Five tips for starting an iPad pilot

Recently, David Jakes asked me to Google Hangout with a group of his teachers and librarians preparing for a 1:1 pilot. He asked me to share five tips for starting a pilot , so I thought I’d expand upon these “lessons learned” here.

After 1 1/2 years of 1:1 iPads on our campus, these are some things I”ve learned that seem integral to our success.

1. Try to create a collaborative environment and encourage a spirit of experimentation. One of the best things about our tablet implementation was that it was a new “type” of device, and that meant a learning curve for everyone, students and teachers alike. By fostering a creative, collaborative atmosphere, we felt less of a stigma about learning alongside the students and less pressure to “know everything” about the technology. Teachers felt free to move at their own pace, ask advice from students or other teachers, or tech staff and to work together. A campus can do a great deal to foster this sort of environment. It can mean frustration–yes–but it does empower us to take charge of our own learning.

2. Find ways for teachers(and students) to share what they are learning. We held after school “appy hours,” lunch n learn sessions to share new tools(brief 30 min sessions), “iShare” sessions for teachers to simply share what they were trying out and troubleshoot problems. In the library, I posted “whiteboard” questions of the week–where students could share their favorite apps for music, photography, etc. This sort of sharing can happen online as well in forums like Edmodo or in-house forums. Finding time in the school day is always a challenge, but initiating after school events, or even late start days (if a principal can arrange those in the schedule) can help.

3. Training is important, but allow for experimentation. Although I wouldn’t say it was customary to hand out iPads and not provide a tremendous amount of upfront training, but last year, we did that. And one result was that it promoted a collaborative learning environment among our teachers and students because everyone was trying to figure it out together. Having said that, the training piece that is most critical is productivity apps–if you have apps for turning in documents, storing files, moving files–it’s critical that students have support for that so that it works well. And the training piece that is the most critical need for teachers beyond the productivity apps they also need (gradebook, test-giving, collecting work, etc.)?   That would be methods for eliminating and controlling classroom distractions and how to have those conversations with students. (more on that in my next post).  Our surveys have shown that distractions are a problem on the homefront as well, so don’t forget to include parents in those types of trainings and communication.

4. Multi-modal tutorial opportunities are important and communication about them is equally important. Tutorials need to be provided in an online location for students. We also have established a “help” email for students, and we have a help desk(the Juice Bar) located in the library that is manned a couple of hours daily. Library staff assists when the Juice Bar is closed. Publicizing the services available is a constant need–students don’t necessarily pay attention until they have a problem, so the more publicity of where and what is available is key. That communication needs to go to parents as well.

5. Focus on the learning, not the device or apps. While I myself have done workshops entitled “There’s an app for that,” I believe we have to turn our focus from the apps to the “learning.” We aren’t teaching ‘iPad lessons’ or “Chrome lessons,” we are teaching students who are learning. We have to keep our focus on how the technology can deepen and enrich the learning experiences we want our students to have.

It has taken a village to get us where we are.   Technology staff, instructional technology staff, principals, librarians, and lots of energetic visionaries.   For more reflections, check out the posts written by my colleague Carl Hooker on his blog Hooked On Innovation or check out the blog we have kept about the pilot process.

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