Wednesday 21 August 2019

Cost, security and development: The pros and cons of swapping textbooks for technology in the classroom

'Convincing children to limit their screen time is largely a matter of willpower and of finding attractive alternatives' Stock Image
'Convincing children to limit their screen time is largely a matter of willpower and of finding attractive alternatives' Stock Image

Aoife Walsh

THE costly price of iPads and tablets, along with the potential threat to security, are amongst the gripes some parents have with the swapping textbooks for technology in the classroom.

The introduction of these devices in schools has become a hot topic amongst parents and educators, with some arguing that using them could potentially stunt a child's development and others claiming integrating the technology enhances learning.

The main problem with introducing iPads to the classroom is threefold, says Peter Cosgrove, Future of Work expert and author of Fun Unplugged, who feels that "just because we have the technology to do something doesn’t mean we should."

Using tablets present a set of problems that didn't exist when schools relied on textbooks alone.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Mr Cosgrove explains: "Of course, all schools, if we had the money, could go digital. But, what people often forget with this is the unintended consequences that happen, and we don’t put enough training in place for what are all the problems, we just think of all the solutions.

"The three things I hear all the time which would probably be the three benefits; One, we are in an Internet age. Times have moved on, kids don’t use books – we need to move with the times. The second one, it gives access to information, so you’ve got the Internet in your pocket. Things can be updated quicker, you get better access to information because you’ve got the world there on the internet. Thirdly, a big one always is it lightens the schoolbag, a bad back etc."

He continued: "The first one to challenge on that is that people don’t seem to realise – every school book you can get a digital free copy of the book. On the inside back cover they tell you what the digital copy is. The idea that kids can’t just have a set up where they have the books in school and use a digital copy at home I don’t understand."

To successfully integrate tablet use into the curriculum, Cosgrove said that the school faces "a lot of logistics" that are often ignored in the books vs iPad debate.

"For me, there’s three different parts to the challenges. Firstly, I’d say the school itself – they’ve a lot of logistics once they do this. Firstly, WiFi speeds. Most schools are built on old cinder block buildings. You often have to improve the WiFi, you have to put in boosters to ensure you actually get WiFi across the place.

"Linked to that you then have the case where you need passwords, you have licensing agreements, and all these passwords mean you suddenly need a helpdesk, and you need somebody who can manage this because guess what – adults will be ringing at 9 o’clock at night  going ‘we’ve been locked out of our iPad.’ All of those things that never used to happen with books suddenly have to happen," he said.

Being a parent, Cosgrove said he has seen firsthand how children can combat the security controls the school puts in place on the iPad, and knows how careless kids can be with caring for them.

"From a parents point of view, there’s clearly a cost piece. If you think about it, a book is pretty cheap compared to an iPad, and there’s also the lifespan of the book. I know books can change a lot but they can go on forever, whereas an iPad can be smashed and broken within three months easily, and I’m aware you can put covers on them but we know what kids are like with school bags. Every kid will lose their schoolbag from time to time and an iPad is a lot more expensive than anything else," he said.

"With every restriction the school does – here’s the problem: Kids are always further ahead. You just need to go into YouTube and type ‘how do I get around this’. My daughter actually is in a school with iPads, and she can download every game, she can download movies even though they have every safety control in place because there’s always a way to do it, and kids get around it.

"I’ve asked my daughter ‘what do you do when people are on the games?’ she says you just flick out of it when the teacher comes down or you have it on a really low brightness because most of the teachers are over 40 or 50 and aren’t able to see this. While the kids can do it, the teachers can’t and that’s unfair.

"Schools do this, but they don’t give the teacher training. So you’ve suddenly got the kids, who know so much more about the Internet and technology, and you’re expecting one teacher to be able to monitor that," he added.

However, a further education teacher at St John's Central College in Cork, Miriam Walsh, said that as a teacher who has taught with the use of iPads for the past eight years, she finds it easier to "connect"  with students in her classroom.

"I teach in Further Education and my students come from a variety of backgrounds through the Back to Education Initiative. Over the past 8 years I have taught on multiple device types from PCs, to Macs to Bring Your Own Devices. My students have had 1:1 iPads in my for three years. Teaching Digital media in the past would have meant expensive equipment or applications.

"With the iPad, however, they have the tools to create photos, movies, books, web-sites, learn to code and much more. We are also not confined to the four walls of the classroom and can easily take field-trips or photo walks and create on the go," she said.

