‘iPads fail in schools’ - How to prevent this headline

03/30/2013  |  ART WILLER M.Ed.

iPad ©Apple, Inc.

Please read the whole title of this article.

I am not saying iPads have failed in schools.

I am saying iPads can fail and will fail unless we take specific steps to make sure they succeed.

If you don’t think iPads can fail, do an Internet search for “Computers fail in schools,” “Laptops fail in schools” or “Technology fails in schools.” In every case, the innovators swore they couldn’t fail so don’t be swayed by arguments that iPads are not like any previous technology.

Here are the steps we must take in order to give iPads a fighting chance to succeed.

Identify Who We Are Targeting to Change

This crucial step acknowledges that implementation is not about what we are implementing but about who we are asking to change.

We must identify the grade range, subject areas, school sets and population sets we are targeting for change. Each of these parameters will limit the target to a manageable population.

We cannot limit our target to teachers. We must include area administrators, principals, program directors, technology coordinators and IT services people.

We must also target parents and students because their support and enthusiasm is essential. Parents and children should be among the first to recognize and appreciate the changes we propose.

We must not leave out the school maintenance staff and the office staff. Everybody is affected by change and everybody participates in it.

Articulate How We Envision the New Learning Environment to Function When iPads Are Fully Implemented

Many heads will nod in agreement when we say; “We will be in tune with 21st century learning methods.” However, this statement reflects vague notions of what we actually have in mind.

Statements like, “We are going to raise test scores,” are equally unhelpful. Test scores should increase as the result of any educational improvement and so should many other measures of academic achievement. However, test scores are a product of the implementation, not the implementation itself.

By articulate, I mean to describe the envisioned state of the organization in measurable and verifiable terms. We must describe the state, not the products of it.

Elements of our articulation could include:

  • All available iPads are in student and teacher hands all day. None can be found in any closet during class hours.
  • Eight out of 10 major strands of the curriculum regularly employ iPads as an essential part of the learning process. The strands are...
  • In classes that focus on the eight strands of curriculum, students spend 80 percent of class time working on their own or in group sessions where iPads are frequently referenced for information.
  • Nine out of 10 teachers report that they teach differently now than they did before iPads were introduced. Every teacher can articulate at least one significant way in which they have changed their teaching process.
  • Eighty percent of teachers report they wish they had more iPads to use or they had more applications to use. These teachers can articulate how they would use the iPads or applications if they were made available.
  • Less than two incidents per 100 students per year occur where students are disciplined for inappropriate use of iPads. The rest are too busy completing their assignments and using iPads for constructive and appropriate functions.
  • Over 80 percent of parents enthusiastically approve the way in which their children use iPads in school. Opposition is below two percent.
  • Over 90 percent of students enthusiastically endorse the use of iPads and the way they are being used in their classes. This includes an endorsement of how and when iPads are not used.

No matter how we articulate our vision, we must be confident enough to articulate it and to measure the implementation success by the standards we set out. This will raise confidence among the people whom we are targeting for change and will stand as evidence when the changes are challenged.

Anticipate the Obstacles That Must be Overcome to Achieve Full Implementation

The obstacle-identification process presumes that when we anticipate obstacles, we also identify ways to overcome them.

Here are a few examples of obstacles that must be overcome when we introduce change in education or any other human organization:

Fear of the unknown. For many teachers, technology is still a black box. iPads are easy to use for many people but they are still technology and the majority of people still have yet to figure them out. Many teachers will be silently frightened to death even as they nod approval of our proposed changes.

Fear of change. When a teacher has worked for 10 years getting his routines down to perfection, the suggestion that those routines must change is never welcome. Our fear of change is one of the ways we prevent ourselves from being rudderless ships.

Fear of failure. Whenever we ask people to change, we are asking them to risk failure. The rewards of the risk must be much greater than the consequences of failure. Otherwise, the wiser choice is to stay put.

Confusion. Some people are natural innovators who need little direction or explanation about how any new technology will improve their teaching. However, the vast majority of people need the comfort of clear direction and clear expectations. Otherwise, they don’t budge.

Irrelevance. The relevance an iPad has for any individual is the extent to which that individual finds the iPad beneficial and useful to his or her personal interests. The teacher who does not see the iPad’s relevance to her own needs, will not promote the iPad to her students. Why would she?

Competing mandates. We cannot ask teachers to take the risk of using new teaching methods, while we hold an axe over their heads in case their students do poorly on the next county exam. The wiser teacher will teach to the test until that axe is removed or placed over our heads, not theirs.

Individual student preference. Students have always cautioned me that being kids does not mean they know technology or even like technology. Some really don’t. When students are assigned projects, iPads must be an optional choice. Given we think iPads are a better choice for project research, that will be proven as students witness each other’s work in team projects.

Technical fallibility. Nothing kills technology implementation faster than failing to operate. iPads operate on batteries. Failing to charge them or failing to replace batteries when they expire will be a major obstacle.

Obsolescence. When we have achieved change, the quality of technology use can suffer a slow death as operating systems age and apps no longer work.

Identify How We Will Overcome Anticipated Obstacles

When we thoughtfully anticipate obstacles, we increase our sensitivity to the people we are targeting for change. Having anticipated the obstacles, knowing how to overcome them is often apparent.

