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Tip of the Week: 5 Ways to Screw Up an iPad Deployment

I spent a lot of time over the last few weeks working with a ton of teachers. Great conversations. Lots of learning. And not just a little frustration on the part of the teachers.

Much of the frustration centered on their iPads.

Getting work from kids is too hard.

There’s too much I have to keep track of in terms of classroom management.

We can’t get the apps we need.

The tech people won’t open up the ports on the server so the iPads can talk with each other, printers and projection devices.

I get it. It’s not easy.

But I think many people, especially admin types, do expect it to be easy. They expect the iPad to revolutionize the educational world. Kids will love them. Teachers will love them. Test scores will go up. Behavior problems will go down.

You can almost see some assistant superintendent in his office, gleefully rubbing his hands together in anticipation:

This is the silver bullet we’ve all been waiting for.

Here’s a secret. iPads are not the silver bullet. Hardware and software won’t change education. Teachers and quality teaching will.

But . . .

But I am convinced that great teachers and quality teaching combined with hardware and software like iPads can change education. It’s not the tool. It’s what we do with the tool. And there are a lot of things we can do with the tool that support high-quality teaching and learning. But like many edtech ideas, there are many ways to screw this up.

So as a public service, and after watching and participating in multiple iPad rollouts, here is my top five list of things you can do to screw up an iPad deployment.

Drum roll please.

Number five
Blow off the accessories. You’ve got the iPad. Isn’t that all you need?

Well, no. Protective cases for starters. No brainer. But how about styluses? I’ve tried using a stylus and just end up losing them. But many teachers love them and my own daughter uses her stylus all the time.

Every kid should have their own set of earbuds. Some of your staff will want Bluetooth keyboards and mice. I’ve also noticed that many older kids seem to also have varying levels of discomfort with the iPad keypad. iPad stands for capturing video are very handy as are external microphones for higher quality sound.

Number four
Download and install only free apps. We just spent thousands on these iPads and we don’t have money to put the good stuff on. Teachers will be able to find what they need.

There are some good free tools out there. But by using Apple’s Volume Purchasing Plan, you can get big discounts on paid apps. And another thing. Let teachers be in charge of their own devices and accounts. Don’t micro-manage their app purchases. And I’ve also seen very successful districts allow students access to the App Store. It can be done.

Some no brainer apps for the iPad include:
iTunes U
Explain Everything
Drop Box (and the online account that goes with it)
Google Drive (and the online account that goes with it)
Book Creator

Apps for your teacher’s Mac or Windows computer:
Apple TV or Airserver for mobile projecting
Printopia for Macs or FingerPrint for Windows to easily print stuff
iBooks Author for Macs

Number three
Skimp on finding time and money for professional development. Teachers will be able to figure this out on their own, right? After all, you’ve had your iPad for years and it’s just not that hard.

Wrong. Rolling out iPads is not a small thing. And your teachers will need time to learn and play. The best way? Give teachers the iPads now. Do some basic instruction, let your techy teachers help. Give some homework over the summer – installing and using certain apps, setting up DropBox and/or Google Drive accounts, read some books, watch some movies, send some emails, share some files. Before school starts, do some more PD focused on classroom integration – not app sharing but app using.

Create a PLC. Ask some of the techy teachers to lead this. Continue to share ideas and strategies in digital ways – maybe a wiki or a Facebook group. Have short times during the day throughout the year that focus on specific grade levels and content areas. Keep the conversation on using the iPad for teaching and learning, not just sharing fun apps.

Number two
Try and save money by purchasing carts of iPads that students will share rather than spending the money to go one to one. Yeah. I know. Money’s tight. But I’m telling ya, you’re gonna regret it. iPads are not computers. They were not designed to sit on a cart like a laptop. They are personal, one user devices that don’t play nice when multiple users drive and run the thing.

Student work is more difficult to share. Privacy is harder to protect. It’s difficult to get stuff to individual kids. Personal feedback is hard.

Use the tool the way it was designed. As a personal learning device.

And the number one way to screw up an iPad deployment
Take all of the control out of the hands of teachers and kids.

Yes. I know. Your tech people do need some say in how things are set up. But see Number Two above – these are not just little mini computers. They are designed to be user-friendly and and work great as just in time learning devices. Locking down how apps are installed or how settings are modified defeat the purpose. It’s going to be okay. Set up a strong and appropriate user policy, deal with the kids (and maybe a teacher or two) who violate the policy and move on. Don’t make this a power struggle between teachers and tech/admin.

Consider this as you would any free public service announcement. Wait . . . we tend to ignore free PSAs. Think of this as advice from a friend. I’ve seen bad things, man. Don’t repeat the mistakes of those who’ve come before you.

Just about any new tool or idea or strategy or resource, however well intentioned, can be used for evil. iPads aren’t any different. Provide the right training, the right accessories, the right numbers, the right balance of control, the right apps. And you’re going to be okay.

Enjoy the ride.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for the tips Glen. I am about to buy 7 iPads for my library and I know there will be problems since I won’t be 1 to 1 but I have to start somewhere. Maybe I can get more next year.

    April 13, 2013
    • glennw #

      Can certainly understand having to start somewhere. Your situation is also a bit different as these iPads will be used in the library.

      Good luck!


      April 13, 2013
  2. Scott #

    You state “Use the tool the way it was designed. As a personal learning device.” They were not created as a personal learning device. They were created as a toy more than anything. They have evolved into a learning device after many changes have been done to make the ipad more learning friendly. I myself like the Surface better than the ipad but I can’t get people to leave the bandwagon.

    April 18, 2013
    • glennw #


      Perhaps “one person user device” might be a better term. But I would disagree with the idea of “toy” – they clearly were more consumer focused that creation focused when first rolled out but in a very short period of time, tools have appeared that make the iPad a practical tool for teaching and learning. And whether we’re talking about an iPad or a Surface, iPod or Android phone, to have students share a mobile device makes for a difficult implementation.

      I would much rather see schools go true one to one with any device than to have kids share. That might not be financially possible but schools need to understand that mobile tools work differently that non-mobile tools and that outcomes will also be different if not one to one.

      Thanks for your comment!

      (I have played with a Surface for just a bit and do like the interface. But I would still want every kid to have their own, rather than sharing.)

      April 18, 2013
  3. Scott #

    I agree with you about the one to one. I still say with the lack of inputs and lack of things ipads had at the start, they were mere toys compared to what desktops of laptops could do. Now, still inferior to either, they are much more learning friendly.

    April 18, 2013

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