"The accessibility features on iPad allow all students to complete these creative projects regardless of any learning needs they might have. For example, if they have a typed assignment they might feel more comfortable dictating their assignment to their device or they can use text to speech to read out my class notes.

"Teaching with iPad or any technology can be challenging as a teacher especially if you are not from a tech background or interested in tech. The same can be said for my students who might not necessarily sign up just because we use tech but I am lucky to be part of a global community of teachers who do teach with iPad.

"I do a lot of training courses in my own time and also facilitate training courses through Apple RTC Cork which was set up in 2016. In addition to being my personal learning network this community also offers feedback to my students. One such example would be when an educator from Scotland connected with my students to teach them podcasting. They have since published a series of podcasts," she explained.

As for the cost, Walsh recommends that parents look at purchasing an older, cheaper model, as well as considering the longevity of the device. She said: "When it comes to the cost of iPads, yes they can be expensive but the 6th generation iPad was introduced in 2018 at a reduced cost for educators. At just €329 per device the devices are more affordable than ever before. In addition to this education accounts (students and teachers) get 200gb of iCloud storage.

"While this is a lot of money up front the devices can last for several years. My devices are currently 3 years old and I would not be looking to replace them for about another year. The cost of devices aside you have to also take into account the cost of apps and books. Over the past three years I have not bought a single app or in-app purchase for my classroom. So essentially it is a once of cost. I create all my own books and learning materials through Pages, Keynote and Clips.

On the potential security risks the devices can pose, Walsh said that there are reliable systems in place to protect the child from harmful or distracting content.

"What a lot of parents may not realise is that schools are advised to use MDMS (mobile device management) that doesn't mean they do but resellers in Ireland advise it, as do Apple. MDMs allows schools to block apps, deploy apps, set limits, track devices etc. One school I know of locks down devices at 8pm-7am so as to combat screen time before bed. Education devices aren't just your typical iPad that you buy from a shop for Christmas they are configured to work in classrooms without distractions. I have never had issues with my devices."

For children with learning difficulties, Rosie Bisset, Chief Executive Officer of Dyslexia Association of Ireland, said that using tablets in school can be "lifeline" for them.

She said: "Any access to technology is for kids with dyslexia can be very important for some of them because it gives them access to alternative formats and also the ability to use integrated assistive technology. So whether it’s being able to have their books read to them using a text to speech function, or whether it’s being able to dictate and take notes or record notes. There’s benefits, even with things like it gives them the option on the size of font, or increase the size if that makes it easier to read, things like that. It gives them options as opposed to a physical book which comes in one forms."

As for the cost, Bisset said the Dyslexia Association of Ireland would like to see the Government play a larger role in helping families cover the expense.

"In most of the schools where parents have introduced iPads the parents are paying for it. Sometimes they operate schemes in terms of helping to do it over periods of time and things like that," she said.

"In terms of students who have disabilities and in particular for students with dyslexia, it can be very challenging to get funding from the department, whether it’s an iPad or a laptop or specialist software. You not only have to have a disability, you have to have it at quite a severe level that it’s deemed it’s absolutely necessary for them to have this technology.

"A lot of kids will be using technology if mam and dad have the resources – they’re bought it for themselves for home use and with the schools agreement they then bring it into the school. The department has issued guidance to schools that encourage a ‘bring your own device’ approach. That’s fine if your parents have the resources. We would always be concerned about the parents who don’t have the resources.

"We obviously would like to see more integration in schools in terms of technology and better funding for it," she said.

Siobhán O'Neill White, author and founder of Mams.ie, said she spent €1,000 on iPad's for her two teenagers ahead of the academic year last summer. The school White's children attend, a Dublin gaelscoil, have a strict policy in place which decides what supplier the parents purchase the devices from. If the device becomes broken, it is down to the parent to replace it. If a child does not have an iPad, they will not be able to participate in lessons.

She said: "There's mixed views about the iPads, in one way it's good because there's less for the kids to carry, so there's less pressure because the books are very heavy. The iPad when you have it, usually they'll have it for three years at least.

"Even though it's expensive when you get it, you're kind of knocking out instead of three years of books you've got the iPad. The problem is with the iPad, a lot of the time the schools will do a deal with a certain company, so you have to buy from that company and you can't negotiate on the price or anything. You have to get it from a certain place," she added.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News