As tablet integration becomes increasingly prominent in U.S. classrooms, administrators face challenges preparing district infrastructures, teachers, students and parents for a shift to digital learning.
Here are some tips from two district leaders who have successfully undergone the change to those considering a move to tablets.
Prepare your infrastructure
Though Community High School District 99 in Downers Grove, Ill., had a robust wired infrastructure, in 2011 administrators decided it was time to put wireless access in the two-school district for staff and students to access. “It was a logical time to put something in place to make use of the wireless,” says Rod Rousseau, director of technology and information services, and soon after, “we opted to give all certified staff members tablet computers.”
The district spent nearly $1 million on the wireless upgrades, and roughly $500,000 on Lenovo Thinkpad tablets for 450 employees, some of whom still use desktop computers as well. Rousseau’s team also ensured that all classroom projectors were networked and wirelessly accessible, so teachers could project information from their tablets as they move around the classroom. “You need to make sure that your infrastructure is ready, and that it will support whatever level access you’re going to put out there—not only the devices, but what you’re planning to do with them, and what kind of content you want to acquire,” Rousseau says.
Offer professional development for teachers
When the tablets were deployed at Community High School District 99 last summer, technology offcers provided hands-on orientation sessions on how to operate and care for the equipment, and how to use them in classrooms with projectors. The district has since followed up over the year with more focused trainings, including those on Google apps. “We’ve pretty much gotten away from the nuts and bolts type trainings, and are now seeing what are the uses and outcomes,” Rousseau says. Though the district offers technical support, the demand has been low, as teachers quickly adapted to the wireless tablets.
Communicate with parents
Last year, McAllen ISD in Texas invested $20 million to provide an iPad for each of its 25,000 students. Located on the Mexican border in a low-income community, where more than two-thirds of students are considered economically disadvantaged, “the most diffcult part of the implementation was making sure that our parents are technology literate—that they understand and can support this transformation in teaching and learning,” says Carmen Garcia, director of instructional technology. The district offered over 200 in-person sessions for parents to learn about the devices, and continue to provide online tutorials, and online sessions each semester. “We’ve also asked the kids to show their parents how to use the device, as a word processor and camera, for example, so the entire family can have access,” Garcia adds.
At McAllen ISD, students regularly access online textbooks, as well as calculators, dictionaries, notepads, maps, and health apps for physical education classes. At Community High School District 99, teachers use the tablets to access the student information and grading systems. The mobility and flexibility of the tablets has led to increased productivity and saved time, Rousseau says, by allowing teachers to access information away from their desks and out of the school.