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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A Principal's Perspective: Preparing to Distribute Student iPads?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Yes, let's give students iPads so they can be smarter and learn better. It sounds so easy. The reality is that there are many unknowns, like how do you hand out 800 iPads and keep track of which student has which iPad, and how do you get 800 students to register with iTunes so they can use their iPads on the school system? (The school system: How do you provide enough bandwidth for 800 iPads? That's another challenge entirely!)

As principal, here are questions myself and faculty have been faced with:

  • What if I lose my iPad? What if the battery dies?
  • What textbooks should I put on my iPad? Can I put Stone Craft on my iPad? How do I print my work?
  • What if I bring my own iPad instead of the school's?
  • How can I do my work at home if I do not have WiFi?
  • If I don't sign the iPad agreement, what do I do in class without an iPad?
  • Who is going to fix the iPad if it is damaged? Is the iPad insurance only for one year or four years?
  • Do I get to keep the iPad during the summer? What happens when I graduate?
  • How do we get content-specific apps on 120 iPads? What apps are best for learning science in the classroom?
  • What do we do if the student moves and does not turn in the iPad?
  • How do we make sure the iPads are not stolen? How do we keep the iPads secure if they are in the locker room, a game or a concert?
  • What if they leave the iPad at home? What do we do with students who did not sign the agreement?
  • How do we get students to write with the iPad touch screen? How will we grade work done on the iPad?
  • How do we keep the students from visiting inappropriate websites?

These many questions and a hundred more from the students, teachers, and parents are being answered one by one in my iPad experience. I will be glad to share the answers that we have discovered to some of these questions, and by the way, I am open to anyone with ideas on how to answer the unanswered questions.

The iPad Rationale

Our school district has a high number of low-income families, and one of the reasons for lending each ninth and tenth grader an iPad for the school year is an effort to eliminate the well-known "digital divide." Perhaps the most compelling reason is that this device has the capacity to change how our students learn, and it will also change how our teachers teach. So when these questions started popping up, we had to keep these two ideas in our minds. Our superintendent, the district technology coordinator, the assistant superintendent, the director of curriculum, and myself all sat down one afternoon in August and hammered out the answers to some of the basic questions. We came up with some pretty unique solutions, if I may say so, and I would like to share a few with you.

Tackling the Challenges

Cost

The first sticky problem we tackled was how we would handle the situation if the iPad gets stolen, lost or destroyed. We knew that not many of our families could afford to replace it (about $425 with the military grade protective case). We arrived at three possible solutions: 1) The parent (or the student) would pay the replacement cost entirely, 2) The parent or the student could purchase a yearly insurance policy for $45 with a $50 deductible to replace the iPad, and 3) The parent or student would pay $50, and the student would then provide campus service for 40 hours. This is different than disciplinary "community service" because there are many things at the campus for which students are needed as volunteers: ushering at plays and performances, setting up track meets, clearing the football field of markers, helping the librarian sort and reshelf books, campus beautification projects, office work, and many more service tasks to choose from. We felt that this was a more than fair deal but we also felt that if we were going to do this, that the parents and students needed to be committed to not only take care of the device, but use it appropriately.

Since we did not want the students or parents to think that we were simply giving away the iPads, we came up with an iPad agreement that spelled out why the iPads were being lent to the students to use, how they were to use them, and reminded them of the Internet use agreements that they had already signed as part of the registration process.

Bottom line, both the parent and the student needed to sign this agreement because they are still responsible. We wanted to make sure that parents and students understood this, and in order to answer as many questions as possible, we set up four evening meetings in the auditorium where the parents and students could receive a bit of information about the iPads and what was expected of them. As the contracts were signed, we realized that we needed to keep track of who had signed and who had not.

Insurance

Even though the insurance was a great idea, we could find no carrier that would do what we wanted for the price we wanted. The district folks decided that we could be self-insured and that the number of $45 policies would serve as capital for iPads that may be damaged (Another questions is, are we going to fix them ourselves or send them off to be fixed?) One of the features of the iPad is the iCloud GPS Locator that will be able to find where the iPad is, kind of like low jack, and we publicized this heavily, so we are not too worried about students trying to steal or accidentally misplace their iPads. Students tossing iPads, sitting on them, or leaving them in the back of a hot car is more of our concern. Insurance was a big deal for the parents.

Ownership

"So what happens at the end of the year?" one student asked, "Do we get to keep the iPad over the summer?"

"No, you have to turn it in just like you would return your books." I replied.

"What about next year? Do we get the same iPad back?" Another student asked.

"Yes, you get the same iPad back." I responded, taking a stab at answering a question that we had not really considered. But seeing my opportunity, I continued, "So what happens after four years of you and this iPad becoming really good friends?" I paused and hoped that iPads will last four years of hard use, then I continued enthusiastically, "When you graduate, so does your iPad!"

The answer from the audience of students and parents was rousing applause.

What's Next?

Please share your experiences with iPads and getting them into student hands. As we actually get the iPads into student hands this week, I will be able to share how our plans actually worked.


This blog is part of a series sponsored by Autodesk.

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