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Rolling Out Mobile Devices So They Actually Get Used

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All too often, expensive IT equipment is left in cupboards gathering dust. In the past it may have been Digital Blue cameras and microscopes, or more recently, webcams and Lego robots. But most recently I’m sorry to say it can be iPads or other expensive tablet computers.

I have been reminded of this fact yet again recently as I spoke to two teachers from different schools regarding their rather large stock of tablet computers. There’s no denying their eagerness for the technology or their enthusiasm to share ideas with their team, but despite this the devices are getting very little use. Having rolled out over 100 iPads at my own school, we have learnt a great deal along the way on how best to deploy this new technology in a way that best encourages their usage.

(These tips presume you have already identified why you need tablets, how they will boost teaching and learning and which devices will best meet your needs. There is always much debate (see TES forums) on these topics, but the aim of this post is to support you with some practical steps once you have the devices ready to deploy).

Tip 1 - Look at the health of your wireless

The first thing we needed to do was to carry out a major upgrade to our wireless system. The school had previously deployed a number of ‘off the shelf’ routers, installing more and more in each shared area in an attempt to improve connectivity, but it just didn’t work. In the end, we opted for a Meru managed wireless system.

Why was this so necessary, especially at such expense? We knew that we had to remove any barriers that could prevent the iPads from being used and poor network connectivity was a key barrier. All too often a teacher would plan on using laptops in class, to find the wireless let them down. Everytime this happened, they became more reluctant to try again and who could blame them. We had to ensure our wireless was up to speed before we did anything else.

Tip 2 - Excite staff for the technology first

Teachers using iPadsYour pupils will grasp new technology very quickly; they’re not afraid to click buttons and see what happens. Adults on the other hand are a lot more cautious and can be a lot more sceptical of new technology. It is crucial therefore to allow time for teachers to become accustomed with new technology so they feel confident in using it.

We made the decision to send each teacher home with an iPad for the summer holidays with the instruction of making it their own. After 6 weeks, the iPads were a mess with apps like Facebook, Candy Crush, BBC iPlayer and more. Did this matter? Not at all; it was exactly what we wanted! We gathered the devices back in, wiped the apps then deployed them into classrooms.

What was the impact of this? Well over that 6 week period the staff had really gained an understanding of the uniqueness and potential of the devices. Many went on to buy they own, but all were now eager to start using them at school.

Tip 3 - Ensure colleagues know they’re not laptops!

This may sound obvious, but help your colleagues know what the tablets can do, but also what they can't do. They're not laptops. They're not designed to do everything that a laptop can do. I was lucky enough to have some staff development time where we explored some of the unique features of iPads, including:

  • the use of QR codes to speed up access to resources
  • the use of apps such as iMovie for use in rapid creation of movies in Literacy
  • the use of AirPlay to stream video content to the board via software like AirServer

Tip 4 - Get devices as close to their point of use as possible

We thought long and hard about where to locate the iPads. Would a central location be best with some form of booking system? Should we buy a trolley for each year group? Should we put them into classrooms? In the end we decided to put 6 iPads in each classroom.

How did we reach this decision? The logic was simple; to give ownership of the devices to the teacher. Through this, the aim was for the iPads to be as available as any other classroom tool, such as dictionaries, calculators or multilink cubes. For the teacher, knowing they always had 6 iPads available, fully charged, whenever they wanted, was crucial.

Of course there are some down sides. We don’t have a formal system for booking a whole class set for example. However, we have found this need to a rarity that can easily be resolved with an informal arrangement with some other classes.

Top Tip 5 - Avoid using iTunes to manage lots of devices

We initially bought and deployed our iPads before Apple had launched the VPP (Volume Purchasing Programme) in the UK. The VPP is the system by which organisations can bulk buy apps for devices such as iPads and iPod Touches. Since we had no choice, we were forced to use iTunes to manage over 100 iPads.

Initially this worked well, although it was terribly laborious for our poor technician every time we wanted to roll out an app. The main issue however was that the iPads soon become messy; every devices seemed to have a different collection of apps presented in a different way. Our once pristine iPads were now a mess!

Since this point, Apple have now launched the VPP in the UK, opening up a range of options for using Mobile Device Management Systems (MDMs) for managing multiple devices with ease. We have just recently deployed a system from Litespeed which so far seems to be working well.


In summary, I feel we have learnt three main points from our experience so far:

1) get new technology as close as possible to its point of use
2) remove any technical barriers that could mean the technology works less well than is expected
3) implement systems for maintaining new technology

Image usage. Cropped images used under Creative Commons license.


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