Last year, our school launched a 1:1 iPad initiative. In math and science classes, we shelved our textbooks and began using open educational resources (OER) to create our own multimedia courses. Admittedly, the thought of all this was a bit intimidating at first. While some teachers were quite proficient using digital content, others felt a bit like pioneers striking out into the unknown. But the reality is, when it comes to the digital world, we’re not venturing out onto the frontier alone because our students are already there.
Following is a list of do’s and don’ts to consider when starting a 1:1 program.
Do make sure your staff is ready.
Are your teachers ready to embrace your 1:1 initiative? If not, give them time to get comfortable with the technology. We provided iPads to our teachers during the summer so they could become acquainted with the tablets months before rolling them out to students in November.
But don’t overwhelm teachers with everything at once.
You can’t throw your entire staff into the deep end of the technology pool and expect everyone to swim. Tech-savvy teachers may be eager to jump into your 1:1 initiative, but others need to wade into it slowly. We provided education and training to our teachers just as we would with our students — paring everything into small chunks of information to make them easier to digest.
Do create a framework for early adopters to share their expertise.
When a new technology is introduced, there are usually a few teachers who embrace it and hit the ground running. Enthusiasm is contagious, so encourage early adopters to share their expertise with their colleagues. We launched monthly lunch-time “Appy Hours” to provide a forum for early adopters to demonstrate how they used the iPads, OER and different apps in their classes. Teachers enjoyed learning from their colleagues and they liked knowing they could get help if they needed it. Our “Appy Hours” have been so successful that they’ve grown into “Appy Days” during professional development, since all teachers are now able to share.
Do allow for flexibility as teachers integrate technology into their courses.
As we eased into our 1:1 program, I purposely did not require teachers and students to use the iPads every day. I gave them the flexibility to naturally progress through the stages of technology integration — from slightly modifying their classroom activities to include technology or using technology to replace traditional methods of instruction, to redefining how we teach and engage students in their learning. Thanks to this gradual approach, teachers didn’t feel stymied by a need to be perfect and students became more active learners.
But don’t let technophobes off the hook.
Even with all this, we have had struggles — and that’s to be expected with any initiative that promises to transform teaching and learning. As a school leader, it’s important to be aware of teachers’ needs and empathize when they try something new. However, it is also essential to gently push when needed. Leading by example is a good way to do this. Whether you completed your training as an educator three years ago or 30 years ago, the world has changed and we must change with it. We must show our staff and students what it means to be lifelong learners. We also must give students the opportunity to use the digital tools they will be required to use in college and most careers.
Do provide continuing education and training.
After the computing devices are in teachers’ and students’ hands, keep striving to find new and better uses for them and to make technology integration more seamless. We regularly send staff to conferences for training and to seek out new ideas. Last fall, I traveled to the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit with our math and science department heads. We explored best practices for integrating iPads in the service of learning, and later shared these during an “Appy Hour.”
Don’t forget the content or content management.
Open educational resources (OER) are free education materials available on the Internet
for teachers and students. These resources, created by nonprofits, educational institutions and individuals, can be used to supplement or replace traditional educational materials like textbooks. While OER increases the potential for savings since educators can access free resources instead of buying textbooks, few have time to examine all the options, vet the quality, and determine what meets their standards.
To simplify the world of OER, we use a free, content management system called Net Texts. With this web-based system, our teachers can easily access and utilize the vast library of free, high-quality OER available on the Internet, and then publish directly to students’ iPads. Using the content management website, teachers can select existing courses from the library or create new courses by mixing and matching items with their own educational materials. Students then use the free app for iPads (and Android tablets) to download, display and interact with the courses.
Do demand rigor and quality from OER.
Our goals with OER are to find the best possible course materials to engage our students, improve academic achievement, and save the district money. On the Net Texts site, for example, we can access more than 65,000 resources from leading OER providers such as the CK-12 Foundation, Khan Academy, and Project Gutenberg, organized by subject, grade level, objectives and standards. We have found a great deal of high-quality OER in math and science that we’ve been able to incorporate into our courses.
It is important to note that we seek out the same quality and rigor with OER that we would for a textbook, curriculum software program, or any other resource. With OER, some think that because it’s free, it’s okay to settle for less. It’s not.
But don’t expect to find everything you need, for free, on the Internet.
However, even with all the OER available, we haven’t been able to find everything we need for every course. So, we create our own content too, such as video lessons. Teachers like being able to explain concepts and skills to students using their own unique methods. Then, if they want to give students another look from a different perspective, they can use videos from other providers, like Khan Academy, to supplement their lesson.
Don’t expect that every student will haveInternet access at home.
In our district, where almost 70 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, many families don’t have Internet access at home. One thing we like about the Net Texts app is that students can download their courses onto their iPads and then use them without further Wi-Fi access. This gives them the ability to access their courses at home, on the bus, or anywhere else.
Do expect change.
When we launched our 1:1 initiative, we set in motion a metamorphosis. We are transitioning from an instructional model where teachers dispense information, to a model where teachers are facilitators and students take a greater, more active role in their learning. This approach is exactly what we need to prepare our students for success now — and in the future.
Jay Barrett is the principal of the Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning, a math/science specialty high school in the Amarillo Independent School District in Texas.