School iPad Program – not as easy as I thought!

One term into the official launch of our iPad program, I thought it would be opportune to reflect on the successes, failures and everything in between. I have to admit, as a self professed, but not certified, iPad/Mac “expert” and ‘All Things Apple’ zealot, things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. I would like to blame it all on our proxy server, but I suspect Apple has something to do with it too.

THE SETUP

I set up our iPads before Apple’s Configurator software for managing iPads came out. Regardless, the initial set up was pretty smooth. I set up the base iPad configuration on a targeted iPad and backed it up to my dedicated Mac Mini iPad machine. (Last year, when we trialled a small set of iPads with teachers, I was stuck using an Acer PC Laptop. Windows + iTunes + iPad ≠ smooth management. I strongly argued for a lone Mac to maintain my sanity in dealing with our iPad setup this year.) I set up all the apps in designated purpose built folders, created the school network connection, connected to iCloud, configured the network app FileBrowser to connect to our school network so we could access files and thought everything was ready to go.

In the main it was fine. I set up each of the remaining 34 iPads from the backed up iPad configuration using a 7 port USB hub. I know you can sync more than that with the Mac, but the 7 port hub was bought last year to work with the Windows ‘solution’ ( I was lucky to get 3 connected at one time!) and I never got around to buying a bigger one for this year. In the end, the delay in waiting for the Restores to finish before I could start the next installation meant having 16 plugged in would have meant a lot of waiting anyway. The whole set up took about 2 days to finish and was pretty painless; I had one error on one iPad that I had to reinstall but other than that each iPad’s installation went flawlessly if not a little long in duration but that was because I installed too many apps (more on that later). About a week later, Apple’s Configurator was released. ( missed it by that much!)

The hassles came in the weeks to follow. Due to a lack of forward thinking on my own behalf, there were several configuration set ups I didn’t think to do on the base iPad “image”. It was only when the iPads started being used and teachers and students wanted to email documents that I realised that I had not set up an email account on the iPads. Orginally I hadn’t considered it because of the perceived hassle of everyone wanting to use their own email on a shared iPad. That wasn’t going to work. However, we still needed a system to email work in apps that didn’t support other solutions. In the end, I set up a dedicated account in our school internet-based mail system just for the iPad ( with my account as the forwarding address in case inappropriate mail was being received) so that anyone could SEND emails to their own accounts to be opened on other computers. I also soon realised that I had inadvertently set up the FileBrowser app’s network access and the Edmodo app under my name so that any user on any iPad was logged in as me! All these settings had to be individually changed to fix that obvious security hole. Fortunately, I solved this quickly through the use of my newly appointed Student ICT Leadership team who spent an hour with me changing all the settings. Before you worry about the handing over of responsibility to students, none of this required providing sensitive information to them. I actually recommend training up a small group of students to help with non-critical management that doesn’t need passwords or the like – they’re easier to train than most adults as long as they are trustworthy, which mine are under supervision. They have also helped me with setting up numbered wallpapers for better identification, folder creation and maintenance and other simple management tasks.

MAINTAINING THE SETUP

The next issue to arise is the updating and installing of new apps and system updates. Originally, I had set up the iPads to sync and update wirelessly so that I wouldn’t have to manage that constantly. Unfortunately, I found this too be less than ideal for a number of reasons.

I’m not sure if it was because of our proxy server being mean to iTunes, the wifi being overloaded and inconsistent or a combination of both but I could never get the iPads to consistently sync. Some iPads would end up with newly purchased apps automatically installed while others wouldn’t. Some iPads would backup and update apps while others would deliver error messages to iTunes. Often, someone would open up an iPad to use an app they had previously used to find it in a longstanding waiting to update state, rendering it unusable. Then the emails from the Office complaining about the bills for exceeding our monthly downloads started coming. So I went back to physically connecting the iPads to iTunes and manually syncing for app updates and loading of new apps. This has proved to be less problematic and allowed me to keep all the iPads consistent in setup.

