Six ways that tablets really can transform teaching

September 5, 2018 by Nicola Pitchford And Laura Outhwaite, The Conversation
Credit: Shutterstock

The holidays may be over – but the debate over young people and screen time continues. And as anxious parents prepare children for the start of a new school term, many will have concerns about what exposure to technology they will have in the classroom.

The UK education secretary Damian Hinds has challenged the technology industry to spearhead a classroom revolution. He wants more classrooms to take advantage of the gadgets and software available which enable pupils to go on "virtual trips" or "control robots".

Hinds is right to see the potential that technology has to transform teaching and learning. High quality available on smart phones and tablets really can help raise attainment, and provide a unique learning experience.

Over the past five years, we have been conducting an international research projectevaluating a series of educational apps developed by the British charity onebillion.

These interactive apps are designed specifically to support early years numeracy and literacy skills. They are available in and enable children to learn independently and at their own pace. There is even an "in-app" who guides them through the curriculum-based content.

Children interact with the apps by touching, dragging, and dropping objects to answer questions. Their learning levels are then assessed through quizzes.

So far, we have found many positive results from using these apps in early years education. Here are some of the things they can do:

  1. Improve learning outcomes – these apps significantly raise attainment in key skills such as mathematics and literacy (when used alongside standard teaching methods).
  2. Foster an inclusive learning environment – children with special educational needs and disabilities can learn effectively with these apps. This gives teachers a tool for providing high quality education for children with specific needs alongside mainstream classroom peers.
  3. Support cognitive development – when using educational apps to acquire specific skills, such as mathematics, core cognitive skills can also develop. When children in Malawi used interactive maths apps on a daily basis for eight weeks, their attention and concentration skills also improved.
  4. Promote development of non-cognitive skills – teachers in Malawi and the UK using the same interactive apps to support early mathematical and , reported that children become more confident and independent in their learning.
  5. Bridge home/school divides – these apps are also available for parents to download and are easy to use, so can support learning at home.
  6. Equalise access – as these apps are available in different languages, are easy to use by teachers and parents, and promote self-paced learning, they can be used in different settings, equalising access to high quality education for all.

The apps are currently being implemented by Voluntary Service Overseas in Malawi in their flagship international development programme, Unlocking Talent through Technology. They have also been implemented in 15 schools across Nottinghamshire with promising results. So far, children using the app for 12 weeks (for 30 minutes a day) were up to four months ahead of their peers. The app was particularly beneficial for children struggling with maths.

But it's not just about numbers. Educational apps can also be used by teachers and children to create their own imaginative content, and connect classrooms worldwide. Stories of a Lifetime is a global literacy project run by Marc Faulder (in the UK) and Jason Milner (in Australia), which creates a library of local stories and myths, told by children in their own words and animations. Part of Apple's "Distinguished Educators" programme, it enables teachers across the world to share their 's stories in way which promotes digital literacy, communication skills and a sense of identity.

Teaching the teachers

But while tablets have considerable potential to transform teaching, teachers themselves need to be skilled and confident in using this technology creatively. To revolutionise learning through technology, greater opportunities for professional development of teachers is needed.

Tech giants such as Apple, Microsoft and Google already offer introductory and specialised training for teachers in using tablet technology effectively in the classroom. But for to enhance learning universally, training should be an integral part of professional development.

Those currently in the profession, and those studying to become teachers, would benefit from being taught how to use apps and tablets to improve learning in all subject areas – even if that means the adults having a bit more , too.

Explore further: Must do better: Japan eyes AI robots in class to boost English

Related Stories

Technology in the classroom can improve primary mathematics

September 6, 2017

Many parents are beginning to demand less technology use in the primary classroom due to the amount of screen time children have at home. This raises questions about whether technology in the classroom helps or hinders learning, ...

Happy learning

July 4, 2013

Digital content aimed at preschool-aged children is leading to a contemporary conundrum for parents and early childhood teachers, according to Dr Sumin Zhao.

Preschool teachers need better training in science

September 26, 2017

Preschool instructors appear to lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to effectively teach their young students science - a problem that is likely contributing to America's poor global performance in this crucially important ...

Have yourself an appy little Christmas

December 12, 2013

Apps that keep young children occupied abound but there are some that are educational, fun and free to boot. What's more they can make an heirloom record of a young child's development.

Recommended for you

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

Correlated nucleons may solve 35-year-old mystery

February 20, 2019

A careful re-analysis of data taken at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has revealed a possible link between correlated protons and neutrons in the nucleus and a 35-year-old mystery. ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.