Keep Taking The Tablets – Introducing I Pads For The First Time

2012_iPadMini_iPad_HeroOne achievement I have been particularly pleased with during this academic year is the successful introduction of tablet technology as a tool to support learning. I strongly believe that mobile technology offers fresh and exciting opportunities to transform learning in our schools.


Although I examined tablet alternatives (including the I Pad Mini), the I Pad 2 became the technology of choice. When all the potential functionality of the I Pad is added up, it becomes clear that this device can be a self-contained, mobile personal learning studio. The I Pad can be a science lab, a literacy tool, a research station, a design studio, a history archive, a language lab, an art canvas, a sound recording studio, a video editing suite, a games console and a library – all rolled into one. Add to this the instant start up, the quality and variety of secure software, and extended battery life of up to ten hours – then we have an essential toolbox for the 21st century digital learner.

To underpin this new culture of independent and flexible digital learning I wanted to first develop a well thought out pedagogy. The aim was to make learning more relevant and engaging for our students, but move away from the idea of allowing technology to dictate the learning – but an embedded pedagogical reality. Pedagogy comes first, tablets come second. Education currently largely follows the same model as 50 years ago. It has yet to embrace the power of technology to truly personalise education and allow students to truly take flight with their creativity. There is no point in using new technology to implement old pedagogy. Therefore, to get the best return from an investment, we need a paradigm shift that sees the I Pad as a tool to think with. Indeed, there could be an argument to strive to embed a thinking and critical pedagogy before any new technology tools are introduced.

 The deployment of new mobile technology had to fit in with our overall school vision, and with this in mind, a mission statement was outlined:

“To deploy new mobile technology with a planned pedagogy in                                     order to transform and redefine learning to empower students to use hardware and software to learn in a creative, thoughtful, flexible and independent way”

First Steps

imagesCA061MV3The first issue that had to be confronted was funding. As this was designed to be a pilot scheme, the plan was to begin with a class set of 34 I Pads that could be used by all subject areas. It has never been the intention to replace current ICT provision with tablet technology. Ultimately, a ‘blended approach’ the aim, one in which students will be wise enough to make decisions themselves on what is the most appropriate tool for their learning. There will be times when a static PC will be preferred as for tasks such as coding or programming, a lap top may be chosen for word processing, while a mobile device may be considered best for creative filming and voice recording. In the unpredictable world of technological change, this is not a time to put all of the techno eggs in one techno basket. Each Faculty currently has their own set of mini-lap tops, and these are replaced on a rolling system throughout the college. The Humanities lap tops were next in line for replacement, and as they are in perfectly good condition – I diverted the replacement funding to purchase the new tablets. There was a little bit of additional cash to find for some ‘extras’, but the costs of the new equipment pretty well matched the replacement costs. If the tablets prove to be a success, no doubt other Faculties will consider trying to extend the life of their lap tops and invest in a set of tablets of their own. The new set of 34 I Pads were to be based in the central Library and Resources Centre, with an Apple TV installed on the projector. Staff could bring classes there for lessons, although they may prefer to take the tablets out and use them in different situations.

 A number of technological issues also had to be given serious consideration before any investment was made. It would be unwise to even consider purchasing I Pads without the appropriate technological infrastructure already in place to manage and deploy them. It is important not to jump in wallet first! After obtaining a number of quotes for a ‘package’ including the tablets, a charging cabinet, Apple TV, a Mac server, and technical support – and we decided to give our business to a company called Tribune, who effectively delivered the goods. The superb technical support provided by Sonny Sharma from Tribune proved invaluable in getting us started, and in dealing with problem issues as they arrived.

 The main questions that were addressed as part of our set up are summarized in the table below:

Question Response
1) How will our wireless system cope? We checked signal strength in key areas of use across the school, and adjusted accordingly. A planned future upgrade to the school wireless network should manage any further increase in tablet numbers
2) Will content be filtered? We will continue to use the south west grid for learning content filter
3) Where will tablets be stored and charged? A secure area was allocated for storage, and a charging cabinet purchased
4) How will we buy and manage apps? We decided to set up one central account and manage this on a new Mac server separate to the existing school network. We installed a management system by ‘Meraki’ to manage new apps, updates, synchronization, and controls (eg blocking access to messaging, faceTime etc). Departments wanting to add their own subject apps can be billed separately.
5) Will we need to buy cases or covers? Because we were basing the tablets in one central area to begin with, we deemed this unnecessary. However, we have purchase a range of durable cases to trial for fieldwork
6) Will we need a stylus for each tablet? No. Students will want to use finger gestures. Also, their misuse could lead to damage
7) Will we need headphones? No. Most students have their own!
8) Will we require access to the school network? No. Work on the I Pads can be completed independently to existing network.
9) Will we use e-mail? No. E mail out will be disabled initially.
10) How will we encourage responsible use? The school responsible use policy will need to be adjusted to include tablets. A clear management protocol will need to be put in place during lessons
11) What training can we provide for teachers and ICT support staff? CPD time was made available, and training support was saught from outside ‘experts’.
12) How will we manage student work flow? Students will store content using a cloud service. Initially, we set up a central Dropbox account that included separate folders for subjects and classes. As the pilot expands, we will probably migrate to a Google Drive account.
13) How will we manage connectivity in the classroom? Apple TV allows screens of different I Pads to be projected on screen.

