Drills and skills … pupils at St Luke’s Catholic Primary School in Revesby.Parents are pressuring schools into buying iPads for the classroom, despite a lack of evidence about their educational benefit, no guidelines for teaching with them, and confusion about the best apps to use.
Schools across the state are purchasing ”significant” numbers of iPads without any real idea of their true value in the classroom, a NSW Department of Education study has found. The department is now playing catch-up, conducting research trials in public schools to better understand the educational benefits of the devices.
”This is uncharted territory and we’ve gone in like a bull at a gate,” said Kristy Goodwin, who is evaluating the trials for the department.
In many cases, parents are raising thousands of dollars to buy the devices for schools. The department does not have any data on how many schools have implemented iPads, and has not supplied guidelines for their use.
”Parent bodies are fund-raising to provide these resources and the research is trying to keep up,” Dr Goodwin said. ”Parents are really driving the technology use in schools; they obviously see what their children are capable of doing [with iPads].”
Three Sydney primary schools involving 90 children and five teachers participated in the first trial last year. Teachers found the iPads enhanced learning, as students were more engaged, more motivated, better able to collaborate and could personalise their learning.
However, serious concerns emerged about the quality of educational apps available. Three-quarters of the top 100-selling educational apps on iTunes are ”drill and skill”, encouraging rote memorisation of facts, which is useful for spelling and maths.
But teachers involved in the trial found ”content creation” apps had much greater educational benefits, because they fostered ”higher order thinking” in students and enabled them to demonstrate what they had learnt.
”The department has concerns about the quality of some of the resources and apps currently available for students to use,” a department spokesman said. ”Schools are currently using iPad technology to assess their educational relevance.”
Dr Goodwin recommended the department establish criteria to help teachers select the best educational apps, and said there was a ”great, dire need” for apps that were not ”drill and skill” or games.
The department is conducting a second iPad trial to assess how different apps affect learning, what impact iPads have on teaching, and how iPads can assist special needs students. One high school, two primary schools and a special needs class are participating in this trial.
Parents will continue to have to pay out of their own pockets if they want their children using iPads at school, because the department has ”no current plans” to introduce the devices.
In contrast, the Catholic Education Office estimates at least 60 per cent of its Sydney primary schools are using the devices, partly funded from school budgets and partly from parent fund-raising. It has just released a Mobile Learning Course for its teachers to inform their use of iPads.
The director of knowledge management and information and communications technology for the Sydney archdiocese, Doug Ashleigh, said he was ”a little bit concerned” that the rapid uptake of iPads had outpaced understanding of how to best use them in the classroom.
”Many students have these devices at home, but when they bring them into the classroom, unless the leader in the classroom thinks about how they’re going to use these … in the learning pedagogy, they won’t be used as effectively.”
Parents at Banksmeadow primary were so impressed by the results of the initial iPad trial last year that they raised $15,000 to purchase 24 iPads for the school. But the principal, Cathy Lucantonio, warned the technology was not for every school.
”You really do have to be clear about what you’re using them in teaching and learning, otherwise it’s a waste of money,” she said.
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