Tablets in lessons
Digital, mobile and networked

Tablets in lessons
Tablets in lessons | Photo: AntonioDiaz/Shutterstock

Since mobile devices in the form of smartphones and tablets have been becoming increasingly widespread in daily use for communication and interaction, particularly amongst young people (cf. MPFS 2013, p. 6 et al), so-called “mobile learning” has been undergoing a new surge of attention. The question arises as to how and to what extent teachers can integrate digital media in an educationally practical way as a tool and medium within a contemporary lesson structure.

Mobile learning, or learning with mobile devices

Mobile learning today encompasses a broad spectrum of learning opportunities using mobile devices (cf. Seipold, 2013, for an overview). This ranges from learning on the move with concise learning modules in the sense of a microlearning approach, to the use of mobile devices in blended learning scenarios within a formal education context such as in school. Whereas at first the primary focus was on technology, the perspective nowadays is also an educational one. The term “seamless learning” is used to describe a universal learning support based on media that joins the learning contexts seamlessly (e.g. at home and in the classroom), or it refers to a removal of boundaries between learning locations and timeslots.
Mobile learning can accordingly also be used to mean a learning format that uses mobile devices to enable students to interact with other people and learning material in a computer-based environment, potentially at any (learning) location and at any time. Mobile learning takes place in both a formal and informal context, ideally with a constant internet connection. In a curricular context, educational scenarios are (still) necessary for mobile learning with and without an internet connection, because internet access is not (yet) guaranteed everywhere. The characteristics of the design of learning-oriented teaching and learning processes using mobile devices are rooted in mobility itself, in the real-life situation and therefore in an authentic learning context. This context also offers opportunities for an action-focused approach, for instance with a visit and documentation of historically or geographically important places – including in language lessons.
If you allow the students to be in control of the devices themselves, this opens up a unique potential when it comes to personalisation of mobile devices. For example students can organise useful apps themselves on a tablet over an extended period, and add their own, set up their own filing system, or document a problem-solving process over a longer term. In this way, information management and the process of knowledge acquisition can be customised to suit personal requirements – which can by all means be directed and assisted by the teacher. So from an educational perspective the main potential can be seen in the opportunities for personalisation or (internal) differentiation.

Added educational value

Although media plays a key role in the design of contemporary student-oriented teaching and learning processes, we see again and again that media education potential can only be utilised if good teaching is already providing a fertile basis for this – in other words if media is primarily used to achieve “added educational value”. On this basis it would be wishful thinking to assume that the integration of tablets would automatically improve an average curriculum.
Language tuition in particular, which offers plenty of educational and teaching-media oriented opportunities for personalisation using mobile devices, is a good example of how to achieve added educational value with and by means of mobile devices. For instance, students can work at their own pace independently or as a team to receive video and audio articles and edit them, or use the camera and recording functions to record and analyse their own language products. As well as this, they can use apps that let you hold a video conference or use an online dictionary, as well as (educational) apps for you to practise pronunciation or vocabulary. The latter in particular usually needs to be checked by teaching staff to verify that the quality is suitable for their curriculum. How to use mobile devices in lessons is usually less of a problem than the challenge faced by the teacher of developing creative and fitting learning scenarios that are also relevant to the curriculum. This takes a lot of work especially at the start, and the logical solution is to do this in cooperation with colleagues.

Skills in the use of teaching media for teachers

As well as educational competence in the relevant field, it is also an advantage for teachers to be skilled in the use of teaching media (Mayrberger, 2014). This applies particularly if tablets are introduced on a 1:1 basis, in other words each student is given their own tablet to which they have access at all times. Skills in the use of teaching media extend beyond the teacher’s personal media competence, which is a prerequisite for the integration of digital media in lessons. It encompasses the knowledge needed to support students’ media skills for the media-oriented world in which they live today (media socialisation), as well as to give them confidence in difficult situations encountered when using a tablet (e.g. cybermobbing, distraction). It also includes the ability to apply technology in the context of curricular and school development, to plan and design an up-to-date curriculum using digital media, as well as having a good general idea of the increasingly diverse educational apps and online materials (media-based education) without overlooking the subject-related or teaching-oriented perspective.

Conclusion: opportunities and challenges when using tablets

One significant added value factor when it comes to using mobile devices in the curriculum is specifically that they can be handed over to students for them to use wherever and whenever they like, enabling them to work independently. These opportunities are effectively underpinned by the constant availability of the technology and its ease of use, even though it also means higher technology dependency when you consider that the internet needs to be available at all times. So for the institutions themselves the greatest challenge – as well as functional WiFi – is finding the right solution when it comes to internet-based availability and storage of the students’ data.
Using tablets represents a challenge for both students and teachers in both an educational and an organisational capacity. Yet at the same time there is also educational potential that can change and even improve good teaching with the aid of digital mobile devices. The greatest opportunity can be seen as the fact that the students, teachers and school are networked with the world, which means that they remain connected to one another – regardless or the location or time zone in which students or teachers are at any given time.

Further reading

Kerstin Mayrberger: Tablets im Unterricht – (k)ein Für und Wider?, In: T. Knaus & O. Engel: fraMediale – digitale Medien in Bildungseinrichtungen (p. 61-80), kopaed, 2014
Kerstin Mayrberger (2012): Medienpädagogische Kompetenz im Wandel – Vorschlag zur Gestaltung des Übergangs in der Lehrerbildung am Beispiel mediendidaktischer Kompetenz, In: R. Schulz-Zander / B. Eickelmann / H. Moser / H. Niesyto / P. Grell: Jahrbuch Medienpädagogik 9: Qualitätsentwicklung in der Schule und medienpädagogische Professionalisierung (p. 389-412), Springer VS, 2012
Judith Seipold: Mobiles Lernen – Systematik, Theorien und Praxis eines noch jungen Forschungsfeldes. In: C. de Witt & A. Sieber: Mobile Learning. Potenziale, Einsatzszenarien und Perspektiven des Lernens mit mobilen Endgeräten (p. 27-54). Springer VS, 2013
mpfs – Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest: JIM 2013. Jugend, Information, (Multi-)Media. Basisstudie zum Medienumgang 12- bis 19-Jähriger in Deutschland, Stuttgart, 2013