At Banks County Schools, a rural school district in the mountains of northeast Georgia, it feels like we’re at the end and also the beginning of a very exciting journey. With around 2,850 students in pre-k to grade 12, technology plays an increasingly important role in learning outcomes across all age groups.
While we launched a district-wide 1:1 initiative this year, our journey actually began four years ago when we kicked off discussions about supplementing our aging hardware which, at the time, consisted solely of desktop and laptop PCs. With the full backing of our board, we introduced five iPad carts that teachers had to apply to use.
As classroom technology increased, these five carts quickly grew into 16 and discussions evolved into the viability of rolling out a full 1:1 program.
We set up a working group with members from the technology and curriculum departments, as well as school administrators, to answer a simple question–was a full 1:1 rollout feasible?
We reviewed cost and stakeholder support and, with backing from our superintendent, took one step closer to realizing our vision. We learned several things along the way, including the importance of doing your research, selecting the right tools to manage your devices, communicating your plan effectively, and creating contingency plans.
Critical Success Factors
Next we spoke to other districts with 1:1 programs and consulted with experts to come up with the below list of requirements:
- The right infrastructure
- The right devices for all users
- A good mobile device management (MDM) solution
- A strong communications plan
- A consideration for online safety
- Detailed project planning
- Lots of flexibility
Devices and Infrastructure
Going 1:1 means ensuring each device is fit for the purpose of the student using it. After a full review of requirements we decided to provide students in pre-k through 4th grade with iPads, while students in 5th through 12th grade would receive Chromebooks. We recognized that some additional devices with specific applications or features would be needed in certain environments – the music room for example – and additional carts were made available for such scenarios.
In order to have a successful rollout, we provided the teachers with the same type of devices as the students they teach (in advance of when the students received devices) so they could familiarize themselves with the technology and how best to integrate it into their lessons. This also meant teachers could be the students’ first line of support for troubleshooting or questions.
Making sure our network infrastructure could support additional devices was vital so we upgraded our wireless network to support a 1:1 initiative.
(Next page: The important of mobile device management and data for 1:1)
Mobile Device Management
Underpinning this whole initiative was the need to maximize learning time in the classroom, and ensure that technology would be an enabler, not an obstacle, to teaching. This meant minimizing classroom downtime caused by technology. Preparing devices and installing or disabling apps was extremely time consuming to do one-by-one so it became apparent very quickly that we needed a good MDM solution.
We reviewed and tested several solutions, but each had disadvantages, from a lack of support, to a lack of sector-specific focus (most products were geared toward an enterprise environment).
We were then introduced to Impero and its MDM solution, Impero EdLink. The product had been developed specifically for the education sector and the Impero team took our feedback on board and adapted their product roadmap accordingly. We signed up for a trial and were impressed with the thought given to the needs of a school environment, and that all of our mobile device types could be viewed and managed from the same console. Impero’s fantastic support and close communication sealed our decision to select them as our MDM partner.
Based on our lengthy review process here are some things we suggest schools consider when selecting an MDM solution:
- Knowledge of the education sector
- Cross-platform support
- Trial across sample of all users types
- Checklist of requirements to be met during the trial
- Great support
- The ability to provide data to inform decision-making
Communication, Planning and Flexibility
Once the technology was in place, it was time to ensure all stakeholders were on board. We launched a comprehensive district-wide communications plan starting with the teachers. Then we held an open house to explain the initiative to students and parents.
We created contingency plans to minimize downtime. For example, we had a cart of spare devices, so if a student experienced an issue that could not be resolved quickly we could simply give them a new device provisioned by Impero EdLink and send them on their way.
We also made sure our plans were flexible. Despite all of the planning there are always unforeseen circumstances.
Going Live and Using Data
After months of planning, we rolled out our 1:1 initiative at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year. It’s been a huge success so far. Teachers tell us it has transformed the classroom environment. My building administrators regularly send me photos of students using their devices, which is great to see.
Impero EdLink is working great in the live environment–in terms of troubleshooting, provisioning devices and geo-location management. We’re able to push out a message immediately if a device goes out of bounds, which is great from an auditing and security perspective. We’re also able to swap device profiles, depending on location, with different rules for school and home environments.
The other exciting thing is that we can use the data from Impero EdLink to inform our decision-making. For example, it helps us:
- Identify online trends – most blocked websites etc.
- Make informed purchasing decisions based on what apps are being used the most
- Catch issues before they occur – for example we were able to test iOS 10.3.3 before updating the devices to it to resolve any bugs or issues
The next phase of our 1:1 initiative is to add additional safety features that support digital citizenship. Initially internet safety meant blocking certain websites that contain inappropriate or harmful content.
However, we’ve started introducing digital citizenship classes and have been able to remove some of these tight restrictions, trusting students to make the right, informed decisions online.
To support this we will be rolling out Impero Education Pro, a remote monitoring tool that will alert us to potential safety concerns among students, so we can intervene early and educate our students about the dangers of their actions.
Going 1:1 has been a long and complex initiative for Banks County, but the benefits have made it all worthwhile. My advice to any school district looking to follow in our footsteps is to do your research, be flexible and enjoy the ride!
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