The Hard(ware) Choice | November 2012 Digital Edition

iPads: Bluestem USD 205

Randy Rivers
Bluestem USD 205, Leon, KS
Year Deployment Began:  2012
About the Program:  600 iPads deployed to students and staff.  Students in grades 7 through 12 have 24-hour access to their devices, while K through 6 students each have individual iPads stored in their classrooms.

Editor's note: This special Web supplement features the unabridged responses from districts regarding their 1-to-1 computing programs. Edited responses originally appeared in the November 2012 digital edition of T.H.E. Journal. Use the navigation bar at right to browse additional responses.

THE: What were your district's three key considerations when researching devices to support your 1-to-1 initiative? (i.e., cost, server-based, existing infrastructure, vendor support, etc.)  Why?

Rivers: Our key consideration was cost.  The price point of hardware capable of providing students with a highly-functional toolset has finally reached a tipping point.  We did not give much consideration to any platform besides Apple.  Apple has a long-standing reputation of supporting technology integration in schools and the quality of their products is always first-rate.  We wanted dependable hardware with a stable, user-friendly OS.

THE:  There is significant research that a district must do before they can make an educated decision on which device is best for its 1-to-1 initiative.  Please describe which resources were most helpful to your district while researching devices.  

Rivers: Our research was based upon years of experience using electronic devices.  Our most valuable resource was the device itself.  We put iPads in the hands of our teachers a full year before a decision to implement 1-to-1 was made.  It was the comfort level the teachers displayed using them and imagining the classroom possibilities the iPad presented that convinced us that we were ready to go 1-to-1.

THE:  Why did the iPad stand out as the device that would best meet your district's key considerations?  What other devices made your short list, and what features or functionality did the iPad provide that those other devices didn't?

Rivers: Apple has a long-standing reputation of excellence in the education community.  We had some experience with the Android platform, but found it far less intuitive and the hardware less reliable than Apple’s.  The quality and intuitive nature of iOS along with the quality control Apple puts into the iTunes Store were very important to us, as well.

THE:  What role did your IT and curriculum departments play in the decision-making process?  

Rivers: We are a small school district with only 540 students.  We don’t have the luxury of IT and curriculum departments.  The people making the decisions were the same ones who are on the front lines with the kids everyday, the principals and teachers.

THE: Describe the deployment process.  Were there any infrastructure upgrades that needed to be made? How was professional development handled, and how did you ensure teacher buy-in?  Were parents involved in any training?  

Rivers: We used Apple’s Professional Services and their Project Management to assist us through deployment.  In a small district, our tech support resources are limited.  We purchased the CASPER Suite to assist us with mobile device management.  We also installed a new managed wireless network infrastructure and increased our Internet bandwidth.  We planned a “back to school” rollout event with students and parents.  Our teachers had an iPad for six to twelve months before the decision was made to implement a 1-to-1.  This gave the teachers the time to become comfortable with the technology and to imagine and practice using the technology before being faced with using it in the classroom.  Over the course of this first year of our project, we will provide our staff with ten days of Apple Professional Development on using iOS in the classroom. 

THE:  Since the deployment of the iPads, have there been any considerations that weren't weighted heavily during the research process but have come to have a significant impact on the success of the initiative since the deployment?  

Rivers: The biggest consideration that we fell short on was Internet bandwidth.  In our small district, a 20 mbps circuit has proved to be inadequate.  Our network has not crashed, but we are using 95 percent or more of the bandwidth on a regular basis and our up and download speeds are running slightly slower than many home DSL connections.  We are in the process of upgrading our Internet circuit to 50 mbps.  We purchased a very durable cover (Gumdrop Drop-Tec) for our iPads.  We also purchased AppleCare Plus and a 10 percent overstock of devices.  We’ve had some breakage and loss, but it has been manageable with these preparations. 

THE:  Can you provide some additional details on your 1-to-1 initiative?  For example, how many devices have been deployed?  Which grades are involved in the initiative?  Do the devices go home with the students?  

Rivers: We have deployed about 600 iPads to students and staff.  Our 7th through 12th grade students were deployed with a personal ownership model and these students may carry the iPads from home to school during the school year.  Our K through 6 students all have and individual iPad stored in a cart in their classroom and managed on the institutional ownership model.  We are developing plans to allow for overnight parent checkout of elementary iPads.  This year, 2012-13, is our first year for 1-to-1.  Research began as soon as the first generation iPad was introduced. 

About the Author

Jennifer Demski is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY.