by Sam Gliksman, Author of iPad in Education for Dummies
iPads have quickly become a the hottest commodity in educational technology. Apple reports that schools are purchasing iPads over MacBooks by a ratio of 2:1. However, the rush to purchase the latest technologies often precedes the careful planning and preparation that’s crucial to their success as educational tools.
There’s simply no magic pill – whether it’s the laptop, smartboard, iPad or the next device that comes along in a year or two. Technology alone won’t ever have the capacity to improve education unless it’s woven into a holistic vision that meets the very real and urgent educational objectives that prepare our students for life outside and after school. Well-planned technology deployments can however have a transformative impact on learning.
Here’s a list of ten requirements for a successful iPad implementation in schools.
1. Determine Your Readiness
Don’t consider purchasing iPads without an appropriate technical infrastructure to manage and deploy them. Consider the following questions:
Do you have adequate incoming Internet bandwidth? Remember that you may also need significant upload bandwidth as students start to create and deliver large media files.
Is your wireless network robust and secure enough to manage and distribute a strong, reliable signal throughout campus?
Do your classrooms have safe, secure locations to store the iPads?
Have you discussed and set policies for appropriate technology use? Do you have the tools and means to monitor those policies?
2. Communicate Your Objectives
Our educational institutions roll along year after year and yet it’s the question that’s rarely discussed. What are your educational objectives? Can you explain why you’re purchasing iPads and how that decision integrates into your educational vision?
Any successful initiative requires that your entire organization be on the same page. How will iPad use integrate with your educational mission statement? That vision should be clearly communicated to all constituent groups within your organization – including teachers, students, parents, directors, and administrators.
3. Focus On Student-Centered Learning
To a large extent, we all shun change. There’s a natural inclination to stay in your comfort zone. Many school administrators and teachers would rather continue using the same pedagogical practices they experienced as students and use as teachers in the classroom. Most schools have a top-down strategy geared towards making the process of education easier and more efficient for administrators and teachers instead of targeting the learning needs of students. Technology is often purchased with the aim of improving frontal lectures, delivering content more effectively and making assessment simpler and more efficient.
This is possibly the only period in history where the younger generation has greater ease and expertise with the core tools used throughout society than older generations. Moving the focus from teacher led instruction to student centered learning empowers students to use technology to explore, create and innovate with technology.
4. Develop Management Strategies
iPads require specific processes for organization and management. Here’s a short list of some of the issues to consider as you develop plans for managing your devices:
How will you handle the selection, purchasing and deployment of iPad apps?
What restrictions will you enforce? Will you have one common student profile or vary them by class and group?
How will you manage the steady flow of system and app updates?
How will you synchronize and backup student generated content on the iPads?
Do you have simple workflows for teachers and students to distribute content and submit work?
How will you deal with instances of damage and theft?
5. Forget Big Brother
iPads are not laptops.
There’s no user login and the ability to secure, control and monitor iPad use is minimal when compared to laptops. It does however have some very unique assets. If you take advantage of the iPad’s intuitive touch interface, mobility, built-in camera, microphone, video, light sensors, navigation tools, assistive technologies and more, then you can use iPads to create a rich learning environment. If maintaining control over student activity is essential however, then iPads may not be the best device for your needs.
6. Use Apps as Tools
Ask a carpenter to build a wine rack. They won’t go out and get a set of “wine rack tools”. A carpenter has developed expertise with a set of hardware tools that are used to build all types of furniture. We need to use a similar strategy when buying and using apps on the iPad.
One of the biggest mistakes teachers make is constantly searching for apps that address specific curriculum goals. Although great apps exist, the real benefit comes from selecting open-ended tools that can be mastered and used as part of dynamic and creative learning processes.
With a relatively small set of apps students can create mock interviews with famous historic figures, explain scientific phenomenon with stop-motion animation, create podcasts for the school community, practice and record speech in a foreign language, create screencasts that illustrate and explain principles in algebra, and more. Given the opportunity and the right set of tools, students will gravitate toward creative and innovative iPad use. Allow them that opportunity instead of boxing them in with rigid, content specific apps.
7. Share and Share Alike – Just Not With iPads
Sharing may be an important life lesson, but it doesn’t work very well when using iPads in school. iPads are designed to be personal devices and they store your personal data and files. Since there isn’t any login that distinguishes one user from the next, information on an iPad is often available to all users.
Sharing iPads can create privacy and security problems. I generally recommend 1:1 deployment of iPads from 4th grade and upwards. You’ll be able to use them far more extensively and the difference in results will be significant.
8. Developing an Ongoing Training & Support Structure
Organizational change requires adequate training and support … and it’s important to understand that “training” doesn’t mean a one day workshop at the start of the school year. Schedule time for ongoing training throughout the year. Develop teacher support groups within your school and with other schools, where teachers can exchange experiences, share their successes, and learn from each other.
10. Embrace the Unpredictable
We’ll often give students a task with very specific expectations of the results they should deliver. Adherence to a strict top-down, curriculum driven agenda requires teachers to be classroom conductors that direct and control every instrument of the learning process. Asking them to relinquish control over student activity is often the hardest part of any technology implementation in schools.
Technology however is most effective when students are given the freedom to use it as a tool for creativity and innovation. The iPad classroom should be open, flexible and driven by passion and initiative. Don’t expect to control every aspect of students’ learning and don’t feel that you always need to be the expert on technology use. You already have rows of them sitting in front of you. Students look at technology as a canvas. Allow them the freedom to paint their own masterpieces.