Having said that, with the number of apps I have loaded on iTunes , the download limit for the school is still being exceeded and I’ve resorted to taking an iPad home and updating there with my unlimited iTunes download account and then syncing the updated apps back to the Mac Mini at school. This is clearly not a viable long term solution as I won’t be around at the school forever and my home account can be relied upon as a management system. My ICT leader just informed me this week that the download cap issue is being fixed so that is one problem solved for us but is still a consideration for others to deal with .

Just as frustratingly problematic has been upgrading the iOS system software. As soon as I had set up all the iPads at the start of the year and rolled them out for use , the 5.1 update was released. Sometimes in schools, upgrade cycles are delayed because the benefits of upgrades are outweighed by the hassles of interrupting the workflow of others when dealing with a large scale deployment of devices. From personal experience, though, upgrading iOS was a walk in the park so I decided to do the upgrade straight away. Apple’s own upgraded apps wouldn’t work without the update anyway.

Well, again, not sure if it was proxy problems or trying to manage too many devices from a single computer but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Waiting for each iPad to install, load and restart before the next update cycle for the next iPad could begin meant a lot of wait time. iPad management is not my full time job so this was a time issue that could effect teachers in other schools who also become the iPad person. Occasionally updates would fail and you would have to start again. Once or twice, I’ve discovered one or two iPads in a set not up to date. For some reason, again possibly the proxy server problem, I couldn’t update wirelessly so I’ve just taken them home to run the update. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t used Apple Configurator software yet because I haven’t had the chance to interrupt the workflow of iPad use to reconfigure the whole set up. Reading some reviews, it seems to be a good solution so will see how that goes at end of year when I reimage and set up for 2013.

GENERAL USAGE
Once all the setup hassles have been tackled, I can at least report the general day to day usage has run smoothly. In our case, all the iPads are centrally stored in one locked cupboard in my office. I set up a borrowing system on GoogleDocs that the teachers use to book out sets of iPads for timetabled sessions. We have five sets of 7 iPads in transportable kits. Instead of spending money on expensive sync carts, we decided to buy dish washing racks from the local hardware store and attached a powerboard to each rack. The iPads fit snugly in the racks and can be easily carried from office to classrooms. There are teachers who don’t like the hassle of “collect and return” but for charging, syncing and security reasons, we want all the iPads in a central locations at the end of the day. Each iPad is also assigned to an individual teacher so they can take one overnight or on weekends to explore. They have to sign an ipad agreement before this happens to ensure due care is taken. There have been occasional care issues with the return of the sets. It would be nice to see teachers take the extra 5 minutes to ensure the cables aren’t tangled or crossed over and the iPads are put neatly back in the racks.

There was a suggestion that the iPads should be available to only the junior grades since the senior grades had access to so much technology and the juniors didn’t but I pushed for a trial period of P-6 access. I didn’t want the situation of 35 iPads sitting idle waiting for the juniors to use them while the older children were hanging out for a chance to get their hands on them for valid reasons. As it stands, everyone is using them fairly consistently and there are still days when some sets don’t see the light of day. More training sessions are needed to showcase their potential use, Once that happens more frequently ( report writing time has delayed that in recent weeks ) I’m sure we’ll see empty cupboards.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
After reading this you could either be doubting my supposed credentials as an iPad blogger or hesitating to tackle large scale deployment of iPads. Hopefully you won’t do either of those. Despite the hassles, the general experience has been a good one. My biggest mistake has been trying to do it all on my own. As a lifelong Apple user, I’m used to working out issues by myself but on a big scale you need support. Have a look at Configurator in the Mac App Store. Call Apple. Talk to others in the same situation.

Plan. Have a clear plan for what you want on each iPad. Make sure you know what you want in terms of network settings, mail settings, apps, restrictions and so on before you set up the iPad image you want to use. Think about how you are going to manage the upkeep long term and have an organized plan for that. Do your research. Make sure you have all infrastructure in place that can manage your plan effectively. Know what your school’s Internet usage is. Know how your security setting like proxies are and how they may affect your plan. ( ICT leader has just met with new Education Office expert who informs us that new system coming will solve the proxy problems we have – double Yay!!) Know your budget and for those outside USA, know that the Volume Purchasing Program is on its way and we will need to be stricter on our app purchasing and deployment.
Plan.