Recognizing that rewards have to be greater than the consequences of failure, we have to sincerely and honestly assure teachers that they are expected to fail from time to time as they experiment with the iPads. We must laud them for their attempts rather than scorn them for failures. We must also be prepared to accept responsibility for failures should people adopt our proposed changes and discover they don’t work.

Training is imperative. To address the irrelevance obstacle, we must allow teachers time to use iPads themselves before we ask them to use iPads in their classrooms. Initial training must focus on ways the iPad immediately helps teachers and others change targets in their professional and personal lives.

Although we might face criticism for allowing teachers to use iPads for anything they want, we must not limit the use to professional use. Teachers need the whole iPad experience so they understand its full potential. It is only when teachers become personally convinced of the iPad’s usefulness that they will embrace it for professional purposes.

Involve other members of the target community. Let’s put some iPads in the hands of maintenance people, office staff, principals, parents and students. Involve people who already use iPads. Provide opportunities for these people to share their experiences in forums free of any prejudice for or against the introduction of iPads in the classroom. We must encourage free expression including among people who are less enthusiastic than we are.

We must not over estimate how familiar teachers and other people are with mobile technology. Some teachers are already quite familiar with iPads and other mobile devices but the majority is not. In order for implementation to succeed, we must provide for people who are not into the mobile era and we must never assume they are. The assumption itself can alienate the people we are targeting for change.

Identify Phases of Implementation and a Time Line for Success

Like in any other sector of human endeavor, significant change in education requires at least three years to complete. The implementation starts now, but the process of change takes at least three years and usually five years to complete.

Organizational change is not a linear process but an organic process where some events lead to others, experiments yield new ideas and debunk others, and some early stage changes are abandoned for other longer term changes.

Despite its organic nature, an implementation time line is necessary to describe when certain strategies will be put into play, with whom and with what.

The time line also marks the checkpoints at which we will measure how well we are achieving the vision. By the time any checkpoint arrives, the vision itself may have changed but we must still measure in order to determine the success of our strategy to that point in time. Most importantly, we must determine how our strategy should change.

Synchronize Resources and Resource Deployment

It takes people to change people.

Our time line must mark events at which certain functions will be performed such as technology preparation and installation, training for technicians, training for teachers, meetings with pilot groups, meetings with parents, project communication, assessment and follow-up.

In connection with each event, we must identify how many people are needed and what skills they will require to carry out their assignments. We must identify what facilities and other resources we require.

Establish a Budget to Match the Plan

We need a budget whether or not we need new staff to carry out the plan.

Whether a task is performed by an existing staff member or a new staff member, money is being spent. Put differently, when a staff member performs one task, he is not doing another task so money is being reallocated.

Unless we provide a budget for implementation and acquire its approval, it is very unlikely we will succeed with the implementation of iPads. The budget making process quantifies the real cost of the changes we are proposing and keeps us firmly grounded in the true commitment required to achieve educational change.

Let’s consider a small part of the cost, which is unpacking the iPads when we receive them.

Suppose the district has agreed to buy 5,000 iPads. We must then prepare to unpack, configure, identify for security purposes, record and prepare every single iPad for use in the school. If we don’t know, let’s perform a time study by performing the process on an initial order of 100 units. Suppose our study shows it takes 30 minutes per unit on average.

Now multiply by 5,000. The product is 78 weeks or 1.5 person years. At a salary of $40,000 per year not considering overhead and employment costs, that translates to $60,000.

In addition to the cost of unpacking the iPads, we must allow for the costs of:

  • Implementation oversight.
  • Personnel required to draw up course plans for training and to provide the training.
  • Substitute personnel so teachers and other change targets can attend training sessions during work hours.
  • Training facilities.
  • Delivering the iPads to destination schools.
  • Altering school facilities so iPads can be stored at night, re-charged, and rapidly deployed to students and teachers each day.
  • Maintenance personnel to repair or replace broken and defective iPads and parts.
  • Personnel to prepare assessment tools, design field studies, observe iPads in use, analyze data and write reports.

Too often some boards approve the purchase of technology equipment without asking how the new equipment will be implemented or how much the implementation will cost. The unsettling reality is that the cost of technology is always going down while the cost of educational change is always going up. To be reasonably prepared, we should budget for far more expense to implement the technology than it costs to buy it, about three times.

If a school board has just approved $5 million to purchase iPads, it has also assumed an obligation to spend up to $15 million to implement them. Otherwise, the original $5 million is at risk of being poorly spent. The board would be better off to trim the hardware expenditure to $1.25 million and reserve the balance of expenditure for implementation.

I truly believe that iPads and other personally responsive technologies can be major tools for change in education. Technology has always had that potential.

All too often, budget proposals focus on buying the hardware without providing for its implementation.

This focus can be changed by diverting the focus away from technology purchases to changing education. The hardware is only a fraction of the cost involved. More importantly, the implementation process will determine whether any of the money is wisely spent.

Inevitably, we will see headlines like “iPads Fail in Schools” but the articles won’t be about us when we take the necessary steps to ensure successful adoption and change.

Art Willer has a Master of Education degree in curriculum development and implementation from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (U of Toronto). He is the founding president of Bytes of Learning Incorporated. www.bytesoflearning.com
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