iPad 1 to 1: Reflections on the first year

It only seems like the other day that we were anxiously awaiting the delivery of 100 iPad 2s, hoping that the various problems that befell their supply wouldn’t mean us starting the year without. We’d very much promoted our new IB programme with innovative ways of teaching and learning through the iPad, and it was touch and go as to whether we’d get them at all in time.

Luckily we did, and the new cohort of sixth form students and teachers were equally as excited to receive them. Actually, I think the teachers were more excited, perhaps because for many young people, having these sorts of mobile technologies is natural, so getting an iPad didn’t seem like such a big deal. This is how it should be I think: iPads should be seen as tools, not things in themselves. I worked this one out quite early on.

The year has been successful, and the students we interviewed at the end of the year were by and large in agreement that the iPad has changed how they work, how they approach learning. They have loved how easy it is to access online content as and when they need it, and have really benefited from the ease of communication between student and teacher. They have used FaceTime to discuss homework problems, have worked at the local cafe (where I have run a few cafe sessions and found the students able to work better in the buzz of the cafe than the classroom – the lattes probably helped), have recorded presentations and puppet shows of Antigone, and have never one complained that the iPad is too slow, or not cool enough.

What was interesting was how quickly we all stopped seeing them as shiny toys; the covers soon got battered, one or two had cracks in them (they still work when they’re cracked, but you need to replace once kids get glass in their hands (*joke*)), and now and then someone would come in having forgotten to charge (and received the standard response from the class – ‘what, you forgot to charge – how could you do that?’). But, aside from proxy-based irritations (my how I detest our proxy server) they have just worked. As I have said all along.

There have been a few things learnt along the way that are probably worth sharing with you all, before I go on to explain why we are not going with iPads for the new lower 6th (hold your breath). I list these issues in no particular order:

  • the gorilla glass needs to be renamed. Gorillas are strong, muscular creatures. Gorilla glass breaks if you tap it with a coffee cup. Capucin glass perhaps? Or those-tiny-monkeys-in-Costa-Rica-that-throw-their-poo-at-you glass?
  • YOU NEED INSURANCE. I repeat. YOU NEED INSURANCE. AppleCare doesn’t cut it. Get Compucare insurance which isn’t much more and covers breakage. SO important.
  • Make sure you have some extra iPads in stock so kids can swap them quickly when they break them. Which they will.
  • Newsflash: kids like paper. I know, I was shocked too. We surveyed them (do this a lot as you learn way more from them than from any training session), and three quarters of them said they preferred making notes on paper. Let them. Don’t be a paperless evangelist as it irritates them. I use a notebook. Paper can still be your friend!
  • If they prop their iPad up almost vertically in class, they are not working. They are tweeting. They have told me this, so I know it to be true. This is where paper can sometimes come in handy as it’s hard to update your Facebook status on a piece of foolscap. My lot know to keep their iPads shut until I tell them they can be opened. You do need to be prescriptive sometimes.
  • 99% of educational apps are rubbish. Office productivity apps are way better.
  • iBooks author is irritatingly limited. Not just because you can only access created content through the iPad, but also those stupid, moronic templates that are almost impossible to mess with. Why, Apple, why? I MUCH prefer creating content on a wiki and enabling students to download it via Readability.

And for next year? We are going bring a browser across the whole school, and are looking at the Google Nexus 7 for the 6th form (and possibly beyond). Why? A few reasons, again in handy list form:

  • Price. No way we can afford to keep buying iPads, and parents really aren’t keen on paying for them. We cannot force them to, and the e-learning foundation deal just doesn’t seem right for us. Probably great for other schools, but not us – at least not for next year.
  • THEY BREAK! And that’s with the 6th form. I know of one school who had to replace almost 25% of their iPads in the first 6 months. 250 iPads. Their insurance company did not offer them as good a deal for their second year. Too much risk. We lost a dozen, which is about 10%. Still too many.
  • We were not as thrillingly groundbreaking with them as we thought we might have been. Perhaps this is because we still think that good quality teaching is the most important thing, and iPads can, if you read too much stuff on flipped learning, lead to lazy ‘research based lessons’ which is another way of the teacher saying ‘I can’t be bothered to plan so find it out for yourselves’.
  • to be honest, it’s over spec’d for what we need it to do. We want something smallish, easily stow-awayable, that connects to the internet for resources and Edmodo, that has a few useful apps like e-clicker for polling and a simple WP app. That really is about it. Sorry for not being more original and innovative, but we’ve all come to the conclusion that we want a device which underpins what we already do really well. We’e not ready for the complete paradigm shift yet, and the students certainly aren’t. They like good, solid teaching, simple resourcing, and the ability to think for themselves and argue about stuff. They don’t want to be plugged into a virtual teacher (until revision starts then they go mad for screencasts on iTunes U); they want to be inspired. Having a mobile device enables them to access stuff quickly, which is great. They should not become the centre of things though: we are calling them part of the learning toolkit (or digital pencil case, which is a term from Essa I’ve always liked)
  • wait for it… I quite like the Android OS. I never thought I would say that, but it is predicated on open source, whereas iOS is about as closed as you can get. You can do things like connect a bog standard keyboard and mouse to the Nexus 7, which is handy in school, and the whole philosophy behind it seems more, well, open, I suppose. I know that Google are probably just as bad as Apple in the whole globalisation stakes, and it may well be that this time next year I’ll be saying that Apple is the only way to go (and am holding out hope for the arrival of the sub £150 iPad mini next year), but we’ll give it a go for next year, with BYOD and a smattering of Nexuses (Nexi?)

Based on the above you’d think that the year wasn’t as positive as it seems. It was. I would struggle to teach our 6th form in the same way next year without them all having a device, so it is definitely the future. But don’t kid yourselves – even at this age they need direction. They won’t all use them well: many will find themselves permanently distracted, and it’s your job to ensure that either you are more interesting (which is really hard when competing with Angry Birds) or you tell them to shut the iPad and use paper for the lesson.

Above all I have worked out one thing: there is a world beyond Apple, and it does need to be explored. I’m not saying it is any better than Apple – it may well not be. But there are other devices out there that might well do everything you need them to, for a tiny fraction of the price. And we are all strapped for cash these days, let’s not kid ourselves. It’s all about raising attainment, ‘end of’ as some of our lot say. See these devices as tools, and you realise that you cannot say that the only way is Apple. Let’s just hope the Nexus’s glass is a bit more gorilla-ish…

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