I would love to hear from others their success stories and frustrations. This time two years ago the iPad was just a personal media device intended for individual use. In a very short time it has become a must have educational tool without a perfect system to make it happen. It’s no that simple yet.

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When it comes to Technology, teachers need as much scaffolding as students

Teachers' Technology Inservice.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/manoregejimas/6891585051/

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it. If we want them to solve a problem, we tend to provide them with a range of strategies and tools to assist them. Before writing a persuasive text, teachers present a text framework and spend time developing the language structures and features required. It’s common sense thinking that we need to help learners when exposing them to new experiences.

The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. From Literacy Co-ordinators to Mathematics Leaders, Education consultants to teacher mentors, it is accepted practice to take a methodical, measured approach to develop teacher capacity in any given curriculum area. With one glaring exception. For reasons that have no grounding in common sense or educational practicality, Technology is just thrown at us and expected to magically stick to us and develop. What actually happens is that it slides right off, repelled by the totally justified and expected reluctance of older teachers who trained as teachers before computers evolved beyond command lines or inexperienced teachers who are still getting their heads around making their challenging students stay in their seats. The lack of a systematic framework for developing teacher capacity and competency in teaching with technology is a massive black hole in Education today. We bandy around the term 21st Century learners every day at school but where is the plan for ensuring 21st century teaching and learning is taking place?

At the moment , I am reading the book, “Leading for Instructional Improvement – How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise” by Stephen Fink and Anneke Markholt. Chapter Eight begins by focusing on the idea of Reciprocal Accountability.

“Reciprocal Accountability simply means that if we are going to hold you accountable for something, we have an equal and commensurate responsibility to ensure you know how to do what we are expecting you to do (Elmore’ 2000; Resnick and Glennan, 2002). Practically speaking, this important concept means that accountability must go hand in hand with organizational capacity building with a specific focus on ensuring that teachers and leaders have the expertise necessary to ensure high achievement for all students. ” ( pg 221-2). It goes on to say that “teachers must know deeply each of their students as individual learners, differentiating their instruction accordingly so that each student meets the expected standard regardless of the student’s starting place……..the concept of reciprocal accountability provides the same useful lens to examine the relationship between teachers and principals…..Although principals don’t take the relationship between teachers and students for granted, they often fail to recognize the similar reciprocal nature of their roles with their own teachers.” ( pg 222)

This is particularly true when it comes to developing teacher skills in using and teaching with Technology. We can’t just hand over thousands of dollars of equipment and expect teachers to be accountable for the effective use of it if they don’t know how. So what do we do about it?

For me it comes down to these points.

  1. PLTs dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.

Professional Learning Team Meetings (PLTs)

Justifiably so, many of a school’s PLT Meeting times are dedicated to Literacy and Numeracy. In the current educational climate, we have to ensure we are doing everything in our power to improve student outcomes in these areas. However, if the system is going to make genuine improvements in the use of Technology in our classrooms, school and department level leadership needs to commit to PLTs for this area of Teaching and Learning. Teachers need time to learn about new trends in Web 2.0 tools, read and discuss articles about educational technology, investigate how current and future technologies can enhance the learning in their classrooms. It’s one thing to run 20 minute “”Techie Brekkies”  before or after school or teacher organised TeachMeets on weekends  to introduce an app or a web tool to an interested group of teachers but for real educational change there has to be a place for “All in” meetings. These PLTs would challenge teachers to delve deeper into their thinking about how, why, when, how often and who with  Technology can be used in their lessons. Staff meetings alone only brush the surface as 30-40 adults add a single thought to the conversation. PLTs allow for the in depth scaffolding of what is needed.

