There’s been a lot of discussion in the press about tablet devices, mobile phones and other technological approaches to teaching and learning. The general trend from comments close to the government is that tablets and mobile phones are inherently a problem (Pupils set for ban on mobiles and iPads in the classroom to stop lessons being disrupted). For me, articles like this risk conflating two separate issues: use of mobile devices as a behaviour issue and thoughtful use of educational technology. Grouping the two together is unhelpful.
I’m not for one second suggesting that there should be a free for all with mobile phones in school. In fact, I’m very much in favour of having strict policies for their use and consistently enforced sanctions for those students who choose to ignore basic rules. But the more this debate goes on, there’s a danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
Anecdotally, I can see some merit in some BYOD (bring your own device) methods. But I wonder if it’s done teacher by teacher, it risks sending an inconsistent message to students – and we know how irritating it is when students say ‘but Mr/Ms Soandso lets us [insert any other slight bend in rules].’ For that reason, I’m very much in favour of ruling out mobile phone use in class, even for legitimate educational reasons because students benefit with consistent rules and boundaries. Inconsistency means that schools are only as good as their weakest link.
I work in a school that has 1-1 tablet deployment for all staff and students. At first, I had reservations ranging from ‘What on earth do I do with this?‘ to ‘How can I ensure that these devices are as good, if not better, at ensuring pupils make progress?’ But what became quickly apparent is that tablets are just another educational tool and the impact on student progress comes from the appropriate and considered use of our tools. If staff are given excellent training and guidance, they can use tablets to transform education experiences for children.
I like that weaker writers can use an image search to prompt their creative writing pieces and use our internal literacy resource to proof read. I like that I can use an app like Socrative to gather short answers to knowledge questions which I can use to adapt my teaching inputs in real time. I like that I can have well-designed multiple choice quizzes that can be used to consolidate knowledge (See Joe Kirby’s post on designing effective multiple choice questions). I like that through BaiBoard, groups can work on a task but the whole class ideas can be saved as revision notes. I like that students can have instant access to my entire scheme of work through GoogleDrive so they can independently check information out before asking me. I like that I can place differentiated resources for More Able and SEN students into Showbie, but only so certain students can access them, enabling them to feel supported but without drawing attention to their support.
Having 1-1 tablets gives me allows me to be more experimental in my teaching but for tablet use to be successful, their use needs to be carefully considered. Tasks need to be matched to the learning objectives, not learning objectives tailored to the tasks. But that’s the same with any tool. Throwing tablets into a lesson won’t make it Outstanding, in the same way that having a card-sort or a co-operative learning structure won’t make a lesson Outstanding.
What is essential to grasp is that putting a tablet or portable device into the hands of a teacher won’t automatically ensure pupil progress. To suggest that’s the case is to take a simplistic view of what it means to be ‘engaging’ and also risks perpetuating the idea that in order to have positive behaviour and hard-working students, teachers need to be entertainers. If we’re putting devices in front of students to ‘engage’ them, then we’re addressing the wrong issue. Tom Bennett rightly raised this when he said in The Times ‘Some people say, ‘Give kids iPads and they love them and they’ll love learning too.’ No, kids love iPads, that’s all’ (Read more here). Tablet devices are not the magical solution for student progress; they aren’t going to suddenly make reluctant learners learn – especially if the options given are create a cartoon instead of writing an essay. It makes reluctant learners appear busy, but the likely impact on overall achievement is minimal.
That’s not a problem with tablets; it’s a problem with poor teaching decisions or poor staff training.
Tom Bennett’s exploration about whether students need to ‘write a blog’ when the objective could as easily be met with an ‘essay’ warrant some discussion because it’s only by getting away from sensationalist headlines can a real discussion take place (read more about what Tom Bennett REALLY thinks about technology here).
The mobile phones and tablet debate is a timely one, but we need to separate the devices from teaching decision if we’re going to come to any meaningful conclusions.
Images from Flickr, shared under creative commons.