Thursday, 4 April 2013

Don't be tempted by iPads as a School Marketing tool - Learning the lessons of the past. Mobile Device Strategy for Schools (Part Two)

There is a real danger that iPads are going to be the latest in a long-line of products that schools have purchased more because of their marketing impact than their educational use.

Grown-ups love iPads =
Parents love iPads.
Parents love the idea of having had an iPad at school.
Parents are undoubtedly taken in by the iPad-loving school:  "The School X has issued iPads to every pupil from age 3! what a forward-looking school!"  - etc.
So let's buy some iPads! Parents will love them!
A word of caution: we've been here before.
Using ICT to market a school is not new.
We saw it in the 1990s with Interactive Whiteboards - and we all wasted a lot of money. IWBs were visible technology - prospective parents could see them on the walls of our classrooms when they went around on tours - they were bright and shiny. There was an element of 'keeping up with the Joneses' - "the school down the road has one in every classroom - we need them - or we'll miss out/ fall behind/ not be seen as technologically savvy." And we are hearing it all again today . . .
IWBs were a great educational tool in the right hands but we all know that very few teachers know how to use them to their full potential and for many they were just a very expensive mouse.
But surely iPads are different?
Every time I have attended a conference, or a meeting of headteachers in the past year or so, a colleague will confide that their bright and shiny iPads in which they have recently invested a large portion of their annual ICT budget haven't really had the classroom impact they expected. Further discussion reveals that they were keen to have some iPads for what are essentially marketing reasons, but had not put the necessary research, training and investment into infrastructure to provide the platform for improved teaching and learning to take place.
iPads undoubtedly are a great bit of kit in the right hands, but they are not the right tool for every job and there are number of issues that need to be considered before taking the plunge - tempting as that marketing advantage might be.
  1. Infrastructure
    The first step towards an effective mobile device strategy is to ensure that the necessary supporting WIFI infrastructure and Internet connectivity is in place before the roll-out of the mobile devices. In many ways this is the most important aspect and is the easiest to overlook. WIFI points, high-speed wiring and a good Internet connection are not sexy - they are invisible - they do not sell to parents. The WIFI network needs to have the capacity to cope with more traffic than you expect - think two devices per pupil.  You may need to put filters on the WIFI so that they can't spend all day streaming YouTube to their phones.

    At Berkhamsted, we rewired the school four years ago at a specification that was fairly future-proof and then spent 18 months (working in partnership with Meru) to ensure that the School's WIFI infrastructure was up to scratch before allowing pupils to have access to the WIFI network for their own devices.
  2. Training of Staff
    IWBs, when used by skilled practitioners, made a significant contribution to teaching and learning. However, very few teachers ever mastered them to the extent that they were able to make a difference. Training of staff in the use of new technology is vital. iPads are no different. Just because iPads are fundamentally like iPhones and relatively intuitive to use does not mean that it is easy for teachers to harness their functionality to enhance teaching and learning in the classroom. Teachers are going to need training in how to incorporate Apps into their lessons. This is a fast-moving area of education because new Apps are being developed all the time - the required skill set is always changing. Rather than attending training courses, teachers are best advised to tap into one or more of the specialist networks who share ideas and best practice through Twitter and their Blogs.
  3. Think about how pupils are going to need to use the iPad:
  • Will the iPad be personal to the pupil? or will the iPad be a shared school-owned resource?  iPads really are designed to be a personal device - that is their great advantage - they are portable and are always at hand.
  • Does the iPad need recharging at school? ("Sorry Miss, my iPad is out of charge.") Where and when will this be done? How will this be done securely? Does the school need to invest in lockable charging stations? Who is going to be responsible for charging school-owned iPads: the teacher/ department/ ICT technicians?
  • Does the device have sufficient memory to perform the tasks required? (A 16 GB iPad could hold 10 feature-length movies, 4,000 songs or up to 32,000 photographs, but once you start loading some of the more complex Apps and games on there the space can shrink quite quickly),
  • Can the pupils organise their files sufficiently well on an iPad to be able to make it an effective note-taking tool?  iPads are designed around an App-based structure, whereas learning is likely to be organised around a subject-based structure. 
  • Do you need to print work that is produced on the device? How and where will this be done? Will pupils have access to WIFI printers? Will pupils have to upload their files to a Dropbox and then access them via networked Desktop PC to be able to print?
  • Are there specialist peripheral devices to which pupils' devices need to connect (e.g. dataloggers in science)?  Can these connect by WIFI? or do they require a USB port?
  • How long can we expect an iPad to last?  They seem to be much more like mobile phones (two year shelf life) than laptops (four to five year shelf life).  (We are having to replace class sets of iPads bought for a trial after two years because of the general 'wear and tear'.)
All ICT strategists agree that mobile devices are the future and, rest assured, we are all grappling with these questions. There is no 'one-size fits all' solution - each school's needs, finances and levels of expertise will be different and necessitate a different approach. However, one thing of which I can be sure is that those schools who embark on introducing mobile devices as part of their marketing strategy are going to waste a lot of money in the process.
 “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana


