Information and communication technology is a principal driver in our Information Society  of which the immediate consequences for educational practice can be observed . Following this evolution, several authors [3,4] have mentioned the need to shift from the traditional classroom setting, where the student is seen as a passive consumer of educational knowledge, to a classroom in which learners are considered active participants and where collaboration and sharing information in a resource-rich environment is given precedence. To advance this shift and the necessary educational reform, hardware and software developers promote new technological tools, and more specifically tablet devices, as magic devices [5,6]. These tablets are more narrowly defined by the New Media Consortium in 2012 as iPads, Windows -or Android devices, i.e. small, wireless, mobile personal computers which have finger-driven touch screens and are backed-up by diverse applications in a well-provisioned application marketplace .
According to this transformation to a more technology-enhanced learning approach, Hattie  has indicated that: "An analysis of the meta analyses of computers in schools indicates that computers are used effectively (a) when there is a diversity of teaching strategies; (b) when there is a pre-training in the use of computers as a teaching and learning tools; (c) when there are multiple opportunities for learning (e.g. deliberative practice, increasing time on task); (d) when a student, not teacher, is in "control" of learning; (e) when peer learning is optimized; and (f) when feedback is optimized." . In other words, Hattie  claimed that the following conditions should be fulfilled in order to integrate technology into the classroom; namely the role of the teacher, the need of professionalization, and the need of adapted teaching and learning approaches.
While it can be argued that the use of technology during classes can support constructivist approaches [9,10], implementing technology into classes does not imply a radical change of the didactics [11,12]. According to Yelland  learning with technology needs more than making learning activities digital, it is also about creating ‘contexts for authentic learning that use new technologies in integrated and meaningful ways to enhance the production of knowledge and the communication and dissemination of ideas’ .
Obviously, with regard to integrating technology into the classroom setting, it is the teacher’s main responsibility to facilitate this educational innovation [14,15]. In this light, Fullan  formulated three important dimensions for educational innovation: (1) the possible use of adaptive material; (2) the possible use of new teaching approaches and, (3) the possible change of beliefs. While the need to investigate perceptions is emphasized by numerous authors [15,16] who stress that cognisance of end users’ perceptions of this technological innovation is crucial for predicting the success, speed and extent of its integration in classroom practice, teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards innovation should be examined. Furthermore, research of Fullan  and Niederhauser & Stoddart  show that teachers’ beliefs are crucial; their beliefs are related to the actual uses of the implemented technology. The personal willingness of teachers to adopt and integrate innovations into their classroom practice is the key for successfull innovation [18, 19, 20]. In this context, Niederhauser et al.  and Becker et al.  distinguished between two kinds of teachers; those who either have a constructivist approach or have a more behaviourist approach to the use of technology in education. In particular, teachers who held more traditional beliefs about teaching and learning tended to use didactic instructional methods while teachers with more constructivist beliefs tended to use student-centered inquiry based methods. Understanding their beliefs is clearly a first step in the development of a deeper understanding of educational innovations in the context of complex classroom practices .
Integrating innovative technology during classroom practices inevitably demands teachers to acquire new technological and pedagogical skills . The didactical use of tablet devices is decisive for the learning process . Teachers need skills to be able to transform the learning content, the so-called Technological Pedagogical Content knowledge (TPACK) . However, it is known that most of the teachers integrate technology in order to provide content in a digital way, instead of using them to enhance learner-centered approaches . In this light, Welliver' s instructional transformation model  can be introduced. This model describes the stages that reflect the level of technology integration among teachers. The five stages are familiarization, utilization, integration, reorientation, and (r) evolution. While familiarization entails the stage where the teacher becomes aware of technology and its potential uses, (r)evolution refers to the stage where technology is a learning tool that is seamlessly woven into the teaching and learning process. In other words, technology can be integrated from enhancing learning to transforming learning.
While an amount of research described teachers’ perceptions towards a number of technological tools, such as learning management systems , digital learning environments , and blogs , studies concerning teachers’ perceptions of tablet computers are limited [29, 30]. Although there is relatively little academic research on the use of tablet devices, the exceptions include for instance the work of Burden , Clark & Luckin , Clarke & Svanaes , Montrieux et al. , Cumming et al. , and Heinrich . This available perceptions-based research showed that teachers expressed positive perceptions towards using tablets [8, 30, 31, 35]. The reported instrumental advantages of this innovation were related to administrative tasks, but more importantly it enabled teachers to provide a wider range of learning activities. The availability of a wide range of apps, the connectivity to the outside world beyond the formal school walls, the immediacy of communication tools enables teachers to explore alternative activities such as 3D, multimodal, virtual tours, … In addition, teachers reported more possibilities to differentiate learning more easily and sharing information [4, 8, 33]. Cumming, Strnadova, & Singh  claim that teachers pointed to the possibility of ‘real world teaching’, fostering students’ involvement. Heinrich  pointed to the same findings concerning teacher perceptions on tablet use, involving using tablets to administrating as taking presence registrations and planning classes. They also felt that tablets promote differentiated learning. Nevertheless, implementing tablet devices into the classroom is not easy, and requires teacher training [8, 23, 31,35].
Besides the importance of the teacher, few studies examined the impact of important school-level variables that can influence the integration of technology into classes . Studies of Goodison  and Hayes  have shown that local school conditions affect the integration of technology into teaching and learning practices. In particular, the importance of the ICT-coordinator, who can guide the technology implementation by scaffolding teachers , adequate school ICT-support  and school ICT infrastructure [4, 41] need to be considered during technology innovation into classrooms.
A comprehensive model that highlights the different aspects of technology integration is called the e-capacity model . In this model, ICT as a lever for educational change is influenced by the teacher who has to implement technology in the classroom and can implement technology for different purposes (as a basic ICT-skills tool, a learning tool, a information tool). Followed by the actual use of the teacher, ICT-related teacher conditions are essential, such as teacher competence to deal with the technology and professional development. Next, ICT-related school conditions are needed; such as ICT-support, ICT-coordinators and ICT-infrastructure. Finally, school improvement conditions such as leadership, and the relation between teachers, and participative-decision making are relevant.
