Thursday, September 15, 2011

iPad Pilot Part 1--Synergy

posted by Carl Hooker

What started out as a twinkle in the eye of a few administrators and staff during a January visit to Cupertino has turned into a mission as we head into a new semester of school. Many of people have asked how have we progressed with the planned roll-out of over 1500 iPads to Juniors & Seniors at Westlake High School.

One word comes to mind: Synergy
We have had a large group of administrators, teachers, students and parents all championing the cause of bringing access into the hands of our students. Each person has played their part in getting this journey up and running. What follows are key events that led to the largest single roll-out of technology in our district’s history. (but not the most expensive)
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The Mothership
The AHA Moment: No, not that great 80′s band, but the moment when five administrators, visited Cupertino in January for an executive briefing. With an air of dire circumstances surrounding our district and the state, we knew we couldn’t stick with the status quo. We have to innovate or risk losing our foothold as a mainstay and public institution. That moment of realization struck midway through their first day there.

The Research & Development Phase: Like Apple and any other successful
company, a large amount of time and money is invested in R & D. School districts have neither the time nor the money to do this, however, we are armed with new forms of social media that can do our research for us. Carl Hooker, Director of Instructional Technology, tapped into his twitter and TEC-SIG(Texas Computer Educator Association) community pretty heavily to see what had worked and what hadn’t worked for 1-to-1 initiatives. Since the iPads were still relatively new on the market, there wasn’t a lot out there in terms of educational deployments so we had to develop our back-end systems to handle a large scale roll-out. Key teacher leaders also needed a few of these in their hands to really validate that the iPad was the most useful solution. We skyped with tech coordinators and superintendents from Brazil to British Columbia, seeking advice about how to make any type of roll-out successful. In the end, we gathered these key points to what would make a 1-to-1 solution of any kind work:

1. Staff buy-in – From the Superintendent to the guy putting in the network cables, everyone has to believe this is the right direction. Sure there can be doubts and fear along the way, but that’s why it’s important to have a group belief that will get use through those times of second-guessing. It’s also important to get the technology in the hands of teachers as soon as possible. They drive the bus, so the sooner it’s in their hands the better.
My 2-year old leading iPad training in June

2. It's not about the technology – True the iPad is a wonderfully cool and interactive tool, but it represents a level of access to content and content creation that expands student learning. That’s where the power lies.

3. Talk to kids – This is where we discovered the most surprises. The students crave to have a level of “real world” learning in their lives, but at the same time, they feel significant pressure to pass state and national assessments.

4. Get legal – Without a progressive, adaptable legal consultant, many projects can die

This is what 1500 iPads in boxes looks like
in a bureaucratic abyss. We are blessed to have someone in district that thinks about what’s important for kids first and foremost.

5. Infrastructure back-up – A willing tech department that can also see the potential benefit to students and not their own bottom line is important. Too often we hear stories across the country of how “my tech department said we can’t do that.” Having the Technology Services Director share in the “AHA” moment with the rest of us helped him see and believe the vision as well. Without his support and his department’s endless hours of work, any project of this magnitude would never get off the ground.

In terms of staff roll-out, we went about deployment in three phases:

Phase 1: Instructional Coaches, Librarians, Admin, & Department Heads – These key personnel needed it in their hands early to really research and find the potential benefits and pitfalls. We were able to procure enough funds to get these in their hands well before we even considered this as a possibility for this year.

Phase 2: Teachers – After a successful Bond election and positive early feedback from our Phase 1 group, we approached the School Board in late May to propose we attempt to move fast on this and get it started with the first week of school. When speaking with other successful 1:1 districts, they reinforced how important it was to start the year out with the technology and not do a partial phase-in throughout the year. That meant ordering them at the end of May and then getting them into the hands of teachers as soon as possible. We started with those teachers in the WIFI pilot group on July 14th and never looked back. While we gave them some basic orientation to the iPad, our goal was to give them as much time as possible to discover and learn with them before the start of the school year.
WIFI Parent Night

Phase 3: Students – We targeted the 3rd day of school, Aug. 24th, as launch day. This would give us time to hold at least one parent feedback night and get the appropriate loan agreement and insurance forms into the hands of kids on the first day of school. We knew that coordinating an effort of this magnitude would take a lot of planning and ultimately…..synergy… make it be successful. With all the parts in place, we prepared for August 24th – iPad Delivery Day or iD-Day – with baited breath and hope for a smooth launch.

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