Smart Devices Aid in Children’s Learning

Mobile touch-screen devices also known as tablet computers or smart devices have opened avenues for a new generation of learning tools that offer instant access to and creative use of abundance of internet resources. They have been patronized and coined as ‘revolutionary’ tools, which hold vast potential for educational learning. One of the prime advantages of smart devices is that they facilitate learning anytime and anywhere. This feature permits a shift away from the classical model of learning where the classroom is the center of learning controlled by the teacher and limited to tutorials within the school hours (Barseghian, 2011b).

There is powerful evidence suggesting that these devices possess a significant potential to support the process of learning. However, up to now, there is not sufficient research to confirm, that claims regarding tablet devices are actualized in real classroom context. The reason is that limited study has been done on teenagers’ use of touch screen technologies and their learning impact. The research also could not keep pace with the advent of apps despite an ‘app culture’ surfacing since the launch of the iPhone in the year 2007 (Archambault, 2008).

There is an abundance of empirical evidence confirming that learning apps are extremely beneficial in educational process despite prevalence of devices marketed as ‘educational’. Current study seeks to offer evidence-based information regarding technical and practical implications of using smart devices (iPads) in classrooms and their subsequent effect on learning and teaching. Besides, it also explores teachers’ and students’ perceptions, and usage of smart devices by offering a systematic analysis of educational apps. This study also seeks to highlight some of the drawbacks in the current research by zeroing on the usage of iPads by school children. It endeavors to offer school administrators and teachers with profile information regarding the optimal utilization of iPads, their impact on learning and teaching, as well as consider any technical implications of iPads deployment in the classroom setting.

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Literature Review

This section presents review of the literature related to poor adoption and usage of digital technology by the UAE children and the opportunities offered by smart mobile devices. The literature will commence with a broader outlook of learning technology and then examine in-depth specific research since it relates to smart devices, especially iPads, in order to provide a framework of the current study.

These days, school children grow up absorbed in digital world which has become a ubiquitous aspect of their everyday activities. They lead their lives in an era of accelerating technological developments. As hardware and software have become cheaper, highly advanced and simpler to use, this young generation involves itself in shooting home movies, editing photos, recording and composing music (Green & Hannon, 2006). Focused on a rich culture of advanced digital technologies, children are instilled with sophisticated technical and learning skills, which enhance their digital habits (Chiong & Shuler, 2010); Yelland, Neal & Dakich, 2008). Prensky (2001a), has conceived the term ‘digital natives’ to explain teenagers born between 1980 and 1995 because of their familiarity and involvement in digital technologies. This teen group is similar to current young learners since digital technologies penetrate their world in terms of videogames, digital music players, computers, video cameras and smart mobile devices (Prensky, 2001b).

School children are prime consumers of software and technology as they have adopted iPads in their daily routine and their leisure search includes popular media, where entertainment converge is involved (Purcell, Entner & Henderson, 2010). However, the use of the term ‘digital natives’, is a matter of question. Some scholars have criticized that it is not an empirical study, but rather modified ‘academic panic’, which recommends a polarized view of school life and technology culture (Couse & Chen, 2010). They also argue that it is not necessary that all students are absorbed in advanced technology culture because all students do not have access to technology at home and not all students are attracted by digital technology. They also agree that trends of technology use have increased among many UAE school children, as technology is a regular and significant feature of their lives outside of school. Therefore, schools are responsible for shaping academic career of students, though, there is a considerable gap between what happens during school hours and children’s out-of-school experiences. (Highfield & Goodwin, 2012); (Barseghian, 2011a).

While it is not possible to ascertain the exact amount of time spent learning on smart devices in classrooms, current research suggests that children usually spend less time using technology at school when compared to their home use (Jewitt, 2005), (Kozma, 2003).

