Schools in the United States are at odds over technology use in the classroom. Is it too distracting for a young mind or is it the perfect tool for learning? Northwestern University researcher Courtney Blackwell will present findings in May at the 65th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association that suggest kindergartners in classes with shared iPads score better on achievement tests compared to kindergartners with no iPad or their own iPad.

"1:1 tablet computers may not be the most effective way to use technology for all grades, and from a policy standpoint, we need to rethink what developmentally appropriate technology use is for young children," Blackwell said in a statement.

Blackwell recruited 352 students from three schools in a Midwestern suburban school district: one classroom from a school that gave each kindergartner their own iPad, a second classroom that had 23 iPads for kindergartners to share, and a third classroom that had no iPads. Students who used iPads for one academic year (nine months) had their literacy measured via the STAR Early Literacy Assessment.

Students in classrooms with a shared iPad system scored significantly higher on achievement tests taken in the spring compared to student with no iPad or their own iPad. In fact, the average shared iPad user scored around 30 points higher on achievement tests compared to the other two groups of students. Results of the study held up even after Blackwell accounted for other factors, such as tests scores at baseline and student demographics.

"Shared iPad students significantly outperformed both the 1:1 and non-iPad condition, suggesting it's the collaborative learning around the technology that made the difference, not just the collaboration in and of itself," Blackwell added. "While schools and districts may still want to go 1:1 in all grades, they may reconsider how the tablets are used, especially in earlier grades, in order to make the technology most effective."

A similar study published in Psychological Science produced results contrary to Blackwell’s findings. College students involved with this study were able to boost their memory and their ability to retain and understand new information. Los Angeles recently spent $1.3 billion on an iPads-for-all program that that has been plagued by a lack of resources and insufficient planning.

Source: Blackwell C. iPads in Kindergarten: Investigating the Effect of Tablet Computers on Student Achievement. 65th Annual International Communication Association Conference. 2015.