Schools and universities right around Australia had jumped headfirst into trials of Apple's hyped iPad tablet as they rush to discover exactly what the device's use will be in the educational field — sometimes with the support of their overarching education departments, and sometimes without.
Western Australia's Department of Education and Training said some schools in the state were displaying an increased interest in iPads and tablet devices, buying the handheld computers independently to trial in various education programs.
"The department does not have a policy on the use of iPads or Android-based technology at this stage, however some schools have bought tablet devices to trial in various settings," departmental chief information officer, Bevan 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 were examples of schools that had already purchased iPads to trial.
In Victoria, the Brumby Labor state government jumped on the bandwagon early, announcing plans to buy 500 iPads for trials throughout the state soon after the device launched in Australia in late May. The devices have made their way into seven schools in the state.
The University of Adelaide dived headfirst into the handheld computer revolution when it was announced students who enrol in science degrees will receive a free iPad. And Education Queensland is also trialling ‘handheld computers’, although it has not yet confirmed whether its trial involved iPads.
Western Australia's Doyle said the department had no "central buying arrangement for iPads", although pending further interest from schools official movements would be made — such as seeking optimal pricing on the devices. Typically schools will purchase technology through centralised panels designed to drive economies of scale.
Doyle said that the department had laptops and desktops purchase guidelines in place to steer public school purchases in the area, adding iPads and other tablet devices were within those bounds. The WA department maintains a student to computer ratio base in public schools — institutions receive technology funding to maintain the ratio base 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, he said.
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.
In addition, an unconfirmed number of secondary and primary schools are trialling the devices in other fields literacy, maths, reading, writing, English as a second language and special needs classes.
"Handheld computers in schools are being used for individual and small group activities where students interact with educational apps," David O'Hagan, assistant director-general information and technologies for the state's Department of Education and Training.
"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.
"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," he said. "As new devices become available the department will review these products, their manageability, and their appropriateness for teaching and learning."
But not every department is as keen on the new technology.
The Tasmanian Department of Education's official stance on iPads or similar devices is that not enough time time has passed to give the technology 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," said a departmental spokesperson.
The New South Wales Department of Education and Training could not comment on possible future plans of iPads and tablet devices until a new CIO is in place. Former DET CIO Stephen Wilson resigned in June to join Qantas' technology team.
Wilson was not interested in considering the iPad as an education device when he was with the department. 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.