What do the experts say about the use of tablets in primary education?

New technologies occupy a large part of the educational landscape today. Especially emerging technologies have begun to be incorporated into classrooms at an exponential rate in recent years, and one of the most recent additions has been the tablet.

Numerous studies and tests have been conducted to answer questions such as:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of tablets in education?

At Techcombact, we found it to be a topic of great interest for teachers and parents of children who are starting or already in primary school. For this reason, we propose you learn about the impact of the tablet at this educational level, through various studies carried out in different countries.

As an interesting note, and to serve as a starting point, the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) products in Spanish homes has skyrocketed in recent years, reaching almost 100%, as shown in this survey carried out in 2020.

Tablet as a teaching resource: Can it contribute to reinforcing learning?

The use of tablets in the classroom, as learning tools, is a decision that until now is taken at the level of each school. Therefore, it is very interesting to know what the experience of adopting this technology by institutions is like.

As part of a pilot program [i] carried out in 6 primary schools in the Netherlands, in 2016 researchers Alexander Van Deursen, Somaya Ben Allouch and Laura P. Ruijter from the University of Twente created an educational setting in which children used a tablet PC.

In those 6 schools, two studies were conducted. The first highlighted the process by which primary schools adopted tablets through interviews, based on the dissemination of innovation theories. All stages were analyzed: Knowledge, Persuasion, Decision, Implementation and Confirmation. Two tablet systems were also considered: Closed and Open.

In the second study, a questionnaire was administered to the children of the primary schools involved in the pilot study. Factors that affected the general attitude towards tablets were: Utility, Ease of use, Interest in the task and Independence. Social influence and previous experience with tablets did not affect general attitude.

The results of both studies provided numerous recommendations on how tablets can contribute to educational improvement.

It was concluded that schools decided to adopt the use of tablets in the classroom, due to the potential benefits of the use of technology, being particularly striking in the facilitation of teaching and the stimulation of students to interact in a collaborative environment.

Interestingly, none of the schools asked parents about incorporating tablets in the classroom.

The other part of the program inquired about the general experience and attitude towards tablets as educational tools. This confirmed the theories affirmed in previous studies, on the increase in the autonomy and competencies of the students:

The children quickly and naturally became familiar with the tablet, and in doing so, increased their independence, requiring less assistance to carry out activities.

Likewise, it was noted that the interest in the tasks to be performed was not negatively affected by the use of technology. On the contrary, the tablet increased the motivation to learn, regardless of the topic that had to be taught.


[i] Deursen, Alexander JAM & Allouch, Somaya & Ruijter, Laura. (2016). Tablet use in primary education: Adoption hurdles and attitude determinants. Education and Information Technologies. 21. 971-990. 10.1007/s10639-014-9363-3.

How are tablets used in education?

Despite the fact that, until now, the incorporation of tablets in educational institutions is uneven, even between the regions of the countries. In Spain we can find a series of schools that tell us about certain methodologies and guidelines for the use of tablets :

The following examples of use are implemented at the moment in La Navata, Trabenco , Vallseca or Virgen de Montserrate schools, among others:

3 to 6 years: Once or twice a week

In schools where the tablet has been incorporated as an educational resource, between 3 and 6 years old have used it a maximum of 2 times a week. They are very useful for:

  • Do pre-writing exercises.
  • Reinforce tactile learning.
  • Contribute to familiarization with technology.

This reduced number of weekly interactions is recommended, since, in preschool, the child must continue with the sensory development begun in previous stages of life.

So the educational approach tends to be more experimental and interactive with the surrounding environment.

7 to 9 years: Always at hand, but with supervision

In an intermediate stage, the tablet is used to:

  • Get resources and information.
  • Perform exercises individually and collaboratively.

In other words, it is considered a much more active tool in education, but taking care not to replace pencil and paper. At home, parents must supervise interaction with the tablet at all times, being by their side to avoid disconnection from the environment.

At this stage, children must develop their values ​​and emotions, which is why traditional teaching methods are still vital to achieving this goal.

10 to 12 years: Substitute textbooks

From this moment on, tablets replace textbooks and become an open multimedia laboratory to develop the creativity, autonomy and potential of each student.

Clearly, its use must still be limited in favor of palpable experiences: painting on a music stand, playing musical instruments, playing sports, etc. they should occupy a prominent place in the student’s day-to-day life.

At these ages, as children begin to seek their independence, it is recommended that parents install parental control applications for use at home, thus preventing children from accessing inappropriate information.

Likewise, at school, the different activities and games are accessed from secure platforms with restricted access.

