1:1 Elementary iPads – Reflecting on the First Months

Everyone knew that the transition from 1:2 laptops to 1:1 iPads would be messy. As the person most obviously responsible for the change, it has been an interesting tactical tightrope to walk: enthusiastically promote the transformative power of the iPads while keeping expectations low as everyone adapts to new opportunities and limitations.

Over the summer, I had lots of time to think about our decision to go 1:1, and by the time the new school-year started, I had come to terms with the idea that this would be a two-year project that would look more like a failure than a success for the first 6-8 months. Nothing in the first two months of school gave me reason to modify my projection, but something started to change in early November. It’s too early to declare victory, but there is already a lot to celebrate.

We’ve certainly made some mistakes and we are still learning what works and what doesn’t. Here are four key things we’ve gotten right:

  • Serious setup
  • Training
  • A new integration model
  • Students leading the way

Serious setup:

I think a good many teachers were mystified by how much time we spent setting the iPads up before handing them out. There’s a lot to do, and very little of it can be configured and deployed in mass. Apple IDs, custom-built charging carts, network profiles, Exchange accounts, restriction settings and more all require time spent on each of over 500 devices. Some may have wondered why the ICT teachers were involved with this rather than just the IT department. This was a purposeful decision and was one of the big reasons we felt iPads could change the way educators relate to education. Namely, although there is some technical setup required, as much as possible we would move management of the device toward those most impacted: students and teachers. Empowering teachers to find, purchase and install apps on their own has made the iPads as flexible and extensible in the classroom as they have been for consumers in their homes. None of this would have worked without getting devices and procedures in place first. It’s one thing to say you can buy apps for your year-level, but it’s a completely different thing to actually facilitate that happening smoothly. The irony is that the best evidence of being successful setting up everything is that our teachers and students don’t realize there was any setup at all — to them it just works.

Training:

Ok, so iPads are easy to use, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do to help teachers and students get the most out of them. We quickly found that as easy as it was to learn how to use new apps, teachers were at a loss when it came to moving, sharing, and publishing media. Coming from a mature laptop program, most of our teachers had come to rely on very specific workflows, and we were committed to helping them develop and extend these on the iPad. Thus, we designed an “iPad Bootcamp” for all classes to complete. This served as a way to train teachers and students with a few specific non-content-specific tools which serve as a foundation for some of the most important workflows. For upper elementary, this included Google Drive setup and sharing; Picasa setup and integration with photo editing apps (e.g. Photogene); and connecting all of these services in Blogsy (our blogging app which links to each student and class WordPress blog).

Teachers received their iPads at the end of the last school year and we have encouraged them to build literacy by using the device personally. Teachers who are enthusiastic about how great their iPad is personally, will bring that enthusiasm into the classroom. We have also held frequent mini-workshops to help teachers get their feet wet with new apps.

A New Integration Model:

fashion genius or questionable taste??

Photo by Edward Moore via Compfight

Until this year, our ICT program was a mixed model which included a lot of one-off lessons and attempts to plan tech activities that supported particular learning activities. While this worked at times, we along with many other schools, have found it difficult to avoid falling into the trap of just being someone who roams from class to class showcasing cool technology. (I’ve often compared this to being the clown at a party who has to go around making different ballon-animals for the kids.) At the end of the last school year, several of us worked with the senior-management team to redefine our roles as ICT coaches. There are lots of different titles for what we do, and “coach” isn’t perfect, but it has helped teachers understand that our relationship has changed. This shift toward teacher training and coaching (rather than collaborative planning and leading lessons) complements our move to iPads perfectly. There are still some teachers who don’t want the responsibility of being a technology teacher, but most have come to accept that technology must be integrated into most of what they do, just as language is.

Our continual mantra has been that teachers should be focusing on generalizable tools that can become part of regular practice. Early on, there was the inevitable obsession with cool free apps that could support a particular lesson or activity. There’s nothing wrong with them, but they do not and cannot sustainably redefine practice. In a busy school where every minute spent on one thing is a minute not spent on something else, it has been an important decision for us to focus most of our support on apps that support practices that are sustainable.

 Students are leading the way:

We’ve all heard that teachers should not be the only source of knowledge in the classroom and our 1:1 program is really putting that idea to the test. It’s no exaggeration to say that in nearly every classroom, teachers are learning to ask students for suggestions and help. This is not the faux ignorance that we teachers often feign to encourage student inquiry; this is authentic collaborative problem-solving in a egalitarian community of learners. This pedagogical shift may be more important than all the great ways students use technology.

 

I think there are some large unresolved issues to work out with the iPads, and I’m quite aware that as the honeymoon ends, teachers will become less willing to overlook difficulties, but I’m heartened by the the foundation we have built. Feedback like this makes me think we are on the right track.