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A study conducted by Riconscente showed that 10 percent of UAE students frequently use digital technology in learning at school, and 40 percent use technology ‘a few times in a week‘ (Riconscente, 2011). Although, many UAE schools regularly update technology infrastructure, its effectiveness is compromised because instructors are not keen to derive benefits from it or as efficiently as they could. Shuler (2012), also highlights dramatic inequality between computer usage in schools, especially between rural and city schools, as well as a dim view of many instructors regarding iPad use in the classrooms. This factor further restricts integration and adoption of computers and iPad technologies. The OCED report regarding the use of iPads also highlights that an ‘avoidance culture’ has been observed amongst teachers which impedes integration and implementation of new technologies even in prestigious schools (Pegg et al., 2007). Further, the research has demonstrated that digital technology usage at school is not difficult, nor as frequently implemented when compared to home use (Fitzgerald, 2005).

Hence, there is a necessity to bridge the gap between the outside of school learning and that which takes place in classrooms. Unwillingness amongst UAE teachers to accept new digital technologies due to religious beliefs is another issue preventing full adoption of smart devices in schools (Hasic, 2011). Schools encounter an immense challenge and difficulties when deciding to select smart devices, which are educationally sound and applicable. The iPad use has been largely accepted in many educational institutes across the world and has received encouraging response by both students and teachers. (Puentedura, 2011); Yelland, Cope & Kalantzis, 2008). iPads and other smart mobile apps have been endorsed as transformative devices, regardless skeptics advocating the history of UAE educational technology being enveloped with disappointing results and numerous false promises. Hence, there is a further need for scientific research to ascertain these allegations, since there has been no sound evidence published in journals up to now (Marmarelli & Ringle, 2011), (Shuler, 2009b).

Purpose of Work and Objective of the study

Many schools in the UAE have purchased a large numbers of iPads and other smart devices without being aware of the usage ramifications or pedagogical implications. Therefore, objective of this study is to offer advice regarding:
(1) Significance of smart devices such as iPads for enhancing learning and teaching methods; and
(2) Technical difficulties in using smart devices in school settings.

Data Collection and Analysis

The researcher collects data by adopting qualitative research methods. Qualitative analysis assists the researcher to understand and explain the outcomes from the perspectives of respondents. This research includes collection of information, observing and interpreting the data from such sources as: documents, interviews, texts, observation of participants and researchers’ reactions and impressions. The research mainly focuses on qualitative analysis.

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Summary of Key Contributions

A survey was carried in four UAE schools involving 75 students, 16 teachers and 85 iPads. Student and teacher online surveys; student, principal, teacher and parents semi-structured interviews were conducted and the respondents’ views were recorded in a theme matrix. The scholarly work of different authors, in the literature review, has played a significant role in providing in-depth knowledge of the subject. The researcher can analyze in-depth knowledge of smart devices and their usability, pros and cons of iPads deployment with the help of the literature reviewed, as well as anticipate the future of learning and teaching through smart devices in schools.

Key Findings and Expected Results

The readers are warned against interpreting or generalizing the results as policy recommendations due to small size of sample and brief duration of the survey. However, this assessment offers significant insights into how children deploy the iPad in classrooms and the impact of the latter on learning.

It is anticipated that this research will offer information based on the evidence received as well as the guidance on how to implement iPads in the UAE school setting and other learning institutions. The findings of this study explore several interesting insights. The key findings of the study pertain to two areas:
1. Learning and teaching implications: educator planning and preparation, student learning, learning content, pedagogy and parents’ needs and concerns;
2. Logistical and technical considerations

Teacher planning and preparation

It was recognized that the iPads posed additional demands on educators’ planning and preparation time. Significant time was devoted to evaluating and procuring educational apps, determining relevance to the Arabic curriculum and then placing these on individual students’ iPad devices. Most of the educators would conduct a general search in the iTunes App Store and read the reviews of customers. They also said that they would prefer to refer to educational blogs of other iPad users and Teaching and Learning with iPads Blog established by the UAE Education Office (Schmidt et al, 2008).

Teachers also stated that they depend on emails that signaled them to educational apps and oral recommendations by their students, other teachers and parents. The educators would also download the required version of an iPad app after searching suitable apps. They would test the application on their iPad before placing it on the children’s iPads. If only paid applications were available, the teachers would install them on their devices and conduct a trial before initiating a class purchase. Most of the teachers were also in favor of conducting a trial of the applications in order to identify any errors and technical issues and evaluate its educational value. Teachers emphasized that it might not be worthy to install those apps on children’s devices, which are not pedagogically sound.

