Increasingly, we hear of schools seeking to deploy ipads or similar tablet devices. Yet, it sometimes seems to me that schools have not perhaps really grasped the nature of these devices and how they, and their usage, differs from the laptop or netbook.
Let me start by making one of my beliefs clear; the ipad is not a replacement for a laptop and should not be viewed as such if it is to be used effectively. Deploying laptops in a school can be relatively straight forward (yeah?), you can create pupil profiles and allow the laptops to be distributed and used by any pupil in the school. In this way, the laptop becomes a school resource which can be used by pupils or teachers.
The ipad is different. For all their versatility, iPad and other tablet or mobile devices are personal devices; they are not designed to be shared among pupils. The mere idea of using an ipad which someone else has has their grubby fingers using is almost disgusting and certainly unhygienic. I would suggest it is something schools should not even be contemplating let alone trying to implement!
So here we have the first point which schools need to consider carefully. You cannot simply extend your centralised IT provision of desktop and laptop computers with tablet devices, neither can you start replacing those old devices with tablets. They are different quite different beasts and will require a change in the approach of technology deployment and usage within an institution.
Do not get me wrong, I am not saying you cannot use tablets in schools. What I am saying is change your approach. All too often schools have tried to involve new technologies into old approaches, let’s not make the same mistake with tablet and mobile devices.
For many years, up to now, we have had what might be considered a centralised, or maybe a top-down, approach to education technology. An approach in which, to varying extents, central government, local government and school networks have determined what technology is purchased, deployed and its usage. To a large extent, nowadays, we have let go of this approach and allowed much more flexibility into our uses of learning technology. To a large extent, the choice of learning technology has become chosen by the learner rather than by the institution or government body. It has been clear that learners appear to choose portable and mobile devices over fixed or bulky items.
This change presents many challenges to schools, not least in ensuring that their learning content, and perhaps their admin content, and other services are made available to a range of devices used by both staff and learners. Many of these devices, of course, will not be owned by the school or its local authority; many will not be owned by the user but possibly by parents or by third parties, such as mobile phone companies.
Here we have another problem facing schools. The varying ownership of the devices causes issues for schools who seek to control the devices and how/when/where they may be used. It is a problem which has ethical, legal as well as technical issues. Can a school ethical prevent a person using a device which they own? After all, we are not talking about a small inexpensive toy or comic book but an expensive electronic device. Can a school legally put its own software or controls on a range of devices to prevent users accessing certain content, especially when the device may not be owned by either the school or the user?
Now, you can see how this article has drifted from the personal to the central in discussing how tablet devices can be used in schools. This reflects what sometimes appears to happen in schools where the central problems seem to take over the discussion about deploying tablet and mobile devices. Which is why I advocate that the first step a school should undertake is to review and adapt its approach to technology in learning. This can start by making it the responsibility of the central system to ensure that its content and relevant services are mad available to a range of personal devices rather than trying to control how those devices are used. I’m sure most network managers would welcome this change toward making a positive contribution to learning with technology rather than controlling and restricting how that technology can be used.
Now we face another issue; having said that a school cannot merely use tablet devices to extend its existing provision and that it cannot simply replace old laptops with such devices. It soon becomes clear that in order to be fully effective a school may have to replace all, or most, of its learning tech with portable devices en masse. This is both a very expensive, time-consuming and disruptive (not necessarily in the good sense of the word) approach and it is fully understandable that schools are likely to baulk at this.
I am also not an advocate of the ‘one-size fits all’ type of approach for, although I admire the versatility of tablet devices, I feel they may not always be the best solution or the preferred solution for all learners. So I believe it is the responsibility of a school to carefully identify how an existing centralised system can be utilised, though probably pared back, to support its work and how the learning needs of its pupils can be best supported by a range of technologies and services.