Six years with 1:1 iPads: A reflection

One of the reasons I left my high school position to teach at the middle school position was to move to a school that was going 1:1 with iPads. Incidentally, seven years later, my former high school will be 1:1 with Chromebooks next year. I remain a massive enthusiast for iPads, but my support for iPads as 1:1 student devices has shifted, and I wanted to write about that.

I do think there are massive benefits to students have technology in schools, and I still believe that the iPad is a fantastic device for content creation in educational settings. The problems I witnessed were either due to the teacher’s integration of iPads in the classroom, or to student misuse of iPads in the classroom.

When we rolled out iPads in the Fall of 2013, it was the wild west of 1:1 programs. At the time, district-level administration wanted as little restriction of student devices as possible, meaning a wide open App Store for every student, and no teacher controls whatsoever, unless you physically took an iPad from a student and set restrictions on the iPad.

When iPads were rolled out at our school, there was an expectation to use the devices–as much as possible–and to replace paper with the devices. This past year, the new principal at the school began to question why teachers were using iPads when other approaches might be better (e.g. paper and pencil). Focus groups were held with every department, and they discovered is that the mentality that rolled out in the school six years ago was still the status quo, and that new teachers to the building were indoctrinated to the practice as well–even though the new principal never demanded such an approach. My former school has to address that issue, but it is amazing how quickly a school’s practice can become part of its long-term philosophy. Educational leaders would be wise to learn from this example.

Furthermore, many teachers stopped searching for better or new solutions with the iPad after the second year with the device. When the iPads were new to the school, teachers were scrambling to find apps that could be used in their curriculum. Most teachers stopped looking for new apps by year three of the program. Additionally, we moved to Schoology as a Learning Management System over the past three years. Once Schoology was adopted (SeeSaw is used district-wide in our elementary schools) teachers spent their time with Schoology, and the majority of student educational interaction with iPads was connected to Schoology in some way or another.

In choir (my subject), students used iPads in five ways–which, if used properly, would still require iPads for 75% or more of the class period:

  • As sheet music through Showbie
  • To complete in class audio or video assessments (sight reading, singing, or ukulele) in Schoology
  • To complete daily reflections in class (also used as an exit ticket) in Schoology
  • To make up missed assignments in Schoology
  • A very small amount of composition with Flat.io

This doesn’t include the ways I used the iPad, it just includes student use.

Apple continues to try to help teachers with classroom management of iPads, and they keep investing in services like Apple Classroom, but the experience is a lot like trying to herd cats.

In the early days, we fought apps like Five Nights at Freddy’s and students installing profiles on their devices which allowed them to do whatever they wanted on the device. Things got better as Apple added more features for schools. We were able to lock the App Store, turn off Bluetooth management, lock access to Profiles, migrated to JAMF management, and took advantage of Apple Classroom when it was released.

But the problem remained–and remains–that students did not see the devices as a privilege and as an education tool–they saw them as “their iPads.” Furthermore, all a student has to do to avoid supervision is to put their iPad into Airplane Mode. In Apple Classroom, a student in Airplane Mode is no longer supervised, although they CAN be on the Internet–and keeping tabs on thirty to fifty iPads in a class (icons that do not all fit on one screen) while trying to teach is a losing situation. While I did my best, I couldn’t keep tabs on every student–and I know that some teachers never even used Apple Classroom. Apple Classroom is now available on Macs as well, but you need OS X Mojave to do this, and we are not upgrading district-wide to Mojave until the fall.

We also ran into the challenge of what to do with a student who was off-task with an iPad. Some teachers approached the situation with a sense of seeking holy justice; others just ignored the problem all together. Administration didn’t quite know how to handle those situations, either, as there were legitimate larger issues for them to deal with. Contact home was usually ineffective, and removing an iPad from a student always required more work from the teacher who now had to make paper copies for students without iPads.

Left unchecked, students were happy to play online games like zombsroyale.io (which happily offers MANY additional URLs so that schools are unable to block access to their page) and yohoho.io. And should you dare to ask a student to stop playing a game in class, the response was anywhere from rude to insubordinate. A few teachers weren’t even aware of the problem. There were also plenty of times where students would simply choose not to bring an iPad or would choose to not use their iPad in class. How do you deal with that situation without a standardized school management plan for iPad use?

And the issue wasn’t only misuse–it was shocking to see how often students would feel free to throw iPads up in the air (like a ball), throw them on the ground (in anger), or to other students like a frisbee. Yes, we had a lot of cracked screens. We asked students to buy insurance, and it was surprising how often they would say, “Well, if it breaks, I have insurance.” And to complicate matters, our latest iPad cases had a stand which “clacked,” and it was common for students to “clack away” on their iPads throughout an hour.

Perhaps these issues were only at our school, as it is trying to establish respect for learning, property, others, and self through PBIS. But my guess is that these issues occur at many other 1:1 iPad Schools.

No, I’m not on the Chromebook bandwagon, but I would teach at a Chromebook school. Our district decided to go with GoGuardian’s management system this fall for the district’s new Chromebook initiatives. GoGuardian seems to be an application that will ensure that students use the devices as intended. If teachers take the time to set up their class properly, students are only able to access specific sites during class. And Chromebooks don’t have the same issue with Airplane Mode as iPads (giving unmonitored access to the Internet while in the Airplane Mode).

In my opinion, two things could make iPads a much better solution for schools. The first is the necessity of a school based management plan which would outline what would happen if a student misuses their iPad (off-task use or physical misuse). Such a plan has to have consequences (not punishment) that places the onus on the student and the parent. Lose your iPad? Then getting copies of the materials that are online and bringing them to class are your responsibility. The challenge with such a plan is that many students who lost iPad privileges were already disengaged in their classes, and in many cases their parents were also not engaged with their students’ academic career–so how do you put the consequence on a such a student? One of the things I love about the Love & Logic behavior plans is that it calls for children to experience consequences for their actions. One of our biggest issues is that teachers usually felt those consequences.

The other thing that Apple needs to solve is the ability for a student to simply enter Airplane Mode to avoid management of their iPads. There should be a way for those iPads to still know where they are (geo-gating) and to force them into management by Apple Classroom even if they are in Airplane Mode. Until Apple solves this situation, and as long as School-Based Management Plans are not put into place, teachers are playing a game of whack-a-mole instead of being able to simply use those devices, when appropriate, as a way to improve the learning environment.

In closing, I’m not anti-iPad, but changes are necessary, and Apple has the ability to solve both issues. Apple could offer a suggested management policy for schools to adopt, and they can solve the Airplane Mode issue. I still think the iPad is great for education, even 1:1, if students can use them at times that make sense to enhance education or to create content. And I certainly support the use of the iPad by teachers, who are not going to be tempted to misuse their devices while teaching a class.

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