Thinking and Writing

Some notes from interviews about iPads and social media with 11-16 year old school kids

I’ve been doing a lot of work with children recently, working on a new app for schools. As part of this project I’ve interviewed around 30 children aged 11-16 from a state funded secondary school in Essex. One of the many things that makes this school unique is that all students are given an iPad to use for their studies. Students are also permitted to take the iPads home and use them as part of their studies. There is little restriction as to what they do and install with the iPads although most social media sites are blocked by the school firewall.

Amongst other things we’ve talked about their use of the iPads and use and attitudes to social media. Rather than lose those notes I thought I’d jot them down here for my own future reference and for anyone else whose interested.


Students and social media

One thing that kept coming up in our discussions was their use of social media. Younger children especially didn’t see the need for platforms like Facebook at this stage of their lives. This quote from one of the students sums it up well:

“I don’t use Facebook because I don’t see the point. All the people I know are in the same town as me and in my class, I see them every day.  I want to know what they’re doing now not last week”

There was also talk about Facebook being a platform you’d use to talk to your relatives not your close friends but may become more relevant later in life when friends go separate ways after school.

Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging is the main form of communication with the young people I spoke with. BBM, iMessage, WhatsApp, Snapchat and SMS are the prominent platforms mainly due to their low cost and high adoption rate with their peers.

A picture paints a thousand words

So the saying goes and its true with the students I spoke with. Instagram was *very* popular amongst the group and the social media platform of choice. Along side capturing pictures of day to day life students were also using Instagram as a quick way to talk to their followers. This is especially true when they want to convey an emotional state to their followers which would require more effort to do as a Tweet or Status Update (For example a self portrait grimace or sad face). The conversation with their followers then continues within the Instagram app.

 Viral distribution of apps

Teachers told us anecdotally that a new app will spread very quickly across the school on various mobile devices. The most popular apps for this are games and they are spread via word of mouth. The apps which spread quickly also tend to be forgotten about just as quickly as they appeared as the next big thing comes along. Cost is also a driver with new apps, free and very cheap ones are more likely to spread for obvious reasons.

Buying and installing apps

Students are also responsible for what they choose to install on their iPads. They all have their own Apple accounts and are permitted to buy whatever they want. The main barrier to installing paid for apps is due to them not having debit or credit cards so they use iTunes gift vouchers instead.

iPad usage over time

On talking to students from various years and observing them during break times it appears that in the first years of secondary school the iPad is very much seen as a novelty and gets used both for games and study. As the students get older however the novelty of the iPad drops off quickly and it becomes a tool to help with studies. Games get uninstalled and a core set of apps are used regularly. Free apps are the most widely used.

Outputs from a session looking at favourite apps in school.

Personal smart phones vs School iPads

Most students we spoke with also had smart phones (mostly cheaper Andriod devices). These devices are taken to school and are used to communicate to friends with. They are also popular as they use 3G data connection and therefore bypass the school firewall because they don’t use the WiFi.

 iPads vs Paper

Students at the school could do project work on the iPads or on paper. Opinion was divided on which was better and came down to personal preference. Students who preferred iPads for project work cited the following reasons:

  • Ease of use in collating information,
  • Easier to work collaboratively
  • More ‘professional’ looking project work

With students who preferred more traditional methods the most common reason they spoke about was a distrust of the iPad to keep work safe. Some spoke of having bad experiences in the past with lost project work which led to this distrust.

The iPad as a distraction

When I’ve been talking to people about this project one of the first thing they generally say is whether the kids find the iPad distracting. From what I’ve been told by the teachers the answer is no. The students are allowed to listen to music during lessons (on headphones) which doesn’t appear to be a problem and they have to use the iPads in a lot of their lessons for research. There are however times when the teachers have said that the iPad has been a distraction (for example using iMessage is the new passing paper notes around the class) but the teachers also said that if they weren’t using the iPads they would be doing something else.


When the subject of online bullying came up teachers said that it does happen on occasion but when it does the kids who have been bullied are encouraged to screen grab anything they find offensive and report it to the teachers.


Hope you find these notes and observations useful and if you have any thoughts or questions please do leave a comment or drop me an email.