E. Smith1, K. Johnston2

1Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board (IRELAND)
2Trinity College Dublin (IRELAND)
M-learning, or mobile learning, is a phenomenon linked to the application of mobile digital touch screen devices in the educational sphere. Currently portable tablet PC devices provide one means of the realisation of mobile learning in the educational context. Schools which adopt tablet PC’s as a tool for both instruction and learning are not only responding to the portable touch screen revolution but are aiming to provide their students and teachers with a new innovative experience of education which may be more closely aligned with their personal and social uses of technology. However, incorporating such a device into the daily eco-system of a school comes with its challenges as well as its potential benefits and limitations.

This case study focuses on the teacher and student experiences of using a tablet PC (in this case the iPad) as an educational tool in an Irish post-primary school. In total there were one hundred and eleven participants comprising sixteen teachers and ninety four students. The research data was collected by means of teacher and student questionnaires, teacher and student interviews, as well as a number of classroom observations. Key areas of interest from a teaching and learning perspective were: perceived benefits and limitations arising from the adoption of these devices, experiences in respect of student-teacher relationships, as well as classroom management, logistical and IT related issues.

The findings indicate the positivity of participants (both teachers and students) based on the benefits perceived as accruing from the adoption of these devices. From the teacher perspective the main benefits experienced were in respect of personal productivity and efficiency of planning and resource management. Student positivity was based on the provision of easy and always on access to the Internet with related perceived benefits in respect of more varied and more interesting approaches to learning encompassing project work, use of educational apps, games and websites as well as more learner centered activities such as the creation of presentations and digital media content. Enhanced teacher-student communication via an increased variety of modes was viewed by some as having a positive effect on the teacher-student relationship. However this relationship was viewed as subject to compromise due to the ready availability of distractions from school work particularly in the form of social network notifications. Overcoming the potential for distraction was viewed as a challenge by both teachers and students, with teachers experiencing this as the modern incarnation of classroom management issues. A lack of resources and limited funding for ancillary hardware and equipment was cited as being a significant implementation issue for some teachers.

Overall this case study reflects the perceived benefits and challenges of adopting iPads in the school context and provides some evidence that the device can facilitate changes in teacher and student practices albeit in the context of existing norms and priorities within the wider national system of education. The findings and related recommendations provide a small-scale evidence base to inform the perspectives of both policy makers and practitioners alike.