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J. Heeney1, K. Johnston2

1Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) (IRELAND)
2Trinity College Dublin (IRELAND)
The need for students today to be educated in a manner that meets the demands and expectations of an information-rich digital age has increasingly become the focus of educators and educational policy. Since the launch of the Apple iPad device in 2010, tablet PCs have been touted as a device capable of providing ubiquitous access to information technology (IT), the Internet and educational applications which can simultaneously achieve the aim of creating 21st century learners while effectively supporting teaching and learning. This study considers this objective through the lens of a 1:1 tablet PC project conducted in two post-primary schools in Ireland, utilising both Apple and Android platforms.

The central aim of this study was to capture the views and experiences of the participants in the ‘Tablet PC Project’. This project was underpinned by a framework encompassing a clear vision of how it would operate at the school level, an emphasis on teacher development orientated towards teaching and pedagogy, as well as provision of infrastructure and technical support. In this context this study addressed the perceived benefits and limitations of tablet PCs in the teaching and learning process, the factors which impacted on their integration and deployment, and the impact of the tablet PCs as an agent of change within the schools. A mixed-method case study approach was employed to address the research aims. The research focused on three students groups and their respective teaching teams in the two post-primary schools. Surveys were completed by thirty-seven (37) students and thirty-six (36) members of staff. Interviews were conducted with a group of students and teachers in each of the schools, as well as a semi-structured interview with each of the school principals.

The results showed that both teachers and students currently hold a predominantly positive opinion of the use of tablet PCs in the educational process although students were more positive than teachers based on their preference for the model of learning which ensued with tablet PC use. Perceived improvements in task efficiency by teachers and students, and in the attitude and application to learning including improvements in student’s confidence and self-esteem were reported, despite the ongoing challenges of funding and resourcing such an IT initiative. An open and collaborative school culture was recognised as enhancing the training and support offered by the project management. Some changes in teaching practice were evident including the greater integration of visual and multimedia content and a move towards more student-centred creative processes, in addition to a more efficient expression of existing pedagogical approaches. This research suggests that the tablet PC accompanied by a responsive support structure offers potential for improving teaching and learning over and above what was previously achieved using desktop or laptop PCs, as their use gave teachers in both schools the confidence to take on tasks they had previously considered outside of their ability or remit.