The school’s move towards technology began three years ago when iPod touch devices were handed out. The switch to tablets was made late last year, with teachers also being issued with the device.
The school utilizes iTunes U – Apple’s free educational resource – with teachers using the iPad to inform students of upcoming lessons several days in advance.
“The students have already downloaded the lesson earlier in the week, so they’re coming in with information,” chemistry teacher Abdul Chohan told the BBC, “What the teacher does now is question their understanding of that information.”
Another teacher, Jane Taylor, delights in the fact that she can get instant feedback from students during lessons, seeing exactly how they’re coping with a piece of work. The report shows her class taking a quiz, with the students’ answers sent wirelessly and instantly from their iPads to the teacher’s.
Taylor says the software on her tablet allows her to quickly check the performance of all of her students to see how they’re progressing. “It means I’ve got an instant understanding of how each of the children in my classroom is understanding a concept,” she explained.
Talking about the school’s move towards technology, head teacher Showk Badat said, “When books were invented and when pens were invented, and how they were utilized, that would’ve been the technology of their day,” adding, “This is a natural evolutionary progression.”
Students take their tablets home with them at the end of the day instead of handing them in. They can even email their teacher if they’re having a problem with their homework. You might wonder how teachers feel having their evening disturbed by a steady stream of emails from students, but Jane Taylor for one says she’s fine about it, claiming to be “more than happy for students to contact me at any time, it’s just not an issue.”
As you might imagine, all the students interviewed said how much they enjoyed using the tablet. And with a small electronic device replacing a ton of textbooks, it also means an end to having to carry around a heavy bag of learning material.
When asked if the priority of the school should be teaching rather than the technology used to deliver the teaching, Showk Badat was adamant: “Technology is not separate to teaching, in fact I would argue that the greatest teachers would use technology to make their lessons even better. I believe we’re actually scratching the surface of what we can do.”
An increasing number of educational institutions are looking at the idea of issuing students with tablets. For example, this month the University of Western Sydney in Australia is handing out 11,000 iPads to staff and students as part of a drive to offer a more dynamic and effective learning experience.
The BBC’s report about Bolton’s Essa Academy can be viewed here. The school also appears on Apple’s UK website in its Education Profiles section, though the page was added while the school was still using the iPod touch.