  1. Hi Mark

    As I tweeted - a good post, thank you for reminding us of the pitfalls of buying into new technologies without doing the homework. If iPads are to be used solely as marketing tools then I agree that they're not the best device for teaching and learning. If all of the points you make regarding infrastructure, training and clear use of the device are not in place - then the iPad is not the device for schools. However, based on these points, nor is any technology - not even desktops.

    I agree that in the right hands, a device can be used effectively in teaching and learning - as iPads can. There are many success stories out there - as well as failures, primarily for some of the reasons you raise. But I think that the iPad has a different consideration to an IWB. IWBs were only ever put in the hands of teachers. They relied on the creativity of teachers. The difference for me is that iPads will be in the hands of the students. It’s the students who can carry this technology to a new and different level.

    Is it also not too soon to measure the impact of these devices? A colleague of mine has had immense success with embedding learning with notebooks, but this took 7 years to achieve. Do we avoid using iPads before we’ve even started with tablet or mobile technology? As you correctly point out, every day there are new (and educationally sound) apps available and many teachers are discovering new and effective ways of achieving workflow with iPads.

    My concern as I read through this is that many heads will reflect on this very observant post and consider that iPads are something to avoid. I hope that I'm wrong in this.


    Kerry Turner

  2. Having taught in the EYFS through the IWB boom, I thought this was a very good article. I'd be very interested to know what you think of the use of iPads in the EYFS and KS1.

  3. Kerry
    Thanks for your comment.
    I did not mean to give the impression that iPads don't have a future in the classroom - I am sure that they do.
    What I was trying to get across was that it is very tempting for schools to rush into purchasing them for the wrong reasons (marketing/PR) without thinking through the issues.
    In the past six months have helped a number of colleagues who have purchased iPads for classroom use where the school has not put the necessary infrastructure in place (esp. WIFI and WIFI printers) or thought about how they are going to change how teachers' roles and techniques (and that is before we get onto the whole question of which Apps are best suited to which subjects/yeargroup!)

  4. Dear anonymous
    I think that iPads are going to be an invaluable device for teachers at EY and KS1 especially for monitoring and recording each pupil's learning journey. Apps such as 2BSimple are very effective in doing this (
    I think that the jury is out on whether or not iPads work for pupils at EY and KS1 in a classroom environment. They clearly are using them at home at this age, but that does not necessarily mean that they will be effective tools en masse.

  5. Hi Mark
    I totally agree, whether iPads or Android devices, the debate goes far further than just whether or not they should or shouldn't be in the classroom and needs to start with where they fit into the overall IT strategy going forward within a school. The importance of how they can be integrated and managed managed is extremely important. We shouldn't forget that iPads and the like are intended to be personal devices and having them in environments where there is potential for multiple user access brings about many issues. It's one thing to manage your own personal device at home, it's another to manage thirty or forty devices in a school. These are by no means insurmountable, and solutions abound, but to make the integration of these devices work, there's some initial 'leg work' to be done.
    Then, as you rightly say, we shouldn't forget the apps and how they are going to be used and subsequently what happens to the children's work. Again it's down to careful preplanning and consideration to be then able to develop and plan an inclusive pedagogy that will benefit the children.

    Unfortunately, far to many schools are purchasing mobile devices as a knee jerk reaction to external pressures. I am not suggesting that these devices will not become a norm within schools and have seen some excellent work going on. I see great potential for their integration but, the groundwork needs to be put in first to avoid the scenario that has been repeated many times over the years as new technologies are introduced of, 'we bought x of those. They are stored in a cupboard and we're not sure what to do with them...." I'm getting those calls already………

  6. Great blog post...thanks for this post...