What Do The Experts Say About The Use Of Tablets In Primary Education

Benefits of a tablet for students

A tablet is not at all an educational method per se, but rather a support instrument that contributes to the development of different capacities in infants: which it achieves in a faster and more efficient way than with the use of conventional methods.

An example of this is a semi-experimental study [i] carried out in several Argentine educational institutions by four researchers from the Universities of San Andrés and Buenos Aires in 2016 and published in 2018, on the impact of tablets on science learning in 5-year-old students (pre-school).

Four classes from two preschool institutions in Buenos Aires, Argentina, were selected for the intervention, which lasted 6 weeks. All four classes received training and a quiz-based science teaching sequence, with one group from each institution also receiving tablets and specific guidance on how to incorporate them into their science lessons.

The post-intervention results of the test showed significant improvements in the results of the subject for all students, but no significant difference between the classes improved with the use of tablets, and those taught without them. Challenges and opportunities were discussed regarding the inclusion of tablets for teaching science at the preschool level.

Although the study concluded that there were no learning differences between the children who used and those who did not use the tablets. Those who did use them began to develop digital skills, showing a considerable increase in their skills with said devices.

It also increased their responsibility and autonomy, also perceiving an improvement in their general attitude and soft skills: such as leadership, communication, flexibility and negotiation.

The teachers valued the tablet’s “mobile laboratory” status, pointing out that if the experiments in science class had to be carried out without them, specific equipment would have been required, which not all schools have access to.

Contrary to what educators believed would happen (prior to the implementation of the study): Children were able to use technology responsibly, and continued to be interested in other learning methods that did not involve the use of the tablet.

Based on this, and other similar research in broader age groups, we can affirm the following advantages of the tablet in education:

[i] Melina Furman, Susan De Angelis, Enzo Dominguez Prost & Inés Taylor (2019) Tablets as an educational tool for enhancing preschool science, International Journal of Early Years Education, 27:1, 6-19, DOI: 10.1080/09669760.2018. 1439368

1. Facilitates motivation and visual memory

Due to the high level of interactivity offered by educational applications on tablets, students are more motivated to participate in class and finish each proposed exercise.

Likewise, due to the large number of stimuli that are perceived on the touch screens of tablets, visual memory plays a crucial role in retaining knowledge, facilitating this process.

2. Creativity and autonomy are reinforced

As tablets in education allow access to a greater amount of content and have the flexibility to create numerous applications. These contribute to the creativity of the little ones, who obtain resources to develop their potential in almost any field.

Autonomy is also increased since the interaction with technology has a trial-error nuance, which allows the child to develop their decision-making power and learn more about responsibility. Two aspects contribute a lot to independence.

3. Promotes teamwork and cooperation among students

Tablets manage to combine numerous design tools for the creation of drawings, videos, presentations, etc. which not only enrich learning but also encourage cooperation and teamwork.

Since each student is capable of developing their skills, the group learns that by working together they can achieve a better result in each project.

4. Improve learning monitoring

Teachers also find their work easier thanks to different monitoring tools that incorporate educational platforms and apps, which allow access to the statistical data of each student.

To accurately control and monitor their progress in each subject, their deficiencies and areas for improvement.

5. Simplify school supplies

With cloud storage platforms, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, not only the exchange between teacher and student is facilitated, but also the information can be consulted at any time and place. An excellent example is the Apuntes Marea Verde platform.

Likewise, there are not a few examples of schools that have chosen to remove textbooks, eliminating about 5 kilos of weight from the boys’ backs. In favour of a tablet where they can no longer access books with limited data, but updated information that is more adapted to the needs and intellectual enrichment of each student.

Disadvantages of using tablets in education

Of course, not everything is positive regarding the use of tablets in the context of schools. Especially since many children already have their own tablets, for entertainment and gaming as early as 2 and 3 years of age .

There are numerous studies that have addressed the damage of screens in the early development of infants.

That is the case of a study published by JAMA Pediatrics [i] in 2018 and conducted by several doctors in Psychology and Pediatrics from the Universities of Calgary, Waterloo and Alberta in Canada:

This longitudinal cohort study used a three-wave panel model with crossover lags in 2441 mothers and children in Calgary and Alberta. Information was obtained when the children were 24, 36, and 60 months old, and collected between October 2011 and October 2016. Statistical analyzes were conducted from July to November 2018.

