King Richard secondary school in Portsmouth is quite outstanding in many ways. Firstly, under its Executive headteacher, Brian McClarin’s guidance, the school now has 94 per cent of students moving onto post 16 education. However, a view held by teachers and students is that what makes it such as special school is the belief that there is no limit to achievement and that whether each student considers themselves to be extraordinary or not, they all have the potential to do extraordinary things.
This policy of looking beyond ‘ordinary’ is also applied to King Richard’s procurement strategy. By always considering the extraordinary, never buying the most obvious mainstream products without really considering their contribution to learning, the school has recently realised great results from tablet technology.
In 2010, ICT Coordinator James Webb started looking at the potential benefit of small computer devices for use by students both in and out of school.
James started by looking at netbooks. Several were trialed but limitations included cost and the tendency for damage during transit. He explains, “Students were taking the netbooks home in their school or sports bags and very often the keys of the keyboard would break off and the screens would get damaged. The cost was also a limiting factor if we were to achieve our aim of having one for every child.”
Meanwhile many schools were investing in iPads which could have been the most obvious option for the school. However, the first step was to have a clear and fundamental understanding of exactly what the school’s needs were and how the technology could be used and managed in the learning environment.
Other questions that James considered were whether the tablet selected would support the current eLearning content & activities? Would the students be able to access the existing network resources? Would the hardware work with other ICT devices, and how would they control individual user access? James realised early on that the iPad would not be suitable to meet these needs; primarily it is a consumer device and was not designed to address a schools specific requirements.
James adds further considerations. “Deploying a large number of tablet devices requires a system to manage, maintain and control them. Without such a solution, tablet devices could create an even bigger burden on ICT provision in schools.
James then came across the LearnPad tablet from Avantis. “The features of the LearnPad that first attracted my attention were that it was Android which meant there would be less problems using our current elearning content on it and secondly, it was very clear that the product had been designed specifically for schools.”
Because of the provider’s understanding of school’s needs, the devices could contribute towards personalisation of learning within the school by delivery of apps to groups or individual students as required. The system enables our teachers to send resources to students, which is essential and comes with the choice of locking down any broader access. At King Richard the parents decide whether they want their child’s LearnPad locked or unlocked; it’s about having the choice.”
By having this in-built management system it means that when the children go home they have full use of functionality, then when back in school they use the innovative QR code feature to download their work for the day.
The content on the LearnPad is categorised into required learning outcomes. Its cloud based management system, LearnPadConnect™ allows the teachers to make informed decisions on each child’s unique learning profile and then apply these via the innovative ‘QrKeys’ barcodes. By activating the built-in camera the students simply ‘scan’ the QrKey and the LearnPad interface changes to another pre-defined profile, presenting customised learning content for that user.
“When we first set them up, I worked with the teachers to create individual profiles, subject topics or year groups, and then applied these to multiple devices centrally via LearnPadConnect. It was all very easy”, explains James.
Teachers at King Richard were previously spending time hunting for resources which slowed lessons down. Now, if the teacher wants the students to create a blog, for example, they simply direct them to a multi-media session and there will already be a pre-established link to the WordPress blog site. Whether it is a blog about a particular character in history that they have been studying or a poem they have written, using their blogs they can celebrate their successes and broadcast them to their friends, peers and parents.
The other main benefit of the LearnPad was the price, which is nearly half the price of an iPad. With the objective of moving towards each child having their own tablet, the team at King Richard once again stepped out of the ordinary.
James picks up the story. “We established an equity scheme, where the parents can contribute a certain amount of money per month for the device for one year. They don’t pay the full cost but it’s enough to help us fund the scheme and be able to invest in enough tablets to provide one for each child so they can take them home for homework.”
The most notable change has been that the students are definitely keener to finish their work via the tablet and Learnpad.
James concludes; “Now we have experienced all the advantages of the LearnPad I wouldn’t go back to using netbooks. So many schools are trying to fit a square peg in a round hole by using netbooks and iPads. The LearnPad is designed for schools and has helped us share resources efficiently and effectively, saving teacher time and giving the students the support they need with the autonomy to drive their own learning.
“The LearnPad has enabled us to introduce a bottom up approach to learning, where the students take on ownership of their learning, and are now training staff and students in using the tablets in a truly personalized way. They suggest apps that they feel can help them and they support other students with what they have found. “Undoubtedly we would not have achieved this level of interest using netbooks.”