What’s the “do”? Student iPad implementation choices

This summer we’ve done a bunch of iPad training with students who will be tech leaders in their schools. We had students from 6th-10th grade in about 20 different schools (all with different setups!) It’s been interesting to with so many different schools – because we’ve learned so much from them how many technical and philosophical choices there are when implementing iPads.

Two things that are going to matter greatly are: 1) decisions about setting up the iPads and 2) what you expect the students to do with them.

Very broadly speaking, the iPads can either be set up with group management software or they can be set up more loosely managed (more like the way a normal iPad is set up). Either way you can set the profile to not be able to access anything rated “adult” in the App Store, and not allow any paid App downloads from the iTunes account.

The managed way you have more “control” – some adult will see any download on any machine, can more easily mass purchase Apps, they will be easier to revert to an initial condition, etc. It also matters whether they will be handed out randomly to students or assigned a single user and whether they can take them home.

The managed way makes it easier for adults to monitor and control, the individual way makes it a more useful personal device, but with more ability to “get in trouble” – a typical tradeoff.

What is the “DO”?
Is there an expectation that the students will use the iPads for any “work” or creative application – or are they strictly information appliances? Gary Stager says, “if your primary metaphor for a computer is looking stuff up, it should be no surprise when kids look up inappropriate stuff.”

Hopefully there is some expectation that the iPad will be more than a research tool. If that’s true, there should be a few paid apps for the students – free apps and browsing are not going to cut it for “real work”.

It matters greatly what you expect the students are going to do with the “stuff” they create/find on the iPad. The only ways in and out of an iPad are through the Mail App and the “Cloud”, meaning apps that use online storage. Will the students be allowed to set up the Mail app with school-supplied email accounts? What about non-school supplied email? Can they use apps like Evernote or Dropbox for file management?

If you use web apps and students will be under 13, you need to find out right away what these apps require – many teachers tell kids not to lie about their age on the Internet, and in the next breath tell them to lie about their birthdays so they can use web apps. We strongly urge our schools never do that (and we talk about why directly with the kids.)

Even if you don’t tell them, some will figure out how to set up the Mail app to access their personal email, unless all that is disabled too. (Which makes the iPad a thin, shiny brick.)

Browsing and cybersafety
Internet safety and digital citizenship are not things you can just deal with separately. They are completely dependent on what YOU CAN DO – which is completely dependent on how the iPads have been configured and what the expectations are for doing work. Even if the kids have used computers, the iPads are just different enough from a computer that you can’t depend on previous training and rules.

The browser is where the iPad is most like a regular computer. Safety/rules/filtering/blocking when using the iPad browser are exactly like any other computer on campus. The kids should be let in on what these policies are, not just the “don’t do x” stuff, but the why. The older the student, the more you have to let them in on the policy decisions so they can buy into them and support them. The older the student, the more the actions of peers will influence behavior, not the words of adults.

You can of course talk about intellectual property and citing sources, and practice saving images, URLs, etc. as they do research.

Where to start
Are the students allowed to download free apps from the App Store? If so, teach them how to use the ratings, categories and reviews to find good ones. If these are personal machines, teach them how to use and manage bookmarks in Safari. Practice setting the wallpaper and moving apps into organized folders. (Setting the wallpaper seems trivial but actually hits a lot of basic functionality and allows you to talk about using pictures that are too personal.)

Let them teach each other useful things they’ve found and figured out. They will find amazing stuff. You will need the cable that goes from the iPad to a projector. Get them used to sharing to a group – the wallpaper of them kissing the boyfriend will quickly be replaced.

Many schools start their iPad lessons with the school’s AUP (Acceptable Use Policy.) However, you better read it first. We find that most AUPs are pretty miserably written for kids (and parents) and it’s a waste of time to go over them in any detail. It’s a crime that these are often the only message that parents get about technology – incomprehensible and punitive. Then we ask them to sign that they understand and will obey – there’s some vision of 21st century learning, eh?… (another rant for back-school time…). Seriously – Have the kids write their own rules – usually they will come up with a list that is just fine to start with.

But treat the rules as a living document. Expect to tweak them from time to time – in many AUPs for example, there are rules about not changing settings of the computers. For an iPad, you just have to get into the settings. Don’t just let your rules get stale and breaking them become the only way to get work done. If “bad things” happen, let the kids discuss and amend the rules to cover it.

More complex questions to deal with
Are students allowed to connect to a home computer and add a second iTunes account attached to mom’s credit card? Don’t assume the students won’t figure this out or that this will only happen in affluent communities. What about push notifications or allowing an app to use your location – useful in Google Earth, creepy in Foursquare. What about apps like Skype or chat apps like KakaoTalk. Do the school phone rules apply to iPads that are being used like a phone? If current school rules simply ban phones, you will likely have a gap in your policies since in many ways iPads are more like smartphones than computers.

If the policies are too restrictive, you are going to have to try to get buy-in from the students on why things are locked down – because they will immediately start running into brick walls where the usefulness is diminished – and you will end up playing whack-a-mole with kids who will quickly find ways around the restrictions (many for entirely justified reasons).

The big thing I haven’t mentioned is this… you can’t talk about this with just the students… the teachers have to be on the same page and understand these issues too. Students and teachers should be learning and making decisions about implementation as a team.

In the best case scenario, this not only creates a better educated community, but you will be walking the talk of a collaborative learning community, where everyone is a stakeholder and participant.

In the worst case scenario, if you do some cursory PD and hope it trickles down to the students, or the iPads are so locked down that they are useless — kids and teachers will end up getting blamed for the “failure” of the iPad program. That would just be sad, not to mention a huge waste of scarce dollars.


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