Student ipad deployment – the first big decision is not technical, it’s about agency

This past year we’ve been gearing up for several Student Technology Leader projects across the country with a new twist. This fall, for the first time, many of our Student Technology Leaders will be equipped with iPads as they assist teachers in technology integration, tech support, and technology literacy efforts. Two projects in particular, College YES (a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant) and a project funded by the Rural Schools and Community Trust for improving STEM education are kicking off this fall.

We are in the middle of a busy summer teaching some amazing students leadership and technology skills, plus how to use the iPad as a technology integration tool. Student Tech Leaders will use the iPads to assist teachers with STEM project resources, help teachers track and assess technology literacy projects, manage help desk and trouble ticket requests, and more.

We’ve learned quite a bit about iPads and school deployment in the past few months which I hope to share soon. But in short, there is one major decision that schools must make when deploying iPads – whether to set them up individually or as a managed group. Now, there are lots of great websites that help with this, but this one basic decision has ramifications beyond the technical – it’s a decision about student agency and ownership.

I don’t mean who really “owns” the device – but who has responsibility for it day to day. Who is making choices about its setup, use, and apps. I’m also not talking about the kinds of loaner situations where you hand an iPad out for an hour or two with no expectation of long-term use. I’m talking about an expectation that the iPad is a tool that a student will use for real work on a long term basis.

If you configure the iPads with a management system, the agency will lie primarily in the system administrator. If you configure them individually, the agency lies primarily with the student user. The point is, it’s not a totally technical decision, nor should the only consideration be making it easier for technical staff. Yes, you must be sure that students can’t access “bad stuff”, can download great apps, and that problems can be fixed quickly. But that’s possible with both kinds of configurations.

So, in our iPad deployments, we’ve set up them up individually. We believe the students will take their responsibilities seriously and not abuse them. Time will tell if this trust will be rewarded – but it usually is!


9 Replies to “Student ipad deployment – the first big decision is not technical, it’s about agency”

  1. Are the devices being setup by an admin as individual devices or are they being distributed shiny new still inside the box and untouched to students? We have used the iPhone Configuration Utility to manage the devices and can see configuring them with the Utility for individual setup and maintenance. Looking forward to reading more about this as we explore more too.

  2. We used the iPhone Config Utility as you say, and also pre-installed some apps.

    It’s also going to be interesting when ios 5 comes out and changes how the sync works. There’s always something!

  3. We are very persuasive. 😉

    But seriously, we are working with schools that choose to work with us. They sort of know what they are in for, since everything we do is about student agency and empowerment.

    I think a lot of schools get convinced by logistical and managerial arguments that it will be “easier” to implement top-down solutions.

  4. Nice blog post Sylvia. In my Board, we have deployed iPods and iPads both ways – to the individual, and set up for use with many users. No standard deployment strategy yet — depends on intended use.


  5. Sylvia,
    This sounds like an innovative program. You are laying the foundation for a lasting culture in the school by giving students agency. So important, and so wonderful. I know setting up carts of iPads to share among a school works well, but a far richer experience can happen when students are using them authentically and with ownership.

  6. Hi Sylvia
    I am at a year 5-12 college. We have started the roll out ot year 9 students. We developed a core team of students to work with small groups to run the roll out . We used an auto config for the school based websites daymay,the college webpage etc. We have got all of the students to download readdle docs so they can access the shared drives to view and save work. The next stage of the rollout will be to year 11 students. WE are on the uphill of a steep learning curve. We are empowering our students to learn how to use the ipad responsibly and we are embarking on a comprehensive digital education program which will be embedded into our curriculum.

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