Mind the 'app gap' - Integrating tablets in secondary education is not evident © Ellen Vanderhoven en Stephanie Van Hove

Slowly but surely Flemish secondary schools are starting to integrate technology in their daily classroom. A survey study by iMinds-MICT, in cooperation with research groups iMinds-ITEC-KuLeuven and iMinds-SMIT-VUB, conducted within the iMinds ICON-project 'EduTablet' reveals that 46% of the 648 pupils have used a tablet computer at school at least once. However, the implementation of tablets in the classroom is not always self-evident, and teachers often struggle with the shift from a traditional to a more technology-enhanced classroom.

Supply and demand

We questioned students and teachers from so-called ‘tablet schools’ about their expectations and experiences with tablet use in the classroom. By tablet schools we mean schools that integrate tablets in their educational approach; some even opt for a radical approach and ban paper and pencil. Our results indicate that most teachers and pupils share common needs and requirements with regard to educational applications on tablets. Applications should include both theoretical content and exercises, should allow individual trajectories for students (differentiation), and should enhance face-to-face interaction in the classroom. The availability of a teacher platform that keeps track of the progress of students is repeatedly mentioned as invaluable.

The research team screened 338 educational applications available in Flanders and found a strong contradiction between the reported needs of educational stakeholders and the available apps. Only 20% of the applications offered both theoretical content and exercises, while 45% of the applications offered only theoretical content. While teachers expected the applications to enhance differentiation and interaction in the classroom, 78% of the screened applications showed no adaptivity (i.e., flexible trajectories dependent on the learner’s progress) and 86% of the applications did not facilitate interaction in the classroom.

Mind the ‘app gap’

The results identified an important app gap, both with regard to the available content as with regard to the technical functionalities. The available content is often not adapted to the Flemish curriculum (and language), and if so, not adapted to the technological environment. By using traditional text-book content in technological environments (so-called ‘book behind glass’), the educational field misses out on important opportunities. With regard to the technical functionalities, it is obvious that most educational applications are not developed to be used in a formal educational context. Most often, there is no teacher platform, there are no implementation guidelines, and nothing is known about the learning impact.

These results are a wake-up call for both educational publishers and technological developers. Flemish secondary education is in need of more qualitative tablet applications, integrating qualitative content adapted to the Flemish curriculum in an interactive and adaptive technological environment.

© dr. Ellen Vanderhoven en Stephanie Van Hove

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Mind the app gap