Besides the importance of measuring teacher’ perceptions towards the implementation of tablet computers, and the necessary school-supported conditions, the perspective of secondary school learners remains under-researched . It is not immediately clear whether the use of technology in the classroom improves learning practices . Research on the impact of tablet devices on student learning indicates that such devices have the potential to support learners by offering them a context in which they can construct and share knowledge in media-rich and stimulating environments . Additionally, results suggest that the use of tablet devices seems to have an impact on student motivation and promotes meaningful learning experiences [35,45]. For instance, multiple pathways are now available for learning purposes in the form of multimedia, educational games, translation tools, and applications that support learning .
However, more research is needed to understand students’ perceptions concerning the use of tablet devices in an educational context . The little available research, such as from Rossing, Miller, Cecil, & Stamper , shows that students were very positive concerning the use of tablets in higher education, stating these devices are beneficial for immediate access to information and enhancing learning experiences, according different learning styles and preferences. Other available research such as the report from Clark & Luckin  confirm these findings by stating students are generally reported to be positive about the tablet implementation, reporting the possibilities to motivate, engage them to learning, the possibility to make communication between peers and peers, and peers and teachers easier, and the added value for collaboration. These findings show an increased motivation, enthusiasm, interest, engagement, creativity and so on. Overall, research focusing on teachers’ and students’ perceptions towards the use of tablet devices shows that learning appears to have become more attractive. The ease of use, the availability and direct access to the World Wide Web and the lower threshold between students and teachers at the level of communication are some of the elements that reflect the changing nature of learning [7,31].
However, while recent research stated that adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices would just dilute the effectiveness of teaching . Specific research is needed to unravel the perceptions of both teachers and students concerning the actual use of tablet devices in education. Most of the little available perceptions-based research reports on the students and teachers’ perceptions towards the impact of the tablet devices for a relatively short time period and are particularly conducted in the context of primary or higher education. Most of this kind of research reports the perceptions towards the introduction of tablet devices, where a novelty effect can partly explain the positive reactions of both teachers and students. No solid information is yet available in the literature concerning the overall perception of tablet devices. In conclusion, more research is needed to unpack the potential of tablet devices that goes further than the sales hype .
In order to expand existing research, a focus group study was conducted to investigate the perceptions of students and teachers on these devices after a six-month utilization period in the first ‘iPad-school’ in Belgium that has implemented tablet devices in a radical, school-wide way where both teachers and students used the tablet devices intensively during all courses, and both at school and at home. This implementation gave researchers the opportunity to investigate the students’ and teachers’ perceptions of on the changing teaching and learning practices, and as such, contribute to the existing literature. Due to the importance of gathering the perceptions towards this long-term implementation of tablet devices and the given context where we have this first iPadschool in Flanders, an explorative study was obtained. This study has the purpose to investigate the first impressions of the teachers and students towards this implementation. In this case, a explorative study was appropriate.
In order to answer the above mentioned problem statement focusing on the impact of tablet devices towards teaching and learning practices, the present study explores the following questions:
- How do teachers and students experience the role of the teacher following the introduction of tablet devices in the classroom setting? What are, in other words, the consequences for teaching practices?
- What are the perceptions of both teachers and students towards this change in learning practices?
- What are the perceptions on the conditions that support these teaching and learning practices?
A qualitative focus group study was conducted in the first secondary school in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium) that has implemented tablet devices (iPads) into the whole school and classroom organisation. At the beginning of the school year 2012, each teacher and student received a personal tablet for use both at school and at home. Following Rogers’  innovation diffusion theory, which describes five stages in the life cycle of any innovation, this school can be considered as an ‘innovator’ with regard to the introduction of tablet devices. The school can be considered a pioneer in this respect, as it was a school-wide decision to use these devices in all grades and classrooms. As this school is unique in Belgium, being the first to mobilise this education al overhaul, the appropriate approach was to set up a focus group study to examine in-depth the perceptions of both students and teachers about the introduction of tablet devices during teaching and learning practices. Conducting focus group studies gave participants for the first time after the implementation the opportunity to give their opinion and to discuss about their views. The use of focus group interviews is a common method for gathering data in qualitative educational research and was an appropriate method to gather explorative information on the perceptions of teachers and students currently using tablet computers in the pioneer school [50,51]. In particular, issues can be examined in depth. Krueger & Morgan  define this method as: “A carefully planned series of discussions designed to obtain perceptions on a defined area of interest in a permissive, non-threatening environment”.
Sampling and Research Procedure
In accordance with Krueger & Casey’s guidelines , six focus group interviews of each ten participants were organised. More concretely, the recruitment of the participants was made ad random. Forty students and twenty teachers were invited after six months of using tablet devices in the classroom organisation. In order to select participants with different opinions, we have chosen not to accept voluntarily participants. Initially, twenty boys and twenty girls of age 11–14 and age 15–18 were selected of the student list and were invited to join a focus group interview. In particular, 20 boys and 19 girls of the 40 invited students attended the interviews. Due to practical issues, the school board selected two times ten teachers who met the proposed criteria of equal gender, more-less years of experience and the course they give (a variety of courses). In the end, only two of the twenty teachers did not participate. In sum, of the focus groups, two comprised teachers (n = 18); two comprised students aged between 11–14 years (n = 20); and two comprised students aged between 15–18 (n = 19).
For every focus group, a semi-structured interview of 90 minutes was conducted in order to investigate the participants’ initial perceptions after six months of using tablet devices. More specifically, explorative questions were structured into four categories: introduction questions, questions concerning teaching practices, questions concerning learning practices and final questions. Teachers as well as students were asked the same basic questions (see Table 1). These questions are partly inspired by the findings of Hattie  who claimed that the following conditions should be fulfilled in order to integrate technology into the classroom; namely the role of the teacher (research question 1), the need of professionalization (research question 3), and the need of adapted teaching and learning approaches (research question 1 and 2). Finally, the e-capacity model of Vanderlinde & van Braak , which focuses on the role of teachers (research question 1) and school-conditions (research question 3), was taken into account during the development of this focus group study. This model was elaborated by adding the learning aspect (research question 2) and students’ perceptions.
