Relax. It is You . . . And Them

By: Jason Ellingson
When Collins-Maxwell began a 1:1 iPad initiative for all students in grades 6-12 in the fall of 2012, one of the largest concerns among teachers, parents, and board members was the management of the device. Teachers were worried that students would be off-task in class, refusing to do the assigned work. Parents felt that students would bring the devices home and fill it full of games, songs, and inappropriate pictures. Board members felt that teachers would not know how to manage the new technology in classes AND that parents would be frustrated that tax payer dollars were spent on devices so kids could listen to Pandora while playing Angry Birds.
Yes, it all happened. Everything we feared would come true did to some degree. We had students that got off task in class and missed the assignments or the lecture or the project. We had students download music in the hallways between classes so they could listen to it in the next period. We had students at home not doing the work they didn’t due in class because they were playing games, or on Facebook, or tweeting, or listening. Yes, it all happened.
But not for every student. And not for every teacher.
We had our students who followed the rules to the letter. They never downloaded anything that was not teacher approved. They never got on the iPad in class unless there was a reason explained by the teacher. And they certainly did not use the iPad at home inappropriately. It was only used for schoolwork, and then charged for the next day.
And we had teachers that had no problems with students off task. Here is the success of the management of iPads. We had teachers treat the iPad like any other tool in the classroom. For the past few years, we have allowed cell phones in school for student use. Many students have used them to take photos of problems on the board, use calculator functions, or text answers to an online poll. The teachers who have used cell phones in this manner in the class were the same ones who had little problems with the iPads. They realized the iPads were tools to help students learn, so they worked to see the iPads as supports for learning. Now, those teachers did not feel the need to use the iPads every day, just to use them. They used the iPads only when it suited the learning. When the iPads were not in use, they were turned off and put under the desks or set aside in the classroom. Those teachers who saw the iPads as possible improvements to learning also knew when they would be impediments to learning, so they created clear rules for engagement in using the iPads.
Other teachers who were not as comfortable with iPads struggled to see how to use them in their classrooms. Therefore, they used them for artificial purposes thinking the administration was wanting the iPads to be used a lot in classes. The truth was the administration never gave a clear expectation for how often the iPad was to be used in a class. We wanted it to be a natural extension of support for learning. For some teachers, that was a good idea. For others, they felt like they were not using it enough and that would be a disappointment to the administration. When those teachers tried to integrate the iPad into a learning activity that did not suit it, problems occurred. Or if the teachers tried to ignore how to use the iPads in class, then the students had them out and engaged in off-task behaviors. Interestingly, by not addressing the iPad as a tool that may or may not support learning in specific instances, the teachers inadvertently allowed the iPad to become a bigger obstacle to learning in every instance.
From the various viewpoints of the teachers implementing iPads in their classrooms, the administration began to notice a unique paradigm: there were some that were truly trying the managethe iPad while others were trying to lead learning with the iPad. It became clear to the administration that those teachers who used the iPads to lead – or support – learning were more successful in using the iPads. Those that tried to manage the devices seemed to have more struggles with students. The administration also noticed that learning task began to change. Many teachers found that using iPads to do the same type of work before their introduction caused more problems an off-task behavior. When teachers changed the learning target or asked students for their input in how to use the iPads, there was greater student engagement, higher quality learning, and greater teacher satisfaction.
In all, we also worked to tighten our security of the iPads to limit downloads, added some consequences to how use the devices, and supported parents to better understand how to use the iPads at home. But our greatest discovery in managing iPads was learning to not manage them, and instead lead learning – where appropriate – with them. Now, teachers and students are making better decisions about how iPads support student learning. Our philosophy to technology – and not the iPads themselves – are helping are students be better prepared for the 21st century of learning, earning, and living!
Jason Ellingson is the Superintendent at Collins-Maxwell in Ames, Iowa.

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