news Queensland’s education department has published several extensive reports detailing recent trials of iPads within the classroom, with the documents overwhelmingly classing the Apple tablets as a success, including in their ability to help students improve their academic performance.
Shortly after the iPad was first released in Australia in mid-2010, schools and universities right around Australia jumped headfirst into trials of the hyped tablets as they rushed to discover exactly what their use would be in the educational field. Previously, many of the institutions had been focused on deploying netbooks to students, but the development of the iPad appeared to have re-focused many around the new tablet form factor. However since that point, relatively few have detailed the results of their trials publicly, with one exception being University of Melbourne residential college Trinity College, which published a report in March 2011 recommending a wider rollout of iPads after a trial involving students and staff.
It’s not clear when the reports were published, but the state’s Department of Education, Training and Employment has published a page on its website with several publicly available documents detailing its findings from its own trials.
The department’s reports note that it conducted iPad trials with two schools, 11 teachers, 116 students and 50 iPads, over a period stretching over six months. Its aim with the trials was to identify whether the iPad was an effective learning tool in schools; to assess the compatibility of the iPad with the department’s existing ICT infrastructure, and to inform policy regarding the use of iPads, in both corporate and school environments.
The two chosen trial schools were Kedron State School in Brisbane, where 24 iPads were shared between about 95 students in year 9. As the school’s Wi-Fi coverage was sufficient to support the devices, 32GB Wi-Fi iPads were purchased for the trial. At Kedron students used the iPads in specific classes (literacy and music) with set teachers, during their school day. They used the devices for specific tasks and assessments blended into their class work, and did not have access to the devices exclusively or for their entire school day.
Kedron has a vision of providing 1 to 1 ratios for student laptops, ensuring each student has a device, and was selected as it had some students indicated through trends as disengaging from the learning process.
The second school was Doomadgee State School, located in Queensland’s far north-west region. In this school, 21 iPads were assigned to 21 individual students in a combined year 8/9/10 class. The models used were 32GB, 3G iPads, connected to Telstra’s 3G network as there was limited Wi-Fi coverage in the area. Doomadgee students were identified as having limited exposure to any form of computing in the school, and the model which they were allocated iPads differed from Kedron in that the students had exclusive access to the iPads in a one to one usage model, although the iPads could not be taken home during the trial.
Doomadgee eventually cancelled the Telstra 3G SIM cards used on their iPads as Wi-Fi access was boosted at the school.
In general, the trial report found that the iPad was viewed unanimously by all participating teachers as a cross-curriculum device not constrained to a specific subject area. Students demonstrated improved academic performance when using the devices, including higher levels of engagement with the curriculum, and both models for supplying iPads were effective for learning.
The trial further found that an Internet connection was not essential at all times, and that no iPads were damaged during the trial, with students appearing self-motivated to care for the devices. Both teachers and students developed their understanding of the technology during the trial, and students re-engaged in their learning with different apps on the devices. Parents also became involved in the trial – testing out apps at home and recommending them to teachers in the trial.
From the point of view of compatibility of the iPads with the department’s existing infrastructure, there were a few challenges which arose, including difficulties setting up and managing multiple iTunes accounts, handling updates to iOS and the iPad apps, and the inability for the department to purchase multiple copies of apps.
In addition, the department highlighted the lack of support for browser plugins such as Flash, Silverlight and Java as an issue with the iPads; some rich text input fields on some websites were unusable, and synching and backups of the devices required a PC connection.
However, the department also noted that most of these problems were solved or on their way to being solved. “An extension of the trial is exploring Mobile Device Management (MDM) software that will make it much easier to update, backup, sync and set policies on multiple iPads,” the department wrote in its report. “In the United States, Apple have introduced an Education Volume Licencing program and a Business Volume Licencing program, which is expected to be introduced to Australia. These programs will make purchasing multiple copies of apps and ’gifting’ apps to particular iPads much easier.”
In addition, teachers participating in the trial generally found workarounds themselves to the issues.
The report produced a number of recommendations, including:
- Allowing teachers sufficient time to become confident with the devices before they are introduced to classrooms
- Inviting parent involvement
- Purchasing protective casing for the iPads and clearly labelling them
- Consider total ROI (including MDM solutions) when deploying iPads
- That the department should work with Apple to establish volume procurement of iPads
- Create iOS guidelines for teachers and create generic software profiles for school iPads, including appropriate restrictions
- Investigate iTunes volume pricing
- Conduct more trial research
The overall conclusion of the report was: “The trial demonstrated the benefits of the iPad as an effective learning tool, noting compatibility issues with the department’s ICT infrastructure.” In addition, the department has produced a number of accompanying reports to go with its iPad trial report, including a secondary report on the use of iPads in Special Education, a schools guide for purchasing and using iDevices, a corporate guide for purchasing and using personal productivity devices, and more. All of these can be found on the department’s site, although several are earmarked for consumption by department staff only.
The news comes as educational institutions around Australia continue to deploy iPads to students and staff in increasing numbers. The University of Western Sydney, for example, several weeks ago revealed that it will deploy some 11,000 iPads to students and staff this year, in one of the largest rollouts of the Apple tablets known in Australia so far and a move that will see every first year student at the institution receiving one of the devices.
It hasn’t been all Apple, however. In December 2011, Acer revealed that students and staff of years 9–12 at Brighton Grammar School, Victoria would each be provided with an Acer Iconia Tab A500, running the Android operating system which is a rival to Apple’s iOS.
This report represents extremely good news for those who have been in favour of deploying iPads in educational settings. Its findings are almost universally good for the iPad, showing – as many teachers and parents have already experienced – increased engagement with the learning process through using the tablets – and even better academic results, representing the holy grail for educators. Concerns about the devices’ safety and durability in schools were assuaged, and manageability issues were largely also dealt with, or are anticipated to have been shortly dealt with.
I expect this kind of report to be widely circulated in educational institutions around Australia and used to justify further iPad rollouts.