Recommendations for using tablet technology

I have been asked to make some recommendations for Gloucestershire College on the use of tablet technology to improve learning. Although I have limited knowledge of the current IT provision at the College and their vision for using technology in the future I can provide some general recommendations for progressing this topic.

Tablet technology is taking off in a way that few would have foreseen prior to 2010 and the iPad 1 launch. Earlier tablets did not offer the same mobility and usability that new generation tablets now do. Also, the iPad captured the imagination as Apple products are designed to with its focus on elegant design as well as usability, and it became a must-have item for the wannabee IT geek. Rapid developments in recent times have seen many competitors and the innovative development of relatively cheap software to use your tablet for a variety of things you didn’t know you needed to do as well as making many expensive activities relatively affordable with tablets doubling as cameras, musical instruments and even mobile laboratories.

It is the flexibility of the tablet and its ability to mimic specialist equipment that has made it a popular technology for innovations in education. Combined with its use as an ebook reader and the growing availability of academic texts in ebook form it begins to appeal to educational institutions as both a study support tool and an agent for classroom innovation.

Some schools and universities have now moved to having every student issued with a tablet and their use being integrated into lessons e.g. Brown Mackie College, USA (Fuhrman, 2013) and Longfield Academy, Kent (Heinrich, 2012). Others are making use of tablets in specific areas examples include a paperless Chemistry course at University of New Haven, USA (Hesser and Schwartz, 2013).

It would be easy to think that we must get on board and be using this technology to keep up and make people feel that we are on the leading edge. However, successful case studies show us that it is important to examine what benefits are there for the learner if an institution decides support tablet technology. Heinrich (2012) advises you to “define … your user experience”. So what areas offer improvements to learning.

Lesson Delivery

The first possibility for usage is by lecturers in delivery of lesson. There are example from case studies of usage of how tablets can be effectively used to replace other more specialist technologies in lessons. Mahaley (2012) explains that he has used an iPad and Apple TV as a cost effective alternative to a laptop and interactive white board combination. Also, subject specific apps allow it to be used in variety of ways e.g. as a mobile lab in sports lessons on movement and to easily create five sided flash cards for language learning (Miller, 2012).

Study Support

Text books are increasingly available in ebook form at a lower cost than hard-copy form and they can be easily updated. Also, students are able to annotate, bookmark and share their thoughts on text easily using various apps.

Students with tablets could access the VLE from anywhere, Moodle works with mobile devices but does need to be set up to do so effectively. If a standard for a tablet to be supported were agreed by the College then focused support could be provided.

Integrated Usage in Lessons

Tablets could provide alternative to booking a computer room or a specialist lab e.g. an iPad can function as an effective ear-training tool in music (Miller, 2012).

Tablets could be used for note-taking in lessons, apps provide the ability to hand write searchable notes, write equations and draw diagrams. Collaborative working can be facilitated, displaying work easily on the main screen. Whilst each of these activities can take place without a tablet, they are made easier and work can be stored for later access or submitted for review.

Recommendations

It is clear that there are some important learning benefits from the use of tablets. At one level having lecturers using tablets for delivering lessons opens up possibilities for lessons that otherwise require specialist equipment that may be prohibitively expensive or have limited availability (video recorders, laboratory apparatus etc.). Having students using tablets also provides an easy way to have internet and VLE access in every classroom as well as making use of subject specific apps for further developing the learning experience.

There would appear to be three sensible options for making use of tablet technology.

1)    Provide tablets to lecturers for use in lesson delivery. Initially, this could be a nominated individual from each subject area in order to identify suitable apps and develop resources. Class sets of devices could be provided as appropriate (individual or small group work).

2)    Offer wifi network support for students and staff to use tablets more widely for study support. Identifying a device that will be supported. Devices may be available on a loan basis for students.

3) Require all students to have a tablet that will be used in lessons as appropriate and for study support. This may only be appropriate for a section of the College community e.g. those following level 3 courses.

Next Steps

A detailed feasibility study would be required. What are the costs involved for purchase, technical support, training and network infrastructure. This would require input from IT department as well as identifying potential suppliers. This would also need to compare the ongoing costs of existing IT equipment provision and how the need for this would be affected.

How effective will the use of ebooks be in different subject areas and what potential savings may be made. How effectively can the learning benefits be realised in courses offered at the College – studies suggest there are benefits but many of these are at tertiary level. This would require input from different subject areas to identify how readily reported uses could be implemented here.

Perhaps the question that will arouse the most passion is whether we should focus on one particular tablet and which one it should be. It may be that we can provide network support for students to choose their own device to bring to College, but in terms of training and provision of devices to staff we would need to focus on one. iPad appears in all the published research I have seen so far, but mainly because it was out first. Reports out this month still suggest that iPad offer twice as many apps as available for Android or Windows 8 devices so a detailed review of the apps available for these alternatives would be needed to justify any potential cost savings in terms of equivalent learning benefits.

An exciting proposition but one that needs some careful thought and a whole College vision on how we use technology for teaching and learning.

References

Fuhrman, T. 2013. Making the iPad the Center of the Academic Experience. Campus Technology. [online journal]. http://campustechnology.com/articles/2013/02/14/making-the-ipad-the-center-of-the-academic-experience.aspx?=CTMOB. (26 August 2013).

Gralla, P. 2013. Will the lack of good Windows 8 apps kill Windows tablets? Computer World. [online journal]. http://blogs.computerworld.com/tablets/22613/will-lack-good-windows-8-apps-kill-windows-tablets. (25 August 2013).

Heinrich, P. 2012. The iPad as a tool for Education. Nottingham: NAACE.

Hesser, T. and Schwarz, P. 2013. iPads in the Science Laboratory. Journal of STEM Education. Vol 14 Issue 2. pp 5-9.

Mahaley, D. 2012. Apple TV in the Classroom the New Smart Board. EmergingEdTech [website]. http://www.emergingedtech.com/2012/02/apple-tv-in-the-classroom-the-new-smart-board/. (25 August 2013).

Miller, W. 2012. iTeaching and Learning. Library Technology Reports ‘Rethinking Reference and Instruction with Tablets’. Vol 48 No.8. Chicago: ALA.

Newman, J. 2013. Report: Android tablet app availability still trailing iPad. TechHive. [online journal]. http://www.techhive.com/article/2046744/report-android-tablet-app-availability-still-trailing-ipad.html. (26 August 2013).

Websites

Educational Resources. http://www.edresources.com/. (26 August 2013).

Virginia Tech, College of Engineering website. http://www.eng.vt.edu/it/tabletbenefits. (25 August 2013).