Technology for learning: Tablet one-to-one in Year 5 at Dulwich College Seoul

by Ian Stewart at Dulwich College Seoul

Ian Stewart is the Learning Technologies leader for the Junior School at Dulwich College Seoul. He is currently working on an MA in Education at the University of Bath. Prior to working in Seoul, Ian worked in Malaysia and the UK in both primary class teacher and technology integration roles.


From the Guest Editor:

In this article, Ian Stewart (DCSL) reviews the College’s first year of using a one-to-one tablet programme with Year 5 students, and their parents. He articulates the challenges of technology introduction in relation to a J-curve dimensions of change model, much akin to traditional culture shock models.

A review of the first year of a Junior School tablet programme at Dulwich College Seoul. 


This article reviews the first year of a one-to-one programme for Junior School students at Dulwich College Seoul. Ian Stewart, ICT Facilitator for the Primary School, interviews some of the teachers involved with the programme and uses the J-Curve of change to help understand the feelings of the participants as they take part in the initiative. 


One-to­-one programmes

The notion of every student having individual access to a device is not new: one-to-one laptop programmes appeared first in the US during the mid-1990s (Penuel 2006) and have been a common feature of the DCI senior schools for several years. These programmes have not been without their critics (e.g. Goodwin 2011) but there is now evidence to show the technology is living up to its promise. Two meta-analyses of research carried out over the last decade conclude that giving every student access to a device can have a positive impact on academic achievement (Zheng et al, 2016; Harper & Milman 2016). Evidence shows an increase in cooperative project-based learning, improved individualised instruction, and enhanced student-teacher and home-school relations. Of particular interest is a reported shift towards a student-centred constructivist pedagogy in one-to-one classrooms.


Tablet computers, most specifically the Apple iPad, have seen rapid adoption in education. Schools are accused of being seduced by a flurry of “hype and rhetoric surrounding their so-called transformative potential” (Falloon 2015, p.62) built on a “mass acceptance that youth will automatically benefit in their learning by simply making the devices available” (Peluso 2012, p.126). Then there is the fear that “technology isolates children from each other and may be hampering their communication and collaboration skills” (Walmsley 2014, p.80). The efficacy of devices in supporting student collaboration is very important to us, particularly in the primary years. Falloon (2013) found that young children do collaborate effectively when using iPads, but raised concerns about a lack of learning theory underpinning app design. His recent three-year study of almost 100 primary school children suggests that “fundamental differences exist between iPads and other digital devices” in supporting collaboration (Falloon 2015, p.62). This echoes the findings of a study into collaboration by university students, comparing iPads with laptops (Fisher et al, 2013). Factors supporting collaboration highlighted by the studies include the iPad’s portability, the absence of a barrier-forming screen, tactile interface, and intuitive apps.

When a set of iPads was introduced Dulwich College Seoul in 2014, they were an instant hit. They proved remarkably easy to integrate into classroom practice and were popular with teachers and students. They are lightweight, reliable, always on and always connected; groups of students could sit down anywhere and quickly get going, easily collaborating by passing around the device. Teachers found the intuitive apps required little instruction and were ideal for creative applications, such as movie making and animation.

Some questions arose: Why limit the use of this resource? Why make learning stop at the end of the school day? Why force teachers to use technology only when they book a time? It all seemed rather unnatural. A survey found that 88% of students already had access to an iPad at home, so why not have the students bring them in?

Description of the tablet programme

The tablet programme was launched for Year 5 students starting in August 2015. The minimum specification was an Apple iPad 2 or newer, or a good-quality Android tablet. The devices remained owned and managed by the parents with a list of apps provided for installation, as well as guidance on setup. Rather than recommend lots of domain-specific apps, the school focused on a relatively small number of apps that could be used to facilitate creativity and collaboration, e.g., Google Apps, Book Creator and Explain Everything. (See the screencasting article in this publication).

Figure 1. J-Curve dimensions of change. (Jellison 2006 in Swallow 2015)

The J-Curve of change
It is commonly agreed that, regardless of workplace, change occurs in phases (Swallow 2015). Jellison (2006) describes a J-Curve as a conceptual lens to understand feelings of participants as they experience change (Figure 1, Table 1). The theory predicts that in the early phases of an initiative, performance will remain steady (the plateau); it will then drop sharply (the cliff), ending in a gradual improvement (the ascent). I will use this idea as I reflect on our own process of change and, hopefully, stave off premature abandonment, a common phenomenon with educational innovations (Maddux & Cummings 2004), (see Fads and iPads article in this publication).



