Implementing a programme to give every student their own device is easy, right? All you have to do is raise some cash, buy a truck-load of stuff, and dish it out.
Well, not quite. There is, as you might imagine, rather more to it than that. Here are some pointers to a successful one-to-one launch, drawn from the experiences of schools which have gone down that road.
I have a dream...
People are fond of saying ‘It’s not about the technology’. That is not completely true, but there is a very large grain of truth in it. Before spending money on devices, you need to know what you hope to achieve with them, and have a strategy for implementation – and a senior leadership team with the vision and drive to get everyone – teachers, technicians, teaching assistants, parents, teachers – fired up about it all.
We all know that strategic planning is necessary, but a big problem is that you don’t know what you don’t know, so it can be hard to plan ahead with one hundred percent confidence. But you can try to avoid some obvious pitfalls, such as by allocating some money to security arrangements (e.g. lockable storage in school) or to minimise breakage (e.g. by spending money on cases for the devices).
Don’t dot every ‘i’
Not knowing what you don’t know is a good thing if it is embraced rather than resented. For example, nobody can fully predict how the devices will be used or which aspects of them will make the greatest impact. So give staff, and students, the ability to experiment without worrying too much at first about whether or not it’s ‘productive’. In science, even experiments which yield negative results are regarded as good experiments. Adopt the scientific outlook!
Hold the front page!
One of the worst nightmares you can imagine is being featured on the front page of a newspaper – for all the wrong reasons. You can imagine it now: “School in deprived area buys every child an iPad, but can’t afford textbooks”.
Over the long-term, it pays to have a good relationship with the local press, to try and avoid such publicity. But there is a deeper issue here. Imagine what the parents of your pupils will think when they read such a headline. Only yesterday they received a letter from school asking for a £10 contribution towards the next school trip, and today they read that the school has spent half a million pounds on technology!
To make sure parents are on board, you need to consult with them every step of the way, right from the first moment the idea started to take shape. Meetings sharing the school vision, dealing with parents’ concerns (“Will my child have a higher chance of being mugged on the way home?”) and having a clear idea of how this is going to boost educational standards for the pupils.
I just can’t cope anymore!
If your wireless infrastructure could speak, is that what it would say? One of the key issues in this sort of initiative is that the school underestimates just how much extra demand there is likely to be on the school’s Wi-Fi. When everyone has a device with them that can be fired up in less than a minute, more or less any time they like, all day long, the wireless system is going to come in for a hammering.
Therefore it’s a good idea to ask a company to come in and undertake a wireless survey to see how future-proof your existing system is, and what, if anything, you need to do to prepare it for the coming onslaught.
Think about technical support. Is your IT technician or team up to speed with how these devices will work, and how to fix them when they go wrong, or don’t seem to be configured properly? Is there any mileage in training up a team of pupils to take on some of these sorts of tasks? Isn’t that a useful role for ‘digital leaders’?
But what will they be used for?
If all the pupils are going to be doing with their shiny new devices is what they are already doing, then you have to ask yourself what exactly is the point? Having a mobile device means that you can be, er, mobile. It means the pupils can do things out of the classroom. Do they have the opportunity to do so? Is your curriculum exciting and flexible enough to enable you to realise the possibilities afforded by mobile technology?
Once every pupil has a personal device, the possibilities for misusing them expand somewhat. At least, there is a general perception that that is the case. You may wish to revisit your Acceptable Use Policy – perhaps moving towards a Responsible Use Policy, in which the onus is on the students to demonstrate that they can be trusted.
When every pupil has a device they can use as their own, whenever they need to, something interesting happens. They become excited about going into school for a start! Several schools have reported also that this sort of programme has given a new lease of life to some of the teachers, who have become excited about what the devices enable them to do.
The tedious part is the long-term planning that has to go into it, but it was ever thus!