With thousands of classroom hours under my belt, I really have an appreciation for the work that full-time educators do and the incredible range of challenges they face. At the end of the day, teachers are still people with varying levels of motivation, care, technical acumen, common sense, and suitability for a tech-dependent classroom initiative.
-- Underperforming teachers don't get better because of iPads. Where a particular teacher is failing for whatever reason, there's little chance that adding technology to their curriculum is going to make them more successful. In fact, it can likely have the opposite effect, especially if the goals of the program are not crystal clear. If the teacher doesn't buy into the value of the program, or if effective training on both the device and apps to be used has not been provided to the faculty, success is likely not going to be achieved.
[ Is it a changing of the guard for classroom devices? Why Tablets Will Kill Smart Boards In Classrooms. ]
-- Teachers are the first line of tech support, and don't want to be. Nothing is more frustrating to a teacher who only has 40 minutes to get through a class than a student who takes up the first 15 minutes because he's having a device problem. It's easy to say "send them to IT support and don't waste class time," but in reality it's just not that simple for a caring teacher who wants to help.
-- Are faculty teaching students, or administering an IT initiative? When an iPad program has been played up to students, administrators, and even the media as a big deal, teachers can feel obligated to decrease legitimate instructional time to make sure the iPads get used to the satisfaction of their bosses, regardless of whether students are truly benefitting. It's easy for priorities to get lost.
4. The Technology
A classroom full of iPads creates a slew of challenges for everyone involved. When multiple classes with the same student and device density are in close proximity, it gets even more complicated. From operation of the wireless network to inventory control to client support, there is a total cost of ownership to iPad programs beyond just purchasing the devices that needs to be understood.
-- Lots of wireless devices demand a good network. Not all wireless networks are created equal. As you increase your iPad counts, the complexity of the wireless network gets more pronounced. You'll need more access points professionally configured, and competing technologies, such as classroom response systems, certain cordless phones, and personal hotspots, will have to be mitigated.
-- What are the iPads connecting to? Even the best networks can feel sluggish if traffic headed to the Internet (or another campus) doesn't have a big enough "pipe" to get there, so your wired network and ISP connectivity might need to bulk up as well.
-- What about printing, Apple TVs, etc? Apple's Bonjour protocol is notoriously limited in its capabilities beyond the home setting, but is still the way most iPads communicate with Airprint and AppleTV applications. You might well have to redesign your network to support these.
-- Who administers the environment? Gone are the days when a faculty member or maintenance person can do network administration in their spare time. If an iPad program bears on student grades, it needs legitimate support from device to app to network.
-- Do you provide spares or pay for device damages? iPads are pricey, and kids of all ages break things. Who is on the hook for damaged devices? Do you keep spares so students are not without theirs in the case of theft or damage?
-- Are students expected to use iPads at home? Though residential connectivity is at an all-time high, not all students have the luxury. How do you address the divide?
As simple as an iPad program might seem, it's really anything but. Certainly mobile devices are opening new doors in education when used right, but take the plunge without having a solid plan, and no one will benefit. Study the successes and failures of like institutions with similar programs (including the "how it will be used", and not just the "what device to buy" questions), and proceed with caution. iPad programs worth doing are worth doing right.