Thursday, November 24, 2011

Selecting Apps For Large iPad Implementation

When we started the process of selecting apps that would be used on students iPads, we did so with a good idea of how we will be using the iPad instructionally. There were certain apps like GarageBand and iMovie that were no-brainers. We did have a specific budget to stay within which also helped us to narrow what our choices would be. Over the summer we ran an iPad Academy with about 20 students. It was here where we could really see if the apps we chose would be of interest to students and if they would be able to create things with minimal instruction on how to use it. We found some of the apps like Comic Life and Keynote were easily adopted by the students. IMovie and GarageBand were also immediate hits and students were able to produce creative work with it over the course of the two weeks.

On top of paid apps, there were a lot of free apps in which we could install onto devices and see the value for students. In a way the iPad is a modular device and the apps used to create a workflow will allow students to start out with an idea and then take it to production state. An app like Sketch Book Express, which is free, is a pallet that students can create drawings diagrams and even touch up and enhance photos. After they finish the drawing with the app, they can send their work to the photo library which serves as a repository for all image work on the iPad. From there they can import their images into a variety of other tools like iWork, iLife, or Comic Life.

We also have decided to install the apps Kindle, Nook and iBooks on the iPad's. Since each of these apps can be used with an account that independent of the iPad accounts, any student that wishes to download a book to read in class can with a family account. The book is not tied to the device so that upon leaving the one to one program they still own the book. The AppStore also has apps that give students the ability to annotate PDFS or keep a notebook. There are many paid apps that did these things well, like Notetaker HD, Penultimate, and iAnnotate. After extensive testing we found that Notability served are needs best.

The choice of putting games on the iPad was a big challenge. We decided to add some games like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds to the iPads during the summer. The thought was that during downtime to give time for kids to be able to choose activities that will include these games. With these games on the device it became a constant distraction for the students. In the end this is a classroom management issue, but teachers had to be on top of the kids to make sure that they weren't sneaking onto games while they were working on projects or instruction. There is great value to having games on the iPad, however we also need to be mindful that this is primarily educational device. With the knowledge of the behaviors students were displaying during the summer with their use of games, we decided to include some free educational games that would have more academic or educational value.

Probably the biggest challenge was in reviewing and selecting educational apps. There are many apps that help students with math, grammar and other important skills. For small deployments picking up a handful of apps at $.99 each is not a difficult investment. However when you multiply $.99 times 1200, it's hard to justify purchasing an app that may help with certain skills, but is limited in scope. Every teacher had their favorites, but in the economy of scale it is hard to justify. For core skills and standards alignment we had to search out something that provide a more complete curriculum. The best choices were web-based for the most part. However almost every program we looked at had an Adobe Flash foundation to it. Knowing that Adobe Flash and the iPad are not compatible, we were very limited in what could choose for the curriculum. There were several recommendations to use a flash browser on the iPad like Puffin to access flash-based sites, my personal experience was that it was hit or miss using these browser apps. We could not take the chance that would rely on a browser that has to go to a distant server to render the flash for every student if it is too buggy. In the end we chose IXL Math as it worked well on the iPad. It lacks important features like preassessing students and creating specific learning paths for them based on their skills, however it did give students feedback and goals for working on different math skills. It also has a pretty robust teacher reporting tool which was one of the important criteria for us for a math curriculum. We are also using the Khan Academy which works well with our Google Apps domain. We know that there will be better programs available soon that will be much more integrated with the iPad itself, but for now we had to choose something that will work to create the context of a learning environment where students can receive feedback immediately and teachers can have immediate data on students proficiencies.

The whole environment of the iPad is evolving. Choices we made today may need to be modified in the future when better systems for managing the content on the iPad become available. We are at the dawn of iCloud and iOS5 which will give us much more transparent manageability of the devices and make it easier for us to maintain and update any apps we put on. Once we finish rolling out the first wave of iPads to the classrooms teachers, they will have some autonomy for selecting additonal apps that will go on iPads for their schools. This will allow some more customization beyond what we gave them and allow for any grade specific apps to be put onto the iPad.

List of current apps on Encinitas USD iPads

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Begin the Begin

My school district, Encinitas Union, is embarking on a journey of transformation. At least I hope it is. I have spent many years contemplating the day when students would have immediate and persistent access to digital technology in the classroom. I knew that with the right tools in every students hands they would have access to feedback, creative expression tools, direct communication and collaboration with their peers even beyond the walls of the classroom, and ultimately, differentiation that is true to each learner's potential. I also knew teachers would be more immediately aware of areas where students needed intervention and where they could let go of the learners that already had mastered skills to continue on their learning trajectory.

On Tuesday our first step happens. Four classes of Ocean Knoll elementary students will each be receiving an iPad that they will use as their primary learning tool. Ultimately by mid December we are going to be rolling out iPads to every student in 37 classrooms in our district. We have teachers that are hungry for modernizing their practices and have fully engaged themselves in how this tool will greatly help this in the classroom.

Many decisions and much research has been done to get us to this point. Of course we grappled with what the right tool would be. The iPad initially was perceived to have too many limitations to make it the best choice. I still know that there are limitations, but I also know the evolution of the device is rapidly occurring and that what could be a limitation now, in a few months may not be anymore. In the end the iPad offered the most personal learning experience and tool. The touch interface and simplified operating system would be a great advantage for even the most digitally unprepared teacher. Many of the students already have used iOS for iPod Touch, iPhone or an iPad. Tools like Garageband, iMovie and the iWork apps gives students the means to produce their own contents with professional design. In 2003 when I first started mapping out the complete digital classroom, I saw a tablet device as the best possible design for a one to one device. In 2011 we finally have the tool.

We will use this first year of implementation as professional development for both the teachers that will be running a class with the iPad and those that will be doing so next year. We ran an iPad Academy this summer that allowed us to monitor the usage and design instructional applications for students using the device. Many of our teachers participated in this and are much more aware of how they will be able to design their instruction in the learning with the power of the technology.

There's a lot of prep work that has had be done to get ready. When you're rolling out over 1000 iPads mindful app selection is critical. For every app that you think needs to be on the iPad you have to buy 1000+ licenses. So a cool $.99 app that works on a specific set of math skills is harder to justify when you need 1000, specially when there are six or seven other apps that would be good as well. We are initially focusing on apps that will allow for more productive and creative uses.

Beyond the apps, we also have to create a file management and sharing structure, select curriculum that will allow for automation of some of the learning and find tools that will allow the teacher to use the iPad as an instructional tool. We have have found some preliminary solutions in all these areas, but none are exactly what we need.

The decision whether to allow student to add their own software, including games, is another serious than iteration. During our iPad Academy, several of the students were continuously being redirected away from playing games. In the end is comes down to a classroom management problem. We found both positive and negative arguments about having games on the iPad, some from the students themselves. We will be offering the option of parents purchasing an iPad for their student to use in the program. This will allow students to add their own apps and be able to take back and forth from school whenever they wish. Students will district owned iPads will not be able to add their own apps.

I plan to use this blog in the upcoming months to share the story of our work so that others who follow may have an easier path.

We produced a video that we are sharing at the parent meetings we have at each school site to give a brief overview of the program and it's guidelines and policies.