Based on the three research questions, the information gathered in the teaching practices section of the interview can be used to answer the first research question. In addition, information in the learning practices section was linked to the second research question. Finally, information gathered in the introduction and final questions were related to the third research question. In other words, by conducting this focus group study, we want to examine both teachers and students perceptions towards the tablet implementation, and this with a focus on the role of the teacher and teaching practices, the impact on learning practices and with the ICT-related teacher conditions and school conditions that are needed to implement tablet devices adequately.
Concerning the role of the researchers, they took a neutral role and acted as the moderators of the conversations. To encourage conversation and integrate the tablet device into the study, the application Socrative, a student response system, is been used. Participants could vote and respond to statements. When sufficient data was gathered via the tablet device, a discussion took place. All focus group interviews were videotaped, and all conversations were transcribed.
Measurements and Analysis
The transcribed conversations, the sources of this research, were loaded into the software ‘NVivo’, a qualitative data analysis computer software package for which a coding scheme was developed with a particular focus on three proposed research questions. Every respondent received a personal code, which was used in the coding system of NVivo. Based on the three proposed research questions, three coding themes were selected. Data focusing on the teaching aspect were selected under one theme, whereas data concerning the second research question (the learning aspect) are selected for the second theme. Finally, the same procedure for gathering information was used whereby the third coding theme included data that focuses on the conditions needed for implementing tablet devices into classes.
The data were analysed using a two-step procedure . In the first phase of data analysis, all coded data from each focus group study was brought together and a vertical analysis or within-case analysis  was applied. This led to the creation of a case specific report which organizes and presents both the statistical and interpretative data of each focus group study in the same format using a fixed set of paragraphs. In the second data analytic phase, the results of the vertical analysis of each focus group study were submitted to a horizontal analysis or cross-site analysis  in which the six focus group studies were systematically compared for similarities and differences. To safeguard the quality of the interpretative data in both the vertical and horizontal analyses, the interpreted results were presented to the teachers involved to allow for feedback. Within this study, the entered answers in the application Socrative were triangulated with the focus group interview data to support the trustworthiness of the explanations of the research results.
This research is in line with the general ethical protocol for scientific research of the Ghent University. According to their rules no additional requests to the ethical committee Psychology and Educational Sciences for advice were needed because this research project did not contain a medical bias. This study is conducted in a school, where the decision to introduce tablets into the classroom was made independent of this research. According to a signed agreement between the school and the parents or the guardians, as is stipulated in the school regulations, the host institution is responsible for the participants and has the right and the duty to end any participation in the minor’s interest. In addition to this informed consent between the school and the parents, we sent an information letter to all participants. All relevant information about this study has been adequately explained. In this information letter, we offered an opt-out choice for involvement in this study, if they would disagree with the setup of this study. We declare that this is an independent research in which the authors did not received funding from commercial institutions. According to the ethical scientific research guidelines of the Ethics Committee of the Ghent University, all data were stored anonymously. The authors have no potential conflict of interest.
The results are reported following the three research questions.
RQ 1: How do teachers and students experience the role of the teacher following the introduction of tablet devices in the classroom setting? What are, in other words, the consequences for teaching practices?
To answer the first research question, both students and teachers described two kinds of teaching styles that occurred during the implementation process of the tablet devices, these teaching styles were labelled by the researchers as “instrumental teachers” (67%) and “innovative teachers” (33%). The results indicate that teachers’ perceptions of the tablet devices have an impact on their teaching practices.
The “instrumental teachers” are defined by the researchers and described by the participants as those who did not change their beliefs about their role after the implementation of the tablet in their classroom and consequently, did not change their teaching style drastically. Moreover, they believe the device has a purely instrumental value since there is no need to reserve the computer lab or to copy additional work sheets. These teachers continue to accomplish their role in the same way as before, by stating that the only difference being the replacement of the textbook by the tablet. In sum, these teachers use tablet devices for teaching and learning as the participants have labelled: “a book behind glass”. All students state that, apart from using text-processing applications, such as PDF Expert, little time is spent on didactical applications. In addition, both the students and the teachers claim that the latter have begun to take more control in the classroom. Teachers seem to fear losing control over the class due to the presence of tablet devices, as these teachers believe students are tempted to surf social network sites and play games. Some teachers indicated they experienced difficulty dealing with the shift from their central place, in front of the classroom, to a role in which they had a less controlling function. In other words, and surprisingly, the analysis of the data showed that implementing innovative technology prompted teachers with an instrumental role to become more conservative. This instrumental behaviour could be explained in many ways. First of all, most of these teachers stated that they are disillusioned by the lack of material because many editors cannot follow or provide adapted digital material, causing teachers to feel pressured into taking on the role of authors. Secondly, some teachers mentioned the high workload, due to the lack of adequate material and the rapidness of the implementation. Thirdly, instrumental teachers generally have a traditional view on education in which they have a central role in the distribution of knowledge. In addition, due to the novelty of the tablet implementation and the school being pioneer, teachers stipulate that not many professional courses can be followed. Consequently, these teachers keep using tablet devices in a traditional way. Fourthly, these teachers claimed many students are distracted the Internet which was easier accessible. Finally, some teachers are uncertain as to precisely how the tablet devices have an added value. As a consequence, “instrumental teachers” do not seem to have the desire or energy to create innovative courses. In Fig 1, a number of comments are tabulated to illustrate these findings about the “instrumental teachers”.
