Last updated: 18 April 2013
Birmingham University researchers have published the findings of a survey of teachers training to become qualified teachers of children with a visual impairment. The report “The use of Apple iPads amongst Trainee Teachers of Visually Impaired Students” provides a snapshot showing how 49 teachers are currently using iPads to support their work with children who have a vision impairment.
The questionnaire gathered data about the use of the Apple iPad:
- in the teachers’ own work
- by other professionals and colleagues they knew of, and
- by students with visual impairments.
It is important to note that while the iPad is one of the most popular tablet computers, there are alternatives such as the Google Nexus, Amazon Kindle Fire, and Microsoft Surface which each offer different accessibility features that suit different individuals.
How widely are iPads used?
Interestingly, while half the participants reported that they knew of iPads being used by teachers in their work with visually impaired students, a slightly lower proportion reported that that they knew of iPads being used by the visually impaired students themselves.
What barriers are there?
The vast majority expressed a positive interest in developing the use of an iPad in their work if they had not already done so, and two mentioned ongoing trials in their school or service.
Many saw lack of funds as a key barrier, while others were concerned that they needed to know more about the appropriateness and accessibility of the iPad and associated training needs.
Two participants were concerned about more technical matters of compatibility of the iPad with other educational technology (school networks).
What can iPads do?
In addition to word processing, spreadsheets and internet access, the teachers who were survey reported that iPads were used for:
- visual assessment
- visual tracking
- encouraging the development of fine motor skills
- developing a child’s understanding of cause and effect
- colour and shape recognition
- visual enlargement of curriculum materials (text and diagrams); speech access such as to audio books
- access to interactive whiteboards
- access to pdf files using iBooks
- filming presentations so they can be accessed more easily
- photographing objects and displays
- recording instructions or work
- taking pictures of homework instructions
- a huge choice of specialist applications including dictation software and apps to reinforce learning across the curriculum
- access to internet/web browser for research, emails and texting
- voiceover for students with no sight
- some children find it easier to type on than QWERTY keyboard
- leisure and relaxation.
Teachers cited the fact that their small size and portability made them attractive for use in school. In addition the iPad’s ability to instantly “wake from sleep” makes it very convenient for intermittent classroom use. The fact that the in-built screen reader and screen magnifier can be used at the same time was also seen as a significant advantage.
iPads are generally perceived as desirable making them more likely to be accepted by young people who don’t wish to stand out from the crowd by using “disability” aids. More than this, other children and young people often want to join in too, making collaborative working a positive means of some social inclusion.
The Birmingham University researchers stress that this exploratory survey was completed by a relatively small number of trainee QTVIs, and that other QTVIs, perhaps with greater experience, may have different views.
What can we learn from other educators?
The first iPad Summit hosted by Ed Tech Teacher at Harvard Medical School recently brought together over 500 educators and experts from around the globe. “The conference was one of the most innovative and exhilarating experiences I have had as an educator,” Jennifer Carey says in an online article, but cautions that the iPad is simply a tool – not a magical, shiny object that will innovate education.
She makes clear that effective teaching comes first, iPads follow, and that any integration of iPads in the classroom must come with professional development and technical support.
Her verdict is that swapping iPads for the old laptops will not, by itself, promote learning or critical thinking.
A note of caution
In the USA, educationalists are beginning to question the millions spent on whole school iPad purchases, which have sometimes gone ahead without proper consideration of exactly how they will be used and the training needed to exploit its potential.
In addition the move towards online testing is posing new challenges, as some of the tests will only work on the latest machines, and not all schools have the same kit.
When selecting technology and teaching strategies, the young person’s needs and the desired educational outcome, must remain at the centre of decisions.
Budgets and compatibility with technology used by peers and colleagues also has to be considered, and leasing rather than buying is an option.
Meanwhile countless apps for different platforms are being developed all the time, which need thorough evaluation before being used with students.
Download the full report and a suite of iPad information on the RNIB web pages at the link below.