A Texas district has deployed more than 10,000 iPads to high school students and teachers.

Sticking to its resolution to put iPads in students’ and teachers’ hands, the Mansfield Independent School District in Texas deployed 10,600 of Apple’s popular devices in just 5 weeks—no small feat, but worth the effort, district ed-tech staff said.

Describing the initiative as “kind of a monster job,” Kristi Bell, an ed-tech trainer with Mansfield ISD, said the deployment involved students at six high schools, a career-tech school, and educators in those buildings.

Mansfield ISD leaders began the project in February 2012 with a “goal to ensure educational opportunities for all students, delivered through innovative and inspiring teaching methods.” State legislative changes meant the district could use some of its instructional materials/textbook funding allotment for digital resources, which opened the door for the initiative.

The Power Up! Initiative began as a limited pilot after educators secured school board approval in April, in which one teacher in a single high school used iPads with two of her classes. Those students took their iPads home, and the school used AirWatch’s mobile device management software to deploy, monitor, and provide web security for the iPads.

(Next page: Important steps to deployment)

After the pilot’s success, the board approved $6.4 million for 10,600 iPads. In June, Mansfield ISD’s ed-tech department turned its attention to the district’s infrastructure, brainstorming ways to handle the influx of devices that soon would populate the district’s network, which uses Lightspeed Systems’ filtering and management software.

Bell said Mansfield ed-tech staff discovered that the district did not have enough wireless access points to support that many devices accessing Wi-Fi, and each classroom in every building soon was outfitted with access points. District administrators hired a campus-based iPad technician, called an iTech, for each high school.

The district revised its acceptable use policy and approved a “bring your own device” policy that gave students the option of using their own mobile devices in class, said Emily Young, one of Mansfield’s ed-tech trainers. Teachers received and configured their iPads during a summer workshop.

Technology administrators created iPad user agreement and equipment check-out forms, along with an optional supplemental insurance policy. Students completed paperwork and permission forms and went through a detailed check-in and set-up process to obtain their iPads. All students log in through their school’s network, and their iPad activity can be tracked once they are logged on.

Mansfield ISD hosted district-wide iPad information sessions for parents, with each session focusing on different aspects of the devices, such as iBooks, digital citizenship, or QR codes. Individual schools have started to host their own parent sessions.

Teacher and staff training is ongoing. “iPad Spotlights” are 20-minute trainings or short workshops that focus on building specific skills or highlight other iPad basics. Apple consultants are on hand to offer additional content training.

An informal district survey revealed that:

  • 65 percent of all students said the iPad has had a positive impact on motivation to learn.
  • 64 percent said the device enhances learning experiences.
  • 89.5 percent have better or more internet access.
  • Only 17 percent said they are distracted at school while using the iPad.

“Teachers are choosing to access digital resources if they are currently offered,” Young said. “If there’s a digital textbook, they’re using it. Most students, if they don’t have internet access at home, can go to school libraries.”

Next, the district hopes to move from using the iPads for low-level activities, such as taking notes and using online learning resources, to using them for creation, such as projects and assignments that students and teachers never would have been able to do without the iPads, said Ashley Coffman, another of the district’s ed-tech trainers.

(Next page: Next steps—and key lessons learned)

When it comes to lessons learned, the Mansfield ISD ed-tech team said extending its deployment timeline would have made things a little smoother, as well as opening up time for more training.

Ensuring that bandwidth is adequate for software updates is essential, too, because students tend to clog up bandwidth if they all update to a new iOS version at once during school hours.

The district’s middle school teachers are next in line to receive iPads, and the ed-tech staff are working to deploy a global proxy that will ensure students always will be routed through their school’s server no matter where they are using their iPads. Offering continuous professional development, developing iBooks and iTunes U courses, and extending the program to elementary school teachers also are on tap.

The district aims to implement a plan to ensure 100-percent teacher participation, because some teachers are resistant to integrating the iPads into their teaching.

One way to achieve this, the ed-tech team said, is to create a low-stress implementation so that teachers are more accepting of the changes.

“Our expectation is that teachers will begin to use them in greater numbers next year, and it will be tied to their evaluation,” said Doug Brubaker, the district’s assistant superintendent of technology and information services.