By contrast, and illustrated in Fig 2, the “innovative teachers” are those who have adopted the role of coach. Both teachers and students indicated that using tablet devices had changed the teaching style and a wider range of learning activities could be organised (e.g. integrating multimedia and developing interactive exercises). These teachers like using more didactical applications next to text-processing ones and emphasize the need to reflect on the link between the purpose of the lesson and the specific application. Teaching and learning should be understood as processes of active learning through applications that mobilise students’ learning processes (i.e., applications to practise content or search the Internet for information). They reported that they realise that learning through the didactical use of tablets has meant a shift from traditional, teacher-centred education to the individual use of tablet devices by the students. They also believe that there is a need for a different didactics, or as the researchers call, “digital didactics”, namely content should be offered via the devices. The so-called ‘innovative teachers’ have abandoned the traditional idea that learning occurs by means of a teacher who fills minds of a passive learner with the aid of the black board. They have a different view on the learning process; and state that learning though tablet devices should allow students to negotiate the content instead of simply aiding the students to learn facts by rote. The teachers claim that these tools facilitates higher-order thinking and reasoning, and that realistic lessons can be offered in order for students to learn in an active manner. In other words, the data indicates that the innovative behaviour of these teachers is associated with a need to rethink didactical practices. Such teachers argue that their changing role makes teaching quite exhausting on the one hand, but more interesting on the other. Whereas course preparation is more intensive and puts the teachers under much pressure, teachers stipulate that it is an investment for the future. Students will learn how to deal with mobile technology in a responsible way, which is an important skill in our modern technological era. The teachers note the importance of preparing their students for a rapidly changing world, where technology is an integral part of society. These teachers believe that introducing tablet computers in secondary education is a good way to start this process as it facilitates a shift towards an active student-centred learning practice. In the end, these teachers were proud to be working for one of the first schools in Belgium to attempt this ‘new’ kind of learning, distinct from traditional learning.
RQ 2: What are the perceptions of both teachers and students towards this change in learning practices?
In terms of the second research question, both teachers and students appreciate the added value of tablet devices, referring to the ease of use, the speed of accessing different learning materials, the ability to be able to instantly search additional information, the ability to take pictures and to integrate notes, and the reduction in the weight of their previously heavy schoolbags. These are all instrumental benefits of these new learning practices researchers label as an ‘all-in-one device’. Moreover, as reported by most of the students, tablet devices makes learning more interesting. However, data analyses show that especially the younger students (age 11–14 years) are more positive about the use of tablet devices in school. In particular, based on Socrative data, 14 of the 20 students of this age reported that learning was dull before the introduction of tablet computers. In contrast, most of the older students tend to print the course material, use keyboards for writing and are more critical about the use of tablets for learning. More specifically, 13 of the 19 students of this age stated that aside from the added value of using the tables to access multimedia, their overall learning capacity has not increased. These students indicated the problem of having less of an overview of the course content and the major issue of distraction. The teachers also mentioned these disadvantages as a concern. As a distinction can be made among instrumental and innovative teachers, it can concluded that older students tend to have a classical view about learning practices, in comparison with the younger students. However, it seems that the role teachers take also has an impact on learning practices. Both students and teachers stated that if teachers integrate the tablet in a meaningful manner (adopt the role of an innovative teacher), deep learning could be achieved. Innovative teachers stated that learning through these devices could open many doors; one can integrate elements of the daily lives of students, which promotes meaningful learning. The introduction of tablet devices has facilitated a shift from ‘learning by heart’ to learning through multimedia, social media and the integration of the personal world of children, all of which makes learning more meaningful. Finally, as reported by almost every student and teacher, a large benefit of using tablet devices for learning is that students seem to be more inclined to collaborate and share information with each other. Both teachers and students (age 11–18) stated that by using applications such as iMessage and Facebook, students establish online networks and discussion groups spontaneously. Furthermore, more than 75% of the students indicated that the ability to ask their peers questions aids their learning process. Nonetheless, a small number of teachers and students have stated they have concerns about this transfer of social contact to the digital world. Apart from the enhancement of communication between peers mutually, communication between teachers and students is more frequently reported. In addition, one of the central issues of tablets for students’ learning is the blurring of the boundary between school and recreation. Participants claim that the traditional context of learning between the school walls has now extended to a digital learning environment, which allows children and teenagers to access content anywhere and at any time. This shift has both positive and negative aspects. While some participants indicated the benefit of this ‘extended’ kind of learning (i.e., learning that is not limited to the physical school context), others experienced difficulties with this blurred boundary. Additionally, some teachers questioned the need to answer emails from students after school hours, while some students emphasised the temptation to play games or chat with friends when they should be studying. In summary, see Fig 3 for some examples of comments on learning practices.
RQ 3: What are the perceptions on the conditions that support these teaching and learning practices?
With reference to the final research question, the results of the focus group interviews revealed that further support is needed for teaching and learning practices. This need is categorized by the researchers into two preconditions, namely material conditions and the need for professionalization, and should be taken into account when integrating tablet devices in schools.
First, as already mentioned in the first research question and as illustrated in Fig 4, it is clear that most of the interview time was spent to discuss the needed support and the obvious lack of adequate teaching material using the potential and design of the tablet devices. Teachers and students report the feeling of being somewhat abandoned by publishers, who are lagging behind and provide, as the researchers call, “book behind glass” material instead of adapted teaching materials. In this context, teachers who have not yet taken the innovative teaching role are somewhat thwarted. If editors cannot provide adapted digital material, teachers stated that they are pressured into taking on the role of the actual authors, which leads to high workloads and overall sceptical attitude towards of the integration of tablet devices into their courses. This attitude seems to be one of the most important obstacles preventing the adequate integration of the tablet device. Aside from inadequate teaching materials, the teachers pointed to the speed of the school-wide implementation of the devices, which has also caused teachers to experience an increased workload. It was a rather ‘provocative’ choice of the school board to implement the tablet on the first day of the school year, without knowledge as to whether publishers would follow. With such an abrupt change, not every teacher was given the time to master the use of the device itself and some were unable to find a balance between teaching with devices and being role models for the outside world. Secondly, using tablet devices requires a fast Internet connection and if problems occur, the lesson flow is disrupted. In the interviews, technical and Internet problems were reported to have occurred during classes, which was disillusioning for both students and teachers. Commonly occurring problems included websites that would not open or applications that crashed. However, as students have easy access to the Internet, many teachers complained their students were playing online games.
The final supporting condition is the need for professionalization. As depicted in Fig 5, the results show that while students aged between 11–14 years are indifferent to their teachers’ need for professional development, the older students have become sceptical about the digital competence of their teachers. These students believe that the teachers need to attend training courses including information about techniques and applications that promote interactive learning. In other words, teachers need to develop adequate skills so that the course content can be optimally delivered via tablet devices.
