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Tablets can bring learning to life, but they need careful management

by James Symons
Published in ICT for Education

james-s (4)-cropWe’ve been around tablets in schools long enough now to know that they bring learning to life. Students can quite literally get hands-on with their devices and enjoy the interactivity and variety they deliver, all of which makes learning more creative and engaging. iPads and tablets are recognized as enabling even young children to take advantage of what modern technology has to offer, and because of these benefits, schools are moving tentatively towards a system in which each child has his or her own device.

Before schools commit to a truck load of devices, they should seek to understand the needs of students and what purpose or function each device will fulfill. They should ask questions like: What will the devices be used for? Will their value outweigh their cost? How will they fit alongside our existing IT resources? Will our teachers need any training? And perhaps most importantly, how will they be managed?

The mighty tablet

There are hundreds, or even thousands, of different uses of tablets in the classroom, as well as benefits for particular students. Children can take ownership of their devices and learn valuable skills such as sharing, team work, safety and security. The portability of tablets provides unique learning opportunities not previously seen with other ICT solutions. For example, students can quickly and easily access the internet for research in or outside of lessons. Lessons no longer have to be static, children can take their tablets with them and take learning outside of the classroom, perhaps finding things to video. They can listen to or make music and share their creations by easily passing their tablet around.

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Tablets have revolutionized some lessons, such as language lessons. Where students used to write to or email their foreign pen pal, and wait for them to write or email back, they can now individually Skype their friends from their own device. They can participate in live debates, or in a controlled environment share their views on social media.

For many teachers, the main advantage of a whole class using a tablet is the overall improvement in communication. The register is a great example, it is quick to take and automatically goes up online so that everyone in the school can access it. Work done on an iPad can be shared with the whole class by attaching it to an interactive whiteboard. Students can get instant feedback on their work. Teachers can easily share student work with parents.

One of the best advantages is a memory record. Rather than having to write or type everything, students can take a quick picture of a textbook or resource they want to refer back to. These are just some of the great apps, videos, infographics, interactive lesson plans and other resources that can be brought into the classroom on tablets. However, technology should not lead learning, teachers should. Teacher time is therefore important and the more time that can be saved managing devices in deployment the better.

Problems with portability

Tablets bring so many benefits, but they can be their own worst enemy. Portability is quite possibly their strongest point, but it can also be their weakest. With so many expensive tablets floating around, we have to ask these questions: How will tablets be safely distributed to students? How will we manage and monitor these devices? How will we deploy new content and apps to them? Teacher time is precious and keeping a large number of iPads or tablets charged, up to date and ready to use can be a tedious process. Cables can go missing and finding plug sockets to charge everything at once is a challenge. Charging and syncing up to 40 tablets at one time is possible through suitable storage devices. These types of devices are there to make teachers’ lives easier as they support charging, syncing, securing, storing and transporting. They can help children practice responsibility for their devices and they also help teachers spot if any tablets are missing.

Some schools looking manage their charging challenges by purchasing a USB hub or a surge protector and power strips. Although these solutions can be low cost, schools should consider that they do not provide a secure lock-up area. Also, schools should consider how they will distribute and collect devices. Simple solutions such as using basket systems can help reduce the amount of time teachers waste performing these task.

Teachers will find that the easier it is to manage their devices, the more they will use them and the more benefits they will bring to the classroom. When thinking about a suitable management strategy, addressing important aspects like time saving will leave teachers with more opportunity to do what they do best.

James Symons is an expert in mobile device deployments at LocknCharge.

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