How to Harness Touch Screen Technology

  • How to Harness Touch Screen Technology

Everywhere you turn you’ll see a youngster glued to his or her smartphone or tablet. But is this a good thing or a bad thing? Some parents may despair about the amount of time young people are hooked up to their devices – without them spending even more time on them at school. Teachers may also be uncomfortable about the negative impact the technology has in terms of its potential to be a disruptive influence in the classroom or playground.

Whatever your thoughts on the impact these devices have on our young people’s daily lives, one thing is becoming clear: our schools are on the brink of a revolution that I believe will see a challenge to traditional classroom learning - and it’s being sparked by touchscreen mobile technology and the many positives it is already bringing to education.

The positive use of iPads and other tablets is set massively to change the way we teach our children in the future. The challenge for education leaders and teachers is to harness this technology to get the very best out of it and to embrace the positives it can bring to the world of education.

And the evidence is that we are beginning, at last, to grasp the real benefits that it can bring both for teachers – and for their students.

Starting steps

That’s not to say all mobile devices are being welcomed into the classroom everywhere. I’ve just returned from Vietnam where smartphones are banned in all schools because they’re seen as a disruptive influence. Many other countries have taken the same view – as well as plenty of schools within countries where the technology is otherwise generally embraced in education.

However, across the world, we’re now seeing the touchscreen advantages that tablets and iPads can bring, if they are adopted appropriately as innovative teaching devices. And more and more schools are beginning to use the technology, even if at the moment it’s only in a small way.

In a Scottish pilot project I’ve been involved in, pupils received a masterclass from an artist based in New Zealand, using Skype on their tablets to discuss the work they had produced. Examples like this highlight the road that schools need to take if they are to get the most out of the technology. It’s a route I believe will take us away from traditional didactic teaching methods, with students instead collaborating with experts and their peers anywhere in the world through mobile touchscreen devices. I also see us getting to the stage where school textbooks will be replaced by interactive, multi-media online teaching aids, that will be continually developing and evolving.

New perspectives

But, touchscreen technology alone doesn’t change a thing. Simply giving every child in a school an iPad won’t alter anything. It’s the use of technology as an enabler that will make the difference. What’s the point of giving someone a tablet, if they just use it to cut and paste? That’s low level work that can be done on a PC. And what’s mobile about that?

The fact is the technology we are seeing now – and that which is about to be developed – gives us the opportunity to rethink how children learn and are taught, and to do much more.

To get to that stage we have to cast aside the old traditional model of everyone being in the same classroom, sharing the same space, with the teacher at the front of the class as the fount of all knowledge. Students need to be granted more responsibility for how, when and where they learn, not just in the classroom but beyond it as well. Once that happens we will be able to exploit these technologies more fully. We’ll then see an education system developing that is in itself mobile and not classroom bound.

Immense potential

The huge number of apps that are available are already being used more and more in schools with great effect. Film-making apps are allowing science teachers to capture experiments, place their commentary over what’s going on and play it back with their students for feedback and comments. The same goes for music teachers and their pupils’ performances. Collecting and sharing information, collaborating on projects, challenging and discussing issues and interaction between the experts and the novices – that’s what this technology can bring. Take languages: how beneficial would it be to set up Skype, so Spanish students can talk and listen to someone living in Madrid? Then there are the significant impact touch-screen technology can have on field trips and the opportunities it will bring for children to gather information and collect live, current data – again all at the touch of a screen.

For us to get to that place, we have to teach the next generation of teachers about the advantages that mobile devices can deliver and how they can use them with their students. A global initiative called ‘The World University network’ is looking at how we get teachers and educators to understand what mobile learning is all about, and I am currently leading a European Erasmus+ project, which aims to equip the next generation of teachers with the skills and understanding to use mobile technologies in ways that break with tradition, challenging their existing ideas and theories of what 21st century learning is all about.

The future is within touching distance… and for teachers and students alike, getting there promises to be an exciting journey.


1. Learn from others. If you’re looking at introducing mobile technology take a look at what other schools are doing and get their advice.

2. Make sure your school has got reliable WiFi – its important if you want to get the best out of the technology and its apps.

3. Invest in support and training. If the initiative doesn’t work, it is usually because the teacher has been left isolated. A programme of staff development is vital.

4. Play around with the technology. Take the device home, use it with your children, find out what it can – and also can’t – do and have some fun with it.

5. Empower your students. Some control is obviously necessary but rather than stifling them with too much restriction, give them responsibility. You’ll find they become more enthusiastic and will get more out of the technology. They may even teach you a thing or two!


Dr Burden, based at the University of Hull’s Faculty of Education, is leading a European funded Erasmus+ project looking at ways in which teachers of the future will work in the new digital era and its impact on higher education