iPads, Games and BYOD

After a successful iPad trial at school last year, the teachers all agreed it was working really well.  So this year we asked our year 5 and 6 students to bring an iPad to school and I’ve been working with the teachers and students in those classes to help ensure we get the most from this arrangement. I think it’s been working really well; the kids have been incredibly responsible and have been producing some really interesting work with them.

I had an email from a Year 5 parent a few weeks ago asking some questions about the iPad program, in particular about required apps, the rules and expectations for their use, the use of games (including one called Goldrush that she was concerned about), impacts on socialisation, responsibilities for backing up data, etc. In particular, this parent had a few concerns about using the iPad for playing games versus using it a a learning tool. I wrote a fairly long and detailed email in reply, and I’m republishing it here (anonymised of course) because I thought the general gist of my reply might be of some value to others. Your thoughts are welcomed in the comments.

The guts of the email went like this…

One of the key aspects of the students using iPads as BYO devices is that it provides (by design) an environment and opportunities for them to become managers of their own technological world. It also means that parents have a significant say in what they want to allow or not allow on their child’s iPads. Most of what we covered at the parent information night back in Term 1, prior to the students being allowed to bring in their iPads, was focused on reinforcing this idea that in a BYOD environment the final say on what is appropriate is up to individual parents. As I tell the kids all the time, “I don’t live in your house, so I don’t make the rules for what you do there. Your parents do”.

We initially asked the students to have only a fairly small set of designated core productivity apps installed on their iPads – a web browser, word processor, presentation tool, PDF/eBook reader, video and audio editing tools, etc. We have intentionally not made long lists of “required apps” because the nature of operating a BYOD program is such that students should be allowed to choose the tools (in the form of apps) that work best for them. For example, in a recent task, students had an option to produce a set of presentation slides (what in a non-iPad world you’d just refer to as a “PowerPoint”) The task was structured in such a way that students could respond to this task using a variety of presentation-style apps, including Keynote, MoveNote, PopBoardz, Haiku Deck, SlideIdea, Flowboard, and others. Part of the learning we want to occur is that students are given opportunities to make good decisions about which technology tools they wish to use, and allow them to identify, find and manage those apps. In finding new apps they also develop the very important skill of learning how to use a piece of software that they have never seen before. What this amounts to is a way of helping students “learn how to learn”, which is possibly the most important skill they can take away from the whole experience of school.

Regarding games, it’s sometimes not easy to know what exactly constitutes a “game”. For example, Scratch, Minecraft, even Mathletics, could all be considered to be “game-like” but are incredibly valuable learning environments that we actively promote and support. For example, a game like The Room requires a high level of problem solving and lateral thinking skills. Games like Threes! or 2048 involves the use of logic, problem solving and maths. Musyc is a music composition tool that looks very much like a game. There is an app called DragonBox in which the rules are based on the principles of algebra, essentially teaching students to understand algebra through playing the game. I haven’t played Goldrush myself, but I just had a quick look at it in the App Store and it looks like it has quite a few valuable learning aspects to it, including engineering concepts and bridge construction skills (something the students will do much more of in Year 6 next year) and it looks like it needs a lot of thinking, problem solving and logic to play well.

While it’s probably true that some games don’t offer enough learning for the amount of time put into them, I would be vary wary of having a simplistic “games = bad” approach, or to think that games (or game-like environments) cannot help students learn valuable skills. Much of the research around gaming suggests quite the opposite, and that the engagement factor present in most games, as well as the logic and problem solving skills usually required, are in fact exactly the kinds of things we need to be developing in our students.

To be clear, I am NOT saying that students should spend all their time playing games. However, the evidence suggests that there is much to be gained by allowing students to spend SOME time with games, particularly games that support worthwhile learning objectives.

I think we could have a whole other discussion about what exactly we mean by the term “game”, what a “game” looks like, and what might constitute using the iPad as “a learning tool”. I suspect the distinction may not be as clear cut as it might first appear. And because every family will have different perspectives on this distinction, this needs to be a conversation that takes place between parents and their child. If you’re unsure about an app, be it a game or anything else, by all means sit down with your child and talk with them about it, ask what they likes about it, what they learns from it, and get them to show you how they use it. As I pointed out at the parent evening, the ultimate decision about iPad use, about what apps are appropriate, about where and how the iPad gets used at home, rests with parents. I repeatedly said to all parents “It’s your house, your child, your iPad, your rules”.

