Below is a post I wrote on a different blog 18 months ago. I’m reposting it in response to some requests 🙂
First, let me be clear… I have been an Apple whore for some time, and I’m a huge advocate of exciting, engaging lessons using technology. This post isn’t about persuading you not to use graphics tablets in lessons. It is meant as a warning of the preparation, dedication and skilled staff required to pull it off smoothly.
A little background first.
The school I work in recently purchased a class-set of iPads (before I arrived I hasten to add) which were delivered within a few days of me starting. I don’t know the exact cost of the purchase, but there’s 18 iPads, enough for one per student pair. That’s a pretty hefty price tag for a lot of schools (how some afford to give one per child I have no idea. I suspect most can’t).
Coming from an IT background, I was quite enthused and wanted to get involved in using them and promoting them in the school (how hard could the latter part be?). Fortunately (or un), being IT literate I also spotted a few key issues before we even began.
Delay 1: How exactly are you going to charge 18 iPads?
No, this had apparently occurred to no man. As I stared at 18 little fiddly, crappy white cables with their annoyingly unconventional white flat plate plugs, and their lego-like stuck together 3 pin socket-plugs, I stupidly thought to myself – well maybe we have 18 sockets close together somewhere. And no, you can’t use multi-plugs due to the amount of juice these things require. Specialist kit then? Sure, but it doesn’t come cheap.
And that’s just for 10.
OK, problem solved, for a whole ton of money. Good job those ipads were so cheap in the first place, otherwise I’d be completely overspending already.
Delay 2: Apps, apps, bloody apps
Now, don’t get me wrong. Apps are the whole reason why iPads are amazing. You can’t possibly think it’s the actual hardware itself. Perhaps you can. But there are far, far, far cheaper alternatives that are much easier to calibrate for school needs, rather than the frustratingly closed off iPad, but we’ll get to that. I doubt you’ll find many who won’t accept that Apple apps are the highest quality (generally) on the market. You can get some pretty amazing Android ones too, but on the whole you miss more than you hit. Or at least I did.
So, after a few Google searches, I confirmed what I already suspected, which was that generic apps were the way to go, rather than subject specific, limited apps that work for one or two lessons only. For example, iMovie can be used by all subjects, and gets brilliant results. Whereas ‘Quiz Flag’ is unusable for any subject bar Geography, and one would hope even they would barely use it, as it’s one dimensional and dull as dish water. Now, assume your 90+ teaching staff get very excited about iPads and people in each subject area get very keen to put all their subject-trinkets onto the iPads – now you’re looking at potentially hundreds of fairly useless apps. I’ll put that in student terms – hundreds of tiny distractions in your lesson that have nothing to do with what you’re teaching. Are you sure that demotivated child with the tendency to ruin your day will stay on task?
Kids will LOVE the ads too.
Obviously there’s a simple solution – don’t let anyone put a load of crap on the iPads. But is someone directly responsible for them? Is there a protocol for what goes on them, how it goes on, who puts it on, how you put requests in? Yes, it needs to be thought about BEFORE they arrive.
Note: As we finally make progress, we’ve settled on departments ‘owning’ the iPads for a half term each, during which time they are reconfigured to only include generic apps and the subject-specific ones they want. The latter get erased when a new department adopts them.
No, I’m not finished with apps yet. Do you have a purchasing strategy for apps? Who is in charge of it? Who monitors it? What budget does it come out of?
If you didn’t know already, you need an education license from Apple, which you can’t just fill in a form for, you have to formally apply and await approval. Once that happens, you also need a dedicated computer (and login, not just to Apple, but most likely to get onto the dedicated machine so that it doesn’t load the wrong teacher/admin profile. Yes, we’ve made that mistake too. After configuration number 20 or so, I logged into the dedicated mac as me (as you would…right?) only to find as I plugged the ipads in, it couldn’t find their account information and tried to erase them and sync to my account (what account that is exactly, I’m still unsure).
All this needs sorting in collaboration with IT support, finance manager, whoever BEFORE BEFORE BEFORE. Sigh.
So our school now has a clear protocol. But it was a painful process.
