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5 Things Not To Do During an iPad Rollout

K-12 teachers and administrators pinpoint five different areas that schools should be aware of when rolling out iPad initiatives.

There's no shortage of iPad rollouts in the K-12 space right now. Used across all grade levels and subject areas the devices are adored for their portability, battery life, connectivity, and ability to quickly put mobile technology into students' hands. These implementations typically generate positive reviews from educational users, but iPads also present challenges for the districts that dole them out, for the teachers that incorporate them into the classroom, and for the students who use them.

Here are five things that you shouldn't do during an iPad rollout.

1. Go into it without first organizing classroom materials. Before handing out iPads for the first time to her second grade students, Eileen Haggard spent time organizing the devices and their respective resources. A teacher at Stonewall Elementary in Lexington, KY, Haggard said she created a desktop (on her own classroom computer) where each of the 15 iPads are numbered and grouped according to subject (reading and math). This strategy allows Haggard to keep track of the iPads and easily determine what type of content is on each device. She can download only the most relevant apps to the appropriate iPads rather than using a "shotgun" approach to populating the devices with content.

Haggard said she uses a similar organizational approach with daily assignments, knowing that her young students will be most productive when given specific tasks to complete on their tablets. "By taking the time to get all of this set up early," said Haggard, "I've been able to really make the most of the devices."

2. Expect students to ignore Angry Birds. If there's one thing that Bill Wiecking has learned from Hawaii Preparatory Academy's iPad implementation it's that students will invariably gravitate to computer games like Angry Birds when left to figure out the devices on their own. The private school in Kamuela, HI, uses the tablets in its "energy lab," where students collaborate and develop sustainable living solutions.

Wiecking, HPA's energy lab director, said getting students away from games like Angry Birds and engaged in educational projects on their iPads isn't always easy. Getting there requires a teacher who is committed to using the devices as interactive educational tools for collaboration, research, and communication.

"It's about students being engaged and on task," said Wiecking. "Simply purchasing the tools and handing them out is a lazy approach that doesn't work."

3. Assume that sharing information and files is easy. Mineola Union Free School District in Long Island launched its iPad initiative by handing out 80 devices in 2010 and another 200 tablets in 2011. More are on the way, according to Michael Nagler, who said the fact that the iPad doesn't include an easy way to file and share information has plagued the district's IT team ever since the first device was distributed.

"This is not a network-friendly device," said Nagler. "Our students use folders to store and manage all of their work on PCs, but the iPad doesn't include that functionality, and there's no good workaround for the problem."

Nagler said the problem has grown as more devices were distributed and as more teachers recognized the limitation. The district has yet to solve the problem, but Nagler said creating e-mail accounts that allow students to exchange assignments and information with their teachers has helped. "Right now we're using an intranet," said Nagler, "but as our iPad program expands we'll be looking for a better solution."

4. Forgetting to budget for apps. Tight budgets and poor planning can pose a challenge for districts and schools that don't allocate funding for iPad applications.

"Not only do you have an initial outlay for the devices, but you also have to pay for the apps," Nagler said. To control that spending and also maintain inventory "app" control on the devices Mineola Union Free SD signed up for Apple's app store volume purchase program (VPP). The program allows educational institutions to purchase iOS apps in volume and distribute the apps to their users.

"We were able to set up our own iTunes store where students can use vouchers (which the district gives them) to purchase apps for their devices," said Nagler. This method allows the district to control the app budget while monitoring which free and paid apps the students can and cannot download.

5. Ignore the fact that the device can be a distraction. The iPad has a "cool" factor that can make getting down to business difficult for even the most dedicated student. Younger students in particular have a hard time ignoring all of the neat features that this tablet possesses. To get her second graders on task Haggard said she takes the time to introduce new apps and their functionalities before allowing them to work independently on the devices.

"I know it sounds controlling, but it's just too easy to get sidetracked when using iPads," said Haggard.

Haggard said grouping apps according to the way they are used in the classroom also helps alleviate some of the distraction. Productivity apps – such as those used for reading, writing, drawing, and note taking--that students use daily are placed front-and-center on each iPad's home screen. Haggard said the system works well and helps her students channel their attention on what's most important.

"If you want students to use their iPads in a constructive manner," said Haggard, "there really has to be structure and oversight on the teacher's part."

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