By Karen Smith and Laura Corbin Frazier
A principal and university professor reflect on implementation, evaluation, expansion, and plans for the future
The following blog shares learning from a one-to-one iPad initiative from the perspective of the school principal and a university professor who engaged in a research study at the school. Together, they share the story of implementation, evaluation, expansion, and plans for the future.
A one-to-one iPad initiative was begun at St. John Regional Catholic School (SJRCS) in the fall of 2011 with a generous grant award from the Knott Foundation. Principal, Karen Smith, conceived the idea for the initiative based upon her learning about a similar program at another school. Mrs. Smith knew her school community was ready for such an initiative and that she could rely on the expertise of an established technology team to help.
With a decision to proceed, the technology team sought grant funds to purchase iPads for use by all students in the 8th grade and the school installed reliable, wireless Internet. Integrated technology and learning goals were established for the initiative to include increased student engagement in learning and increased 21st century skills. Mrs. Smith emphasized the role of technology for her students’ future in college and career. The decision to use iPads over other mobile devices was based upon their affordability and portability. With a convenient, small size iPads were determined to be easier to manage in the school environment.
Next, policies and management were considered. It was determined that the iPads would remain at school for daily use and would not be provided for home use after school hours. Of critical concern was insurance for the iPads should they be damaged at school. Mrs. Smith was aware of some insurance plans that were available for iPads, but she decided to consult with the Archdiocese of Baltimore Department of Risk Management for their advice. As a result, families were offered an optional insurance plan that would enable an iPad to be replaced if it was lost or damaged on the school property. Parents who opted out of the insurance would be responsible for replacing the iPad on their own if anything happened to it.
Training teachers and generating enthusiasm for the initiative was important. Teacher professional development (PD) needs were identified and initial PD occurred prior to iPad deployment to students. Teachers were issued iPads to take home to begin exploring uses and familiarizing themselves with functionality. A weekly, after-school meeting provided teachers a forum for sharing best practices, new and useful applications, and troubleshooting. Additional off-campus PD opportunities were provided as well as in-house training by technology team members. Mrs. Smith noted that some teachers were nervous at first, but the after-school technology team meetings seemed to be very helpful in building confidence with use.
The iPad rollout was carefully planned. First, a mandatory parent meeting was held to explain the program to parents prior to the students receiving their iPads. Two different dates and times were offered so that parents were able to select the one that was most convenient for them. At the meeting, general expectations were explained; as well as, policies and procedures that were put into place. The Acceptable Use Policy for Computers was reviewed and the insurance program was also explained.
With a one-to-one computing program, more responsibility falls on the students. The school administration wanted to make sure that students understood the expectations for iPad use so a contract was developed that allowed for both parent and student signatures. Following the parent meeting, the iPads were ready for the rollout. The students were gathered in the school cafeteria for a general meeting about iPad use and expectations. Then, the students were broken up into smaller groups. The groups rotated among several different workshops that were called “boot camp.”
Since the students were not going to be allowed to take their iPads home, there needed to be a way for them to access the work they had started at school on their home computers. The school’s answer to that was the use of eBackpack and the Pages application. Learning about how to use eBackpack was one of the boot camp sessions. In another session, students explored the use of several different programs that allowed them to “personalize” their iPads. Students morphed their faces and added color to their photos. These photos would become the identifier for their iPad. In a third session, students were exposed to a variety of the applications they would be using in their classes. These apps had been pre-selected by teachers for each of their respective subject areas.
The initiative was expanded in subsequent years through the fundraising support of the school community. In its second year, the initiative expanded to include purchase of iPads for all students in the 7th grade. A fundraising effort known as the Race for Technology supported this purchase. With school support, students seek sponsors for their run/walk. These fundraising efforts continue and have been used to increase the number of iPads the school has on hand for student use.
Plans for these funds included extending iPads to the 6th grade. However, after some time had passed, it became apparent that perhaps sixth grade students would not be able to handle the additional responsibility of carrying an iPad all day. Therefore, it was decided that iPad carts would be purchased instead. Teachers in 5th and 6th grade have the ability of using the iPads with students without expecting students to be responsible for carrying the iPads around all day and the primary grades have a cart to share as well. The more proficient teachers become in implementing iPads in the classroom, the more they want to have them available for their use. Mrs. Smith has since integrated questions about one-to-one computing into her interview protocol for new hires to help sustain the vision and pedagogical innovations brought by the iPad initiative.
In the three years of the initiative Mrs. Smith has not observed any noticeable differences between the reliability of the iPads and existing desktop computers available in the computer lab. She has noted a cost savings as a result of reduced paper usage and in purchasing e-textbooks. Mrs. Smith also noted classroom efficiencies in materials distribution as fewer papers were being handed out during class time. Members of the technology team periodically obtain student views on the initiative through surveys and anecdotal conversations.
