Our Tablet of Choice

As at July 2014 our Senior Primary School will be a 1:1 iPad school. This is not a decision that we have reached lightly, nor have we simply jumped on the iPad bandwagon. It is a decision that has been three years in the making and it has been taken after due consideration, research, discussion, consultation and deliberation. For us as a school this is the way forward. As mentioned in my previous post, it was of utmost importance for us as a school, to engage with our parents and share our journey with the iPads with them, and then of course, inform them of the path that we as a school have chosen as the way forward. This was of extreme importance too, since we are asking our parents to provide the devices for our students.

During October we held a series of three meetings at different times to accommodate as many parents as possible. During these meetings we shared the journey that we have been on for the past 18 months with our shared iPads in Grade 6. We showed them some student examples and also interviews with both the teachers and some of the students. All in all, the presentations were well received by our parents. In preparing for these talks, our principal and I made every effort to ensure that we would cover most, if not all, of the potential questions from parents and I believe that we did this very well. Questions about security, internet safety, which devices were suitable, financial implications for the parents etc. were covered in both our presentations, and of course, the answer to the question that many of our parents were interested in – Why iPads? This was well covered in the presentations, yet we still had one or two questions afterwards about why we were not going with the new Microsoft Surface tablet or why we were not going with Android devices. After a recent email from a parent about this very question, our principal, Arthur Preston, put together this very clear and concise response which explains exactly why we have decided on the iPad as our tablet of choice:

We decided on the iPad for the following reasons:

1)     Apple’s App Store is quality controlled whereas the Google Play store has only very recently begun a purge of inappropriate and poor quality apps but still lacks a formal approval process for apps.

2)     Malware and viruses are far more common on Android devices than Apple. According to a report released earlier this year 97% of malware and virus attacks on mobile devices were made on Android devices (http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/04/14/apple-enterprise-android-malware/). We obviously wish to keep our children safe and our network secure and believe that iOS devices are best placed for this.

 3)     The Apple operating system, iOS, is updated regularly and can be installed quickly and effectively. This means that developers are regularly updating their apps to take advantage of the latest operating system.

 4)     The battery life of an iPad will allow a fully-charged device to be used throughout the school day without charging. This makes it an ideal device for school use.

 5)     Apple has made a concerted effort to provide support for education. This includes teacher development, a specialised education section on the App Store and support for schools.

 6)     Providing IT support for many variants of Android devices makes it very difficult for both teachers and our IT department to support both teachers and pupils. By keeping to one device we are giving our teachers the best opportunity to become familiar with one operating system and one device’s settings and unique characteristics. A classroom filled with a variety of Android devices made by different manufacturers and running different versions of Android (including possibly watered down versions for simpler tablets) will not allow this and will possibly take up valuable learning time as the teacher ensures all pupils are able to access the same app or utilise the device as expected.

 7)     The new iPads with the A7 processor and retina-display provide a desktop quality computing experience in the children’s hands. No other mobile device currently available is able to offer this quality of experience. The new iLife and iWork suite of apps are head and shoulders above anything available for Android or other operating system.

 8)     While many other tablets on the market offer a good quality experience to the end-user, it is our belief that the iPad provides the best educational experience for school pupils. This belief is founded on the experience of many schools both inside and outside South Africa, our own research and input from well-respected educational technologists from various countries including South Africa.

 I own a Samsung Galaxy Tab and an iPad. Both are good devices, but there is no doubt in my mind that the best quality user experience and certainly the best option for my children at school is found on the iPad.

Arthur Preston – November 2013

In closing I leave you with a quote from Fraser Speirs (Shared on Twitter in September 2013):

“The iPad is not for schools that want to “use tablets”, it is for schools wanting to change the educational experience.”

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Ready, steady… GO!

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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: http://cedars.inverclyde.sch.uk/ipad-and-itunes-u.html

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!