As far as use at school goes, the iPads have been very successful so far in extending learning opportunities. Certainly, in the work I’ve been doing with the students they have shown some amazing learning with these tools. A large part of that has come about because we have not mandated specific apps or uses of the devices, and instead are allowing each student to use the devices in ways that best support their own learning, using apps that work best for them. I recently had one of the iPad classes do an “App Slam” where they each had 2 minutes to stand up in front of the class and present an app, a tool, a website, etc, that they found useful or fun. It was amazing to see not only the confidence and fluency with which they used this technology, but also the ease with which they shared it with the class. And interestingly, out of the 16+ apps on show, I’d only heard of two of them before. The point is that with the hundreds of thousands of apps in the Apps Store, the students are taking the lead here and discovering useful tools that we teachers may not.

Some of the innovation, independence and creativity we have seen so far has been astounding, and has taken the learning into places that simply could not be achieved without these tools. The goal with using technology in education is not simply to use technology to reproduce things we COULD already do without it, but to find entirely new ways to do things that we COULD NOT do with out it. So while using the iPads to take notes, read books and look things up online are all worthwhile and valid uses, the really powerful learning will come from getting the students to interact with data, ideas and skills that could not be previously done without them. And even after just a term and a half of having the devices we are starting to see many instances of this happening.

The teachers of year 5 and 6 are very aware of the students using their iPads in appropriate and socially responsible ways. Their use is managed in class and any student who gets off-task is very quickly brought back to the task at hand. I am told that the students do get some free time with the iPads, but only on Thursdays, only at lunchtimes and only in the library, so that seems like a fair deal to me.

Regarding data monitoring, when the students are at school they are connected to our school wifi so they are subject to all the usual filters and blocks that apply to Internet access on our network. However, we don’t (and really don’t want to) restrict students from downloading new apps, for all of the reasons I’ve outlined above.

Regarding backup, we use Google Apps for Education as our core platform here school so any documents that the students store in that service are securely backed up in the Google cloud. If they put their work into Google Drive (as most of them do) it will be safe. Other file types (such as photographs, iWork files, etc, may be managed by Apple’s iCloud service if the student enables it. Aside from that we do recommend that all students back up their iPads to iTunes on a home computer regularly. Because it is a BYO device, the responsibility for doing this lies with the student (and their parents if needed) Again, our students are growing up in a world where the process of managing data is increasingly important and will usually not be done for them. It’s important they start learning to do this now.

Slam That!

I had the chance to take one of our Year 6 classes this morning while their teacher was away. This class is part of our BYOD iPad program where every student brings their own iPad.  Borrowing the Slam idea from the Google Summits, I got them to do an App Slam. Every student was given an opportunity to voluntarily participate, and they had 2 minutes to share an app, game, tool, tip, etc with the rest of the class. I said it could be anything at all, just something that they enjoyed using and would like to share with the class.

I was amazed at just how eager they were to do this, and they were figuratively falling over themselves to add their name to the list of presenters. As they each did their slam (which of course they had to end by shouting the word Slam!) I added their name and the thing they demoed to a Google Form. After the last student presented I simply published the form, gave them the short URL to access it and let them vote for their 5 favourite slams.

It was a lot of fun and a great way to let them share what they are learning with their iPads.

appslam2

I particularly liked the fact that, of all the apps and games and things they shared, I was only previously aware of two of them. Part of the magic of having a BYOD approach to our use of iPads is that the kids are discovering apps and things that I would probably not. It’s pretty clear that the students feel far more in control of their own learning when they are the owners of the technology.

I also found it interesting that, when we allowed our kids to bring their own choice of iPad, they brought in a diverse range of iPad configurations. Some were using older iPad 2s and 3s, some had newer iPad Airs, some chose to use iPad minis. Everyone seemed to have a different kind of case, with lots of different styles and colours and types. Some had chosen to use bluetooth keyboards because they wanted to, others were perfectly happy with the standard on-screen keyboard. The thing is, had our school decided what type of iPads, cases and accessories they should be using and dictated the size and configurations they should be, then a significant number of our “customers” would have ended up using something other than what they actually wanted to be using. If we take a one-size-fits-all approach to giving technology to kids, we run the risk of making choices that disappoint our end users.

