Aussie schools flock to iPad

Schools and universities have jumped into trials of the Apple iPad tablet with and without the support of their overarching education departments.
Written by Jenna Pitcher, Contributor

Schools and universities have jumped into trials of the Apple iPad tablet with and without the support of their overarching education departments.

Western Australia's Department of Education and Training revealed this week that some schools in the state have purchased tablet devices independently for trial in education programs.

Chief information officer Bevan Doyle said the department does not "at this stage" have a policy on the use of iPads or Android-based technology.


(iPad Case image by Yutaka Tsutano, CC2.0)

"However, some schools have bought tablet devices to trial in various settings," Doyle said. "There appears to be a level of interest in this technology for educational use."

The department said that Kinross College, Ashdale Secondary College, Ballajura Community College and John Curtin College of the Arts had purchased iPads for trial.

In Victoria, the Brumby Government announced plans to buy 500 iPads for trials after the iPad launched in late May. Those devices have made their way into seven schools in the state.

The University of Adelaide announced last week that students who enrol in science degrees will receive a free iPad.

Education Queensland is also trialling handheld computers, although it has not confirmed whether its trial involved iPads.

Doyle said the WA department lacks a "central buying arrangement for iPads", although it would move to investigate arrangements such as procurement, pending further interest. Schools typically purchase technology through centralised panels designed to drive economies of scale, and the purchase of iPads and tablet devices fall under laptop and desktop procurement guidelines, according to Doyle.

The WA department is funded to maintain a student-to-computer ratio base in public schools of 1:5 for secondary schools and 1:10 for primary schools.

"Schools are able to use the remaining funds for other technologies including iPads, and of course schools can supplement the funding from other sources," Doyle said. "It is important to make sure schools' technology can be accommodated and supported within our standard operating environment. WA schools are 'strongly encouraged' to open discussion with the department before venturing into technology acquisitions."

The Queensland Government confirmed that a dozen "small" schools are involved in a trial where handheld computers — and other devices such as computers, data loggers, MP3 recorders and USB microscopes — are used as education tools to complement and enhance science classes.

An unconfirmed number of secondary and primary schools in the state are trialling the handheld devices in other fields such as literacy, maths, reading, writing, English as a second language and special needs classes.

The Queensland Department of Education and Training assistant director-general of IT, David O'Hagan, said handheld computers in schools are being used for individual and small group activities where students interact with educational applications.

"The devices are small and portable, which makes them easy to use for educational activities that take place outside the classroom and on field trips," O'Hagan said.

"Technology doesn't replace what students learn, but it can transform how they learn and this is critical in an education system that seeks to engage students every day. As new devices become available the department will review these products, their manageability and their appropriateness for teaching and learning."

The agency did not confirm further details at the time of publication.

However, not every department is as keen on the new technology.

The Tasmanian Department of Education has taken an official stance that iPads or similar devices are too new for serious consideration.

"As the technology of iPads is so new, the Department of Education has not yet had a chance to consider their potential use in the department or in schools," a department spokesperson said.

The New South Wales Department of Education and Training (DET) would not comment on its plans for iPads and tablet devices until a new CIO is in place. Former DET CIO Stephen Wilson resigned in June to join Qantas' technology team.

While in the DET position, Wilson was not interested in considering the iPad as an education device. In May he said that the tablet is "a wonderful consumption and entertainment device", but it was limited in its capacity as a useful educational tool and would not provide students with practical workforce skills.

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