As depicted in Fig 5, the teachers expressed mixed opinions concerning their need for professional development. Innovative teachers deem themselves to be skilled tablet device users and state that is their responsibility to provide training and share their expertise with other schools. Concerning the need of training, instrumental teachers expressed two views. While some felt the need for additional instruction, others felt that they simply had no energy left and had thus no desire for additional training. Apart from the need for training, both students and teachers indicate that a strong and competent IT team would contribute to the success of this academic innovation.
Discussion and Conclusion
This study contributes to the existing literature in several respects.
First, the goal of this study was to unravel the perceptions of important stakeholders on the use of tablet devices in secondary education. While investigating perceptions is necessary to analyse the use of technological innovations in education [15,16], specific research that goes further than relatively short-time research, including the influence of the novelty effect when introducing tablet devices, is lacking. Besides the need of investigating teacher perceptions [14,15]; the perspective of secondary school learners remains under-researched [43,46]. More research is needed to unpack the potential of these devices, more specifically research that goes further than the sales hype . Thus, examining the perceptions of both teachers and students after a considerable time of intensive tablet use is desirable. In order to elaborate existing research, an explorative focus group study was conducted in the first iPad-school in Flanders where the tablet is used in daily teaching and learning practices.
As the results for the first research question have shown, this study confirms that perceptions on any educational innovation will influence its practical integration [10, 16, 17], and that teachers are key to the success of the implementation of technology in schools [14, 19,20]. The results for the first research question are in line with previous research of Becker et al.  and Niederhauser et al. , who also mentioned that teachers could be distinguished in two groups, namely the behaviourist teachers and the constructivist teachers. Indeed, the results of current study indicate that the teachers using tablet devices can be distinguished into two categories, which has clear consequences for teaching and learning practices. In this context, we labelled the “constructivist teachers” as “innovative teachers”. Innovative teachers attempt to shift from a teacher-centred to a learning-centred innovative approach, integrating educational applications during courses. The “behaviourist teachers” are defined in this study as “instrumental teachers”. Instrumental teacher are teachers who view the instrumental benefits of the tablet and appear to maintain the traditional way of teaching, even while using the tablet devices, since they essentially end up with a simple “book behind glass”. In addition, these two types of teachers can be related to Welliver' s instructional transformation model . Instrumental teachers can be linked to teachers, who stuck in using tablets without a fundamental change in teaching and learning approaches, who use technology as a functional improvement to enhance learning. Innovative teachers can be linked to the highest level of technology integration whereas teachers use tablet devices to transform learning, which opens teaching and learning practices which were previously inconceivable.
Taken together, the results show that the introduction of innovative technology seems to provoke conservative practices among teachers with an instrumental view as they adopt a stringent role and give traditional courses with a tablet device. This is somewhat contrary to the overall intention of introducing tablet devices; instead of revolutionising education, to the tablet strengthened the old educational structures. In other words, to conduct a lesson in a traditional way with tablet devices consolidates the ‘ancient’ didactic model. This consolidation underlines the importance of switching to digital didactics where the tablet device is integrated in such a way that it is used to its full potential during lessons.
Secondly, findings concerning the second research question of this study corroborate the educational potential of these devices, such as browsing the Internet, working together spontaneously, and using multimedia for a better understanding the course content. Results confirm that tablet devices comprise learning activities that were previously not possible [7,31, 33], making the device an asset to the learning process. Students in this study reported that in particular the innovative teachers use tablet devices to provide authentic learning experiences and where they can construct and share knowledge in a media-rich environment, which is in line with the little available research [5,7,35,45]. However, both the students and (innovative) teachers also remarked that the introduction of tablet devices entails a shift in learning, for which not all students are ready. Younger students appear to be more flexible in respect to learning through devices, while it seems difficult for older students to change their study habits. This opens avenues for further research.
Thirdly, the fact that the older students in this study advise teachers to improve their didactical skills in order to master tablet devices is a new phenomenon in the research literature. This finding highlights the importance of taking into account the perceptions of students when investigating the introduction of new technology into education .
Fourthly, following Hattie  and the e-capacity framework of Vanderlinde & van Braak , and as an answer to the third research question, more attention should be paid to the preconditions that ensure the development of innovative teachers through the provision of adapted learning material and an adequate IT infrastructure. Most teachers reported feeling abandoned by publishers due to the lack of adequate teaching material appropriate for the tablet devices. If editors cannot follow or provide adapted digital material, teachers are under pressure to adopt the role of academic authors, which, in turn, generates a heavy workload and ambivalence about the integration of tablet devices into courses. Policy makers should take into account the lack of adequate teaching materials because this deficiency will be an obstacle for schools to implement this technology successfully. Hence, publishers also have a certain responsibility in facilitating the success of these educational innovations. Without appropriate equipment, many teachers will simply use the device in an instrumental way.
Fifthly, more attention should be paid to the (formal and informal) professional development of teachers to support them in this educational reformation . This finding can be linked to the e-capacity framework of Vanderlinde and van Braak , describing that educational change depends on important school-level variables such as an adequate ICT-support team, infrastructure and teacher professional courses. Introducing new technology into education generates a simultaneous need for professionalization. As indicated above, the teacher’s role and competences are crucial to the success of this innovation; adapted teaching materials and equipment are essential in this respect. Aside from professionalization and the need for adapted teaching materials, teachers need time to become familiar with these new devices. To conclude, this study shows that certain supporting conditions must be in place when implementing technological educational tools . Moreover, an educational policy that provides adequate preparation for teachers, attention to digital didactics, adapted didactical material, and technical and pedagogical support will stimulate teacher and student recognition of tablet devices’ potential in education. In sum, policy makers and educators should take the possible pitfalls into account mentioned in this study so lessons can be drawn in order to ensure the smoother future implementation of this technology. Avoiding such pitfalls will facilitate the development of new teaching and learning practices in accordance with the needs of the current digital age.