Is BYOD the best approach? I don’t know but I thought this next fact was food for thought… I was talking to a teacher yesterday from another nearby school that also went 1:1 iPad, except they took a non BYOD approach. Their iPads were school provided, highly locked down, kids could not install their own apps, and they were being used for little more than digital textbook readers. In their first year of operation they had $14,000 in damages!

In contrast, we’ve had virtually no damages at all. It turns out that students look after their stuff when they own it. What a concept.

y6appslam

Launching our BYO iPads

At my school, PLC Sydney, we just launched a BYO iPad program for our Year 5 and 6 students. This followed on from a fairly successful trial of iPads last year and the subsequent decision that we wanted our upper primary kids to have full time access to this technology. We initially looked at the idea of the school providing and managing the iPads, but in talking to the students it turned out that a very large percentage of them already owned iPads, so it didn’t seem to make much sense to spend a whole lot of money providing something that most of them already had. The general feeling from the parents was supportive of the BYO idea and the kids were keen of course.

So this week we officially launched the BYO program. We invited all the parents and students to come to an information night where we explained exactly how we wanted things to work, and far more importantly, why we felt this was the right move to be making. The response from parents was very positive, although a few were concerned that their children would not develop  proper typing skills (which is amusing because it doesn’t seem that long ago when the big parental concern was that their children would not develop proper handwriting skills, so I guess we’re making progress!)

As well as uploading the slide deck to Slideshare, I also recorded the audio from the talk on my Nexus 4 using a Rode SmartLav Mic, then synced it up to the slides  using the Slidecast feature. This lets viewers listen to the accompanying soundtrack while the slides change in sync.

Slidecasting on Slideshare is, or rather, was, a very cool feature that I used quite a bit. Unfortunately they decided to deprecate that feature as of today, and it will stop working altogether by the end of next month, so if you’re seeing this blog post after that time I guess the audio Slidecast won’t be working. Sorry!

Do you know of any other slideware services that allow the syncing of an audio track? It’s a great feature and I’ll miss it if I can’t find a replacement.

Tablets in Schools: A Hangout on Air

I posted this on Google+ last week…

Do you teach in a school that uses tablets? (iPads, Android tablets, etc) Have you been involve in planning the rollout and implementation of a tablet program in a school? Do you have thoughts about how suitable tablets are for education? Do you have any success stories to share? Warnings to give?

Come along and join in the conversation as we take this opportunity to learn from each other about this fast growing area of educational technology.

Here’s what happened.  It’s a long recording (1:18:00) but has lots to think about…

Thanks to everyone who joined us, both in the actual Hangout and also in the live stream.

An Open Letter to Telstra on 3G Data Use

Hello Telstra.

I’m one of your customers. I have my mobile phone service with you… the reception is reasonable, at least it seems to be better than most of the other Australian Telcos. You charge a little more for it, but hey, I’ve tried the others and I don’t mind paying a little more for a service that actually works…

But, Telstra, can I tell you what really sucks?

I recently bought a new wifi+3G iPad. It should really be a 4G iPad, but apparently you and Apple can’t agree on what the term 4G actually means. So ok, it’s still just a 3G iPad, and I guess I can live with that. But I’d like to buy some 3G data from you so I can use my iPad when I’m not in wifi range.

Now, for me, that’s not all that often. I’m in wifi at home, and in wifi at work. I could tether to my iPhone’s 3G data when I’m out of wifi range (and I often do) but it would be a lot more convenient if I just had a 3G SIM in the iPad itself. So I want to buy an iPad 3G data service from you. I don’t think I’ll need much, probably no more than a few hundred MBs each month to be honest. Some months may be way less – possibly even no data at all – and other months might be heavier usage. I don’t know for sure.

I’d LIKE to be able to buy a decent chunk of data from you – maybe a few GBs – and just use it till it runs out. After all, if I pay you for it, I should be able to use it till it’s gone, right?

Apparently you don’t see it that way. You let me buy data from you, and then after 30 days you just let whatever is still left over expire. Just like that. Gone. Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair? I mean, I bought that data. I paid for it. Why do you need to expire it at the end of 30 days? Why can’t I just keep using it till it runs out?

When I asked the customer service rep on the phone why this was the case, the probably-accurate but rather-brazen answer was “Because we’re a business and we need to make money”. Bravo Telstra, nice way to put the customer first.

