Ready, steady… GO!


This year I have had the privilege of attending talks by some of the world’s best iPad “rock stars”, Abdul Chohan from the ESSA Academy in the UK, Sam Gliksman, Educational Technology Consultant and author of  of the book ‘iPads in Education for Dummies’, from the USA, and most recently I attended two iPad talks by, probably, THE iPad rock star, Fraser Speirs from the Cedars School of Excellence in Scotland. Fraser is the head of Computing and Technology at this school, which is the first school in the world to roll out a 1:1 iPad programme – just months after the first iPad 1’s hit the shelves.

Fraser spoke freely about how his school came to the decision to use iPads so soon after they were launched. Cedars had always been an Apple school. They had a computer centre filled with Apple Macs, but the need for a more mobile device which could be used in the classrooms led them to bring in Macbooks, which served them well for a number of years. One irritation was the short battery life of the laptops and the constant need to charge them during the school day. At the end of 2009 a discussion with the Cedars staff was held, where it was determined that a more mobile device, with a better battery life would make everyone’s lives easier. In February of 2010 the iPad 1 was launched – and the rest is history for the Cedars school! Read an in-depth account of their iPad journey on the Cedars School website here:

Fraser shared his experience of the first roll out, citing the difficulties and the successes. It was not without initial difficulties, the supply of a working wireless network being one of the hurdles, obviously due to working in unchartered waters, but he has made a success of it, and his school only uses iPads now. They have replaced all their computers and are now an iPad-only school. Also, they only very recently (in August of this year), replaced their iPad 1’s with the latest iPads!

According to Fraser the iPad has transformed teaching at his school. It allows learning to be more personalised and lends itself well to differentiation of learning styles. The teachers at Cedars have also noted that their students are “100% engaged all the time”. As has been mentioned by other tech leaders at iPad schools, Fraser also found that the hardest part of the implementation, was convincing the teachers to use the tech!

For Fraser and the staff at Cedars, the success of the iPad lies in the follow features:

* its size and light weight

* the screen size

* the mobility, and

* the game changer – the up to 10-hour battery life

I also attended Fraser’s very informative technical talk in which he detailed the more technical aspects of his school’s iPad roll out. He offered a variety of technical statistics, as well as statistics on iPad damage/loss at his school (2% per annum across the board) and bandwidth implications and usage. We in the audience were totally green with envy when he told us his school has a 50 Megabit ADSL connection, which he admitted was “more than they required”. Only in our dreams here in South Africa…

The audience was given an opportunity to ask questions and it was inevitable that the BYOD hot potato would rear its head. Suffice to say that Fraser is NOT a fan, and he gave some very good reasons why, the most pertinent of which was, the cost of technology integration which is usually carried by the IT department, is pushed down onto the staff in terms of multiple device management, knowledge of various devices and lesson preparation to cater for all devices. Hear more about his thoughts on BYOD here and take a look at his blog here.

In the 18 months that we have had a shared set of iPads at our school, we have, as a team, come to the conclusion that the best way forward with iPads is if each student has a device of their own. Sharing the devices has had its share of difficulties and hurdles. Sharing of devices certainly is possible, but it doesn’t lead to the devices being used to their full potential as a tool for enhancing (transforming) teaching and learning in the classroom. One of the biggest issues the teachers have had with sharing the devices is the length of time it takes to complete a project. Sharing 25 iPads between four classes required a booking system, which meant the teachers booked the iPads for lessons in which they were going to use them. As in most schools, the timetable is often disrupted and lost “iPad lessons” are difficult to reschedule when they are shared between four classes. This often resulted in projects stretching over a number of weeks, by which time they had lost their effectiveness and impetus. Also, time lost in collecting, unpacking and handing out the iPads before lessons and by the same token, taking them in again, replacing them in the baskets and returning them to the IT Centre after lessons, has an effect on the meaningfulness of the lessons. It is for reasons such as these and others, that after much debate, thought and consideration, we have decided to roll out a 1:1 iPad programme at our Senior Primary school. There is much to do before this can happen, the most important of which is the installation of a robust wireless network, which is nearing completion at present. It is also important for us to engage with our parents and in order to do so we set up a series of meetings with them to inform them of the road ahead, and lastly, but very importantly, we will embark on a teacher training programme for all our staff so that they are prepared for the roll out. Since June of this year all our teachers have had their own iPads which has given them the opportunity to get to know it as a personal device. We will now step it up a notch and take them on an “iPads in the classroom” journey. Let the learning begin!