This fall, the news of the iPad initiative at the Los Angeles Unified School District splashed all over the tech world. The LAUSD was going to spend one billion dollars on the first phase of an iPad rollout. In the weeks since, the tech blogs (and the press in general) has noted how the LAUSD initiative was failing. Students were unenrolling their iPads from management tools (giving them free access on their iPads) and how the entire rollout was going to stop until these problems could be fixed. Some iPads have gone missing.
Ultimately, the problems with the LAUSD have given a black eye to the LAUSD program, Apple, iPad initiatives in general, and even 1:1 initiatives. Anti-education-technology activities are actively campaigning against the LAUSD iPad initiative, and using LAUSD as a reason not to purse technology in education. And even some pro-iPad in education advocates are taking shots at LAUSD.
I have some thoughts–and they are my own (not my school’s, not my district’s). I work in a 1:1 iPad school where every one of our 775 middle school students have an iPad. We are dealing with some issues, such as students forgetting an iPad at home (rare), forgetting to charge an iPad overnight (more common), using apps they shouldn’t be using while in a class (very common), or using apps they just shouldn’t be using, period. Our district’s philosophy has been to keep the iPads as open as possible, to make sure the devices are as flexible as possible, as well as to teach students how to properly use these devices. It is a winning strategy in the long term, even though you do lose short term battles. Although our district’s move to iPads (in five of our 17 schools) was somewhat fast, groundwork had been laid both at the district level (moving all teachers to MacBooks in 2012-2013) and at the school level. Although I was at another school last year, my current school made many visits to all-iPads schools (particularly to Heritage Middle School in West St. Paul, which hosted more than 40 staff visits). Staff at my current school were given iPads in the middle of the last school year to familiarize them with the devices. Groundwork and expectations were laid out to staff last spring, even though there were not specific mandates laid down.
LAUSD didn’t have any of these benefits. So: some random thoughts:
- Apparently, the head of LAUSD tech department simply announced this initiative this summer without any warning. There was no attempt to create buy-in, and no warning. There was no widespread attempt to expose teachers to the devices or schools that were already 1:1. As we read about the LAUSD initiative in the news, so did their teachers.
- The person that spearheaded the LAUSD iPad initiative has announced that they are leaving the district.
- Apparently, the iPads are locked down to the point that they can only use a few specific apps and Pearson e-books. So, these devices ARE simply glorified textbooks.
- Students have realized that they can delete the profiles on the devices to restore other functionality. It isn’t hard to delete profiles, and we have some of that in our schools, too. When they delete them, however, we know, because our multi-device manager lets us know.
- iOS 7 has been interfering with some of the features of multi-device managers.
So, what can be done in the LAUSD situation?
- I wrote Tim Cook about this actually: there needs to be a press conference where Apple and the LAUSD meet the press and Apple gets to say, “We are all about technology in education. We believe in our products. We want them to work for schools, so we’re standing here with LAUSD and we’re going to help them solve their problems.” The iPad announcement next week would be a wonderful time for this.
- LAUSD needs to do some damage-repair internally and smooth out the issues with their teachers. They need to offer training–via release time–and they need to support teachers as they integrate these devices.
- LAUSD needs to spend time researching 1:1 programs that are working, and perhaps visit those programs.
- LAUSD needs to rethink their iPad model. These tools become game-changing when they are flexible tablets, not when they are e-readers. They need to remove restrictions. If they have a firewall (they better), let the firewall block inappropriate sites at school, and if need be, specific services (Facebook and SnapChat) during the school day. Use profiles to block things that should always be blocked (inappropriate sites) and apps that have been found to cause issues.
- Let teachers manage iPads in their room. Some of the multi-device managers can allow teachers to take control of iPads in a room and force them into an app; but see if you can have teachers accomplish this without the MDM first. Have administration support teachers as needed.
- Apple needs to fix the problems iOS 7 is causing MDMs pronto, as well as to create a way that students are unable to delete profiles (or restore a device) that is under a MDM.
- It becomes essential that LAUSD find a new leader for the iPad initiative that can change the direction of the program.
From what I have been reading, LAUSD is facing a number of issues, and in truth, the last thing they probably needed was an extended battle based on an iPad rollout. Anyone in a 1:1 implementation knows there are nay-sayers (there are honestly people pushing for schools to return to chalk and textbooks). My hope is that LAUSD can turn this thing around, rather than it becoming the poster child of “why not to integrate technology into education.”