Mobile Computing | Feature

Lessons from an iPad Rollout

Florida's "first iPad high school" has deployed 300 iPads to its high school teachers and students. Thanks to preparations on the infrastructure, training, and security fronts, the fall rollout has proved relatively snag-free.

In March and June, THE Journal reported on The Master's Academy and the challenges it was tackling on the way to becoming Florida's first iPad school. The private, interdenominational Christian institution in Oviedo has since handed out 300 of the devices to students in ninth through 12th grade. According to Mitchell Salerno, assistant superintendent, the transition to a more digital educational environment has gone surprisingly well so far.

Preparations: Training, Bandwidth, Security
"We distributed them about a week before school," said Salerno, "and the teachers and students are doing very well with the devices so far." Credit the fact that The Master's Academy approached the project in digestible chunks (see part 1 and part 2 of this story) that included 12 different orientation sessions for small groups of parents and students. At those meetings, attendees signed "iPad agreements" covering the appropriate usage and treatment of the devices and the related insurance forms for those who opted for the device coverage.

Campus WiFi coverage was one area that Salerno was holding his breath over when the devices were fired up Aug. 15. After considering whether to use its Internet provider's bandwidth and wireless network or beef up its existing system, the school opted for the latter. Over the summer, Salerno said, his team upgraded its wireless network by adding and replacing access points in the school's buildings and tripling its Internet bandwidth.

The approach has worked well so far. "We've had zero connectivity issues and no problems with speed," Salerno said. "In fact, everything has been pretty free-flowing and excellent on the WiFi side."

Device security was another point of concern prior to rollout, especially because students would be taking their iPads home every night. Salerno said the school selected a third-party mobile device management solution to address that issue. Using the software, Salerno and his team can track, control, and even make changes to the devices. He said students have been told about the monitoring system but haven't really grasped just how much control the school has over their personal devices.

Take the app store, for example, which is currently blocked on all student devices. "They have a self-contained set of apps," Salerno said, "but they can't go out and get apps themselves on their individual devices."

Access to Web sites also comes into play, according to Salerno, who is investigating third-party browser filters that will enable Internet filtering when students are using their iPads off campus (the school has a filter that kicks in when pupils are on campus).

"We haven't made any decisions on the off-campus filters yet," said Salerno. "For now, it's something that our individual families are [handling]."

Classroom Adoption
In the classroom, Salerno said, teachers have welcomed the iPads with open arms and are using them regularly for instruction, research, and enrichment. He said the long preparation period--which started during the previous school year--had a significant impact on the high adoption rates for the devices. "We gave them their iPads in November, so they had a long time to get ready for this rollout," said Salerno.

In fact, Salerno remarked, he's yet to see a classroom period that doesn't incorporate the devices.

"The teachers are constantly finding new ways to use the iPads, and integrate them into their lesson plans and instruction," said Salerno, who meets weekly with faculty for 30 minutes, just to discuss those advancements and to brainstorm new ideas for using the devices in class. "This rollout had completely changed the culture of our high school."

Next on Salerno's agenda will be the migration to Moodle 2.0 (from 1.9), an open source learning management system that the school uses as its central portal through which teachers manage courses, participate in discussion boards, and handle myriad other tasks. Also on Salerno's mind right now is the big question, "Where do we go from here?"

One area where he'll focus his efforts involves the Apple app store, which he'd like to make accessible--either in full or in part--to students. "Right they have access to two note-taking apps on their iPads, and I'd love for them to be able to use whatever application they want for this function," said Salerno. "To make that happen, we'll have to look carefully at how to open up the app store in a way that's safe and secure for students. We'll be going in that direction over the next few months."

Editor's note: This article has been modified since its original publication to correct two factual errors. The school has distributed 300 iPads, not 1,000, as previously reported. And Matt Salerno, previously the school's principal, has been promoted to assistant superintendent, not principal. [Last updated Sept. 22, 2011 at 8:48 a.m.]--David Nagel

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].