Monthly Archives: September 2013

What Should We Measure?

Over the last two years my board has conducted detailed reviews of many of our programs, from divisional review to specific areas such as French and Library. These reviews take a random sampling of classrooms and essentially run an environmental scan to see the strengths and areas of growth in the programs we offer. The effective integration of technology in the classroom is a component of these reviews, and consistently comes out with the highest level of “no opportunity to observe” ratings.

There are reasons for this return, however the main one is that we provide schools with a ratio of technology based on enrolment – one laptop or iPad per seven students in the school. This would suggest that in any random sampling of classrooms the probability is that you won’t see much technology, other than that belonging to the students.

This has been part of the impetus to develop a technology review. We know the equipment is out there, several thousand devices in total throughout the system, and that it is being used all day and every day in the vast majority of our schools, but what exactly are we doing with it and is it making a difference? We have long held focus groups meetings and gathered anecdotal observations and evidence that the use of technology is deeply impactful on student learning, but we have never comprehensively tracked the what, why, and how of that equation.

As I worked today to begin to develop the observation tool that we will use, and the process we will follow (it should be said that this is an extensive undertaking with a large number of internal and external audits and drafts before we administer anything, rather than one person deciding, “OK, this is what we will do”!), the question of what specifically we would like to know, and why that is important, kept coming up. It led to some deep reflection on what is truly important when it comes to integrating technology and the belief system we have around student learning.

My own person beliefs, which won’t show through in any of the review as we draft and re-draft to remove bias, includes a number of realizations that I have garnered over time and through experience. I believe that a 1:1 ratio is not something to aspire to if it means the students have more of a relationship with a device than one another. Conversation and face-to-face collaboration are essential components to learning. These can easily precede online relationships and collaborations, but in my view cannot be skipped over. I believe that our use of technology in the classroom needs to be transformative, rather than just replicating or replacing old methods. The SAMR model (see below) is a great guide to me for this. Not all technology use is effective, a worksheet downloaded from the internet and annotated on an iPad before being handed in is still a worksheet and misses all of the components mentioned that I believe underpin learning, despite requiring an element of technological understanding and skill. Students using the technology to be creative and innovative is where it is at for me. They must be using it for things that are unattainable without it.


I believe students learn best through inquiry and experiential learning. Technology can help support this but is not the driver for it. Google and Wikipedia are both great, but if our children don’t know how to discern truth from fiction, or relevant from irrelevant, their inquiry is heading toward a dead-end. I agree deeply with students having a voice, and sharing it with the world, but if their blog is driven by assignment rather than personal interest and curiosities, it is not reaching its potential, nor is it genuinely their voice.

I hope the review, when we have it complete and can conduct it, will help me and everyone in our system to learn more about effective technology use in the classroom. I hope it confirms or contradicts the things I believe to be true, so that I can grow as an educator. But the question still remains – what do we measure?! My initial thoughts led me to a few areas that I think we need to understand more about to grow our effective use of technology:

– How are the students using technology in the classroom? Research? Productivity? Creativity? Publishing? Social Media? Gaming?

– Which devices are students using and does it make a difference?

– Are the activities we are asking the students to do transformative? Again, see SAMR!

– Do we see evidence of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration in the students digital work? Is this important?

– How does technology allow us to learn and demonstrate understanding of curriculum more readily than traditional methods? Is this more true in some curriculum areas than others? Why?

– Is the ratio of computers:students sufficient? What can be done to enhance it if not?

– What is the level and type of support necessary for teachers to feel comfortable and competent with their use of technology?

What are your beliefs? What do you think we should ‘measure’? What do you think school systems need to grow the effective use of technology (beyond being given sufficient funds to do it!)? Leave a comment and suggest some ideas – the first draft is the best time to give input!

iPad Deployment – The Background Story

In common with many school districts across North America, we have been testing and assessing the impact of tablet technologies in the classroom. After going through a series of trials we determined the iPad to be the most suitable device for our needs, and set about designing system-wide deployment and implementation strategies. The journey was a long one…!

Last year we set up a large pilot project on the use of iPads in the Elementary classroom. The equipment (over 200 iPads) was funded through our board technology strategy, and we were fortunate to receive a grant from CODE to fund our support of the project. I discussed the origins of this project here and some of the work that came out of it here. The report submitted to CODE and the Ministry can be viewed here.

