Today marks the beginning of Zeeland Public Schools second year with iPads in the classroom. To say that we learned a lot last year about the role technology plays in learning is a total understatement. To say that we will do everything right this year is probably even more so an idealistic overstatement. However, as learners we are constantly making efforts to improve the infrastructure of our digital school environment so here a few things that we took away from last year and are trying to improve on this year.
1. Create a culture of responsible and respectful digital citizens.
Last year students participated in a 2 hour ipad set up that included email accounts, Apple ID accounts, and going through the settings. There was no talk of Internet safety, cyber-bullying, and what is known as Net-iquette.
This year we are skipping over most of the set up stuff and trying to focus on the later of the above statements. We view this similarly to getting your drivers license. Instead of just handing over the keys and telling kids to figure it out for themselves (causing damage to themselves and others along the way) we are starting the discussion (it must be ongoing) about what it means to "drive" responsibly and respectfully. Below are two videos that we are using to start off this year.
The first video is a local lawyer talking about the dangers and consequences of sexting.
The second video is a small introduction to the topics of neteqqute, internet safety, social media, and setting healthy boundaries around using technology.
There are lots of great digital citizenship resources found here http://goo.gl/qfQIR
2. Professional Development of staff must be ongoing and well supported.
I don't know if anyone is ever "ready" to integrate technology into the classroom as there literally are thousands of choices to be made in this respect. Even for those veteren teachers who are content experts, when it comes to changing your instructional strategies around technology everyone feels a little bit like a first year teacher. So professional development and ongoing support is an absolute must.
As for last year, we will just say there wasn't enough (not sure there ever is).
This year we are restructuring support so that each building has a tech coach that is there and able to handle to quick and easy questions. These coaches are full time teachers and are using the technology themselves. In addition, there is one district wide tech coach fully devoted to working alongside and serving the teachers as they work to transform their instructional strategies. Building tech coaches will point their staff to this person for more in-depth and ongoing projects. Together the team of tech coaches will keep their fingers on the pulse of classroom technologies in the district, provide teachers with video tutorials on how to created digital learning spaces & activities, and provide the district with guidance for sustaining technology use in the classroom.
3. Student Devices
I know there are lots of varying opinions on what the student device should look like or be allowed to do. Last year we pretty much just put the iPads out there in the hands of students with very few if any restrictions. This was not a horrible thing in and of itself, after all this post is partly about reflecting on what we learned from doing what we did. However, there were many uncontrollable issues that came out of this. And, being teachers we don't like when things are "out of control".
This year in hopes of comforting our staff a bit and responsibly training our younger learners, we are placing a few restrictions on the device and offering performance based incentives to remove restrictions. All students in grades 6-9 will receive iPads with a set list of apps on them and not have the ability to download apps of their choice from the app store. This decision was reached in part due to the age restrictions around creating an Apple ID, but also due to the fact that the majority of discipline issues around gaming on the iPad involved freshman students. There has been no final decision made about when, or if, the app store will be unlocked on freshman iPads but an idea being thrown around is that students will prove being responsible and respectful with the use of their device and eventually it will eventually be turned on for them. I guess we will see how it goes.