Technology Focus in Planning

Technology will never be properly integrated into our daily classroom practice effectively without strategically planning for its application in our weekly learning experiences. I’m not talking about teachers booking in “computer time” for students to publish their work or planning for research on the internet. That’s been the default behaviour since computers came into our classroom. It’s not even about planning specific workshops involving tech tools. I’m talking about the systematic weekly planning  for tech integration in all subject areas – where applicable of course ( I’m not advocating blanket 24/7 inclusion of technology; that would be counter productive). This would be a natural follow up from earlier PLTs but it would also involve a school wide schema that would highlight areas to consider when planning.

For example,

  • How can we use collaboration in this task – so what ICT can support this?
  • How can we collect information from students for this activity – can I use online polls, a shared noticeboard, online forum?
  • What virtual manipulatives websites are available to support my Maths lesson?

Literacy and Numeracy Planning proformas would be almost universally expected in schools to assist planning. It’s time ICT had a planning structure as well.

The role of the ICT Leader/teacher

Pedagogically, the most important change that needs to take place if we are ever to truly embrace Technology systemically across education systems is the role of the ICT leader/teacher. While this is in no way the case in all schools, there is too much responsibility placed on the shoulders of the designated ICT teacher to teach the students how to use computers. In my experience, and again I’m not suggesting this happens everywhere, this has only led to a generation of students doing computer related projects in the ICT Lab and not making a link between the tools they used in there to their general work with the classroom teacher or at home. It made sense when computers first came into schools in the 80s and early 90s. The ICT teachers were often the only staff members who knew what to do and most schools only had the funds for a small number of computers to share. But its been 15-20 years since then and we still have Computer lessons once a week in some schools, despite the ubiquity of 1:1 computer/student ratios in many instances.

In my opinion, ICT leaders/teachers should serve the same role as Literacy and Numeracy Leaders. Instead of being release teachers showing students how to make a Powerpoint presentation while their teachers are planning with the Literacy Leader, the ICT Leader should be at planning as well, guiding the integration of Technology in the Literacy Lessons. The ICT Leader should be working with the teachers during lessons supporting the teachers and students, not working for them.

Teacher Training and Technology

When I started my teacher training back in the mid 1980s, we were still inserting floppies into Hard Drives to turn them on and the sum total of our computer experience was commanding a pixelated turtle to move around a black and white screen. Computer technology has certainly grown exponentially since then but sadly, teacher training in its use has not. As an experienced teacher with a well rounded knowledge of both the technology and the pedagogical knowledge to go with it, I want to see a change in the level of knowledge and awareness of ICT tools in the new teachers coming into schools. This is in no way a criticism of the teachers themselves. Indeed many do come with their own self taught knowledge of Technology, just as I have relied on my own initiative to become the “tech guru” I am today. It is a critique of Teacher Training Programs at universities. Now again, I fully understand that we need to ensure teachers are prepared to improve students’ literacy and numeracy skills. That has been my main aim for 25 years. However, just like we can’t expect our students to truly learn the true power of technology through weekly ICT Lab lessons, nor can we expect graduate teachers to be any more TechEd-savvy if all they get is one semester of ICT 101. To improve the ICT in schools now, we need young teachers leading the change, supporting the more experienced teachers who missed out on the ICT training in their early days.

We talk about being Life Long Learners every day of the year in the Educational Community. Maybe our Professors and Lecturers who lack the requisite skills in ICT need to commit some of their vast experience, knowledge and skill to learning how they can integrate Technology Education into their own courses so that student teachers can develop an understanding and awareness of how ICT can be used across all curriculum areas. This is a huge challenge. It may be too late for our current crop of elder statesmen at University but at some stage if we are going to get serious about 21st Century Learning, this shift needs to take place.

Technology Professional Development Programs

Without blowing my own trumpet, I consider myself to be an expert teacher in all areas of the curriculum and have been for many years. And yet, it has been deemed necessary for me to be sent off to numerous PD Programs in Literacy, Numeracy, Religious Education, Inquiry and Health and PE, as have many of my colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, I have very much appreciated the investment and opportunities. There is no doubt  my fellow teachers and I have greatly expanded our repertoire of teaching skills as a result of these experiences. Again though, missing from these experiences was Technology PD. Not a problem for me as I have been able to educate myself in this area. Clearly this has not been the case for a large number of other teachers in the Educational Community.

