Apple iPads in Education

17th Jan 2013

So, it seems the post-PC era is well and truly upon us, with an increasing number of organisations heavily investing in systems and strategies to support the BYOD culture and webmasters looking with unprecedented fervour into optimizing their sites for mobile applications.

Perhaps the most telling evidence of this technology shift is its burgeoning use within educational facilities. Often at the forefront of technological advancements, it is maybe of little surprise that our school children are leading the way to what promises to be a predominately paperless future.

Tablet-based systems of learning

This blog entry comes after last week’s news that the Essa Academy in Bolton has made the move to a tablet-based system of learning, with all 840 pupils and their teachers having been assigned an Apple iPad.

Decision makers at the establishment believe the investment to be an obvious and natural progression away from pen and paper and are keen to play down any suggestion that introducing the technology is merely a gimmick, or indeed a very expensive (?) publicity exercise - the fact that the Apple PR machine is adding momentum to the story might encourage one to raise questions over the actual cost of this particular project.

However, the Essa School are not the first to attempt this transition away from the traditional learning experience.

Last year, The Honywood Community School in Essex spent nearly £500,000 on Apple iPads for all of its pupils, over half of which have since been either broken or sent off for repair (some more than once!). Not only does this highlight (as if it needed highlighting) the fragility of the devices, it makes you wonder whether they were ever really designed to survive anywhere other than the womb-like confines of our living rooms…

That said though, both the Essa Academy and Honywood have both reported significantly positive results since introducing the tablets. Honywood claim to have enjoyed the best set of exam results in the school’s history and Essa proudly state that students achieving grades A* to C at GCSE has almost doubled – hard to ignore, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Now, this is all well and good, you may say…but what does this mean from an IT perspective?

IT challeneges

The challenge for the IT departments is to enable and multiply these benefits without increasing support costs, compromising data security or losing control over network access. Begging the following questions;

  • If the tablet is lost or stolen, can sensitive data be remotely ‘wiped’ and can that device be blocked from future network access?
  • Can new apps be added easily to the whole (or restricted groups) of the user population?
  • Can access to unnecessary or undesirable content be restricted, particularly in the area of duty of care for younger students?
  • Can separate user groups (teachers, students, governors,…) be created and managed individually?
  • Can all the above be done without a massive increase in support complexity and resources?

Daunting, right?

In fact, with good planning and design, all the above can be dealt with; IT doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, an obstacle when deploying these technologies to improve the education experience. And, if the reports of Essa and Honywood are anything to go by, both in terms of their students’ results as well as the apparent financial benefits, the argument for this kind of academic change seems to be getting ever-stronger.

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