This policy that all of the Aussie telcos have of selling data to customers and then insisting it be used in a limited period of time is a rort. An absolute ripoff. In any other industry you wouldn’t get away with it. Imagine if I filled my car with petrol and then didn’t drive it much that week, but at the end of the week the remaining fuel in the tank just “expired” for no reason other than it was now the end of the week. Fair? I think not. And yet, that’s what you do with my 3G data.

I’m not sure I understand the logic of why you feel the need to expire my unused data at the end of 30 days. If I’m using my iPad a lot that month, there’s a good chance of me running out before the 30 days is up anyway, and I’ll probably just buy more from you. Win-win.

And if I don’t use all the data that month, then it hasn’t really cost you anything anyway, since I’ve already paid you for data that is still sitting there, unused. Sure, I will use it eventually, even after the 30 days are up if you don’t automatically expire it on me. Maybe I’ll run out of that 3G data halfway through the next 30 day period, and then, guess what, I’ll probably buy some more from you. And instead of being a resentful customer who hates you for ripping me off by just taking away something I’ve already paid you for, maybe I’ll end up being a happy customer who loves you for being so fair minded.

Maybe I’d even tell my friends how wonderful you are because you treated me fairly and allowed me to use the data I bought from you in a timeframe that worked for my needs, not yours, and maybe when I do buy more data from you, I won’t do it  begrudgingly, thinking of you as a pack of bastards who are just out to rip me off.

Or maybe if you created a policy of treating customers like me with enough respect to let me use what I’ve paid for when it runs out, not just at the end of some arbitrary 30 day period, you might just be surprised at how many other customers would be interested in being treated the same way. Maybe even those hard to find New Customers.

Right now, you are getting my money for two 3G data plans, one for my phone and one for my iPad. But, frankly, the iPad data is a bit of a ripoff. Not because it’s a bad service or I don’t want to use it, but because you seem to feel that it’s ok to charge me for a product and then, if it is partly unused after 30 days, you feel it’s ok to just take that unused part and make it vanish, even though I’ve paid for it.

You see Telstra, there’s nothing fair about selling someone something and then just expiring whatever they haven’t used at the end of 30 days. It sucks. You might be able to get my business, but you get it begrudgingly and you don’t win me over as a customer. I may give you my business today, but as soon as an alternative comes along, I’m out of there because you’ve not done anything to earn my loyalty to your brand.

Eventually, when the resentment becomes bad enough, I’ll decide that I really don’t need 3G data on my iPad that much anyway, and just go back to tethering on my phone’s data plan. And then you lose me completely as a customer for that second data plan. The irony is that if you just let customers buy data and use it till it’s gone, you’d keep me. You’d have happier, more loyal customers, and probably more of them, who would gladly top up their data plan again and again because you’d be offering a service that works on their terms, not yours.

Have you ever stopped to consider how many potential customers you don’t get because of this short-sighted approach to providing a 3G data product under fair and reasonable terms?

Here’s a tip. Treat your customers with respect. You have a good product technically, but your customers don’t love you. They endure you. They tolerate you. They stay with you because you are less worse than the other telcos. If you treated us with more respect by recognising that when we pay you for a product we deserve to be able to use that product until it’s finished, you’d probably find a whole lot of new customers that you never knew existed and a whole lot of existing ones that felt far better about doing business with you.

Think about it.

Inventing the Wheel

Rob is a music teacher friend of mine who works in the NSW Southern Highlands, and he dropped me an email this afternoon asking if I knew of any schools who were thinking about using iPads.  His school is moving forward with an iPad trial and he was wondering what resources might exist that would help them avoid “reinventing the wheel”.

As it turns out, I’ve been seeing a lot of iPad related information lately so I thought I’d post a reply here on the blog rather than just reply to Rob in an email, just in case some of the information is of some use to others.