Limitations and Further Research
Apart from qualitative research being an excellent method to gather information about perceptions in depth, some limitations could be formulated. For example, data are collected from a few individual cases and based on first-person perspectives. However, we believe that these findings have an added value to the research world in several respects and that they can be transferable to other innovative settings. In addition, only perceptions of the participants are examined in this study, while these results challenge teaching practices and the development of learning materials in future research it would be interesting to investigate the impact of such tablets on teaching and learning practices. Additional empirical research is needed to gain further insight into the impact of modern technology on teaching and learning. Future research will be conducted to answer didactic questions such as: how should tablet devices be implemented in class contexts and does the use of tablet computers increase motivation and achievement among students? Research on this topic is still an unexplored area, requiring further in-depth studies.
Conceived and designed the experiments: HM RV TS LD. Performed the experiments: HM RV TS LD. Analyzed the data: HM RV TS LD. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: HM RV TS LD. Wrote the paper: HM RV TS LD.
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What effect do digital devices have on our digital brains? To uncover the influence on learning of using digital tablets for reading, the Coast Guard Leadership Development Center conducted an experiment to ascertain differences in recall and comprehension between tablet and paper readers.
As of 2014, 63 percent of colleges reported using e-textbooks, while 27 percent planned to in the near future.1 But what drives these digital book policies and practices in higher education — technology or research?
Considering the pervasiveness of digital devices, the lack of sufficient guidance for educators to make informed decisions about instruction and learning is disconcerting. Despite the widespread adoption of tablets in schools, ranging from elementary through higher education, research about the effects of tablet use on student learning has obvious gaps. Rapid technological advances and changing features in electronic devices create challenges for those who study the effects of using them; specifically, researchers face limitations in understanding the effects of digital reading on student recall and comprehension. More important, increasing our understanding of the influence of electronic devices on learning will inform educators about the implications of test scores and performance.
Digital Brains: What Research Reveals
"We're spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking are just ingrained in you."
—Professor Andrew Dillon, University of Texas, who studies reading2
Research yields conflicting results in learning between digital and paper reading in part due to advances in technology and design features.3 While some contradictions reflect variations in research design and methodology, other differences may result from page layouts, such as single- or double-column format. Despite challenges from continuous technological enhancements, studies that investigate differences between digital and paper learners contribute to our understanding of cognitive processes. Collectively, results suggest that students engage in different learning strategies that might short-circuit comprehension when interfacing with digital devices compared to print.
Researchers have noticed changes in reading behavior as readers adopt new habits while interfacing with digital devices.4 For example, findings by Ziming Liu claimed that digital screen readers engaged in greater use of shortcuts such as browsing for keywords and selectivity.5 Moreover, they were more likely to read a document only once and expend less time with in-depth reading. Such habits raise concern about the implications for academic learning.
According to Naomi Baron,university students sampled in the United States, Germany, and Japan said that if cost were the same, about 90 percent prefer hard copy or print for schoolwork.6 For a long text, 92 percent would choose hard copy. Baron also asserts that digital reading makes it easier for students to become distracted and multitask. Of the American and Japanese subjects sampled by Baron, 92 percent reported they found it easiest to concentrate when reading in hard copy (98 percent in Germany). Of the American students, 26 percent said they were likely to multitask while reading in print, compared with 85 percent reading on-screen.
David Daniel and William Woody urge caution in rushing to e-textbooks and call for further investigation.7 Their study compared college student performance between electronic and paper textbooks. While the results suggested that student scores were similar between the formats, they noted that reading time was significantly higher in the electronic version. In addition, students revealed significantly higher multitasking behaviors with electronic devices in home conditions. These findings uphold recent results involving multitasking habits while using e-textbooks in Baron's survey.8 Likewise, L. D. Rosen et al.found that during a 15-minute study period, students switched tasks, on average, three times while using electronic devices.9 Taken together, these studies point to adaptive habits and cognitive shortcuts while using technology even though learning is the primary objective.
Development and Performance
A 2013 UK survey conducted by the National Literacy Trust with 34,910 students ranging in age from 8 to 16 reported that over 52 percent preferred to read on electronic devices compared to 32 percent who preferred print.10 The data points to possible influences of technology on reading ability: compared to print readers, those who read digital screens are almost twice less likely to be above-average readers. Furthermore, the number of children reading from e-books doubled in the prior two years to 12 percent. According to John Douglas, the National Literacy Trust Director, those who read only on-screen are also three times less likely to enjoy reading. Those who read using technological devices said they really enjoyed reading less (12 percent) compared to those who preferred books (51 percent).
Survey results from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center suggest that parents who read to their three- to six-year-olds with tablets recalled significantly fewer details compared to the same story read using print.11 Together, data from these studies raise concern about overall literacy development in young people.
"Because we literally and physiologically can read in multiple ways, how we read — and what we absorb from our reading — will be influenced by both the content of our reading and the medium we use."12
Natalie Phillips conducted fMRI studies to examine brain activity of graduate students while reading Jane Austen (deep reading for literary analysis and reading for pleasure).13 According to Phillips, the research team saw dramatic increases in blood flow to diverse cognitive regions of the brain far beyond those responsible for executive function, regions associated with tasks requiring close attention, suggesting that how people read may be as important as what they read. Phillips concluded, "It's not only the books we read, but also the act of thinking rigorously about them that's of value, exercising the brain in critical ways."14
For example, Ackerman and Goldsmith sought to understand differences in university students' metacognition skills and the effect on the learning process between digital and paper reading modes.15 Compared to digital readers, Ackerman and Goldsmith purported that paper readers manifested greater self-regulation that resulted in better performance. Mangen, Walgermo, and Bronnick conducted an experiment investigating comprehension with high school students to determine differences between paper and digital forms.16 Students completed an open-book test (hour-long) while they reviewed and navigated either a digital or paper reading. According to the researchers, paper readers showed significantly higher comprehension scores compared to digital readers.
Findings from Johnson's experiment illustrate the challenges in replicating effects.17 Studies by Johnson and Mangen, Walgermo, and Bronnick compared digital and paper textbook readings followed by open-book assessments. However, Johnson's experiment consisted of college students, whereas Mangen and colleagues studied high school students. Results from Johnson's study did not indicate significant differences in group test scores between digital and textbook readings,18 contrasting with findings by Mangen's team.19 What's more, Johnson's findings were independent of student preferences for either paper or tablet.
