Take a tablet to advance learning

In my 30-year career in education, I have seen schools embrace desktop computers and then laptops, and now I am working to demonstrate how the latest additions to the world of technology – mobile devices – can be used to create hands-on, immersive, transformative learning activities that will ensure that the UK’s children receive the best opportunities in today’s connected world.

Bringing about change
There has always been a belief that introducing technology into schools would revolutionise the education sector in the same way that technology has changed commercial business. Unfortunately, whilst other sectors have transformed – retail, for example, has moved from face-to-face, to online, to cashless over the last 30 years – practices within the education sector have changed slightly, but teaching itself has not.
The last Labour government’s pledge of ‘education, education, education’ saw an increase in funding for technology in schools but very little was put towards training teachers in how to make the best use of their new technology. Other sectors enforce mandatory amounts of training through a professional’s career – the health sector, for example, sees staff members undertake almost double the amount of statutory training that teachers do.
Here at the Tablet Academy we believe that desktop computers and laptops could have been introduced with a lot more support for teachers, and we don’t want to see the same thing happen with mobile technology.

Planning is paramount
Planning is crucial in the roll out of any successful project, none more so than when one of the project’s biggest aims is to affect the human condition, such as in teaching and learning.
Planning around innovation is even more difficult and the introduction of mobile technology can be a big change for any school, for both teachers and pupils.
As such, when considering introducing mobile technology into a classroom it is important that the ones responsible look not for a strategy similar to those of other schools, but for a vision that meets the needs of their specific school, teachers and community. Schools must ask why they want to introduce mobile technology and what they hope to gain from it to ensure that they make the right choice for them.
Additionally, planning for the introduction of mobile technology cannot be done in isolation. It should consider many factors such as IT that already exists in the school, finance, curriculum and pupil age, to create a holistic strategy for the 21st Century.

Progress and agents of change
Changes in both deployment and software that is device agnostic (Microsoft Office, for example, is available on every mobile technology platform) are happening at an exponential rate.

Apple is on its sixth version of the iPad (the iPad Air 2), Samsung is dominating the android market and Microsoft has recently introduced the Surface 3 at a power and price that will compete directly with the dominance of the iPad.

In order for teachers to keep up with these changes they must be allowed sufficient time to learn about all of the different options.

Without this time, teachers run the risk of simply replacing a desktop or laptop with a mobile device, making the device the agent of change rather than the teacher. By becoming the agent of change teachers will feel comfortable, confident and competent in introducing mobile technology into their classroom. This will ensure the maximum return on the school’s investment.

Looking to the future

The Tablet Academy works as a ‘bookend’ company, supporting teachers and schools from their initial plans to introduce mobile technology right through to any issues that may come up after implementation. With constant changes and developments in mobile technology it is crucial that schools regularly assess how their mobile devices are working and that they make necessary changes to their use along the way.
As a Professor of Global Education Leadership at Lamar University in Texas – the largest teacher training university in United States – I also believe that teachers and school leaders should be rewarded for entering into professional development, and my role as a Microsoft Professor of Advanced Learning Technology and an Apple Distinguished Educator allows me to do this. I help deliver a course that Microsoft offers – a 20-hour, online course called ‘Teaching with Technology’.

Designed around the United Nations Education Framework, the training is device neutral, instead focusing on using all aspects of mobile technology inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers and school leaders can take the course at a chosen university, become a ‘Microsoft Innovate Educator’ and then create a paper and a video on how their classes have benefited from the use of mobile technology.
We hope to see even further steps over the next few years. The Tablet Academy is already reaching out across the UK and the United States of America but the next few years will see progress in the UAE, India and Africa too. We aim to partner up with a UK university that will help to deliver the course in such a way that UK university credits are also gained as part of the programme.
The next step will be to develop the programme to help school leaders, focusing on transformation from a leadership perspective. This will give all decision makers the tools that they need to make the right decision for them, ultimately leading to successful use of mobile technology in some way or another in every school that wants it.

Becoming comfortable
As for mobile technology, it continues to become more and more prevalent in both households and schools. Our teachers need to feel more comfortable with tablets and phones, how to use them to engage pupils and, as such, we need to be able to demonstrate how learning takes place outside of the classroom as well as inside it. If a class visit a museum, for example, pupils could be taking audio notes and photographs, uploading them to their ‘online notebook’ as they go along and then accessing them when they get back to the classroom. In another, they could be using them to do a live link up with a real life, professional volcanologist in Chile as part of a geography project.
Mobile devices also enable the latest new learning experiences such as peer‑to‑peer assessment, debating, persuading and collaboratively arriving at an answer. It also opens avenues for adaptive learning, where every child can learn at their own pace as the technology helps pinpoint areas for improvement. Through gamification, pupils can enhance critical thinking and problem solving in engaging game environments.
The possibilities are endless, but without adequate teacher training very little will change. The UK government has made a commitment to create a generation with work-ready, 21st Century skills such as collaboration, communication, innovation and enterprise. We need to start them young; these qualities are instinctive.
What we need to invest in is the adults who will equip, teach and enable this generation to compete on a global scale.

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