I’ll preface it by saying that I think there are a lot of things in education that could certainly use some reinventing, and maybe this is a good chance to do it. There seem to be a lot of schools looking at how iPads might fit in so it may be a little early to avoid the reinventing and instead take advantage of the opportunity to do some inventing. While there are plenty of lessons about 1:1 learning to be gained from the last 20 years of laptop use in schools (and we should leverage everything we’ve learned from that history) the iPad is a different enough device that it’s causing us many of us to stop and think about how we might do some reinventing of what it means for learners. I remarked to someone recently that it’s interesting that nearly every school implementing iPads is still referring to it as an “iPad trial“. We’re all trying to figure this out. With it’s unique form factor, light weight and slim design, the touch interface and thousands of apps to explore, the iPad seems like such an obvious fit in education, it’s just a matter of fitting where. It’s a classic “solution in search of a problem”. It seems apparent that it ought to be an ideal device for educational use, but nearly everyone is still hedging about with a “trial”, rather than just biting the bullet and going ahead with full scale iPad implementations. This “reinventing” isn’t a bad thing, because it means we’re thinking outside the box, looking for the right niche, trying to figure out how this clearly amazing little device will find the right fit in schools.  Sometimes new wheels need to be invented.

We run a laptop program at my school and we had a meeting a few days ago to evaluate the progress of it. We all agree that students having their own device has caused some fundamental shifts in the way our kids learn, create and interact with content as well as the way teachers think about designing learning tasks. There’s no doubt that it’s a good – no, a great – thing and has opened doors to a different kind of learning for many of our students. Many students have remarked to me that the couldn’t imagine going back to the non-laptop days. It’s great to hear that, although I still don’t think we’ve really begun to leverage the full advantages of being 1:1. We’re still learning too.

But there are downsides to carrying technology around. The added weight of carrying laptops and textbooks (yes I know we should be able to get rid of textbooks altogether, and we will eventually, but change can be painful and we are still in transition on some of this stuff). The fragility of having a computer in your bag and the inevitable damage and breakages can be a problem. Laptop battery life is fine when the machines are new but gets steadily worse over time, which then opens a whole can of worms regarding charging once they can no longer get through a whole day on a single charge.  Traditional laptops are fine, but if only they were lighter, thiner, more compact, more durable, with less moving parts and good battery life.  Sound familiar?  No wonder the iPad strikes so many people as an obvious solution in schools. It’s has so much of what we’re looking for in a device!

I love my Gen 1 iPad, but until the release of the iPad 2 I wouldn’t have entertained the original iPad as a serious contender in education. It was the classic debate between it being a “content consumption device” versus being a “content creation device”. I want kids to do far more than just consume content, I want them to create it, and iPad 1 lacked far too much in this area for me to take it seriously. However, with the recent addition of cameras, enough grunt to handle tasks like video editing and multitrack audio recording, display port mirroring and a number of other big improvements, it’s getting to the stage where it could be a contender for a student’s main computing device. Maybe.

I’m still hedging a little and saying “could be” a contender, because I think it still depends what you want to do with them. With an iPad as your primary computing device you’d still need to be able to live without Flash (which admittedly is becoming less and less of an issue thanks to HTML 5) and the limitations of mobile Safari and the very ordinary way it renders some pages.  Safari doesn’t play nicely with our Moodle LMS because, being Webkit based,the browser don’t show the toolbar buttons in Moodle 1.x. I’m sure 2.0 fixes this, but right now, it’s a problem for us.  I also find Safari does some weird things with forms and text fields. Overall, I’d really struggle with it as my main browser.

There are some issues with the way some third party iPad apps interact with school firewalls and, unless your school runs a transparent proxy, there are likely to be many apps that simply cant get through to the web. This is likely to be a problem. I also have doubts as to whether the pseudo-multitasking is really good enough to be used as your primary computing device, and there are plenty of time when I feel very unproductive because of it. Sometimes, I just want a “real” computer.

There’s also licensing issues to consider as Apple haven’t been very clear about just how apps can be shared and deployed on a school basis, as well as a lack of what you might call enterprise-level imaging tools. There are quite a few nuts and bolts issues like this that need to be thought through if they are to be used on a school-wide basis. Apple’s own view seems to be that iPads are not really an enterprise device, they are a personal device and they aren’t designed to be “managed” in the same way that laptops would be.

However, all that aside, there are still enough intriguing things about the iPad, and enough potential advantages, that I totally understand why schools are running “trials” to try and figure out just where the real limitations lie and just how they might be made to fit into a school situation.

So, with that little preamble of thoughts about the iPad, here are a few resources for Rob.  Hope you find them useful, mate…

Hope that helps a little. Let me know how it pans out for your school, and how that wheel gets invented. You might let Kerry Smith know too, and she can add you to that list of schools running trials.

CC Image: ‘iPad with Dandelion
http://www.flickr.com/photos/68217628@N00/4675262184