Method: Paper or Tablet
Similar to other educational institutions, students at the Coast Guard Leadership Development Center use digital tablets for reading assignments (figure 1). However, we lacked research data to inform us about the effects on our students' learning or performance. Therefore, to uncover the influence on learning of using digital tablets for reading, I conducted an experiment to ascertain differences in recall and comprehension between tablet and paper readers.
Photo: Dave Plouffe, U.S. Coast Guard Leadership Development Center
Figure 1. Senior Enlisted Leadership Course students use tablets for course readings.
I randomly assigned students from existing class groups, enrolled in leadership courses (N = 231), to read either digital (n = 119) or paper (n = 112) versions of a leadership article.20 The experiment consisted of two conditions: paper and tablet readers as the independent variable, and assessment scores from each group as the dependent variable. The randomly assigned groups read either a digital tablet or paper version of the same leadership article, approximately 800 words in single-column format.21 After the reading, students completed an assessment consisting of 10 multiple-choice items for recall accuracy and two short essay questions for comprehension.
Two hypotheses were tested:
- H1: Students who read a paper article will have a statistically significant difference in greater recall accuracy as shown by test scores compared to those who read the same digital article using a tablet.
- H2: Students who read a paper article will have a statistically significant difference in reading comprehension as shown by higher test scores compared to those who read the same digital article using a tablet.
The total sample size comprised 231 students, 119 digital tablet and 112 paper readers. The 10 multiple-choice items were scored 10–0 (high to low), while the two short-answer items were coded for comprehension (4–0, high to low). To determine group differences, t-tests compared scores between paper and tablet readers. Results did not show a statistically significant difference in group means between paper and tablet readers for either the multiple-choice or short-answer items.
Nevertheless, an examination of the range and frequencies of score distributions indicated an emerging pattern: Compared to tablet readers, paper readers had greater frequencies of higher scores for both multiple-choice recall and short answers that measured comprehension (tables 1 and 2; figures 2 and 3). When combining the top two scores for comprehension, paper readers showed a higher percentage. Although there is a greater frequency of score 4 with tablets, this corresponds with a higher frequency and percentage of the mean score, 2. Despite no difference between group means, there may be a difference in individual scores. In particular environments or for specific test purposes such as military selection and ranking, this might indicate a significant factor.
Table 1. Frequencies, multiple-choice, recall (N = 231)
Note: High to low score (10–0).
Frequency Tablet (n = 119)
Frequency Paper (n = 112)
Table 2. Short answers, comprehension (N = 134)
Note: Students for this sample were drawn from the same course. High to low score (4–0).
Frequency Tablet (n = 70)
Frequency Paper (n = 64)
Figure 2. Multiple-choice items measuring recall accuracy, high to low score (10–0)
Figure 3. Short-answer comprehension scores of students drawn from same course; low to high score (0–4)
H1: Students who read a paper article will have a statistically significant difference in greater recall accuracy as shown by test scores compared to those who read the same digital article using a tablet was not supported.
H2: Students who read a paper article will have a statistically significant difference in reading comprehension as shown by higher test scores compared to those who read the same digital article using a tablet was not supported.
Although there were no significant differences in group means, there were differences in score frequencies for both recall and comprehension.
Individual score differences can be important for ranking and selection purposes, as in military domains or in granting awards.
To further explore elements that influence test scores, a second experiment replicated the first design and method while also probing for additional factors. Consequently, data collection extended to include (1) student frequency of reading on digital devices for coursework versus paper, and (2) college student status (N = 205). Comparable to the first experiment, no group differences in mean scores appeared between paper (n = 103) and tablet readers (n = 102), but the pattern of greater frequencies of higher scores for paper readers continued. Unexpectedly, frequency of digital device use and college status produced no significant difference.
Discussion and Implications
Johnson's finding offers an interesting comparison with those of this study. Both studies were conducted during the same year and used the same brand of digital tablet (iPad), allowing comparisons between features of the experiments as depicted in table 3.
Table 3. Niccoli vs. Johnson study comparison22
Niccoli Study (N = 231)
Johnson Study (N = 233)
iPad tablet vs. paper
iPad tablet vs. paper
A comparative evaluation of the results from both studies indicates two similar patterns:
- No significant difference in group test score means between digital tablet and paper readers
- Higher frequency rates for paper readers of the two highest scores (for recall and comprehension)
Note that both studies display similar patterns in score distributions despite differences in reading length (two pages vs. a chapter). What’s more, the patterns were comparable even though this study was a closed-book assessment compared to Johnson’s open book. However, the shorter reading length for this study and the open-book feature of Johnson’s may present design limitations that influenced results.
Furthermore, both experiments showed no difference in group means, even though the samples differed demographically. Whereas Johnson's study consisted of traditional college students, those for this study were military students with approximately eight years of professional experience.23
Perhaps a longer reading combined with a closed-book assessment will reveal significant differences, especially in comprehension scores. Individual differences of higher scores of paper readers from this study and Johnson’s may reflect factors related to working memory. Studies of reading from computers conducted by Wastlund, Norlander, and Archer highlighted the influence of page layout and scrolling on cognitive demand and individual working memory capacity.24 Likewise, experimental results by Noyes and Garland suggested that reading from screens might interfere with cognitive processing of long-term memory.25
Inconsistencies in cognitive load, reading complexity, study notes, and environment (i.e., classroom, home, and workplace) present contributing factors that influence performance results. Baron asserted that 92 percent of students find it easier to concentrate while reading from paper compared to electronic texts.26 According to Mangen, Walgermo, and Bronnick’s study, students who used hard-copy texts performed better in comprehension scores compared to those with computers for an open-book assessment.27 Moreover, as reported by Muller and Oppenheimer, students showed higher recall and conceptual scores when studying handwritten notes compared to electronic note taking.28 All together, several design qualities point to variables that contribute to contradictory results.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
Uncertainties remain about the influence of digital reading for in-depth reading comprehension for adults and raise more unanswered questions about the developmental implications for children.29 The effects of reading from digital devices on children's cognitive developmental skills and literacy abilities are just beginning to emerge. Questions linger regarding the consequences of nonlinear reading on brain processing, especially adaptive shortcuts due to scrolling, scanning, and hyperlinks.30 "There is physicality in reading," explained developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, "maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading — as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms, but know when to use the new."31
Although current findings are conflicting and inclusive, future studies may shed light on the number of variables involved with digitized text and identify features that impede cognitive processing.