Of the 2,441 children included in the analysis, 1,227 (50.2%) were boys. A model with crossover lags and random intercept revealed that higher levels of screen exposure at 24 and 36 months were significantly associated with poorer performance on-screen tests at 36 and 60 months, respectively. These in-person associations (with time variations) were statistically controlled for between-person differences (stable).

It was concluded that: High levels of exposure to screens between the ages of 2 and 3 years were associated with impoverishment in cognitive development at the age of 5 years.

Another study from the University of Nevada [ii], the United States, led by researchers Christine Ditzler, Eunsook Hong and Neal Strudler, (although carried out with high school students) noted the main mishaps in the use of tablets for education already in 2014:

To gather user perceptions, observations of 8 classrooms and interviews with 23 students and 3 teachers were conducted in a high school that ran a 1:1 teaching program with iPads, towards the end of the first year of implementation.

Themes elicited from the interviews included liking/disliking the iPad, iPad as an educational tool, iPad for gaming, iPad as a distraction and responsibility, and favourite apps and projects. Although the majority of participants stated that they liked iPads and found them useful for education, there were a number of concerns, particularly regarding learning to use tablet technology and the distractions created by having the device.

Apps used in the classroom were limited, with most of them being productivity apps. The need for training by teachers for the effective implementation of mobile devices in class is discussed.

As stated in the research abstract, although tablets were used mostly for productivity purposes in the classroom, they were also a source of distraction for both students and teachers.

Similar research also makes it clear that we cannot be naive about the negative impact digital technologies could have on learning . Some of the disadvantages of tablets in education are expressed as follows:

[i] Madigan S, Browne D, Racine N, Mori C, Tough S. Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(3):244–250. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056

[ii] Christine Ditzler, Eunsook Hong & Neal Strudler (2016) How Tablets Are Utilized in the Classroom, Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 48:3, 181-193, DOI: 10.1080/15391523.2016.1172444

1. They can become a distraction

If the student sees the tablet as a source of games and entertainment, they will often lose concentration in class , especially if the applications include games and videos.

Although occasional distractions are normal for all children, it is the teacher’s job to offer them activities on and off the device, to once again capture their attention.

2. Children lose the ability to write by hand

The use of the fingers and the keyboard to write could be a regress point for the calligraphy and manual writing of infants.

This is suggested by a collaborative study [i] between the University of Paris Est-Créteil and the University of Sherbrooke in Québec, by researchers Denis Alamargot and Marie-France Morin in 2015:

They sought to ascertain how writing with a plastic-tipped pencil on a digital tablet screen affects graphomotor performance in students, compared to handwriting on paper with a ballpoint pen. For they predicted that the modification of the propriokinesthetic response induced by the combination of the plastic tip and the screen would disturb younger and more advanced students differently: Those who rely on the perceptual response the same to form letters, as for adjusting the execution of movements.

Twenty-eight second- and ninth-grade students were asked to handwrite the alphabet and their first and last names under the two conditions. Cinematics were recorded using the tablet, controlled by Eye and Pencil software. Results showed that handwriting on the tablet surface with a plastic-tipped capacitive pen primarily affected pen pauses in second graders and pen movements in ninth graders. Suggesting a disturbance in the calculation of the trajectory of the strokes in the former, and a decreased control of muscle adjustment in the latter.

Concluding, therefore, that the surface of the tablet modified the graphomotor execution, although in a different way according to the school grade.

Hence, the pre-writing exercises with the tablet should only be done at specific moments at the beginning of the corresponding stage, and paper and pencil should continue to be used, the same to make graphs as essays and other tasks: Regardless of the stylus for taking notes, keeping it as a precision instrument and not so much a writing one.

[i] Denis Alamargot, Marie-France Morin (2015) Does handwriting on a tablet screen affect students’ graphomotor execution? A comparison between Grades Two and Nine, Human Movement Science, Volume 44, Pages 32-41, ISSN 0167-9457.

1. Indiscriminate use can cause health problems

If the time of interaction with the tablets is not regulated, health problems such as visual fatigue, headaches, blurred vision, all symptoms associated with Computer Vision Syndrome, usually occur.

Long-term postural complications are also seen, which lead to scoliosis and other spinal ailments. Clearly, these are not exclusively associated with exposure to screens and the use of tablets, but the tendency of children to spend long hours interacting with them accentuates these problems.

Conclusions

It is clear that there is real value for students and educators in incorporating the tablet or similar devices into primary education. But it is necessary to find a balance to make the most of the potential of these devices, reducing the collateral effects that it could cause in the learning process.

Specialist in related topics. Addicted to today's telephony and always ready to help people better understand the complex world of mobile technology.

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