Friday, November 11, 2011

iPads at School

Part of my duties this year involves maintaining my building's iPad labs.  After a couple of months on the job, I have some ideas that may be helpful.

We aren't bold enough with the iPads to go to a true one to one iPad student ratio yet.  

I think we are stuck between buying one for every kid and having kids buy their own.  My school is close to buying their way to 1:1, but it is always about the dollars right now.  The public that funds schools here did support us in the last election, but we weren't asking for much beyond keeping up the status quo on staff and fixing the leaking buildings.  By the way Westonka, THANK YOU!

Personally, I think we should be doing something to get schools caught up to the real world.  Work is going to involve computing.  If they don't practice computing at school, when are our students going to get these skills?

And then there is the looming end of printed media.  10 years ago the iPod came out and the music business was changed forever.  Been to a record store lately?  The iPad and other e-readers will surely do the same to the paper based book publishers.  What are we going to do when the publishers no longer own printing presses?  Or what if we want to publish our own textbooks?  That is coming.  Anoka, Minnesota wrote their own book this year and saved a lot of money.  Open sourced e-books anyone?  This is a trend that you don't have to be much of a futurist to see coming.

I think the model of computer distribution should be 1:1 and kids should be able to take them everywhere, including home.  

Should that computer be an iPad?  Maybe.  What do you want it to do?  Is it a replacement for books and papers?  Should it also be able to surf the web?  Should you be able to word process?  What about the math department and its crazy set of symbols?  There are a number of places where the iPad and its form factor will be a great fit.  Throw in a stylus and you have the math thing all figured out.  You could even use PDF and Noterize ( now called Notes) and do your worksheets in a crazy hybrid-paperless-pen sort of way.  The form factor is perfect for a teacher working their way through the traditional desk setting.  It doesn't look much different when a teacher uses a worksheet or an iPad.  For most uses, the iPad is probably going to do.  If you need to plug hardware into it, use a computer.

(I do wish that SmartMusic came in an iPad version.  Maybe it will.  They have started working that direction with the SmartMusic InBox apps.  Actually, SmartMusic on the iPad may be my only real concern right now.)

In my world, all kids have a device and they are responsible for maintaining that device.  Today is my day to update all of the labs to iOS 5.  I'm going to be a while.  The first iPad from each lab takes about an hour.  This is a quiet and speedy school network day too.  No kids, not many teachers online.  It would be better if the kids could manage their own updates and software.  It would good to use iCloud in this situation too.  What doesn't store on your device goes to the cloud.

I will say that if you go the "iPad lab on wheels route" to computing in your school, get a cart that you can do software updates with, not just charge your iPads.  I like our Bretford carts way better than our generic carts for that reason.  Figure on training all your staff on how to manage the cart or put someone on the job with plenty of hours to devote to that.

If you are thinking that updates and management can be done with iCloud in a school lab setting, there may be some issues that you haven't thought about.  Like wirelessly connecting 100 iPads and updating them at the same time might cause your network guy's next major nervous breakdown.  I'm thinking Apple may have intended iCloud for lower volume situations, like "home" or "single user" use.  Use a computer for maintenance.  A few iPads at time, as in a 1:1 program, may not be so troublesome, especially if kids can do some of the maintenance work at home

I wonder about how much you can "lock down" your iPad lab.  Most of Apple's iPad security happens at the server level with Lion Server.  I wish there was a way to white list the good sites and black list the bad ones at the machine level.  We filter at school, but only a few parents can do that at home.  Offer support to families on how kids should manage their online lives.  We don't want to be sending home trouble making machines.  We want to send learning tools.

So to tie all that rambling up:  
  • iPad may be the ticket for most (but probably not all) of your school computer needs.  Assess your needs and pick the tools to fit the job.  
  • The iCloud probably isn't a great idea for labs of computers, but if you are in a true 1:1 situation have the kids set themselves up with accounts.  Running your calendar, storing your files, managing your photos and music on iCloud sounds like the thing to do in a 1:1 setting.
  • What ever way you go, make the move soon.  I think it is better to make the change instead of being forced to change.  Paper will soon be losing its dominance.

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