It became abundantly clear that we needed to develop a mixed model of laptop and tablets in our provisions to elementary schools. We had traditionally supported a 1:7 ratio of student to laptop in all of our schools, and it was determined as a result of these pilots and reviews that a mixed approach was needed to move our effective use of technology forward. When students return to school tomorrow, the ratio of 1:7 will remain but, depending on the equipment that was retired in each school, there will be between 10% and 35% of their allocation as iPads. Over the next three years we will move every school towards a 60:40 split between laptops and tablets.

The decision to go with iPads was the easy part. Making it a system-wide reality was much more of a challenge. We first needed to look at management and control of the iPads, in terms of app management and so on. In our board, as with most others, the job of installing software on student devices forms part of a collective agreement with our technicians, and as such simply putting almost 1000 iPads out there and having teachers and administrators installing and managing them was not an option. From a liability standpoint this was also true – every app needs to be paid for on every iPads, meaning participation in Apple’s Volume Purchasing Plan (VPP) was mandatory for license compliance. To use iPads participating in the VPP, Apple’s Configurator software is necessary, as well as a central Mobile Device Management (MDM) server. All of this meant that:

-Every school had a Mac Mini added to their server system

-We chose the Meraki MDM from Cisco to be the central manager of the iPads

-Every iPad had to be enrolled in Meraki and the Apple VPP

-Every iPad needed to be associated with a school account, within the board VPP account

As you can see, already significant work and significant investment in infrastructure.

Now, move these iPads to the classroom and what is the reality? No apps on them, no system in place for adding apps, and all of the financial impact falling on the schools. Again, this was not desirable, nor was it setting the system up for success. We decided that the board should fund an ‘image’ of apps that would be installed on every board-provided iPad. A committee was established to share thoughts on which apps might form this image, as well as a system-wide survey on app use being administered, and a review of schools existing iTunes accounts to look for commonly used or purchased apps. The result was a list of almost 60 apps that would form the initial ‘image’ provided by the board. The apps that made the image can be seen here. The total cost of this image, after VPP discounts, was in the region of $40,000.

There are strengths and weaknesses to this approach. The standard suite of apps allows for greater levels of support for most teachers, and the ability to publish varying materials to help develop system understanding of where, why, and how students might use certain apps to enhance their learning. The ability for teachers to add apps on the fly, or try apps out quickly, has been diminished. There is a system about to be published whereby schools can request additional apps for their iPads, and have these installed and billed to the school, but in all probability this is a week long process rather than an immediate one. As much as there was a desire to allow teachers this freedom and flexibility, there are so many factors at play when looking at system-wide issues, that this gets outweighed by the practical. I do not believe that the ‘image’ approach necessarily prevents teacher innovation, and hope that teachers ultimately realise there is a fine balance between use and support, and that sometimes less than perfect restrictions need to be applied to ensure adequate levels of support and maintenance are achieved.

Even when infrastructure is in place, the iPads are purchased, imaged and controlled, there remains other issues and expenses to consider. Firstly, how are these iPads stored or charged? We ended up settling on the Griffen Multidock at almost $550 per unit. Another expense in excess of $50,000. Many teachers had requested the ability to ‘Air Print’ from the iPads to the printers in the school – another $20 per school expense (OK, that one is pretty affordable!).

Finally, the question of covers and protection arose. In our large iPad pilot, we had very few incidents. Of the 240 iPads involved, only 13 needed to be replaced and of these 8 were due to teacher drops. In response to the growing number of iPads in the system (as beyond the board provisions, there are over 1000 school-purchased iPads out there also), our repair centre became an Apple certified repair centre, meaning that cracked or smashed screens could be dealt with “in-house”. The iPads in our pilots were all without covers. The sustainability of this approach is dependant on the iPads each lasting three years. As such, covers are an essential component moving forward, at a cost of over $15 per iPad.

As you can see, the decision that iPads are the most appropriate tablet device in the classroom in an easy one to come to. Deploying iPads system-wide is an incredibly intricate and detailed process, not to mention expensive. Beyond the iPads themselves (almost $500,000 worth in our case), there are additional expenses and investments that exceed $100,000, as well as the time taken to manage these changes.

When the iPads reach student hands tomorrow, the complexities of the changes will not be noticed. That is fine. The hope is that the positive impact on learning makes it all a worthwhile investment and endeavour. Based on our pilots and research, and the skill level of our teachers, I have little doubt this will be the case.

How are you using the iPads in your school? How is your district approaching iPad deployment? Please share in the comments!