Category Archives: Parents
In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.” For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process. It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.
Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force
With opportunity comes great responsibility. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF). The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.
In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community. We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.
In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:
- Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
- What do we want our preferred future to be?
The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.
Digital Learning Symposiums
In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations. Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions. During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff. We also had a different person moderate each symposium.
Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls. The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)
- What are some things we are doing well with technology?
- What are some things that we need to improve?
- What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
- What future ready skills do our students need?
One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area. There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.
Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary. While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.
As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well. It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.
As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium. We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component. So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.
Survey, survey, then survey again
One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys. Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future. Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.
The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback. We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.
As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice. As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey.
We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.
One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice. After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.
For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):
As students fill the hallways of our schools on their first day back, there is a major change afoot for those kids under the age of 13. Students in the pre-teen realm have always had less options when it came to personalization and use of certain websites/social media. While some of those rules still apply when it comes to the web, Apple’s new system of allowing districts to issue Apple IDs for those students under the age of 13 (with parental consent) means that the days of every elementary students having the same standardized iPad are in the past. Combining that with the new deployment system and (in our case) an MDM like Casper, and we are finally starting to see some of the real powerful potential of the 1:1 iPad platform. While I know there will be some glitches (there always are in technology), I’m looking forward to the improvements listed here this year for our K-6 students.
For the past 2 years, our elementary students have been living in the 1:1 world when it comes to devices, but haven’t really gotten the full-fledged personalized experience of their older counter-parts when it comes to apps. Because we couldn’t have individual Apple IDs on each iPad, we used Apple Configurator to provision “images” to sets of iPads at every grade level. This was a painfully arduous process that entailed having a Support Tech go classroom to classroom with a Macbook and provision the images to each iPad. With the amount of time and man-power it took to accomplish this, we basically had time for one app-refresh cycle every year. Besides the inefficiency of this model, we also had several times when iPads would get “hung up” during app refresh and have to be completely wiped, losing important student work that hadn’t been backed up. Now that every student will have an Apple ID, we can “push” apps out to students over the air (OTA). If a classroom wants an app, they contact our MDM campus manager who loads the app and pushes it out to the class overnight. If it’s a free app, the kids can even download it themselves!
Since we basically had two groups (K-2 and 3-5), that meant front-loading the images with pretty much every app we would think to use for the school year. The resulting images were somewhat heavy (taking up over 6GB of the 16GB space) and many were unnecessary depending on your grade. Here’s our example list of apps for elementary last year. You could have 3rd graders looking at 5th grade apps that they didn’t even need. While we’ve really focused on productive apps vs. consumptive ones, we at least knew that all kids would have the tools they needed to create a finished product. Now that we can now push apps over the air, that means starting with a much leaner set of core apps to start (nearly all “productive” apps) and adding those content or grade-level based consumptive apps as needed. One drawback of not having a set image on them is that iPads are essentially naked to begin the year until the students have their Apple IDs set up. Enter the always clever Janet Couvillion. She’s an Ed Tech at one of our elementary campuses and she created this tremendous Thinglink about all things you can do on an iPad with only basic apps:
We utilize eBackpack as our web-based and app-based content distribution system. However, we’ve also found some successes using iTunesU at the upper grades when it comes to quickly creating courses for students. Now that our students under the age of 13 have Apple IDs, we can have them enroll in a class course at the beginning of the year that a teacher can use to push out content as it becomes relevant. We can also provision specific iBooks or class sets of iBooks to students based on their Apple IDs, something not possible in the past.
Time to Focus
Another potential bonus of all of this is the new Casper Focus feature we had a kindergarten teacher test for us last year. With all iPads in this new system and each student with an Apple ID, a teacher can now “control” or “lock-down” all the iPads in his/her class into a specific app. While I’m not a big fan of the lock-down control model when it comes to teaching and learning, I do know there is a time and place when this might need to happen from time to time. With state and national testing moving to an online platform, we’ll need to have this ability going forward. This year we’ll be pilot testing the ACT Aspire test on iPads for students in grades 4-9 and we’ll also be piloting using a Desmos Calculator app during our 8th Grade Algebra State assessment. None of this would be possible without this new system in place without individually going to each iPad and enabling Guided Access.
In order to make this system work, we have to really rely on parent support. They have to go through the online consent and Apple ID creation process for us to be able to utilize all the advantages listed above. As a parent, the advantages to this program versus making your own Apple ID are many (here’s a Parent Guide from Apple). They’ll be able see what apps their students are purchasing. With their students being in the Under 13 program they’ll have less advertisements and data mining to worry about. As a parent of a new kindergarten student, I was excited to not only set up her Apple ID because we can now mirror the apps she’s getting at school and put them on our devices at home to help with her learning. I’ve always been a believer in the concept of a village raising the child and in our ever-increasing online world, the lines between home and school are no longer clearly defined. This process gives us as a district another opportunity to communicate about the education of their child, which can in the end only be a good thing.
To help introduce parents to this process I made this somewhat silly 3.5 minute video (below) along with some instructions for them on their end.
The future is bright and no longer just for those born before 2001!