Marc Fanaroff, a special education administrator for more than 30 years, shares his advice on successfully deploying tablets in schools
As schools start to mature in their use of technology, moving from the innovator phase into the early adopter stage, we’re getting increasingly wise about the necessary steps to achieve successful classroom implementation.
After my experience implementing tablets into our school, I thought I’d share my advice for a successful investment.
1. Outline your objectives.
The first step is to know from an instructional standpoint what your objectives for the investment are, and how you envision using the resource. This could have implications for the required functionality of the hardware device. While many tablets are designed for consumer use rather than classroom use, in general, a tablet is a tablet.
2. Identify effective learning technology.
Step two is to ensure the technology is effective in the learning environment. It should include appropriate, high-quality learning content. The learning content offered on some tablet devices often can be described as “edutainment” rather than high-quality, curriculum-aligned resources. The supplier of your chosen mobile device should be working with publishers to provide high-quality, curriculum-aligned content, pre-installed on the tablet device.
Research has indicated that the need to purchase, install, and manage new apps is cited by many schools as a significant barrier to adoption. However, tablets also should be easily networkable to allow you to use your pre-existing or purchased content. In summary, your classroom tablet solution must enhance, support, and simplify teaching and learning.
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3. Ensure that classroom management is included.
The next step is also based on software, rather than hardware. I can’t recommend enough that you consider the classroom management tools available for the tablet device. Such tools give teachers an intuitive way to supervise and control student devices, lessons, and activities, easily enabling differentiation of instruction and access to digital content. The truly mobile learning environment that tablet technology facilitates results in the students being spread over a wide area, hopefully engaged in the learning objective.
However, the nature of mobile devices means that we as teachers sometimes feel we have no control over each child, are unaware of what they are doing, and are unable to support their learning pathway. Classroom management tools that ensure we can “see” from our PC a thumbnail image of each student’s display put us back in control.
4. The ability to differentiate instruction is a must.
Appropriate classroom tablet solutions should support a shift in instruction from whole class to personalized learning, enabling the delivery of new and existing materials at the right pace and level for each child’s needs. Ensure your tablet solution offers the functionality to push out learning content to each individual child, based on his or her specific learning needs.
5. Tread carefully with BYOD.
Another factor affecting the adoption of tablets in schools is the new buzz phrase “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD). The majority of schools currently show a willingness to consider this route of tablet adoption, with parents covering the cost of the technology.
Anyone considering this option must tread carefully. Important legal considerations—such as potential claims of indirect discrimination from students from low-income backgrounds, data protection laws, and the terms of your school’s software licensing—as well as hidden costs such as repair and data roaming charges all have to be carefully considered. However, a good inclusive management portal should mean that your learning content can be agnostic of brand; it can work seamlessly on iOS or Android devices.
6. Include protective accessories.
An additional cost to factor in is protective covers. We invested in protective covers for the hardware, and as a result, despite the children carrying the devices around the school, we haven’t experienced any damage to date.
7. Don’t forget professional development and support.
It’s important to take advantage of the professional develop opportunities offered by the supplier of your tablet solution. The team at LearnPad provides hands-on observation, coaching, and needs-based professional development services. Such support ensures adoption challenges are overcome to support fidelity-of-use for any classroom environment.
In terms of advice that I can offer, I would recommend not rolling out all the tablets at once. We spent the first few days using the devices, looking at all the free content on the LearnPad website, and downloading what was right for each child’s specific needs. We then started to roll them out to just one trial class group, one activity, and one day at a time.
This meant that we learned what worked with the students, and in turn managed any problems that arose on a much smaller scale. Once we knew which problems would occur with one class, we could ensure a smoother roll out for the next.
Marc Fanaroff has been a special education administrator for more than 30 years and currently leads the High Point School of Bergen County, N.J. The school recently implemented 40 LearnPad tablet devices.
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