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Study: Sharing iPads Beats 1-to-1 Programs for Improving Student Learning


Teachers wary of using iPads in the classroom without a full class set may be able to put their fears to rest: In a new study, kindergartners who shared iPads in class scored higher on literacy assessments than their peers in 1-to-1 or tablet-free classrooms.

Courtney Blackwell, a doctoral candidate in communications at Northwestern University, compared the literacy scores of 352 kindergartners in a school district that was in the process of rolling out a 1-to-1 iPad program. Depending on their school, students had either their own iPad to use in class, an iPad that was generally shared with a partner, or no iPad at all.

The students who shared iPads scored approximately 30 points higher on the STAR Early Literacy Assessment than students in either of the other two groups. Blackwell says that the results suggest that "it's the collaborative learning around the technology that made the difference, not just the collaboration in and of itself."

Blackwell controlled for differences in student demographics and fall test scores. She also took into consideration teacher quality (as based on classroom observations) and self-reported pedagogical beliefs, particularly with respect to the use of technology. Blackwell reports no significant differences between the teachers in these areas.

The teachers in the iPad-using classes used a wide variety of apps, including math, literacy, and creation apps like drawing programs. The classes in the shared iPad group, however, used the devices far less frequently than those with 1-to-1 programs, presumably because teachers in that school had access to only one cart of 23 iPads for all kindergarten classes. However, Blackwell's classroom observations suggest that each class used the iPads in similar ways, regardless of the amount of time spent with the technology or the specific apps used.

Since the study was small in scale, it's hard to say whether or not the results could be duplicated in other districts, or over an extended period of time. The study also looked specifically at kindergarten classrooms, so the findings may not apply for older students who might be more resistant to sharing their fancy new toys.

If Blackwell's findings are applicable on a larger scale, however, they may do more than just give hope to teachers who don't have resources for a full-scale 1-to-1 program; they may also shed some new light on the effective uses of technology in the classroom.

Image: Brad Flickinger/Flickr Creative Commons

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