GECDSB iPad Pilot – The Origins
Each year my board spends over $1.5 million on technology for the classroom. This has evolved over time to mean that every elementary school works within a 1:7 student to computer ratio and every secondary school a 1:5 ratio. In elementary our philosophy has been based on “technology at the point of instruction”, so we use carts of laptops (our current model of choice is the x130e from Lenovo). In the secondary panel the computers are in a lab setting, however we have a couple of schools exploring the use of laptops in this setting. In both elementary and secondary, I chair the committees responsible for making the budget and purchasing decisions on these items.
It has been well documented and quoted that both Apple and Microsoft are touting us as living in a “post-PC’ world, so as the Elementary Technology Utilization Committee (E.T.U.C.) sat down last year to start planning ahead to a system where the technology employed was more varied, the question of how we would explore tablets and mobile devices was at the forefront of our minds.
There were a few infrastructure points to note. We have wireless access in every room in the system, including a guest network that allows for a thriving BYOD approach. This meant that we had some teachers with extensive experience of using tablet devices as teaching tools. We also have strong IT support that supported us in exploring the world beyond Windows (even though it has ultimately made their job much harder!).
The first question we addressed was “which device do we believe to be the most effective for student learning”. Notice that there was no support restraints or IT restrictions in this – the decision was purely about student learning and IT committed to adapt.
Without going too deeply into the pros and cons of each device, as from a technical specification perspective, for the use we needed in the classroom, there truly was not a lot to choose between the tablets tested. What made the difference (again, teaching and learning guiding the support and not the other way around) was the OS and quality of apps. The iPad won out without a challenge in our small-scale classroom testing.
So with the first decision out of the way (we were going with iPads), the challenge became how to best introduce the a new device to a standardized system without jeopardizing the ability of IT to support technically and Program/Staff Development to support pedagogically.
We reflected long and hard on where technology use was in our board. We felt that there was significant teacher capacity and appetite. We felt that sound pedagogical practices were in place that would allow for technology use to be impactful. We had pockets of excellence throughout the system crying out for new and innovative approaches to using technology. So why were we not using technology more effectively and purposefully?
It soon became apparent that the ratios outlined above, as well as our previous practice of placing Interactive Whiteboards throughout the system based purely on enrolment, had led to technology in our schools simply being part of the fabric of the school, much the same as a dusty textbook or overhead projector. Teachers did not have a clearly defined purpose for the use of technology.
This led us to our next realization – if this purpose came from outside the school, it would again be an optional adoption. We needed teachers to have technology at the front of their mind when planning for student learning and school improvement, not as an after-thought or option add-on. We needed to ignite interest with the teachers beyond a simple desire to have the newest technologies in their hands.
We purchased 200 iPad 2 and 20 Bretford Sync Trays. We divided these into 20 kits of 10 iPads. For the first time in the memory of our group, we required schools to submit an application to use the technology. The barely concealed secret was we had enough for everyone, but we wanted schools to think about how they would use the technology before it arrived with them, rather than after. We knew that each school had identified a student learning need for their school improvement focus (more on this in another post) and piggy-backed this application on that work. The application was simple enough. Provide an answer to the following questions:
1. What is your school improvement focus for this year?
2. How will the use of iPads support your school improvement focus?
3. Which classrooms or areas will you use this technology?
4. What supports do you expect to need during this project?
Schools were told that they would have the kits for a three month period (this ended up being a four-and-a-half month period, but more on that another time, too!). Then we baited the hook…
If a school applied for one of the 20 kits, and then submit a report at the end of their time, they would be entered into a draw and 5 schools would keep one kit each permanently.
The applications flooded in. The quality was like nothing we had seen before. There was a clearly articulated, purposeful, and precise plan for how technology could be used to address the most pressing need of the students.
The kits were sent out to 20 schools in early October, along with an intentionally brief guide. In February they will be sent on to 20 other schools. By the end of the year we will have an enormous amount of research and information, plus a framework in place that will allow us to look at moving to a board-wide model where iPads are an alternative to our current provisions. It has also given pause to think: do we ever just ‘give’ technology to schools again? Do we put this application/report in place with all of our work? There is little doubt that we need more accountability to monitor the impact of our huge investments, and if the result of that is more precise and effective use of the technology in hand, why wouldn’t we do it?
We are one month into the project. The early observations and reports are that this has been the most purposeful use of technology to support student learning needs we have experienced. The important part of this is that it appears it has little to do with the device and more to do with the planning, purpose, and pedagogy of the teachers using the device. Could a four question application really make the difference? It is certainly appearing that intentionally linking the use of technology to the process of school improvement is a key to success in our system.