Mobile Learning

10 Keys to a Successful Tablet Adoption

Tanya GarzaCedars International Academy in Austin, TX, is an open-enrollment, tuition-free public charter school serving pre-K through eighth grade. One of the school’s stated goals is to provide “technological proficiency and global awareness for all students.” Two years ago, the school invested in 178 tablets, and third-grade teacher Tanya Garza has used the devices in class on a daily basis ever since. Here, she offers ten tips to help make tablet adoptions run smoothly. 

1) Conduct a product review.
Having researched a number of tablets on the market, I now realize how important it was that we chose devices designed for the classroom. Thorough research into our requirements helped us identify the best possible tablet solution for our needs, which turned out to be the LearnPad.

2) Play around before you train.
We scheduled training from day one. Our supplier came in and spent the day with us, showing us how to use the technology, including set-ups, short cuts and giving us all the useful knowledge we needed to get started. However, because we hadn’t even opened the boxes of our new tablets, once we did get started we had so many more questions. In retrospect, I would advise schools to have teachers play around with the tablets for a few days to gain a level of familiarity before having a training course.

3) Use the available learning content.
Consider the platform of your chosen tablet and research the available learning content. It is vital to have a source of learning content that is of the highest quality. Having a resource library of learning content and lesson activities freely available to me makes lesson planning so much easier. I can easily assign activities to each child depending on their specific developmental needs.

4) Consider levels of freedom.
One invaluable feature of our tablets that I would highlight to any school is the ability to adjust the control levels of the tablets at any given time. While I want to teach my students digital citizenship and responsibility, I have to ensure they are not accessing inappropriate information. With our tablets, I can adjust the level of freedom given to each student depending on his or her maturity. Our eighth-graders need to be given a little more freedom and trust to search for information on a wider level than I would give our third-graders. Being able to adjust this from lesson to lesson on the same device means that the use of any one tablet is not restricted to one particular class.

5) Maintain control.
Despite the obvious benefit of each child having a tablet, the nature of mobile devices means that teachers can feel they are losing control of the learning process when they can’t see what each child is working on. When introducing tablets in a school, it is vital to have a system that gives teachers an intuitive way to supervise and control student devices, lessons and activities.

An appropriate management portal should enable the teacher to see a thumbnail sketch on her own computer, showing what each child is doing on his tablet. When I am sitting down with a small group of students, I can also keep an eye on what the other students are doing from my own tablet. If they are doing something particularly good, I can push their screen image up onto the classroom display or interactive whiteboard for a whole class discussion, or I can lock them down if necessary.

6) Don’t forget about your wireless infrastructure.
Setting up a policy for content access and use is an important consideration before rolling out your tablets. Bearing in mind the amount of available learning content and each school’s own digital resources, bandwidth requirement is a key factor in the rollout process. At Cedars International Academy, I actually create categories for each learning activity. I drag content, relevant information and videos into each “task” category. I download this to the tablet to give the students all the information they need for the job at hand. At the end of the task, to avoid taking up too much space on the tablet, I drag the category back to our space on the LearnPad website for future use.

7) Put the students in charge.
A lot of schools worry about the security of tablets when they are in the hands of students. We do a lot of project-based learning and the devices support this type of activity. Here’s one group task as an example: I will have three groups of five students each, with two tablets per group. Each group has assigned managers: a team leader, a communications manger, a child in charge of completing the feedback for the teacher’s critique and a resource manager who is in charge of the task’s resources, including the tablets. The resource manager will decide who is using the tablet at any one time so sharing is managed. We have found that the more engaged the children are in managing their activity, the more likely they are to have higher discussion levels. Compared to an activity where I just give them a worksheet to fill out, I see so much more creativity and a greater level of articulation when using the tablets.

8) Make sure your tablets are durable.
Rubber covers are available for most tablets, which I’d recommend. We have only had one tablet dropped, but it wasn’t affected at all. If schools manage the use of the technology as outlined in point seven, I don’t believe that damage should be a concern.

9) When it comes to implementation, slow and steady wins the race.
There are several ways of rolling out the devices across the school. Personally, I recommend doing it in stages; a slower step-by-step approach means that any initial problem won’t make you fall too hard! I would advise any school to roll the technology out class by class, so that any lessons learned from the first class can be shared with the teacher of the next, until the implementation is seamless. As mentioned in point two, teachers should take time to play with the technology first; take it home and get comfortable with it before embarking on the full training course.

10) Stick with it.
Finally, my advice to all teachers who have just started, or are about to start, using tablets in the classroom is to stick with it. You really have to understand that, for the first few months, it will take time to feel completely comfortable using the devices with your students. However, you will adjust your teaching style, and the benefits and time-savings that the technology will offer make it more than worthwhile.

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