 Before I Pads could be used in a classroom situation, teachers (and students) needed to be fully prepared not just in the use of the technology but importantly the pedagogy that underpins it. Simply handing out I Pads to teachers and students isn’t going to accelerate learning in the school – you cannot simply “add I Pads and stir.” We began by identifying the ‘early adopters’ on the staff, and persuading them to either purchase I Pads through their own subject budgets, or loan them tablets to experiment with. I used the I Pads with students for a number of weeks to iron out any technical problems, and then provided staff with training to show what opportunities can be opened up with this new techno tool. We also regarded it important to consult with students (many are already experienced I Pad users), and set up a team of ‘digital leaders’ to work with teachers and help experiment with the hardware and software and drive innovation. They meet weekly, and have trained themselves in specific apps so they can run mini ‘Genius bars’ to share their expertise. It would also be appropriate over the coming months to speak to other schools to learn from their experiences. A number of schools have pioneered the use of mobile technology, and many are in the same position as us – beginning to take the first steps on this journey. If any schools are keen to share ideas, I would be pleased to hear from you. I am looking forward to arranging a series of  parents’ meetings next year to provide information, practical help (from digital leaders), opportunities for open questions, and video ‘how to’ guides.

 “There’s an App For That ……. “

ipadOne area that needed considerable thought and research was the selection of software for the tablets. After developing a clarity of thought with regards to pedagogy, a suite of generic software was identified that could be used by all subject areas to encourage creativity and collaboration. Content apps are rarely any more use than the equivalent software provided on netbooks and PCs, but the I Pad can run apps that allow our students to be innovative and creative curators of their own learning At the beginning, we decided to install a suite of generic apps that could be used creatively by all subject areas. If subject staff then wanted to add their own favourites, they could pay to do so through their departments and store these in a separate folder on the tablets.  

The ‘killer apps’ included the following:

1) IMOVIE: This is the number one I Pad app for me! It allows students to curate and edit their own videos using film and photos taken with the I Pad camera, along with clips external sources such as You Tube. It is also easy to add sound recordings and a narration. The I Movie Trailer tool is an excellent tool for classroom use.

 2) SOCRATIVE: This can be used as a simple voting tool to gain instant feedback and inform the progress of the lesson (excellent AFL), or teachers can quickly assess student understanding through quizzes or ‘exit tickets’.

 3) BOOK CREATOR: A superb ‘mash up’ tool, where students can build a portfolio of their work over time, adding pictures, writing and recordings. Excellent for reluctant writers and for peer assessment.

 4) EXPLAIN EVERYTHING: Another great ‘mash up’ tool, where students can complete a series of slides using typed text, photos, video and sound – and then display it to the class.

 5) COMIC LIFE: Turns pictures and text into comic strips to summarise key events, ‘how to’ advice etc

 6) GARAGEBAND: Students can create music, record and edit audio and share projects

Other ‘key’ generic apps included:

POPPLET: Mind mapping or planning tool

EDUCREATIONS: Simple programme to demonstrate learning using words, diagrams, pictures, & sound recordings etc

QR READER: Reads Quick Response codes and provides a way for students to record their own work as well as access further information on a subject from documents or web sites

PUPPET PALS: Storytelling/explaining tool using animated cartoon characters.

ANIMATION CREATOR HD EXPRESS: Animation creator to use as a tool for explanation

SHOW ME: Screencasting app to demonstrate understanding. Once created, screencasts are uploaded to the Show Me website where they can be shared with a link or embed code

VIDEOSCRIBE: Easy to operate communication tool which can be used to demonstrate understanding, summarise work etc

123D SCULPT: 3D design tool

I MOTION: Simple but effective app for stop-motion animation

MOVIE FX: Great for filming with a green screen and creating news style movies

AUTO CUE: Brilliant for readfing news scripts in front of camera

ZAPPAR and AURASMA: Good start point for demonstrating augmented reality

GOOGLE EARTH: Standard reference tool and resource for world geography – but too good to leave in the geography folder!

APPLE GENERIC SOFTWARE: I hesitate to add this to the main list, as extended work using tools such as this is probably better attempted using a laptop or a PC. There are also alternatives apps to do similar tasks on the I Pad. However, they may have a place, and in the end I decided to include PAGES (word processing), KEYNOTE (like Powerpoint) and NUMBERS (like Excel) on my list.

A full copy of th 

A copy of the initial plan to introduce the I pads pilot scheme be downloaded here – IPads In Education Final Draft

A full list of useful apps can be downloaded here – but the list is being updated every day!Apps List

 As the pilot scheme develops, we will need to attempt to evaluate the impact of our investment. Because I pads are so new, most of the results available from similar recent projects in the UK provide only soft evidence at present. Howeve, a good deal of hard data evidence is beginning to emerge from studies in the USA and Australia – this may help offer guidance in this task.

 I look forward now to concentrating on research and experimentation with different methods of using the I Pads with students. I have already completed a great ‘affective mapping’ field exercise with year 7 – giving them the opportunity to use ‘Explain Everything’ to present their feelings on parts of the school campus where they feel safe and secure , and those parts they feel less comfortable. Year 8 has used the ‘123D Sculpt’ app to designand advertise a new T shirt or trainer as part of their work on Nike and globalization. Year 9 students have used the camera tools and some field recording apps to complete a field exercise based on the school travel plan. They then used ‘Explain Everything’ to present their findings. I hope to describe these work tasks in greater detail in future blogs, and in the meantime would love to hear from other teachers attempting similar work.


About devongeography

Head of Geography and Assistant Vice Principal at South Molton Community College, North Devon. Exeter Chiefs supporter!
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