Thursday, September 22, 2011

The BHS iPad Rollout - Some Thoughts After Two Weeks

We have been in school 11 days so far and after reading an article in T.H.E Journal titled "Lessons from an iPad Rollout"  I realized it was time to reflect and share some of what has happened her at BHS thus far.

Some Brief Background

At Burlington High, we made a decision to move to a 1:1 environment two years ago and with the blessing of our school board, I was able to attend the Iowa 1:1 conference with a staff member and meet face-to-face with a number of educators who were working in or getting prepared to work in a 1:1 school.  While the easy part was to move to 1:1, the more difficult part was planning the implementation. What device should we choose? Should we go to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model from day one? How can we prepare staff for the transition?

In order to answer these and other questions that would arise, we put together a 1:1 Implementation Team comprised of staff, students, and parents.   One of the biggest questions we answered right away was the one about the choice of a device. We decided that despite the fact that our network could support  a BYOD plan that it would be an easier transition if we all started with the same device.  Later on we decided on the iPad as the choice for our device as we looked at issues such as battery life, ease of use, etc.  Finally, we decided that the school would supply the device since we were taking the choice out of the hands of the users.

Over 1,000 iPads Just Arrived - Now What Do We Do?


Our IT staff decided that despite the huge time commitment, the best way to ensure that we had the iPads assigned accurately to each of our students was to pull them out of the boxes and check the serial numbers. In addition, we also decided to do the initial synch to iTunes ourselves before handing the iPads to students to save time when we handed them out a few weeks later.  My understanding is that with the new iOS coming out this fall, that synch to iTunes will not be necessary which will be a huge timesaver for large scale distributions.

Distribution - How Will Parents and Students Feel About Coming To School In The Summer?

As we prepared for distribution of the iPads two weeks before the start of school, we thought it was very important to have parents and students come in together to hear a brief overview and sign off on our user agreement and receive insurance information. So we posted the information on-line and set up appointments using a free service called Ticket Leap where parents signed up for a time slot. Ticket Leap allowed us to cap sessions at a manageable number so we could provide enough support for students and parents at each session. 

The sessions went extremely well thanks to our dedicated IT staff who were there for 2-3 sessions on most days, including some 7 p.m. slots to help meet the scheduling needs of parents during the summer.  In addition, our student help desk (aka The BHS Ed Tech Integration Team) got a chance to support our family's from day one of this venture.  Students got their iPads up and running and got our filtered Lightspeed browser installed with minimal difficulty. The biggest hangup during the process was with accessing and/or creating iTunes accounts. After day one, we got the word out that things would go even smoother if students and parents came in with either a free (credit card free) iTunes account or the security code from the credit card that they had used to set up a previous account.

Device Management - What We Allow at BHS

In order to manage our devices our IT staff is using Casper Suites from jamf software to push out apps and manage device security. In addition, we are using a browser from Lightspeed Systems to ensure that our devices our filtered through our network out of school.  While we certainly have tech savvy students who can jailbreak their iPads and get a different browser on their iPads, Casper Suites allows us to see if students have chosen to disregard the acceptable-use agreement.

Over the first few days, we have had few problems. We have reminded our students that we are very liberal in our approach to handling access at school. Our premise at BHS is that we are preparing students for the real world and we want them to have access to resources like Facebook and YouTube so they can see and take advantage of the educational benefits. In addition, we do not want to just say no to our students when they learn of resources that they feel can be used constructively in school. 

In addition, unlike The Master's Academy which is Florida's first iPad School, we allow our students access to the app store.  Our implementation team agreed that if we were going to lock down the devices and be too restrictive in regards to students loading preferred apps on their devices, then it made no sense to choose the iPad to begin with.  Also, going back to our premise about "the real world," we want to 
help our students manage the potential distractions that they will face when they leave us.

A Few Hiccups

We held our breath on day one as we had our first experience with over 1,000 wireless devices hitting our network.  Fortunately, despite some day one access issues, we were able to make some adjustments on our new wireless network and access has not been an issue since. The only other stumbling block has been the fact that our browser does not work as seamlessly as safari with some of our teacher-created e-pubs.  But this is something that we are told will improve.

Moving Forward - What Can We Expect?

The energy from staff, students, and parents has been tremendous thus far.  On a daily basis, I am told stories of how staff and/or students are using the new tools that they have been given.  From a school standpoint, I want to continue discussion about innovation and learning spaces.  I want to continue to see us evolve into a community of learners where teachers and students learn and talk about what it means to be a learner. I want to continue to see us encourage innovative thinking and reduce our focus on test scores.

I think a quote from Cathy Davidson's must-read book Now You See It sums up how I feel about this initiative at BHS. Despite the fact that Cathy is talking about an iPod initiative at Duke in 2003, I think her feelings are spot on in regards to what we are doing and why.
"The iPod experiment was not an investment in technology. It was an investment in a new form of attention, one that didn’t require the student to always face forward, learn from on high, memorize what was already a given, or accept knowledge as something predetermined and passively absorbed."
Davidson, Cathy N. (2011-08-18). Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Kindle Locations 1271-1273). VIKING ADULT. Kindle Edition. 
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  1. I just love the IPads. It truly has enhanced my teaching. There are so many wonderful and realistic Apps which I'm using to teach foreign language. My students are introducing me to new Apps pretty much on a daily basis.
    I love the fact that we can record on our IPads. I have the students pass in recordings of their voices electronically, which means that I can correct them anywhere Wi Fi is accessible.
    I'm also using Google Share Docs in my classes. I love this because students can add to my class notes right on the spot, and we can all view these additions. It is so rewarding seeing my students engaged in their learning.
    Thank you, Mr. Larkin and BHS Tech Ed Team. You have all been incredibly supportive and accessible. Thank you for the training times.

  2. This sounds vaguely familiar. :)

    We are doing a very similar rollout with almost the same structure. Certainly the liberal access and ability for students to fully manage their environment. Excellent post and insight. We are rolling out November 14 and you are invited!

  3. Very exciting. Thanks for sharing this with all of us. I'm sure your school will be leaders in innovative tech-ed instruction.