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!

Posted on September 2, 2013, in GECDSB, iPad Project. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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