A third of Quebec students surveyed about using iPads in class admitted to playing games during school hours and an astounding 99 per cent said they found the gadgets distracting, suggests a new study based on the experiences of more than 6,000 tablet-toting kids.
But even though just a few students said they felt a tablet helped them learn better, the report's co-authors still concluded that schools should invest in the technology, although cautiously.
Researchers surveyed 6,057 students, who were enrolled in Grades 6 through 10, and 302 teachers about their experiences so far in using tablets daily in the classroom.
The report concludes that outfitting large numbers of students with costly tablets is a worthwhile endeavour, provided that teachers are well prepared and trained for the radical shift in delivering their lesson plans.
"It would appear that incorporating the iPad into education constitutes a necessary risk for schools, and that this technological tool has breathtaking cognitive potential," states the report.
But co-author Thierry Karsenti noted that so far, teachers have generally not been well prepared to teach with tablets.
The report notes that 70 per cent of the teachers surveyed said they had "never or very rarely" used an iPad before they were introduced into their classrooms, versus 53.6 per cent of their students.
"Some of the teachers were getting the iPad on the first day of school with their students, can you imagine? All the students were on Facebook, Twitter and the teachers were like, 'Oh my God, this is not working,' and blaming the technology because he or she was not ready," said Karsenti, the Canada Research Chair for information and communication technologies in education.
"You have teachers who are fully unaware of what's going on in the classroom, they're sitting reading their notes and the students are doing whatever they want."
The report notes that a "surprising" number of students – more than one in three – admitted to playing games in class, sometimes with their teachers' permission after an assignment or task was completed.
Researchers were also surprised that in some ways, the tablet technology wasn't been used to its full potential. Students said they did relatively little reading on their tablets and were still using paper textbooks, while many assignments were still be submitted on paper rather than electronically. About 85 per cent of the students said they never or rarely used the iPad to prepare written work.
Students also admitted that outside of the classroom, their tablets were mostly used for fun, not work.
"They spent over 76 per cent of their time on the iPad outside the classroom on social activities, amusement, and other recreational uses," the report states.
"When we add that they spent 12.7 per cent of their extracurricular time on gaming, we may conclude that the students viewed the iPad as primarily an entertainment device."
Of the more than 6,000 students surveyed just two said they didn't think distraction was a challenge, as did just one of the 302 teachers polled.
But Karsenti said dealing with distracted students isn't a new issue for teachers.
"Distraction is a big challenge but we did a couple of studies on the use of cellphones in the classroom and even when it's forbidden, 95 per cent of the students in Grade 10 and 11 were texting in class, when they're not even allowed to have a cellphone," he said.
"So distraction was there before, it was just more discreet. Now you're officially allowed to be distracted. Good teachers will go around, move in the classroom, change things around, get students busy."
When teachers were asked about the benefits of using iPads in class, about half said it opened up better access to information, 40 per cent cited the easy portability of the devices, and about a third said it allowed for greater collaboration.
When asked to rate their satisfaction with iPads as teaching tools on a scale of one to five (with five representing very or extremely satisfied) the average score was three, or moderately satisfied. The average score after asking students a similar question was 3.6.