Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Do adults meet the NETS standards to the same degree that students do?

Technology is improving the teaching and learning that is going on in our classrooms.  Students have seen huge benefits from using technology.  But has technology changed anything meaningful in the ways the adults interact with each other?  Teachers are flipping their classrooms, but few adults have flipped their committee meetings.  Students send direct messages when they see each other online, while adults send an email and then wait (and wait and wait) for a response.  Students collaborate on their projects online, but few adults use shared documents to store files or work together.  In fact, if you look at all of the NETS-S technology standards for students, I would say adults are great at helping kids meet the standards but they do not know how to apply those same standards to their own work with their colleagues.

Individual teachers can often meet the standards (communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving are among them) on their own, especially when they begin to connect to like-minded teachers across the country through Google+ or Twitter or when they simply meet each other at the tech conference like ISTE.  Small groups of teachers in the same school can be successful because they are able to seek each other out and form small technology-rich teams even when they do not work in the same grade level or department.  But on the whole, as an entire school, we fail miserably at creating a connected, creative environment. The students always seem one step ahead of us, and until we begin to live up to the same standards as an entire organization then they always will be ahead of us.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Four decisions every district should make when using iPads in a 1:1 program

iPads and your one-to-one program

Designing a student one-to-one program of any size is a BIG DEAL, but the proper planning can help you minimize the problems from the time the first school bell rings in August. Using iPads will present a unique set of problems, but it will also lead to a unique set of rewards.  There are four decisions you will need to make before students even touch an iPad.  We learned some of these the easy way, but most of them we learned the hard way.  Read my advice below, but take in others' opinions as well.  The more you know before you implement your iPads, the better prepared you will be and the fewer problems you will have. When there are no problems, people are happy.  Repeat after me:

Fewer problems = happier teachers and students

Apple IDs

This is the granddaddy of all decisions that you will face.  Should the school district create generic Apple IDs for each iPad, or should the students create their own Apple IDs and use them on their assigned iPad? Overwhelmingly this is the answer: each student should have their own Apple ID. When a user has their own ID, then everything they create, download, save, purchase, or use is saved to their account. An Apple ID gives them access to every app, song, or movie they buy (or get for free) for the rest of their lives, and it will follow them onto multiple devices.  When they trade in their iPod Touch for an iPhone, those purchases come with.  When they trade in their iPad2 for an iPad5, all their apps and data will still be available.  (Click here to read more about Apple IDs)

Some students try to share their mom or dad's Apple ID, but this is not a good idea.  An Apple ID is meant for one person. Sharing data among multiple people is confusing and problematic.  It is best for every individual in a family to create their own Apple ID.  Should parents have access to their child's account?  That's really a family matter, but a nice compromise is when a student has their own Apple ID but the parent has their child's log in information.

In my school district last year, we asked students to create Apple IDs on the first day of school when they were issued their iPads.  This coming year we will likely send a letter home to the students and parents asking them to create the account before school begins. We will do this not only to save time but also to help educate the parents as to what we are asking for (a unique Apple ID for every student) and why we are asking for this (to create a single account that will follow their children throughout their high school years and beyond).

Configurator vs. MDM

Every iPad need some type of preparation before you issue them to your students.  Apple provides software called Configurator for free, and it can do things like install paid apps, update paid and free apps, and pre-install the wireless network password.  If you want to do more with setting up your iPads you can pay extra to use Mobile Device Management software, or an MDM. From our experience, the cost of an MDM is far greater than their benefits.  We used Casper as our MDM with 1,600 iPad2s in the first year of our 1:1 program.  There was nothing wrong with Casper, but we have decided not to use it again next year.  At a cost of around $7 per iPad per year, we decided it wasn't worth the price. We will use Configurator exclusively, and part of the reason we can do that is because of our policy on paid apps which is described in the next section.

One suggestion I have for you is do not install free apps on your students' iPads.  When you use Configurator to install an app, you will have to use Configurator to update that app unless you are willing to give out the security code to your students.  This is a huge burden on your tech staff.  Instead, create a list of free apps that every student should install on their own.  When they install the app, it becomes part of their Apple ID profile and it allows them to update the app at any time.

Paid apps vs. free apps

At last estimation, there are 14 kabillion apps available for the iPad. That might be a round number I made up in my head, but if there is an app for everything then it must be true.  Most apps are free, but obviously some are not.  Even if your district can afford to buy apps, someone needs to ask whether they are really, truly necessary.  Make these decisions regarding purchased apps before students even touch an iPad.  There are four main questions you will have to ask when deciding on the use of paid apps.

#1 Is your district ready for paid apps?
When your one-to-one program is just beginning you will be asked to quantify and qualify and justify your success in every conceivable way.  You will have to train your teachers and teach your students on how to use iPads.  You will have to distribute, manage and maintain those iPads.  Do you really have time to deal with paid apps in the first year of your program?  Can you defend the expense of paid apps? In the first year I strongly recommend that you do not spend a dime on apps. Spend $0 in your first year. There are many excellent free apps, including all of your productivity apps (Google, Evernote, Dropbox) and your LMS (we use Schoology). These are the apps you will use everyday.  It is your content apps that often cost money, and I recommend you hold off on buying those apps for the first year.  Teachers will find other free apps that are similar and possibly even better. One year later, if teachers really want a paid app then your district can create a method for requesting, pruchasing, and distributing apps.

