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Ten keys to a successful school iPad program

If you’re using iPads, utilize their unique assets. Look for ways to take advantage of their mobility, built-in camera, microphone, video, and so on.

“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education. If we are to develop our students’ sense of curiosity, we must be mindful to carve out time to allow our students to inquire and explore.”—Albert Einstein

It seems that every school is considering purchasing iPads these days, and Apple has reported that iPad sales to schools are currently outpacing MacBook sales by a very large margin. However, the rush to purchase iPads often precedes the careful planning and preparation that are so crucial to their success as educational tools.

It’s important for educators to understand that technology alone—no matter how full of potential it may be—is not the answer. Instead, iPads need to be integrated into the 21st-century classroom using a holistic approach. Teachers and administrators should identify the skills and abilities young people will need to succeed in our rapidly changing world and use technology to help students acquire them.

(Next page: What to do first)You’ve seen what kids look like when they handle an iPad—that’s what makes these devices ideal teaching aids. With little hesitation, young people jump right in, and within minutes they start drawing, reading, or finding some other activity that motivates, engages, and educates them.

Yes, it’s wonderful that kids love iPads, and educators will, too—if they know how to incorporate them into teaching. Having iPads in the classroom won’t make much of a long-term impact unless teachers know how to roll them out. Here, I list ten vital components of a successful iPad implementation:

First, determine whether or not you’re ready. There’s no point in purchasing iPads if you don’t have the technical infrastructure to manage and deploy them. I urge educators to consider the following questions:

  • Do you have adequate incoming internet bandwidth to connect all the devices and use them at the same time? Remember that you may also need significant upload bandwidth as students start to create and deliver large media files.
  • Is your wireless network robust enough to manage and distribute a strong, reliable wireless signal all around campus?
  • Do your classrooms have safe, secure locations to store iPads?

Understand and communicate why you want iPads. Yes, iPads are cool and cutting edge, and kids love them. But you’ll need to evaluate these devices more closely from an educational perspective and make sure that your entire organization is on the same page before pulling the technology trigger.

You’ll need a clearly communicated explanation of how iPad use complements your educational mission, which then needs to be clearly communicated to all the various constituent groups, including teachers, students, parents, directors, and administrators.

(Next page: Eight more keys to success)

Target 21stcentury learning objectives. Many teachers, especially older ones, prefer to stick to the methods they have historically found to be successful in the classroom. (Plus, there’s a natural human inclination to stay in your comfort zone.) That’s why it’s so important to target 21st-century learning objectives when developing an iPad program. After all, what point is there in purchasing expensive technology and then using it to reinforce outdated pedagogical practices such as frontal lecturing, content delivery, and drill and practice?

That means integrating multimedia, communication, collaboration, project-based learning, and more.

Develop simple iPad management strategies. As many parents who have left their iPads unsupervised in little hands know, kids can wreak surprising amounts of digital havoc in a short amount of time.

Kids can do anything from making unsupervised purchases to accessing inappropriate online material to damaging the iPad itself. Organizations need to have an iPad management plan that addresses these dangers—and many more—before distributing devices to students.

Understand that iPads aren’t laptops. Many laptop programs use network servers and domain logins that also set permissions. Laptops are controlled, and administrators can often view screen activity. It’s important to remember that iPads are not laptops. There’s no login, and the ability to secure and control them is minimal.

See also:

iPads soar in popularity among K-12 schools

Why iPads? It’s a question of innovation

If you’re using iPads, utilize their unique assets. Look for ways to take advantage of their mobility, built-in camera, microphone, video, and so on. If monitoring and controlling activities are important criteria to you, it may be advisable to consider staying with laptops.

Don’t be overcome by “There’s an App for That” Syndrome. You hear it all the time: “There’s an app for that.” (And often, it’s true.) One of the biggest mistakes teachers make is to constantly search for apps that directly address specific curriculum content—everything from 20th-century American history to the geography of Utah. Many great apps exist, but the real benefit comes from viewing iPads as tools that can be used as part of the learning process, not as replacement teachers.

Encourage students to create mock interviews with famous historic figures, explain scientific phenomenon with stop-motion animation, create podcasts for the school community, practice and record speech in a foreign language, create a screencast to explain a principle in algebra, and more. Given the opportunity, students will naturally gravitate toward creative and innovative iPad use if allowed to use it as a learning tool.

Know that “share and share alike” doesn’t work with iPads. You learned the value of sharing all the way back in preschool. Although it may be an important life guideline, you need to forget all about sharing when it comes to using iPads in school. iPads are designed to be personal devices; you need to protect your user login and all of your personal data and files. Sharing them will create huge privacy and security issues.

I generally push for one-to-one deployment of iPads from fourth grade upward. If that causes financial concerns, you need to discuss those concerns and either scale down your deployment or consider an alternative approach, such as allowing children to bring their own devices to school—which comes with its own set of problems, especially for families who can’t afford them. But sharing at upper grade levels isn’t the solution.

Build an ongoing training and support structure. Deploying iPads is a major step toward addressing the learning needs of 21st-century students. It also involves a major change in school culture, which will require adequate training and support.

It’s important to understand that “training” doesn’t mean setting aside one day at the start of the year and bringing someone into the school for a half-day workshop. Schedule time for ongoing training sessions throughout the year. Develop teacher support groups within your school and with other schools, where teachers can exchange experiences, share their successes, and learn from each other.

Connect online. Don’t use your school’s iPads in a vacuum! The web has many helpful resources, and I urge you to take advantage of them. You can easily connect and benefit from the knowledge and experience of other teachers. Join Twitter or sites such as the iPads in Education network.

Enable the unpredictable. Technology is most effective when used as a tool for student empowerment. Don’t expect to control every aspect of the students’ learning, and don’t feel the need to always be the expert.

See also:

iPads soar in popularity among K-12 schools

Why iPads? It’s a question of innovation

For the current generation of kids, technology is a canvas with limitless possibilities. Give them the freedom to paint their own masterpieces!

Despite the potential of technology use, all education shouldn’t revolve around it. After all, there’s no doubting the importance of using crayons and paints. Getting your hands dirty planting in a garden is an extremely valuable educational experience, and how can you ever replace the experience of having a teacher or parent read to a child? Remember that wise technology use sometimes means knowing when to put it away.

Still, well-planned technology deployments can be tremendously successful and transformative for schools and students. Given the freedom to explore and express themselves, students can be wonderfully creative and imaginative with technology.

Sam Gliksman is the author of iPad in Education For Dummies®. He has been leading technology applications in business and education for over 25 years. As an independent educational technology consultant, he advises educators on how to integrate technology into learning initiatives. Sam leads the iPads in Education community, Sam can be reached by email at and via Twitter at @samgliksman.

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