Oh yes, there are still delays…
Delay 3: IT Support
Now, some schools are blessed with IT support that is internal, and full of dedicated enthusiasts who will stop (almost) everything to get you up and running in your time of need. Increasingly though, schools outsource their IT support, especially if they’re NSBs, in which case it’s pretty much part of the deal. If you’re outsourcing, you can expect long delays between thinking you know what you want, communicating it, finding someone who knows/cares what you’re on about, getting someone to sit with you and troubleshoot the problem, find a solution, carry out the solution, test it etc etc. LONG delays. Even longer if there’s no-one in your school actually in charge of, or taking responsibility for your new swanky iPads. After all, they’re a whole-school resource right? They don’t belong to a department. Now I’m sure not all outsourcing works slower than internal handling. No wait, it does. And we’re assuming they have experience in dealing with Apple products above and beyond owning an iPad to surf youtube at home.
Delay 4: eSafety and network restrictions
Ah, this one is my favourite. I’ve bunched two things together because they flow seamlessly into each other unfortunately. iPads were not built for school use. They were built for people who want to sit in Starbucks and play with their iPads so that people look at them and say ‘wow, what a tosser’. Weren’t they? Hmm. Even so, they were definitely NOT made for schools. You can’t “log on” to them, therefore you can’t be tracked as a specific user of them, therefore whoever is using them inappropriately is practically invisible unless you actually see them doing whatever nasty they’re doing. Try explaining that one if you are unfortunate enough to have a legal case. eSafety is the responsibility of the school first and foremost, not the student. You can’t lock them up very well either. So even though you can stop anyone installing things on them quite easily, you can’t stop them putting passwords on them and locking you out. Oh, and that takes about an hour to fix if you don’t know who did it. And why would you? You probably won’t even notice a student has locked one of your iPads until the next lesson they’re used, which might be a few days later. Yes, students will do that.
They’ll also leave hideous messages on the ‘notepad’ app that is preinstalled and can’t be removed. They’ll also add loads of things to the calendar so that it constantly pushes ‘events’ to the home screen (“date with ur mom”). Joy. Any other safety measures you put in place can be VERY easily turned off with very, very basic knowledge of the ‘settings’ part of an iPad. Yes, they will be more than familiar with that too. In primary/grade schools I’m guessing this is less of an issue.
Have you considered how to get things off those iPads? It’s hideous. The only reason I dislike iPads as personal devices is their distinct lack of friendliness in getting things on and off them. I could write ten pages on that, but I’m going a little bit overboard on here already so I’ll leave it at this: You need some kind of cloud storage system for students to ‘upload’ their work to. You’ll be lucky if you can find one that isn’t blocked by your IT network configuration. You can manually unblock things such as dropbox, but again, requests, approvals, setting up accounts with the right config/restrictions time time time.
This is all sounding bleak but there’s hope, I promise you… just not yet. There’s one more problem to highlight…
Delay Problem 5: They don’t instantly improve your lesson (duh)
Last one I promise. Don’t be naïve in thinking iPads will instantly make your lessons better. Again, let me be clear – I have taught far more engaging, exciting (if I do say so myself!) and creative lessons with iPads than I ever have without. But I have also encountered a massive increase in students straying off task and causing disruption (because they have a volume button on a digital device). The awful truth is that they worked best with the nicest kids. Those that used them responsibly were the ones who were engaged in the first place. The ones who you’d hope would ‘get on board’ – who were possibly the intent of the investment, were often (I stress, not always!) the ones who simply found too many distractions in an all singing all dancing Internet enabled device.
But wait! There’s hope…
Let me finish on a slightly more positive note. I truly believe that tablet computers are the first things to come along that are really proving to transform the way educators teach – dragging education into the digital age when it has previously lagged terribly far behind. I hold firm that over time (and not too much of it), those challenging students will handle tech more responsibly, and it will make a real difference to their engagement. I also know that there are almost certainly solutions that I could have used but didn’t due to not knowing them – but isn’t that in itself an issue? If I can’t find them, others can’t either. This post is absolutely not meant as a tech-deterrent. My intention is only to highlight issues that some may not have foreseen and that genuinely need to be considered and planned for before making a huge financial commitment. I hope that within a week or two of making that commitment, you are up and running smoothly and get everything you wanted out of your investment. I would however like to point out that there are far cheaper and more customisable tablet computers that may be more suited to schools, but there are pros and cons to all of them. You can do your own research on that one.
I’ll leave you with a quote, which will stick with me for the rest of my days. A student who, upon me proudly unveiling our swanky and finally workable iPads for the first time, promptly sighed, rolled her eyes and said
“For God’s sake, why does this school have so much technology?”