Wednesday, August 8, 2012

From the iPad of Ron Dodson...

As the first wave of teacher iPads have begun to be distributed throughout the district, several questions and concerns have arisen.  We don’t have answers for everything yet, but I am sending this out to at least make everyone aware of where we are on many of these points:

·         Purchasing books and apps-  One of the biggest challenges we have faced in this total project has been the management of content.  The great thing about an iPad is that everything is controlled by an individual iTunes account.  The worst thing about an iPad is that everything is controlled by an individual iTunes account.  In all seriousness, this really is a blessing and curse.  The process for purchasing and assigning specific applications and/or books is incredibly complicated when you try to do it for a group instead of an individual, and the need to provide appropriate documentation to meet audit standards and avoid paying taxes creates additional hurdles.  The solution that we plan to use for the student iPads is still being worked on, but we believe that solution will be a little too Orwellian for adults because it will also include policy management.   We won’t be able to focus real attention on teacher resources until we get the student solution working.  So, for right now, we don’t have an answer for teachers.  There are lots of free applications for almost anything you want to do, and many folks have just bought things on their own existing iTunes account.  If you want to use school funds to purchase books or apps, here are some thoughts on where we might be heading:
o   Many schools already have an approved purchase order system for handling iTune purchases, but this process was developed last year for some small pilot uses and for a limited number of special education students.  That purchase order process is probably too cumbersome to scale up to a large number of teachers, but we will let principals decide whether their school will try to scale up that process.  It will probably be okay in some schools but not others because of size, so if your school decides to wait on this, please be patient.  The process as originally designed was not intended to address this large a number of teacher devices.
o   Schools have the option this year of switching to a “purchase card”, sort of like a debit card, for teacher instructional supply funds.  Some schools are moving forward with this innovation, but others are waiting to see how it goes.  If your school is going to use purchase cards, you can create a separate iTunes account tied specifically to that purchase card.  An iPad can work with multiple iTunes accounts, so you don’t have to give up your individual iTunes account, and you can continue to purchase music or content for your own enjoyment with your individual account.  Some of the details of this process are still unknown, but we think it will be easier for schools that choose this option.
o   If both of the above options don’t work out, then we will reconsider using the student management solution on teacher devices.  We would rather not go there for a lot of reasons, mainly wanting to give adults as much freedom as we can, but we will if that is the only way to make the purchasing process work effectively and efficiently.
o   CAUTION:  I have heard the tech coaches say this several times, and it is true.  Beware of ‘must have’ lists of applications!  There is an app for almost everything, and in all likelihood there are probably several dozen different apps which all basically do the same thing.  My favorite will almost never be your favorite.  Take the time to explore your options based on your own preferences.   Put the ‘I’ in your iPad. 

·         iPad covers-  The district is not providing covers based on advice that we received directly from Apple.  Apple’s experience with similar initiatives around the country has been that both students and teachers tend to discard ‘standard issue’ covers in favor of their own individual choices.  It is part of the individualistic theme of the whole i-verse thing.  You can purchase covers using your instructional supply money.  My advice is to get something with well-padded corners (most glass breakage starts in the corner).  I would not recommend spending more for an external keyboard until you’ve had some time to try the built in virtual keypad.  Most folks will find transitioning to the virtual keypad easy, especially if you already use text on your cell phone, and it will make your cover lighter if you don’t have a physical keyboard included.  $40 to $50 will buy a very good iPad cover. 

·         iPad 2 versus iPad 3-  We intentionally purchased iPad 2 devices instead of the iPad 3 (which Apple just calls “the iPad”).  The reason for this is that we were able to get the second generation device at a 20% discount with full warranty coverage for two years.  When we reviewed the functional differences between the two versions, the differences simply could not justify the increased cost.  When we made this decision back in the spring, there were also some concerns being expressed at the time about excessive heat in the iPad 3.  Regardless, we believe the iPad 2 is the right device for us at this time. 

·         Damage or loss-  Again, this is an area where we are trying to apply a more liberal approach to the adults than we are with the students.  High school students and parents will be given the opportunity to purchase an insurance plan to cover damage or loss not covered by the warranty, but otherwise they will be financially responsible for such loss.  For teachers in the first year of this initiative, we are going to wait and see the types and quantity of problems we actually experience.  We know there will be some loss, but we expect that adults will be more careful and that the devices will be treated with the same care and attention given to any other instructional resources.  Most damage and problems will be covered under warranty.  If there is a total loss not covered under the warranty, then it will take several weeks to get a replacement.  If an iPad is stolen, you should report the theft to the police and provide a copy of the report to your principal. 

·         Personal e-mail-  It is okay to use personal e-mail on your iPad.  You may also use your individually owned iTunes account to purchase books or applications for your own use and enjoyment.  These purchases and data related to your personal e-mail are all stored in your iTunes account, and you control that content on your own.  The iPad is most effective when it makes your life easier, and that includes both your personal and your professional worlds. 

·         Displaying the iPad on a projector-  For those who use SMART or Mobi wireless slates, the ability to control on-screen content as you move around the classroom is very important.  There are a multitude of ways to do this wirelessly, but we are still working through various technical challenges associated with each option.  We hope that we will be able to install a product called Airserver on all teacher desktop computers which will make this very easy and have the least impact on wireless bandwith, but it will take some time to work through the process of making this product work effectively with our wireless network.  In the meantime, if you use products like Splashtop or similar desktop remote apps, you may find that your network speed will slow down considerably, especially if multiple teachers in the same area of your building are doing the same thing and lots of students are connected to the internet through their Nook or iPad.  Dongles (a cable adapter which fits in the bottom port of your iPad) have been purchased, and you can connect the dongle adapter to a VGA cord to display your screen without any demands on the wireless network that way.  In the meantime, technology staff will continue to work on getting Airserver working across the district. 

·         Printing-  It is important to realize that one of the reasons the iPad was created was to reduce our use of paper.  So, most applications are designed with the expectation that a printer will not be available, wired or wireless.  It is our hope that we might actually save some money on printing and copying costs in the long run as this initiative expands.  However, there will be times when you need to print something.  This is another area where there are currently many possible solutions, but none of them are very good.  Tech coaches will help teachers with various options that might be different in various buildings based on available resources, but please understand that this is a real challenge.  The easiest thing to do in most cases is to e-mail the document to yourself and print the document from your desktop computer.

Whew….  I hope this helps clear up some questions.  We are building this ship as we sail, so we are expecting some bumps and leaks.  Even so, I am very excited about this year and for the future of Hoover City Schools! 

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