1: The Plateau

Participants have a high degree of work mastery; news of big change arrives; output level of productivity may increase at beginning of change event; participants’ attitudes and feeling become more intense

2: The Cliff

Participants try to do new things in new ways; performance and productivity drop; thoughts and emotions turn to the negative

3: The Valley

Mistakes become less frequent; participants gradually complete more tasks successfully and achieve consistency

4: The Ascent

Performance improves impressively; participants establish new procedures and get a psychological boost from new proficiencies

5: The Mountain Top

Performance continues upward; participants find innovative ways to apply new change initiative

Table 1 Description of the J-Curve Stages of Change (Jellison 2006 in Swallow 2015)


Term 1 - The Plateau, then the Cliff

When the programme was announced to parents some resistance was expected. A small number of parents had questions or concerns about how often the tablets were going to be used, or the physical security of the devices (see Appendix 1), but these were quite easily resolved. Crucial to the success of the launch was clear communication. Parents were invited first to a presentation and then to smaller, more intimate and repeated practical workshops, which attracted about one-third of the parents. A website containing detailed practical advice on purchasing the tablet, accessories and configuration was shared. “Most parents knew it made a lot of sense”, says Headmaster Graeme Salt. “A few were worried about the potential negative influences of technology but at Year 5 age virtually all students already had access to technology for leisure. Now we could direct students towards using it for learning. It was pleasing that parents have trusted us to deliver the right approach.”

A series of interviews from the start of the project with the Year 5 teaching team elicited views on how the project was developing. At the start there was excitement and apprehension. Teachers welcomed new technology in their classrooms and following training in the key apps, quickly saw potential. However, practical problems presented challenges in the early days. It took a long time for students to access tablets from their storage lockers and teachers needed to develop new behaviour management strategies. There were glitches with the Wi-fi and not all of the children had the apps they needed. Sixty-two students started with Apple iPads and two parents supplied Android tablets, one of which was too small and unreliable. Everyone faced a steep learning curve on how and when to use the apps; the children had not yet developed strategies to solve problems independently and teachers felt under pressure to provide all the answers.

Students were excited. Too excited. “There is pressure [from students] to use them every day,” the team noted in the minutes of a meeting. “We keep having to try and come up with something new, while at that same time thinking about if this is really enhancing learning.” As the term moved on the technical issues settled down. The team noted some benefits but using the tablets was often harder than just using paper. The question “is it really worth it?” lingered, reflecting the description of the cliff predicted by the J-Curve theory. In a study of a similar initiative, the cliff occurred during second year of the programme (Swallow 2015). Dulwich College Seoul had found the cliff within three months.


Term 2 - The Ascent

In an interview for this article the Year 5 teaching team reflected, with some amusement, on the anxieties and problems of Term One. Now at the end of their second term using tablets, it is clear they have emerged from the cliff and are ascending towards the mountain top. The team started the new term by regrouping and reconsidering the aims of the programme. Then, as both children and teachers used the technology more and more, confidence grew and they saw benefits clearly outweighed challenges. Teachers found the technology influencing learning in ways they had not expected, with often the smallest things having the greatest impact.

“The biggest benefit is that the tablet enables children to learn from one another in so many different ways,” explains Katie Cashman, Year 5 leader. Problems are now problem solving opportunities. “The children are so eager to teach each other, we’re not worried about not knowing how to do it anymore,” says Andrew Kirkbride, another Year 5 teacher. The team agree: “It took a while to embrace that.” This ethos extends beyond learning how to use the tablet to learning with the tablet, and students regularly come up with ideas on how to share their learning. One child created a simple yet innovative method of using the audio tool to produce Mandarin vocabulary quizzes in Book Creator – she then shared it with the year group so everyone could use it for their science project.  Another came up with the idea of combining AirServer with Explain Everything so he could demonstrate how he solved a mathematical problem. The AirServer software allows students to wirelessly project their iPad to the projector. Katie was originally sceptical of the value of “AirServering”, as it is now known.  “Like so many things,” she says, “it has now become fluid – the kids just do it.”

There is a fear that technology isolates children (Walmsley 2014) but when paired with the right tasks, the tablets are proving to facilitate collaboration. Mandarin teacher Ruth Yang asked her class to make e-books with the purpose of teaching other students. Book Creator is a perfect tool for language learning: you can easily combine typed or written text, images, sound and video to create an e-book or movie file.  When teaching without technology, says Ruth, “I had to force the students to follow me, but when they record their voices they must know how to say it. If they find that it’s not right, the children will ask each other: ‘How do I pronounce this one?’ or ‘How do I make this sentence?’” The students listen to their recordings and, each time they do, they revise the language they learnt. Engagement has increased because “they love listening to their own voices”. Ruth finds herself giving the students more freedom when they work on the tablets. One child created a mnemonic for remembering a stroke order and the rest of the class liked the idea. “I wish I had thought of it myself,” confesses Ruth. “The children are much more creative than we are.”  Producing books and video does take more time but Ruth presents evidence that using technology is worth it. When she tested topics where the class used Book Creator, every student got the answers right.

Writing by hand is a skill that is still highly valued in primary education so tablets are not usually used for composition. To support writing, however, the class might brainstorm a word bank using Google Docs – a collaborative word processor. On the surface, this equates to the teacher’s writing the list on the board, but the children find it more convenient to have the language right in front of them while they are writing so they can quickly share new ideas. “With the board, eventually those words get lost,” explains Katie, “but on the tablet, I find that the students go back to things, even without me telling them.” No one expected such young students to see the tablet as their personal resource bank. This may appear to be an insignificant change, but this simple application is encouraging students to become more self-regulated in their learning – a main goal of education (cf. Zimmerman 2002).

For their recent topic on Keeping Healthy, the Year 5 team redesigned the unit to make optimal use of technology. In the past, students had struggled with Internet research, so the teachers wanted to focus on developing students’ skills in this area. Students were put into groups and tasked with preparing an e-book, poster board and oral presentation for parents.  Every student contributed to a collaborative research diary for their group – a shared Google Doc guiding them through the process of forming questions, evaluating websites and resources, and collating information. Each student worked on a chosen sub-topic, while simultaneously collaborating with their team. Meanwhile, the teacher could easily monitor each group and provide feedback using the comment tool. “It was very time-efficient,” says Katie. Students wrote and edited the text for their e-books, on paper and electronically, before compiling content using Book Creator. When the parents saw the finished product they saw the value of having the tablets. “They could see how technology had merged with traditional teaching,” explains Katie, “and I think they were surprised that the writing was actually the children’s!”

Tablets are opening up new possibilities with homework. “When I set writing homework in the book, the children wrote the characters but I didn’t know what stroke order they used,” says Ruth. Now the Mandarin team asks students to make a screen recording of their character formation using Explain Everything. They also ask students to record their reading homework. “The students put more effort into practising properly,” says Ruth, “and we can also give them feedback.” Year 5 class teacher Dilip Chakraborti describes how the tablets have influenced how the team sets homework. “It lends itself to being an extension of what we are learning in class,” he says. “Sometimes we will ask the students to do some research, and they have got the Google Doc from school right there in front of them.” The school uses Google Classroom, a learning platform that integrates tightly with Google Apps; in a survey, 70% of students listed these apps as the most useful for learning. The teachers like them too. They enthusiastically state that giving feedback electronically is much faster and more effective. “When I used to mark their homework books, I don’t think the children ever read what I wrote,” admits Katie, “but now, a lot of them will reply, ‘Thank you’ or ‘Did you mean this?’”. After it has been marked, the students will often edit their work and resubmit it. Students are starting to use Classroom to access support. “They will put a thread up explaining that they are stuck and someone else will help them,” explains Dilip. As Katie summarises, “The whole process is just more meaningful”.

One of the goals of the programme is to help give every child a voice. The question tool in Google Classroom is a quick and easy way of gathering the opinions of the entire class. “It’s a great way of starting a P4C [Philosophy 4 Children] inquiry,” explains Andrew. “Sometimes you can pick up on what a quieter child has said and use that as the starting point for discussion – you can draw in children who might not otherwise contribute.”

There is some research to suggest that additional engagement attributed to technology use subsides with time (Hur & Oh 2012) This has not so far been the case in Year 5. “It is less of a novelty now for the children,” says Dilip. “They don’t keep asking ‘Are we using our tablets today?’” Katie notes, “At the beginning of the year that was so annoying! Now they just see it as another tool – like getting out a dictionary.” In a survey, 97% of students said they liked bringing the tablet to school and felt that it was useful for learning. The teachers see the motivational value of using the tablets. Andrew describes how the children “still get excited when you say ‘let’s get the tablets out.’ They look forward to getting on with their work.” Children always respond better when they have a meaningful purpose for what they are doing. Having the tablet extends the options available to the teacher. “Creating a video diary from space or a comic for PSHE – it just makes it more interesting,” says Dilip. In Mandarin, Ruth says that when she gives a task using technology the students are “are motivated to do it, and they want to get it right – because they love it!”


The teachers were asked if anything had changed over the past eight months. “We started with grand visions of how things would be completely transformed in our teaching, that somehow it would be unrecognisable from the way it was before,” explains Dilip, “but actually it’s an augmentation of the skills we’ve already got. We’re still the same teachers. We just have an extra string in our bow that makes some tasks easier or more relevant.” The teachers agree they feel more confident using the technology and knowing when it will, or will not, enhance learning.

The journey the teachers have made this year has certainly been positive. Following this trial, the new cohort of Year 5 students will bring in their tablets from August, and the school are considering extending it to students in Year 4. Have they reached the “mountain top”? This is where the geographical analogy becomes a little tenuous. In the continual drive for improvement, can the mountain even have a summit? The team will certainly need to watch out for false peaks, followed by new cliffs and valleys. They know that there a lot more to do and more exciting times to come.

Appendix 1

Table 2: Concerns and questions raised by parents.

Question or Concern

Number of parents

Can I bring a Windows laptop/tablet?


Will the tablet get lost or broken?


Should I get an Apple or Android?


What web filtering is available?


Will there be a reduced focus on handwriting?


What is the balance between tablet and non-tablet use?


Why are parents expected to buy apps?


Number of students in the year group: 64

* From the same parent



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