Georgia Educational Technology Conference 2008
http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/3013619840/

Governments have poured massive amounts of tax payer funded cash into schools and education system in general to build up access to ICT equipment. The lack of planning, though. has left out the far more important area of funding Professional Development. I see no purpose in handing $3 million over to a school to purchase equipment but spending no money on training the teachers how to use it. It goes back to my earlier quote about Reciprocal Accountability. Systems have funded 2 year PD courses for entire schools in Numeracy and Literacy, including visits to their schools by experts to support their improvement. All we get in ICT PD is an invitation to a 3 Day Conference run by a Technology company that the school has to pay for itself – and they’re not cheap. Now I was lucky to attend a day at one of these Conferences last year with a donated ticket. It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my teaching career and resulted in a massive shift in my thinking about ICT. I learned about Web tools I had never heard of that are now indispensable in my teaching. I’m writing this blog as a result of the conference. That’s not good enough for schools overall, though. As I’ve already discussed, gaining access to teachers to share my experiences through PLTs, planning or Staff Meetings is a big ask when school already have commitments to Literacy, Numeracy, Religious Education, and so on. We need more whole staff PD in Technology so everyone can develop, not just the chosen few.

Final thought

It’s not going to happen overnight. Real change doesn’t. But it has to happen soon. In the 90s I attended a conference on 21st Century Learning as we looked to the future of Education. We’re now into the second decade of that century and the system wide change hasn’t happened. If we don’t reassess our current practice, we’ll arrive in the 22nd Century still talking about it. I dont pretend it will be easy or I have all the answers. I want Literacy to improve and we need time for that. I want Numeracy to improve and we need even more time for that. Somehow, we need these two very important areas to improve alongside Technology so that we can work on all of them at the same time. We can’t expect the kids to get it without us. Sure they probably know how to use all this Web Stuff and apps better than us already but they still need us to show them how to use it to learn. Teachers need to know how to provide that support and we have to plan for it.

There’s no doubt I have overgeneralised in some of my criticisms and overstated some problems but it is how I feel. What do you think? Is your experience different? Better? What ideas for improving Technology do you have? What’s happened at your school or district or even country level? Would love to hear from you.

Getting teachers on board the iPad Express

Technology has been with us since I’ve been a teacher. I started my career succumbing to the alluring aroma of the Gestetner (Ditto/Banda/spirit duplicator) machine and its purple stained sheet. Then the photocopier arrived and we didn’t think it could get any better than making copies of a page for every child. The reality is that many teachers still rely heavily on the immediacy and simplicity of the photocopied black line master provided by someone else. It is far less confusing that all that technical mum jumbo introduced with the computer in the 90s.

The challenge then with the iPad is like anything else computer related. Can we get the teachers on board? Regardless of Apple’s PR machine telling us how magical and simple it is, despite the fact a toddler can pick one up and play games without batting their cute little eyelids, the fact remains there are still many teachers who haven’t embraced laptops after 15 years of exposure let alone a completely different system present in the iPad. Already inundated with training in new Maths and Literacy methods, weighed down by the pressures of Personalising learning and continuous assessment, asking the reluctant techno phobe to spend time learning the tricks of the wonder tablet can be a big ask.

So how do we do it? For successful integration of iPads in classrooms to happen, you have to convince the classroom teacher that it’s worth the effort. In no particular order, these are my suggestions (with a little help from my blogging friends).

Get Leadership on board.
Sometimes it’s easy for leaders to see or hear about something and want it to happen. They then pass it on to the next level with the specific expertise in the area to make it happen. Nothing wrong with that.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/5131417568/

That’s distributive leadership and in theory it works effectively. The problem arises when there are so many initiatives within a school there is a battle for ‘airtime’ to get your ‘baby’ in the spotlight at staff meetings, planning days, and so on. So, for me, it becomes really important that if the iPad is to become reality at the school, the leadership of the school have to live with it as well. Staff have to see the leaders of the school embrace the iPad at the school. The leaders have to initiate conversation about it. They have to be seen using it and talking about how they can see it being used in their area of expertise. Everyone expects the ICT leaders to do it. They’re experts – it’s easy for them. But if the previously reluctant literacy or numeracy co-ordinator presents a staff meeting using the iPad as a tool, if the principal shares a reflection made using an iPad, maybe, just maybe, the unsure members of the staff may have a go at trying out this new device.