The teachers, further, reported that they have to spend a lot of time in searching and trialing required apps for using with their students. Some teachers stressed that a lot of extra time was consumed in planning lessons, however, all participants reported that they had no objection in spending the extra time for lesson preparation when they realized the value of the devices was in benefit of students.

Student Learning

Findings of the pilot survey showed that many of the iPad features enhance learning and knowledge. These options were realized due to capability of the teachers to deploy the devices and integrate them in rich and authentic learning experiences. Finally, this survey supported claims that iPads enhance motivation and engagement, improve face-to-face interaction and collaboration amongst children as well as improve learning outcomes and enhance concentration.

Educators ascribed these benefits to many factors such as teachers’ capability to differentiate instructions for individual learning preferences and needs; portability of iPad; simplicity with which children could create aesthetic and professional digital artifacts and suitable apps to compensate and scaffold for children’s emerging skills, for instance, the text function supporting spelling skills; a strong dedication of individual towards learning; and realization of the fact that the iPad is a “learning tool”. Inclusion of a wide range of various technologies within iPad, for example, voice recording facility, video camera, access to internet, its simple interface and touch screen function were also identified as distinctive components of the iPad that enhanced learning (Takeuchi, 2011).

Learning Content

Students and teachers informed that there was enormous fluctuation regarding alignment of apps according to Arabic curriculum. Some teachers were convinced that the apps aligned to the current curriculum while others felt that there was little alignment because many international schools in UAE follow different syllabus. This problem becomes more complicated for the students when they drill-and-practice apps and try to search for content-receiving, which was integrated on the apps, and not built by the children. In the survey, senior teachers reported that there was a dearth of ‘productivity because content-making apps were more open-ended in their design. Therefore, the educator also confirmed that these apps relate to the curriculum. Weston & Bain (2010), also emphasized that teachers must utilize their knowledge of the curriculum to source these applications, which suit the needs of the syllabus. However, the responsibility to locate such apps and align these to their syllabus goals lies on the teacher.

Limitations, Scope and Implications of the Study

When it comes to purchasing iPads by teachers and school administrators, the latter pay little or not enough attention to logistical and technical implications for using the iPads in school settings. Initially, the device has been designed for a single consumer. Therefore, this study highlights the prime factors such as wireless access, maintenance and creation of iTunes accounts for each iPad. Methods of sharing and exporting students’ work demands additional time and workload, thus, many teachers are reluctant to adopt this new technological method of teaching through iPads, as well as because of religious beliefs. A key finding of this research relates to active participation of educators in ensuring that the maximum benefits of the iPad are received in the classroom context. Hence a crucial role of a teacher is necessary to increase the popularity of iPads usage in schools. Despite the study is focused on iPad affordance in schools, this research provides that the educator and the pedagogical procedures and curriculum are critical to success of iPads. Additional research is necessary to find out how iPads can be deployed to support learning in various curriculums. In the current research, several educators explained that while they deployed iPads in teaching most disciplines, Personal Development, Physical and Health Education and Mathematics were the challenging subjects in terms of teaching through these devices. Though, this drawback may be assigned to design of current apps, examining the reasons of this finding is beyond the limitations of the current research.

Significance of Study on iPads Deployment

The significance of current research lies in the fact that study invites teachers to examine more deeply on how iPads can be deployed in school settings. It is also important to observe that iPads do not encourage motivation of students or enhance their learning performance. The research guides how both students and teachers can avail maximum benefits of iPads both outside and inside the classroom. Besides, this study also offers an insight as to crucial role in current education system and meaningful contribution of these smart devices to mission of the school (Johnson, Adams & Haywood, 2011).

Based on the findings of this study, it has been concluded that iPads have high educational potential, although, some teachers remain reluctant to adopt this new technology. With deploying smart devices, the role of the instructor has ceased while the tutorial time can extend after the school hours. Portability of smart devices provides children with a gateway to a flexible and broader source of educational material than what is available in the classroom setting. With more than 600 000 apps (mobile devices), which are available from the App Store, instructors receive an opportunity to an abundance of educational materials for use on smart devices such as the iPad. Finally, current study also opens venues to examine whether better preparation of teachers and students can lead to productive usage of iPads in school settings.

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