If educators understand the effects of digital reading on the development of deep reading and students' grasp of difficult material, they can formulate instructional decisions. Given the current pace of technological change, educators should seize opportunities to further advance our understanding of students' learning while using electronic devices.
- Consider assigning longer readings that create a slight increase in cognitive load for digital readers.
- Include a longer time interval between assigned reading and assessment of students' recall and comprehension.
- Extend these studies of digital vs. paper reading to primary and secondary students to explore their effects on learning and on children's developmental patterns.
- Consider other factors that might affect recall and comprehension among readers using digital and paper texts, such as the types of reading (deep, analytical reading vs. pleasure reading, for example) and the academic discipline of the students studied.
The research in this article was presented in the Digital Devices, Digital Brains session at the NERCOMP 2015 Conference.
Sincere appreciation to the volunteer participants of Boat Forces School, Chief Warrant Officers Professional Development School, Officer Candidate School, and Senior Enlisted Leadership Course students at the U. S. Coast Guard Leadership Development Center. Special thanks to the school chiefs for their support in granting time for this study.
- "Learning technologies being used or considered at colleges, 2013," Almanac of Higher Education, Chronicle of Higher Education, August 18, 2014.
- Michael S. Rosenwald, "Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say," Washington Post, April 6, 2014.
- See, for example, Jim Johnson, "Students perform well regardless of reading print or digital books," ScienceDaily, May 24, 2013; Anne Mangen, Bente R. Walgermo, and Kolbjorn Bronnick, "Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension," International Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 58 (2013): 61–68, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2012.12.002; and Erik Wastlund, Torsten Norlander, and Trevor Archer, "The effect of page layout on mental workload: A dual-task experiment," Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 24, No. 3 (May 2008): 1229–1245, DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2007.05.001.
- Maryanne Wolf, "Our 'Deep Reading' Brain: Its Digital Evolution Poses Questions," Nieman Reports (Summer 2010), Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.
- Ziming Liu, "Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years," Journal of Documentation, Vol. 61, No. 6 (2005): 700–712.
- Naomi S. Baron, "How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities," Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 2015.
- David B. Daniel and William Douglas Woody, "E textbooks at what cost? Performance and use of electronic vs. print texts," Computers in Education, Vol. 62 (March 2013): 18-23, DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.10.016.
- Baron, "How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities."
- L. D. Rosen, K. Whaling, L. M. Carrier, N. A. Cheever, and J. Rokkum, "The Media and Technology Usage and Attitudes Scale: An empirical investigation," Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 29, No. 6 (2013): 2501–2511.
- National Literacy Trust, "Children's on-screen reading overtakes reading in print," Media Centre, May 16, 2013.
- Sarah Vaala and Lori Takeuchi, "QuickReport: Parent Co-Reading Survey," Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, September 13, 2012.
- Wolf, "Our 'Deep Reading' Brain."
- Natalie Phillips, interviewed in "MSU lab examines literature's effects on the brain," Current State podcast, WKAR, October 22, 2013.
- Tom Oswald, "Reading the classics: It is more than just for fun," MSU Today, September 14, 2012, Michigan State University.
- Rakefet Ackerman and Morris Goldsmith, "Metacognitive regulation of text learning: On screen versus paper," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 17, No. 1 (March 2011): 18–32, DOI: 10.1037/a0022086.
- Mangen, Walgermo, and Bronnick, "Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen."
- Johnson, "Students perform well regardless of reading print or digital books."
- Mangen, Walgermo, and Bronnick, "Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen."
- Johnson, "Students perform well regardless of reading print or digital books."
- Anne M. Niccoli, "The Effects of Reading Mode on Recall and Comprehension," Paper 2, NERA Conference Proceedings 2014 (2015).
- Amaani Lyle, "Chairman Champions Character in Graduation Address," DOD News, June 13, 2013, American Forces Press Service, U.S. Department of Defense.
- Niccoli, "The Effects of Reading Mode on Recall and Comprehension"; and Johnson, "Students perform well regardless of reading print or digital books."
- Wastlund, Norlander, and Archer, "The effect of page layout on mental workload."
- Jan Noyes and Kate Garland, "Computer- vs. paper-based tasks: Are they equivalent?" Ergonomics, Vol. 51, No. 9 (September 2008): 1352–1375.
- Baron, "How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities."
- Mangen, Walgermo, and Bronnick, "Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen."
- Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer (2014, Jun 4). "The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking," Psychological Science, Vol. 25 (June 4, 2014):1159–1168; Rosenwald, "Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming"; and Maryanne Wolf and Mirit Barzillai, "The Importance of Deep Reading," Educational Leadership, Vol. 66, No. 6 (March 2009): 32–37.
- Wolf and Barzillai, "The Importance of Deep Reading."
- Rosenwald, "Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming"; Wolf, "Our 'Deep Reading' Brain."
- Maryanne Wolf, quoted by Ferris Jabr, "The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens," Scientific American, April 11, 2013.
Anne Niccoli, EdD, is an instructional systems designer, Performance Support Department, U.S. Coast Guard Leadership Development Center. She develops curriculum and training programs that cultivate leadership skills for U. S. Coast Guard officer and enlisted personnel. Dr. Niccoli strives to design and instruct resident and blended learning courses to foster critical thinking. In addition to creating the Leadership Development Resources portal, she was a member of the Unit Leadership Development Implementation team awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendation. Niccoli holds a doctorate in Education and qualifications in Instructional Systems Design, Master Training Specialist, and Coast Guard Instructor.
Research Student Technology Use Tablets and iPads Mobile Learning Teaching with Technology