Carried out by Stranmillis University College in Northern Ireland, the aim of the two-year study was to assess the impact portable devices, such as iPads and tablets, have on children’s learning.
Around 650 pupils in five Belfast primary schools and 'feeder' nursery schools/pre-schools, based in areas of deprivation, took part in the study.
The schools and settings were given iPads to use for specific lessons or purposes or for pupils to use across lessons. Teachers were also given their own iPads to use for ‘professional needs’ and to monitor and record pupils’ progress.
Researchers assessed children’s knowledge and familiarity with the tablet devices, along with carrying out classroom-based observations to see how devices were used to support teaching and learning during literacy and numeracy lessons. They also interviewed school principals and teachers and gave parents questionnaires to fill in.
The report found that the introduction of portable devices had a positive impact on the development of children’s literacy and numeracy skills.
Contrary to teaching staff’s initial expectations, the use of iPads in the classroom enhanced children’s communication skills, particularly where children shared an iPad.
A key finding was that boys were more interested in learning when using digital technology, particularly when producing pieces of written work.
The children viewed learning using the portable devices as play and were more enthused when using digital technology, particularly when producing pieces of written work.
Other findings include:
- the iPad has the potential to enhance children’s numeracy skills in a more engaging and exciting way than traditional approaches;
- the use of digital technology complemented existing teaching approaches in numeracy, rather than replacing them;
- children’s fine motor skills were reinforced when they used a stylus to practice letter formation on screen;
- the iPads increased children’s confidence and ownership of learning;
- the introduction of iPads had a positive impact on teachers’ motivation and enthusiasm.
Dr Colette Gray, who led the study, said, ‘Digital technology, especially portable devices, is becoming an everyday part of young people’s lives. Many of our schools have already recognised the potential of iPads and other tablets and have integrated them into their classroom practices.
‘However, it is not a stand-alone solution and complements existing teaching approaches in numeracy and literacy rather than replacing them. New digital tools offer the potential to enhance traditional approaches to children’s learning in an engaging and exciting way – something which was clearly shown in the findings of this study where, for example, boys appear to be more enthused when using digital technology, particularly when producing written work.’