When Ofcom looked at mobile device ownership among children in 2013, it found that almost 18% of 8-11 year-olds own a smartphone, with a similar proportion owning a tablet. Almost two thirds of 12-15-year-olds are smartphone owners and more than a quarter own a tablet.
The current crop of under-16s have been characterised as the first digital natives, for whom tech is neither exciting nor novel: it’s a part of life. So how can tablets – which, after all, are primarily consumer devices – be used to bring something valuable to learning? Here’s a roundup of ways that tablets can inspire your students.
This might consist of a completely open research exercise – i.e. instructing students to find a specific answer to a question through a general search. Alternatively, it can involve providing a list of suggested sources, perhaps at the same time as encouraging students to evaluate and criticise the usefulness of those sources. Through the use of a tablet and through ‘managed’ internet access (i.e. working on the assumption that access to sites should be permitted unless there is a reason for them to be blocked), it becomes possible to integrate simple, focused research exercises into lesson plans.
For exploring new environments and bringing locations to life, the future comes in the form of 306-degree video. By no means does this necessarily mean giving an entire lesson over to “watching videos”. Teachers can custom source suitable content and integrate snippets of video seamlessly into lessons. A useful repository of educational videos can be found by signing up to Google Apps for Education.
“Flipped classrooms” and personalised learning experiences
In general terms, if students are using tablets to get instant access to engaging, interactive, information-rich content, it gives rise to the possibility of a “flipped classroom”, where teachers spend less time lecturing and more time interacting with students and responding to their individual needs.
It’s also becoming much easier for teachers to deliver personalised experiences – even on shared classroom devices. With iOS 9, for instance, comes ‘Shared iPad’, which allows teachers to assign any student any shared iPad, meaning that when students log in, their individual progress is exactly as they left them – and/or it is possible to assign tailored assignments to different students.
Tablets for creation
Certainly when the first generations of tablets were launched, these were very much closed devices, and their usage was confined almost entirely to content consumption rather than creation. This has now changed, and schools can reap the benefits.
Apps such as Music Studio and Garage Band make music production and creation via tablet a possibility. Tablets used to be seen as the poor relation of higher end smartphones in terms of camera and video recording capabilities but again, this is changing. Whether it’s a case of learning about the art of video creation with Stop Motion Studio – or simply as a tool for recording the results of science experiments, tablets are a highly versatile addition to the classroom.
A tablet can also be used as a ‘way in’ to introduce highly complex design ideas with simple 3D modelling tools, while for younger children, games with specially designed simple drag and drop interfaces can help to give an understanding of objects, sequencing, loops and events – i.e. the building blocks of coding.
Wi-Fi dropping out, students being unable to log-in, software not working: these are some of the reasons why teachers are often reluctant to fully embrace tablet usage in the classroom. Thankfully, with a connected, reliable tech environment, these problems should be a thing of the past.