It was a pleasure to welcome Mr Michael Russell (Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning) and Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern MSP) to Sciennes on Wednesday 16th May to announce a national project examining best practice in using tablet computers and mobile devices for learning and how they can be introduced in schools on a wider scale. Mr Russell was warm and relaxed in his manner and gracious with his time. We were all impressed by the attention he gave to our P6 and P5 pupils. Thank you to Bruce Crawford, Chair of the Sciennes School Council, David McKee Senior ICT Development Officer, Karen Prophet Education Manager (with remit for Technologies), Derek Robertson National Adviser Emerging Technologies Education Scotland and Mary Turner Thomson, Sciennes' parent and author, for attending.
In a classroom crowded with P6 and some P5 pupils, school administrators, Scottish Government officials and journalists, Michael Russell, Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, saw students Amir and Mixie deliver a presentation on the history of games consoles, using iPad apps and including a video produced on the device.
“There are a number of pilots already underway around the country, including the use of iPads here at Sciennes. I have asked Education Scotland for recommendations on how we can realise the benefits of mobile technology for all learners in Scotland, including ensuring how we get the best possible value for our schools, and whether national guidance is needed for the sector,” said Russell.
In two of the Sciennes' pilot classes, Ms French's and Mrs Barker's students get to keep the iPads throughout the day, taking them home to complete assignments. In other classes, particularly Miss Gaffney's and Mrs Watson's, pupils are using the devices only in school.
Students at Sciennes showed visiting adults not only their astounding ease with technology that most of their elders have yet to get to grips with, but also the ways the technology is being used to enrich the learning experience. Classes have set up their own ‘wiki’ pages to share information and research; can be set work by their teacher in a blog format, and return it for correction; and can use a variety of free educational applications. Over the school’s wifi network, the students also have free access to the digital collection of the City of Edinburgh Libraries, introduced to Sciennes by Susan Varga.
The pilot raises a variety of interesting questions – not least whether the technology can improve education outcomes. As well as the recommendations Education Scotland will compile, research is being conducted by Apple and by Hull University to try and establish the impact of such pilots. The pilot also raises issues of cost – both of the hardware and software involved – as well as safety questions relating to unsupervised access to the internet. However, the enthusiasm of the pupils and staff at Sciennes for the devices was self-evident.
What is also clear is that an iPad in every Scottish state school pupil’s book bag is not on the immediate horizon. The Scottish Government is conscious of the cost that would entail, and Russell confirmed that there is currently no budget to purchase iPads for students across Scotland.
However, the Cabinet Secretary declared himself to be “excited” by what he saw at Sciennes and said the Scottish pilots offer a unique learning experience around how technology can be better put to use in the classroom.
“I want Scottish school pupils to be both connected and collaborative and I want to see digital technology being used purposefully both in and out of school,” said Russell. “The range of mobile devices that are now available and the promise of what they can bring to teaching and learning is very exciting and something that must be embraced. I want to drive forward a culture change in Scottish education and ensure new technologies can be embedded into learning. This is an exciting time to be at school, and we must ensure that the potential for technology to aid learning in Scottish schools is maximised.”
Thank you to Seonag MacKinnon, Education Correspondent for BBC Scotland.
Mr Russell commented kindly about his visit on his Blipfoto site and took the photograph below using an iPad:
"This morning I visited Sciennes Primary in Edinburgh to see the Primary 5 & 6 iPad Pilot Class.
It was a fantastic visit to a school with real enthusiasm and strong educational leadership visible at every level. The children themselves were immersed in deep and connected learning and their teachers are dedicated and committed to getting the best every day.
I think Education Scotland and the country is going to learn a lot from these pilots in various places, using various technologies. And much joyful learning is already taking place."