#2 Who will pay for the apps?
If you decide to use paid apps, then who will buy them?  If your district pays for them, set a budget ahead of time and stick to it.  Apps will get expensive very quickly, even at just $1 a pop.  You will also need to establish a procedure for teachers to follow when requesting apps.  You might ask teachers to try free apps first, or to buy the paid app on their own for testing purposes before you agree to buy a set for the whole class.  Whatever you decide, make sure it's clearly posted and understood by all.

If parents are expected to buy the apps, give them the rationale behind it.  Three good reasons for a parent or student to purchase their own apps are:

  1. When a student buys the app, that app will follow the student for life. Our students will graduate, and when they buy their own iPad they will not have to buy all their apps again.  Those apps, and all the learning that occurred with those apps, will always be owned by the student.
  2. Overall, the total cost of apps is often less than the traditional supplies parents buy for their students every year.  A friend of mine has two children and two step children, and he says that it typically costs around $100 per child PER YEAR to pay for supplies.  In a one-to-one environment, the apps are often the only supplies your child needs.  Buying a child a $10 or $20 iTunes gift card to pay for the apps he uses in school is not any different than buying him folders and paper and a calculator.  
  3. When students buy their own apps, they have more freedom to choose what they want to buy.  In some cases, choice will save them money.  Why should your child buy Pages for $10 if they are happy using Google Docs? In other cases, it allows them to spend more if they feel that there is more value to the app.  There are free scientific calculator apps, and there are $20 scientific calculator apps.  Some parents and students find value in buying the right app and are willing to put more money into it, especially if they are heading into a math or science-related field after graduation.

#3 What can you afford to spend on apps each year?
The more students you have, the more it will cost you to buy apps.  It's okay to buy apps - just make sure you do so wisely and make sure they will actually get used.  Set a budget and stick to it.  This is especially true for pilot programs - it sets a bad precedent when you go over budget in your very first year!

#4 Will you "keep" the apps, or will you give them away to students and buy new ones each year?
We use Configurator to install paid apps on our iPads, which gives us the ability to remove the app at a later time and distribute it to someone else. The district retains ownership of the app, which saves us tens of thousands of dollars every year.  The downside is that our tech staff has to update the paid apps manually, but overall it is cost-effective for us.

Some districts prefer the "consumable" model of distributing apps, where the district buys the app but then gives the app to the student permanently. People will tell you to look at it like a workbook: you spend $15 on a workbook to give to a student and you do not expect them to turn the workbook into you at the end of the year.  It sounds very logical, but it can become costly.  You will have to decide for yourself if the cost of retaining ownership of an app - the time it takes your tech staff to manage the apps - is greater or less than the cost of giving away apps to students.

My opinion is that if the district spends money on apps then the district should retain ownership of the apps. 

Security, insurance, and "what do you mean they don't bounce"?

There are multiple ways to keep your iPad secure, but to be honest none of them are very effective.  Apple loves to taut their Find My iPad feature, where you can use a computer or phone to track the location of a lost iPad.  The feature does work, but only when the iPad is turned on and it is connected to the Internet.  If a thief wipes your iPad, which takes approximately 10 seconds to begin, then Find My iPad no longer works and your iPad cannot be tracked.  Other security options include having your school district's contact information engraved on the back of the iPads (This iPad is the property of School District 1 - please call XXX-XXX-XXXX if found or presented for sale), or applying metallic security stickers.  You can also buy software to track your iPads, but they are very expensive and not very cost-effective.

So what do you do to protect yourself and your students?  Insurance. Some districts offer insurance to parents but it is not mandatory. In our district, about 50% of parents bought the insurance from Worth Ave Group for about $32 - $42 a year. Other districts require every student to pay for insurance (Wellesley, MA has a great proposal for charging one annual fee that covers the iPad, insurance, apps, and maintenance).  Another option is to self-insure your district by charging the premiums and deductibles yourself, but I strongly recommend using an outside company for the first year or two and analyzing the data regarding costs and loss before you try this yourself. In the end, most districts decide that it is the student who is responsible for the iPad.  Offering insurance is a way to protect the parents from getting a $500 bill due to a lost iPad, and it is a way of protecting the school district from the small number of parents who do not pay for their child's lost iPad.

iPads don't bounce. They don't fly. They don't float. Damage is a serious problem, and most of it can be traced back to some form of negligence. Find a good repair company in the area or one that offers a through-the-mail service, and make sure your repairs occur quickly and at a low cost.  Apple does provide decent service, but they are not very good at dealing with POs.  Blue Raven is a large company that specializes in low-cost repairs on the iPad glass, which is the most expensive repair you will face.  Blue Raven charges about 1/2 of what Apple charges for glass repairs. Once you've chosen a repair company, put the process down in writing so that your tech staff knows exactly what to do to get the broken iPads out for repair and back into your students' hands as quickly as possible.

iPad cases are another low-cost, highly effective protection method.  Get samples from multiple companies and test them with your students.  I wrote to Otterbox, Gumdrop, Uzibull, Griffin, and Belkin and they all sent me samples for free. Whether your district is buying the cases and providing them to the students for free, or if you are simply recommending a case for the parents to purchase on their own, a real hands-on test will help you to decide which case is best for your students.