Mobile Computing | Feature

Prepping for iPads in School

A private school in Florida has begun tackling the challenges associated with its impending iPad rollout, one of the first in the state that will place the mobile devices in the hands of every high school student.

What Mitchell Salerno knows is that The Master's Academy in Oviedo, FL will be handing out Apple iPads to all of its high school students when the next school year rolls around in August. What this school principal doesn't know is how issues like expanded Internet accessibility, equipment security and financing, and "safe" Web browsing will be handled at the interdenominational Christian school.

"We're working through all of these issues now, in anticipation of the rollout this fall," said Salerno, who will assume the role of assistant superintendent later this year.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series that will attempt to follow The Master's Academy's iPad implementation from conceptualization to post-implementation analysis. In this initial installment, we look at some of the early concerns, hopes, and plans for the mobile devices--which will be placed in the hands of every student beginning in the fall--from the perspective of Mitchell Salerno, currently the school's principal.

With about 900 students in grades K4 (kindergarten preparation) through 12, the school will become the first in Florida to distribute the devices to all students in grades 9 through 12. The deployment is part of the school's larger "iConnecTMA" initiative, the stated goal of which is to provide a "world class, 21st century Christian education."

Security, Infrastructure, and Acceptable Use
Before that can happen, the school has to work through a few hurdles.

The administrative staff's to-do list includes a review of security and content management software packages; a "beefing up" of the campus' WiFi system; and--perhaps most importantly for the Christian school with its heavily evangelical leanings--a way to instill the school's values in students who are using the devices to surf the Web.

"We have to teach students how to use these tools," said Salerno. "Our content on campus will obviously be filtered, but they also need to know that they shouldn't be accessing [inappropriate] content just because they can."

It's a lofty goal, Salerno admitted, and one that faculty and staff will tackle through "dialog, conversation and education."

Physical security for the small, thin devices is another concern that The Master's Academy administrators are thinking about, knowing that iPads are hot properties that can be easily stolen or lost. In terms of funding the initiative, Salerno said the school is taking care of that aspect of the project. "It is something that we have not really discussed," said Salerno, "but our students are not paying for it." Students will not keep the iPads; the school will own them. But the current plan calls for parent to pay for insurance for the devices, if desired.

Instruction and Teacher Prep
Bandwidth challenges are another concern for the school, which utilizes a WiFi system that may or may not be able to handle the influx of new devices come August.

"We worry about not having enough bandwidth, and we're sorting through this issue right now," said Salerno. "The idea that one day we're all going to try to get on the Internet only to find it slammed shut is a definite, practical concern that we have to be prepared for."

In terms of instruction, Salerno said his team is also looking at how iPads are going to change the school and the way that students learn.

To help shape that vision, he said, the institution developed a list of six broad principles for the implementation:

  • Adaptability: preparing students to meet current and future challenges by giving them a foundation in technology skills;
  • Creativity: encouraging students to tackle problems in new ways;
  • Collaboration: teaching kids to use technology to "engage, interact, and minister to a world that is increasingly close";
  • Innovation: Encouraging students " to engage problems, technological or otherwise, challenging students to find innovative solutions";
  • Productivity: teaching students strategies to increase their efficiency through technology; and
  • Ethics: using technology to explore and advance the school's religious values.

The goal, he said, is to zero in on each of those areas when using the devices to teach students how to adapt to technology, use it for "real" purposes (such as productivity), rely on it for communication and collaboration, and develop solutions that may have eluded students in the past. "We see the iPad as a kind of avenue for teaching skills that are largely absent in non-21st Century high school curriculums," said Salerno.

To help stoke collaboration, Salerno said, teachers are coming up with lesson plans that will involve iPad-equipped students at schools in California and Delaware. "By the end of the next school year," said Salerno, "we'd like to have every one of our students complete a collaborative project with a student who is located in a different state."

The Master's Academy, which currently relies on a few hardwired computer labs, mobile Mac carts, and a media center/library that's equipped with laptops for student use, selected the iPad based on its long battery life, price, Web browsing capabilities, and "instant on," said Salerno. "It's not a computer and not a handheld device, and it fits a middle niche for what we needed in the classroom."

To prepare teachers for the rollout, each was given an iPad in November, said Salerno. They have been using the devices to build courses, explore the iPad's capabilities and prepare for the fall.

Salerno said he envisions a learning environment that relies not on device applications, but rather on Moodle, the open-source learning management system that the school has been using for the last two years. "Our goal is to build a curriculum for the iPad within Moodle," Salerno explained. "We don't want to be app-based."

As Salerno and the school's staff work through the challenges associated with the impending iPad rollout, he said trying to predict exactly how the school is going to change remains the biggest hurdle. "I have a picture in my brain of how things will look," Salerno remarked, "but until it actually happens, it's difficult to envision completely what this is going to do to our [educational] community."