating governments to launch tablet initiatives?

The report is very scathing, “the stated objectives included catchphrases and buzzwords that may have been more fitting for public relations and political campaigns than for educational reform actions” p. 23

What financial and organisational models are governments using to implement their tablet initiatives?

The report indicates that published material about this aspect of these initiatives was very limited. It points out some enormous discrepancies, for example both Jamaica and Turkey spent $1.4 billion on tablets but the former supported only 24,000 students whereas the latter helped over 10 million. The report doesn’t analyse this further but it’s hard to understand how Turkey managed to achieve anything significant with $140 per student. Equally it is hard to see how Jamaica invested c. $58000 per student even with training and infrastructure spending.

Educational Factors

Probably because they could find so little hard data the final five questions collapse into one section in the report. They don’t mince their words “the initiatives focused on the hype around tablets and not on their use as a tool to achieve an educational goal” p. 24.

This is very frustrating for someone involved in educational technology. Clearly governments are spending money on tablets but without any transparency about the educational aims, financial systems or impact these projects involve. It is easy to assume that’s because the thinking hasn’t been done. It’s also a criminal waste of money to carry through these projects without maximising the learning they generate.

Ha├čler, B., Major, L. & Hennessy, S., Tablet use in schools: A critical review of the evidence for learning outcomes, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, June 2015

Just when I was despairing about tablets, education and intelligent analysis this paper came to my attention.

Unlike the work on large scale tablet initiatives it is much smaller scale and teacher facing in its focus and all the better for it. The study attempts to uncover research that looks closely at how tablets can impact on learning. As it says “the fragmented nature of the current knowledge base, and the scarcity of rigorous studies, make it difficult to draw firm conclusions” (p. 1). But there are some interesting pointers and useful distinctions in this study that make it worth reading.

The authors carried out a search of published material using strict criteria that gave them just 23 studies. Four of these involved less than 10 subjects. These limitations are indicative of the lack of rigorous research on this topic.

The published studies were mostly positive about the impact of tablets:

· 16 reported positive learning outcomes;

· 5 reported no difference; and

· 2 reported negative outcomes.

Looking at the positive results the paper finds a number of factors that seem to contribute to successful outcomes. These are:

· high usability and integration of multiple features within one device;

· easy customisation and supporting inclusion;

· touch screen; and

· availability and portability.

The authors delineate some practical considerations. It won’t surprise anyone to read that “effective technology management is critical to the successful introduction of tablets and this should be underpinned by sound change management principles” (p. 13). Also it seems evident that “a robust wireless infrastructure, with sufficient capacity to accommodate entire classes of tablets connecting simultaneously” (p. 14) is essential. Good cases are needed for “younger children” (P. 14).

Less tangible factors are also identified. They state that “a supportive school culture that fosters collegiality and teacher empowerment at different levels can be pivotal for the effective introduction of tablets” (p. 13).

It is interesting how differing schemes for distributing tablets impacted on outcomes. “In the one-to-one setting [that is one tablet per student], there is no competition for tablets among students, and in the studies reviewed there was consistently high group participation, improved communication and interaction. However, the many-to-one groups [i.e. many students to one tablet] generated superior artefacts as all the notes were well discussed among the group members” (p. 15). This finding challenges the common sense idea that one-to-one schemes are better.

The authors practical approach is admirable, for example they note that the “trade-off between number of devices, screen size, cost, and corresponding effective learning scenarios, remains completely unexplored in the research literature” (p. 18). They point a fruitful forward path for tablet research that focuses in on the classroom and school issues that might make the difference between the success or the failure of a procurement.



Kevin Burden, Paul Hopkins, Dr Trevor Male, Dr Stewart Martin, Christine Trala, iPad Scotland Evaluation, 2012

This piece of work is now quite old. The title may give the impression that this is wide study. It isn't. The evidence for the work comes from just 3 secondaries and 5 primaries, mostly authorities in or neighbouring Edinburgh (apart from one school in Aberdeen). The work involved interviews with staff and students. There wasn't any quantitative data.

They found that "teachers noted that ubiquitous access to the Internet and other knowledge tools associated with the iPad altered the dynamics of their classroom and enabled a wider range of learning activities to routinely occur than had been possible previously". Having iPads also "encouraged many teachers to explore alternative activities and forms of assessment for learning".

Students were found to show "increasing student levels of motivation, interest and engagement", "greater student autonomy and self-efficacy" and "more responsibility for their own learning".

Apparently "little formal training or tuition to use the devices was required by teachers; they learned experientially through play and through collaboration with colleagues and students".

There is a great deal more detail in the study and if you are considering iPads it is worth reading in full.


Finally I should reference Donald Clark's unrivalled unequivocal dislike of tablets in schools, for a counter to any positive impressions created above, for example here.

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