This article appeared in Holyrood.com last month

The Scottish Government will consider whether pupils across Scotland would benefit from having access to portable technology like the iPad in class, based on the experience of a number of pilots across the country.

Pilots are underway in ten local authorities, putting iPads into the hands of pupils at 20 schools across Scotland. Education Secretary Michael Russell today visited one of those pilots, at Sciennes Primary School in Edinburgh, where dozens of students in P5 and P6 classes are trialling use of the iPad in class.

In a classroom crowded with pupils, school administrators, Scottish Government officials and journalists, Russell saw students deliver a presentation on the history of games consoles, delivered using iPad apps and including a video produced on the device.

“There are a number of pilots already underway around the country, including the use of iPads here at Sciennes. I have asked Education Scotland for recommendations on how we can realise the benefits of mobile technology for all learners in Scotland, including ensuring how we get the best possible value for our schools, and whether national guidance is needed for the sector,” said Russell.

In some of the Sciennes pilot classes, students get to keep the iPads throughout the day, taking them home to complete assignments. Other classes are keeping the devices in school.

Students at Sciennes showed visiting adults not only their astounding ease with technology that most of their elders have yet to get to grips with, but also the ways the technology is being used to enrich the learning experience. Classes have set up their own ‘wiki’ pages to share information and research; can be set work by their teacher in a blog format, and return it for correction; and can use a variety of free educational applications. Over the school’s wifi network, the students also have free access to the digital collection of the City of Edinburgh Libraries.

Of course, the iPad can also be used to play football apps when you think no one is looking – although that student eventually learnt that teacher has eyes on the back of her head.

The pilot raises a variety of interesting questions – not least whether the technology can actually improve education outcomes. As well as the recommendations Education Scotland will compile, research is being conducted by Apple and by universities in England to try and establish what the impact of such pilots is. The pilot also raises issues of cost – both of the hardware and software involved – as well as safety questions relating to unsupervised access to the internet. However, the enthusiasm of the pupils and staff at Sciennes for the devices was self-evident.

What is also clear is that an iPad in every Scottish state school pupil’s book bag is not on the immediate horizon. The Scottish Government is conscious of the cost that would entail, and Russell confirmed that there is currently no budget to purchase iPads for students across Scotland.

However, the cabinet secretary declared himself to be “excited” by what he saw at Sciennes and said the Scottish pilots offer a unique learning experience around how technology can be better put to use in the classroom.

“I want Scottish school pupils to be both connected and collaborative and I want to see digital technology being used purposefully both in and out of school,” said Russell.

“The range of mobile devices that are now available and the promise of what they can bring to teaching and learning is very exciting and something that must be embraced.

“I want to drive forward a culture change in Scottish education and ensure new technologies can be embedded into learning. This is an exciting time to be at school, and we must ensure that the potential for technology to aid learning in Scottish schools is maximised.”

A number of independent schools have already rolled out similar schemes in their classrooms. Fraser Spiers, head of IT and computing at Cedars School of Excellence in Inverclyde – where every pupil has access to an iPad – called for the Scottish Government to “put an iPad in the hands of every pupil in Scotland” in an article for Holyrood Connect last year.

“Can we continue another twenty years with this disparity between the way IT is used in schools and the way it’s used in society? Can we even wait another ten? Can we prepare children for 2030 with the same level of access to IT as I had 35 years ago?”

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It seems everyone is trailing iPads at the moment - but evaluating the effectiveness of the trial seems to be a step that most are missing out!  Is learning improved because children are switched on by the novelty of having iPads to use?  Or is there going to be a real long term benefit?   More importantly, most trials are using a shared bank of iPads - and this is far less effective than when iPads are effectiv
 


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