What started out as a twinkle in the eye of a few administrators during a January visit to Cupertino has become an all-out war as we head into a new semester of school. Many of people have asked how have we progressed with the planned roll-out of over 1500 iPads to Juniors & Seniors at Westlake High School.
One word comes to mind: Synergy
We have had a large group of administrators, teachers, students and parents all championing the cause of bringing access into the hands of our students. Each person has played their part in getting this up and running, and while I sometimes feel like Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove, it’s been a magical journey to be a part of. What follows are key events that led up to what will eventually be the largest roll-out of technology in our district’s history. (but not most expensive!)
The AHA Moment: No, not that great 80’s band, but the moment when 5 administrators, including myself, visited Cupertino in January for an executive briefing. I can’t tell you what I learned and saw due to some strict Apple security policies, but we all experienced some level of awakening. With an air of dire circumstances surrounding our district and the state, we knew we couldn’t stick with the static quo. We have to innovate or risk losing our foothold as a mainstay and public institution. That moment of realization struck midway through our first day there when, during an iPad presentation, Westlake’s principal Linda Rawlings turned to the group and said, “We need one of those for every high school student.”
The Research & Development Phase: Like Apple and any other successful
company, a large amount of time and money is invested in R & D. School districts have neither the time nor the money to do this, however, we are armed with new forms of social media that can do our research for us. I tapped into twitter and my TEC-SIG community pretty heavily to see what had worked and what hadn’t worked for 1-to-1 initiatives. Since the iPads were still relatively new on the market, there wasn’t a lot out there in terms of educational deployments so we had to develop our back-end systems to handle a large scale roll-out. Key teacher leaders also needed a few of these in their hands to really validate that the iPad was the most useful solution. I skyped with tech coordinators and superintendents from Brazil to British Columbia, seeking advice about how to make any type of roll-out successful. In the end, I was able to gather these key points to what would make a 1-to-1 solution of any kind work:
1. Staff buy-in – From the Superintendent to the guy putting in the network cables, everyone has to believe this is the right direction. Sure there can be doubts and fear along the way, but that’s why it’s important to have a group belief that will get use through those times of second-guessing. It’s also important to get the technology in the hands of teachers as soon as possible. They drive the bus, so the sooner it’s in their hands the better.
2. Don’t make it about the technology – True the iPad is a wonderfully cool and interactive tool, but it represents a level of access to content and content creation that expands student learning. That’s where the power lies.
3. Talk to kids – This is where I found most of my surprises. The students crave to have a level of “real world” learning in their lives, but at the same time, they feel significant pressure to pass state and national assessments. Strange that the two aren’t related I thought….
4. Get legal – Without a progressive, adaptable legal consultant, many projects can die
in a bureaucratic abyss. We are blessed to have someone in district that thinks about what’s important for kids first and foremost.
5. Infrastructure back-up – A willing tech department that can also see the potential benefit to students and not their own bottom line is important. Too often I hear stories across the country of how “my tech department said we can’t do that.” While I’ve had my share of challenges here, it helped that the Director of that department shared in the “AHA” moment with the rest of us. Without his support and his department’s endless hours of work, any project of this magnitude will never get off the ground.
In terms of staff roll-out, we went about deployment in three phases:
Phase 1: Instructional Coaches, Admin, & Department Heads – These key personnel needed it in their hands early to really research and find the potential benefits and pitfalls. We were able to procure enough funds to get these in their hands well before we even considered this as a possibility for this year.
Phase 2: Teachers – After a successful Bond election and positive early feedback from our Phase 1 group, we approached the School Board in late May to propose we attempt to move fast on this and get it started with the first week of school. When speaking with other successful 1:1 districts, they reinforced how important it was to start the year out with the technology and not do a partial phase-in throughout the year. That meant ordering them at the end of May and then getting them into the hands of teachers as soon as possible. We started with those teachers in the WIFI pilot group on July 14th and never looked back. While we gave them some basic orientation to the iPad, our goal was to give them as much time as possible to discover and learn with them before the start of the school year.
Phase 3: Students – We targeted the 3rd day of school, Aug. 24th, as launch day. This would give us time to hold at least one parent feedback night and get the appropriate loan agreement and insurance forms into the hands of kids on the first day of school. We knew that coordinating an effort of this magnitude would take a lot of planning and ultimately…..synergy…..to make it be successful. With all the parts in place, we prepared for August 24th – iPad Delivery Day or iD-Day – with baited breath and hope for a smooth launch.
(To Be Continued – WIFI iPad Pilot – Part 2 – The Launch)