iPad 1-to-1 Educational Initiatives

I’ve been thinking a lot about iPad initiatives. I am truly convinced that iPads can meet a majority of the technological needs of education, limited only by the apps that are available [As I’ve mentioned before, there is a goldmine to be found by developers going to schools and finding out what apps need to be created]. There are a few subjects that might not benefit from iPad initiatives, but most could–including courses in family and consumer science (e.g. cookbooks) and technical education (woodshop patterns, calculating costs of projects, etc.).

There currently seems to be one method of iPad initiatives, which I would call a “school-based model.” The school, or district, provides all components of the initiative, including iPads, cases, apps, and eBooks. For the lowest price iPad, the cost per pupil is at least $700. To find out the starting cost of a school based, initiative, multiply the total number of students and staff times 700. In this model, users are often asked to buy into an insurance policy for the iPad at a rate of $50-$100 a year.

There are cost savings by adopting a 1-to-1 initiative, such as the elimination of the purchase of new textbooks and the reduction of printing costs, but those savings in no way matches the annual cost of a school-based iPad initiative. There are additional expenses with such a model, particularly as Apple doesn’t (currently) offer a great “enterprise” solution for syncing updated apps with the many devices in a school at one time. For example, at GFW High School, each individual iPad must be synced by a paraprofessional. In a school of 300 students, this might be possible. In an implementation at a large school, such as where I teach (1750 students), individual syncing is a project management nightmare that will cause the program to fail. This, of course, doesn’t include the process of organizing the purchase of apps via Apple’s Educational Volume Discount process, either, which is also a time-consuming process.

Another negative of such a model is the impact of depreciation. Ultimately, a school cannot sell a used device at a high enough value to perpetuate a school-based 1-to-1 iPad initiative. This is particularly true when Apple “clears out” a current model of iPad at nearly the depreciated rate ($399 or 20%, compared to the depreciated rate of $375 or 20%). Voters are not going to continue to approve referenda for iPad hardware.

I’ve used Noteshelf to make a picture of the school-based model:

The other model, which has potential for long-term implementation is what I call a partnership model. In this model, the family provides the hardware, while the school or district provides the resources. Please note that this model doesn’t require the family to provide all the hardware their student will use in school, but only the hardware they personally need to function in all their classes. This already happens, to some extent, when a student needs to buy a graphing calculator for their advanced math classes.

This model is beneficial to the school/district, as the school doesn’t have to provide the capital expense (or incur the risk) for the iPads themselves, reducing the cost of a 1-to-1 initiative significantly. Public schools already supply consumable content resources to students (textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, and tests), so moving that content to digital formats is not that large of a stretch. Although it does put the burden of purchase on the family, families would potentially benefit by receiving apps for free (which the school districts would purchase at a reduced cost through the Educational Volume Purchase Plan), and they should be able to write the purchase of an iPad off in their taxes as an educational expense. I would also tend to believe that students will take better care of a device they personally own rather than a device that is borrowed or rented from a school district.

I would also encourage many parents to take inventory of the devices their students currently own. For many [high school] students, this includes a graphing calculator, cell phone (often a “Smart Phone”) and an iPod Touch. A 32GB iPod Touch is $299, a good graphing calculator is $100. Most parents spend $100 or more on school supplies over a year. So really, a $499 iPad may not be that far out of the question, particularly if it can be used over multiple years or passed on to other family members.

Device management is another item generally solved by the partnership model. In the school-based model, a paraprofessional or media specialist must sync every device–and as of March 2011, there is no way to sync multiple devices at once. This requires the need for the purchase of multiple computers to be “syncing computers,” and a great amount of staffing time used to sync those iPads. Again, in a large deployment, device management is probably the kiss of death. When students own their own devices and have their own (or their family’s own) iTunes accounts, they can get the list of app codes for their classes, they can install the apps, and they can update as necessary. Someone will have to manage the distribution of app codes under the Educational Volume Pricing Plan, but this is true under both models.

There are going to be families with exceptional need who will not be able to afford their own iPad. Schools/Districts will need to provide iPads for those students, and that will have to be factored into the cost of iPad initiatives as well. This could be an exceptional challenge for schools in financially depressed geographic areas.

I’ve used Noteshelf to create a graphic of the partnership model as well:

Some final thoughts. First, it would be beneficial if Apple could provide educational discounts for students buying an iPad. They should consider it an investment, as those students will grow up buying Apple products, and will probably continue to do so in their adult years. Second, I cannot encourage app developers enough to get in contact with iPad initiative schools and find out what apps are needed. Third, there will eventually need to be a way for schools to “lend” eBooks (normal books or textbooks) to students for a period of time. Perhaps Apple will add this functionality in a future version of iBooks. Finally, both Apple and iOS developers need to make a commitment for key educational apps to remain functional for four years. If seniors are running iPads they bought as freshmen, they need to be able to use those apps in their classes. I’m not saying the apps can’t offer additional functionality to newer iPads–they can and should. But the additional functionality should be additional functionality and not key functionality for those apps. If parents know that an iPad will still be functional in four years, they may be more open to the purchase of the device, knowing that it is an investment of $600 spaced over four years, instead of an annual $600 investment.


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