In the fall of 2013, led by faculty researcher, Dr. Laura Corbin Frazier, a qualitative research study was conducted at the school using focus group interviews with students, teachers, and parents. The research sought to understand how teacher technology decision-making may have been impacted by the initiative and to identify the perspectives of teachers, students, and parents on the role of the iPad in enhancing student learning.
Data were collected twice during the academic year and were analyzed for themes. Data provide evidence to support increased student engagement in learning and increased 21st Century skills, both goals established by SJRCS for the initiative. Regarding the research questions, data illustrate mixed views on the impact of the initiative to teacher technology decision-making. During the study period, the use of the iPads for instructional purposes was reported to increase as was teacher confidence with use. Data also provide evidence that the use of the iPad enhances student learning in several ways, but also highlights technical and policy issues that need to be considered as the initiative sustains.
Most respondents held favorable views on the use of the iPads indicating use to be motivational, engaging, and fun. Affordances of iPads to increase access to resources and to provide efficiencies in organization were also noted. Communication was enhanced through the use of Edmodo, an application available on iPads and through web access. Personalization features of the iPads were also helpful as students described their ability to customize their device, increasing font sizes and changing background colors. Use of eBackpack (an online, course management platform for students) was valued in supporting organization. Several students identified benefits of iPad use in increasing their technological skills. Skills they believed would prepare them for the future.
Teacher use of iPads varied from classroom to classroom. Typical instructional uses included use for presentations, research, worksheet completion, taking notes, reading maps, tests/quizzes, and videos. Several applications were used including: iMovie, Educreations, QR codes, Internet, Animoto, techbook, Google, games, calculator, graphs, and word processing apps. Ipads were used in various settings including individual, group, and pair work, with individual student uses most prevalent. Views on whether the use of the iPad changed the content of student learning or merely the tools that were used to support learning varied within each respondent group.
Concerns were raised over the use policy that prohibited students from touching the iPad of another student. Students questioned whether this policy reduced the amount of collaborative work they could engage in. Teacher and student comments on behavior management described positive changes including greater focus on learning tasks and quieter classrooms. Students did note that sometimes the iPads can be a temptation and it is hard to wait until the appropriate time to open applications of interest.
The most significant hindrance to the iPad initiative was server issues (i.e., slow speeds, uploading delays, glitches). A concern was also raised over the transition to high school and whether students would be at an advantage or disadvantage having engaged in the iPad initiative. Research findings in many cases confirmed anecdotal views on the successes of the iPad initiative, and also identified concern areas that were and were not known by school administration.
Plans for the Future
SJRCS believes the iPad initiative has been well received by students, teachers, and parents and research findings affirm this belief. Anecdotally, recent graduates who have attended high school where iPads were not being used report that they wish they still had them to use during their classes. While, initially, it does take some time, effort, and training to get the program up and running, once students become proficient with iPad use, they begin to recognize its value as a learning tool. Yet, research findings highlight some concerns regarding the role of iPads in supporting high school readiness. In consideration of research findings authors suggest a follow-up study, perhaps a survey to recent graduates assessing their views on the role of the iPad initiative in preparing them for high school and in identifying their continued use of iPads or similar tools to support their learning in high school.
Many of the decisions that were made before the iPad program started have proven to be beneficial for the school. For example, not allowing students to take the iPads home. Due to the age of the students and the added responsibility of caring for an iPad, students are currently not allowed to “share” iPads. Though research findings suggested some student concern over this policy, SJRCS administration feels that the policy has supported that decision. Limiting the sharing of iPads among students has definitely reduced the possibility of one student damaging an iPad assigned to someone else. The school administration had to take into consideration that they were dealing with thirteen year olds who sometimes act impulsively and without thinking beyond their immediate actions. Further, teachers have found ways for students to work cooperatively while using their own iPads. SJRCS teachers and administrators continue to attend workshops focused on the successful implementation of iPads in the classroom. Like everything else involving technology, continuous professional development is essential to make implementation successful.
Teachers have also found that even our youngest students in Pre-K enjoy using the iPads. They have been able to find several apps that allow students in the primary and elementary grades to access the iPads too. Fundraising has allowed the purchase of additional iPad carts to meet these demands. When more iPads were added, however, the need to increase bandwidth for Internet use was noted and later confirmed by research findings. Currently, SJRCS is at capacity and is in the process of identifying alternate means of providing faster wireless Internet access throughout the school.
SJRCS school administrators are pleased with the overall effects of the iPad initiative. It keeps their Mission at the forefront of what they do at school each day: “to develop future leadership for the 21st century through academic excellence…” This initiative has put a device in the hands of every 7th and 8th grade student. Some of whom might not have had that opportunity. It has also allowed students to realize first-hand the power of technology and has brought them closer to being college and career ready for a future that is ever changing in the realm of technology.
Karen Smith, M.Ed, is principal at St. John Regional Catholic School.
Laura Corbin Frazier, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the department of Education at Mount St. Mary’s University.