Early testers
You can’t expect everyone to jump on board just because you’re excited. Everyone has their own stuff to do and won’t take the time to try something new just because you want them to. From my experience, compliance doesn’t work. Teachers go through the motions in public or give it a go for the required time, then go back to their preferred way of being when no one’s watching. Hey, I’ve done it, so let’s not kid ourselves.

A far more practical way is to get the Willing involved. Get a small group of early adopters together, preferably one from each level if you can, and build their capacity for using the iPad. Give them the chance to discover new ways of teaching with it. Provide opportunities for them to share their ideas with their colleagues. Some team teaching/collaboration could show the reluctant how the iPad can work with their students. Of course it won’t be all plain sailing. They’ll get distracted by the gimmicky. They’ll misunderstand what some apps can do. They’ll be unsure of all the possibilities. However, over time, with support, I think it will work.

Professional Development
Obviously not the typical “everyone sit in front of an interactive whiteboard and watch how great this is” style of PD. The introduction of ICT tools need better than that. I’m talking about continuous, regular, “hands on” collaboration. One of my favorite bloggers, Henrietta Miller, introduced me to the idea of Techie Brekkies.

The stark reality in schools is that staff meetings are almost fully booked before the year begins. In competition with Literacy, Numeracy, Inquiry, Administrative matters, and all the other stuff that just has to happen, ICT would be lucky to get a couple of meetings a year. So you have to be smart and creative. Techie Brekkies are a way of getting teachers together informally to learn, share, collaborate in small doses on a single topic voluntarily. (more detailed info here courtesy of Henrietta). We started late last year. We had some good ones. We had some bad ones. This year I hope to be more organized and offer a more structured program in collaboration with what teachers want. we have to get the timing right as well so more will commit. But I see it as vital.

Finally, the real experts – the kids!
Teachers want the best for their students. There’s no doubt about that. If, and to be honest it’s still a big if, the iPads could make a big difference to their learning, teachers will want them in their rooms. So what better way to get teachers on board than to get their class to convince them.

20120128-104308.jpgDon’t let the teachers hang onto the iPads too long. Get them in the hands of those we are supposed to be buying them for. As I mentioned in my “no web 2.0 = iPad fail” post, web 2.0 tools exploded in Grade 6 last year because the kids were already using them at home and introduced them to classes through their presentations. Children find this whole technology thing a lot more natural than most of us adults. While we are muddling around trying to work out whether to pinch, swipe or double tap, they have probably already half finished their animation or movie on the iPad. left alone, children experiment instead of panic. They try instead of give up. So give the iPads to them. Either way it will work out. If they love them and embrace them, then teacher will want them in their room. On the other hand, if we discover they are not as excited about them as we thought they would be, then we will quickly find out we don’t need to blow $30000 on equipment we don’t need.

As an aside, I hope to work with our school’s newly elected student ICT leadership team along with our ICT Leader to develop capacity in using ICT in all classrooms. If it gets off the ground ( and we haven’t had the discussion yet as a school so it may not), I can see this as an opportunity for these students to be a great support in testing iPad apps out and sharing with the school. We may even get them to start a blog like me to help out the school community. Just a thought but you have to dream.

It’s all fantastic for school leaders and individuals alike to have great ideas. However, without the teachers being on board with the idea, it never works. So, if you’re planning on implementing some kind of iPad program in the future, consider these issues carefully.

To be honest, I’ve only lived through a fraction of what I have discussed here. The majority of it is hope and theory. I’d love to hear from other schools who have actually gone “whole hog” with iPads or just started smaller programs as well. How did you do it? Am I making sense or well off the mark? Leave a comment and join the conversation.