My son had his iPad for a month and we were just amazed at how well he was progressing with it. So my wife and I wanted to find a way to get his school involved and get iPads into the classrooms. Our goal was multifold. First, if we were having this much success on our own, what could they do in the school with more children. Second, the more involved we were with the programs, the more we could learn. Third, if our school was involved and supportive, they could further build on the successes we were having with our son.
We talked with the school and outlined our goals, found testers within the school, and set their goals. We wrote a grant to solidify our commitment. The grant was very important to the school, as it gave them a framework. There were four key items that need to be worked out:
- Testing in the school: Who is going to really take the ball, drive the usage, be the focal point.
- Hardware: Who needed what. With young users and users with special needs, there are mechanical considerations, protective accessories and more that need to be included to maximize usage.
- Software: What do the various users need now, what will they need later and how can everyone involved get what they need. This is a big part of the program. The iPad can be used in so many ways by users at all levels.
- Technology setup and usage: Someone need to be responsible for iPad setup and getting started basics.
How we did it:
First we found someone within the school to drive the program. We had already talked to the head teacher, the Director of the school and the developmental psychologist, and everyone was on board with the idea, but we lacked our driver. We found that person in our son’s teacher. She had previously worked with other technology like PECS, so this was a natural fit. The key ingredient was that she want to immediately implement use of the iPad in her classroom. For us, that meant that our son was going to explore through his teacher’s direct efforts. We learned a few things from this experience. First, we realized that without a key person to drive a program, schools, like most institutions, are slow-moving. A driver can help move the program along more quickly.
Second was the hardware. The first consideration was which iPad would be most appropriate. We immediately ruled out the three with cellular contracts. It did not make sense to add very expensive contracts to the program when normal wi-fi would work. Then it was a matter of which wi-fi version to select. This came down to a decision of how much memory was necessary. We ultimately chose the one with the least amount of memory. Even the smallest one has ample room for applications. The advantage of iPads with larger memory is that they provide more room for music, and especially for video, so a parent may want to buy a larger one for their own child. If your child responds to videos, having more room means a decreased need to add and remove videos to ensure a fresh selection for your child.
An additional consideration of hardware was the protective case for the unit. We intended to use these iPads with many children, with varying levels of motor control, so there were a number of requirements. The case had to protect, be versatile, support the iPad on a table, and be durable. We chose the Incase Convertible Book Jacket for iPad. It had a very good balance of usability and durability. We also purchased clear screen protectors to protect the screen.
Incase Convertible Book Jacket
The need for additional hardware, a spare unit: We built room into our budget for a spare unit as we did not know how well the iPad would last with so much use. Our program has a total of four units in operation, but two are in one classroom, so if one breaks, the lack of a unit will not shut-out a whole set of users. Although Apple has an insurance policy on the iPad, the one available at that time only extended the manufacturer’s warranty and was not a replacement warranty.
The third consideration was the software, which was trickier than expected. We started the program with a basic list of software, but how would it work when a teacher wanted to add more programs? How would the additions be managed? What about when the budget was exceeded? How could they add more? The answer was iTunes gift cards. It will make more sense after I explain how we setup the hardware and iTunes account in the next section.
The last was setup and training. They key to the whole program was the ability to use iTunes gift cards – they are readily available and come in small amounts. A $15 gift card can by 10-15 applications. In order to simplify management of the program, we created one account using the school’s main email address. Very important note, in order to setup an account you need a credit card, so we got a “pay as you go” credit card from the local grocery with $20 or so on it. This allowed us to setup an account for the school but not commit the school or any parent financially beyond what was on the card already.
Notes and Tips on setting up a number of devices:
- Set up all of them on the same account from the same computer using the same iTunes application. I named each device schoolname_iPad#
- On the back of each iPad, using either a Sharpie or label-maker, add the device name, email address (iTunes user name), password and 3 number pin of the back of the credit card. The teachers will need this information when adding new applications to each device.
- Set up one device first, then go on to the next device. Set up should look like this:
- Unbox the iPad, and plug it into a computer with iTunes, register the device with iTunes and your account. (You will have to set up the account during the first device set up.)
- Disconnect iPad from the computer, set up wi-fi, go to applications store and purchase and download at least 1 application (not a free application). This will force you to login with the account, and verify the credit card on the iPad. My advice is to buy and download all of the basic applications on the first device before you set up the second device.
- Move on to the next device. It took a while to set up the account and the first device, but the second is much faster. Make sure you keep a running list of the applications from the first time to make installing them the second time much faster. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to duplicate applications from one device to another.
What we found out about applications: Applications are purchased at the account level and can be replicated across the devices assigned to the account. This is a crucial issue, as the total cost for putting higher-priced applications on multiple devices can add up quickly, but is also important for low-cost applications, as even $1 applications can quickly eat through a budget.
Training: The last step was to sit down with each of the teachers and teach them about and how to use the device: power up, charging, getting online, device set up, and application store. It was also afforded them the opportunity to use a few applications.
Within a week, our key driver had already incorporated the iPad into circle time. We now regularly exchange applications we have found and are very pleased with the reports of usage from other classrooms.