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The Dos and Don'ts for Integrating iPads

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

"Put your wands away!" Professor Umbridge from the Harry Potter stories would tell the students at the beginning of each class. After a few classes when Professor Umbridge would make the announcement, "Put your wands away," the students did not have to do anything because they never even bothered to take the wands out. Interestingly enough, I witnessed a similar experience in my own wizarding school, um, I mean just school. Forgive the allusion to Harry Potter, but there are just too many wonderful parallels.

Our freshman and sophomore students all had iPads (wands) and some of the teachers would have them looking up information, collaborating on an app, or watching chemistry movies. But some teachers were just like Professor Umbridge: "Put your iPads away. If I see them they will be confiscated." Student knew not to even expect to use them in these teachers' classes. Most surprisingly, some of these teachers were the "superstars" of the campus.

Teacher Tech Blues

When I asked them why they did not use the iPads in the classes they taught, these are some of the reasons they mentioned:

  1. I don't have time to both prepare a good lesson and then figure out how to fit the technology into it.
  2. I don't want to baby sit my students and keep track of whether they are playing games or not in my class.
  3. I am not the iPad police and I do not want the responsibility of supervising them.
  4. The iPads are just a distraction for my students.
  5. If the students are allowed to use their iPads, they won't listen to me.
  6. Not all my students have iPads so none of my students can use them to make it fair .
  7. I don't have anything for them to do with the iPads that they could not do with paper and pencil.

The two messages that I got out of these remarks are that the teachers did not trust the students, and that they did not have the skills or appropriate apps for the students to be productive with the iPads.

As I reflected on this information, I pondered the ramifications:

  • Teachers learn quickly to not trust students
  • Most of the rules, policies and procedures we teachers have set up in the classroom are because of perhaps only one student that made the rule necessary, but in the process of establishing that rule, we typically ignore all of the other well-behaved students
  • One student ruins it for all students. While giving them an expensive device is a certain amount of trust, it is going too far to expect that they will use the device appropriated of their own free will
  • Some teachers feel uncomfortable when they do not have complete control. To them, teacher control must be enforced and if they can't enforce it, then they will eliminate the distraction

Normally this is good practice, but not when it comes to iPads, which are all about discovery and exploration.

Mistakes Made

But I thought it was outrageous that teachers would not use the iPads in class because it is too hard for them to adapt or learn ("If I had this type of tool when I was a teacher...."). I knew I could not finish that statement because on further introspection, I recognized that there were a number of mistakes that I made as an administrator. I assumed that because the teachers are computer literate, that the teachers would take the initiative and find the apps and make the learning connections with the technology. They were given the summer before and a couple of months at the beginning of the school year to get ready, why weren't they? Some were ready and eager, most were not.

It wasn't until I left that school that I understood what I could have done to avoid the "wands away" mentality.

Here are my suggestions for avoiding such mistakes:

1. Setting Student Limits

While getting teachers to trust students will always be a challenge, if the teachers know that the students can only do certain things on the iPad or tablet, then this will allay some of their fears of abuse. A contributing factor of the lack of trust was that our iPads were wide open -- students could download what they wanted to (even though in their use-agreement they promised not to). I could have had the iPads locked down or a content filter installed, but I did not because that went against my belief about the iPads and learning. Our problem was that we went from nothing to the whole world at student's fingertips. Looking back, we should have increased the freedom incrementally allowing the students and the teachers to get use to each new level of freedom before going to a more open stance. Curriculum Loft and Classlink are excellent programs that can do this.

2. Selecting Software

The other thing that would have helped, and which I understood too late, was that iPads and tablets are going to replace desktops and laptop computers entirely. That means that productivity software should be on all of them as if they were laptops and desktops. These mobile devices come with a certain limited set of writing software (note pad), but they need the word processor, spreadsheet, and other creative software to make them really useful replacements for computers.

3. Properly Preparing Teachers

The final thing I should have done to help the iPad implementation is to train the teachers on how to use the iPads to teach. Sure, I sent teachers to workshops and conferences, but we did not do any concerted training as a school about iPads and student learning. Had I figured this out earlier, I would have had the teachers practice on each other, and I would have required them to submit at least one lesson a week that would use the iPads as a learning tool. I ran across a company that not only teaches teachers how to use the technology, but also teaches them (provides examples and templates) on how to effectively teach with the technology. It's called Sublime Learning. This type of embedded learning is what teachers need in order to use technology tools effectively (e.g. interactive whiteboards, multimedia projectors, electronic tablets, and calculators).

In the Future

So basically, if I had established a more rigid structure for acceptable wand use, obtained more spells (not just free ones because you get what you pay for), and provided concentrated "how do I inspire learning with wands?" training, then things would have gone much better our first year.

What implementation advice do you have to share? Please tell us in the comment section below.

Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Michele's picture
High School English teacher, graduate student

Lots of great technology tools for the classroom exist, but if teachers don't have training and practice, it's difficult to implement those tools into formal leaning. And you're right that sending teachers to workshops to learn tools is just the beginning. Ongoing collaboration and opportunities to create something of value with the new tools is how we teach students. It makes sense to also provide these opportunities for teachers. I know I have attended workshops during the pre-planning week for new programs or tools, and then with the distractions of the 1st weeks of school with students and we never hear about the tools again. So thank you for your post. I hope the administrators in my school recognize the importance of training through practice.

Joanna's picture

The only thing that I take major issue with is the idea of requiring teachers to submit one lesson a week involving iPads. That doesn't set a positive tone of respect for teachers' professional development, IMO. What it says to teachers is that you don't trust them to take initiative on their own, and I think you may find a lot of teachers responding negatively to that idea, despite the fact that many other "mistakes" have been remedied in your other suggestions for an iPad implementation do-over. Maybe a good alternative would be creating a virtual space where teachers can choose to share those lessons with others to help them generate ideas for their own lessons. We definitely do need a careful, structured, and thoughtful approach to integrating new technologies into our classrooms, especially if doing so becomes increasingly expected by administration and the school board. "Let them have iPads" isn't really a sustainable pedagogy or leadership strategy, and I hope more administrators will acknowledge that, just as you have!

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator


Thanks for the comment. Our school had a virtual space for sharing lessons, and the teachers did not use it. Actually, we had two virtual spaces that were unused, I believe, mainly because I did not require them to use at least one of them.

I can see what you are saying in that the teachers may feel pressured to provide the learning plans with ipad lessons. I thought once a week was an easy thing to fulfill and would not over burden the teachers, but also not restrict those teachers that would do more per week. Notice that i did not go into detail about how much the iPads would be used in the lesson, so if a teacher had them look something up on the internet, that would qualify.

I still feel that a definite number or goal for how many lessons will include the iPads is necessary because otherwise it will be impossible to measure the impact on teachers and students. The point is that one of the mistakes I made was allowing teachers to opt out and say, "Wands away."

How many lessons using iPads would you recommend as challenging but not overburdensome?

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Joanna's picture

Hi Ben,
First of all, I have to say that having joining the Edutopia committee only earlier today, I am thrilled to already have an opportunity to discuss something with someone else! I have a lot of respect for leaders who are willing to not only share their reflections on their own practices, but also to engage in a dialogue with others about those reflections and practices.

It is disappointing to learn that teachers did not take advantage of the virtual collaboration opportunity. In my role as a Literacy coach, I also find it quite difficult to encourage engagement and buy-in without building in specific requirements for teachers, but I still try to avoid it because--in my school at least--I have found that requirements like these put authentic momentum and buy-in (which it sounds like you are ready to create with your new ideas about implentation) at risk. I certainly understand your concern that teachers should not feel as if they can simply "opt out" of iPad use, but you will also want to discourage teachers from simply documenting and still opting out of actual practice.

That being said, I wonder if there are ways to help scaffold the requirement to account for varying levels of teacher comfort and readiness when it comes to the devices. Maybe teachers have the option to submit questions or reflections on their use of iPads each week, to start with, rather than their specific plans. This may also give you a better sense of who still requires more support or is encountering difficulties in implementing the devises.

This also takes the pressure off in terms of presenting a perfect lesson plan, by emphasizing that the focus is on the integration of the technology into the plan, and that this is not being used as an opportunity to evaluate the teacher's lesson plan documentation skills. That might not be an issue in your district or school, but in ours we have teachers who are very nervous about sharing lesson plans as part of their professional learning, for fear that little things like the layout of the plan may become the centre of unwanted scrutiny and a distraction away from the desired learning..

In terms of frequency, maybe a short "check-in" (question or reflection) could be provided once a week, and actual plan, proposal, or summary of iPad use could be submitted once a month to department heads. This may also give teachers more time to collaborate with other teachers and gain some support in crafting lessons that they are proud and feel ready to "hand in".

Emily's picture

Currently, my school district is trying to implement more technology in the classroom. Some teachers are for it and some are vehemently against it. I am one of the teachers who is for it. However, just as you stated above, we need teacher training in order to feel comfortable. I also feel that as to monitoring students, if you set your standards and rules, students know how to follow them. My thought is that if they are messing around, they lose the privilege to use their device in class. I also agree with Michele's comment about going to training and then getting crazy in the 1st week of school and not hearing about the tools again. It is critical that schools give us as teachers continuing and sustained training.

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator

I agree with you regarding your comments about teacher training. We have to feel confident in order to use what we learn.
I was also dumfounded about some of the teacher's attitudes regarding class control. I would say the same thing, if the students are "messing around" then they lose the privilege of using the device in class, but many teachers did not want to have to monitor the students so they either did not allow them to use the device or they let the students do what ever they wanted to on the device. Go figure.
Continued and sustained training is the key- PLC- are the way to go with this...

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

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