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Keys to a successful iPad initiative

Archbishop Riordan High School tackles the challenges of implementing iPads in the classroom

A strong strategy and rock-solid network foundation are necessary to successfully implementing iPads in schools. Administrators in San Francisco’s Archbishop Riordan High School decided to implement a 1:1 iPad environment beginning as a voluntary program in 2012, taking on all infrastructure obstacles head-on. With parent, student, and teacher feedback and support, iPads will then be a mandatory purchase for the 2013-2014 school year. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on September 13, 2012, Steve Johnston, Director of Academic Technology, discusses the decision to implement iPads, what challenges the school faced and the results thus far. Chris Koeneman, Vice President of Sales for the Bluesocket Business Group of ADTRAN, addresses what infrastructure concerns those wishing to bring iPads into the classroom are facing and how to combat them.

Chris Koeneman: Instituting widespread iPad use presupposes that you have a robust network; thus, it is wise to look at your network before deployment. The challenges to expanding school wireless networks include:

  • Dealing with more users and devices on the network than ever before.
  • The need for greater coverage across campus.
  • Use of apps that require a high bandwidth.
  • Mobility domains that accommodate transient students.

Currently, there are two network choices for schools:

  • Independent access points in individual classrooms.
  • Coordinated access points with control outside the access point.

While independent access points are cheap and easily installed, schools cannot have user management and mobility because the access points are managed separately. Coordinated access points allow for user management and mobility, but they are very expensive and have a limit on the number of users.

Current WLAN architectures were developed before tablets like the iPad, so the challenge is how to expand and scale without spending too much money. ADTRAN Bluesocket found the solution in virtualization. They applied what virtualization did for data centers (helping them grow economically) to wireless networks. Instead of putting everything on a controller, the management and control is put into VMware. Access points behave somewhat like independent access points to manage a data plan.

Compared to $25,000 per controller, per school, Bluesocket’s software is free. Multiple schools can be controlled from one place out of one device in software. There are access points in individual classrooms, but one unified network is running across a private network or the Internet. Users are treated the same across the board, allowing for district-wide roaming.

DA: After hearing some of the broader issues with iPad implementation, now we will hear from someone who has done it on practical level. Steve, give us some background on your school and the process behind deciding to implement a 1:1 iPad environment.

Steve Johnson: Archbishop Riordan is an all-boys, private, college preparatory high school in San Francisco. There are approximately 650 students, including those in the international residential program, and 100 faculty and staff.

We spent a year researching and looking at mobile platforms at other schools. Then we started looking at our own infrastructure and the changes we would need to make to transition.

DA: What changes needed to be made to your infrastructure before rolling out the iPads?

SJ: We had been using an Apple Xserve, but switched over to Cisco servers running Windows software, particularly VMware. We also moved mail offsite to Google Apps for Education, a free platform for schools that allowed all students to have email. This was implemented half a year before the iPad introduction, so we could get used to the program and instruct everyone on appropriate use. When we decided to go wireless, ADTRAN’s Bluesocket impressed us because it worked with our VMware deployment. Because we’re running Windows servers and Active Directory, it also plugged into our Active Directory.

All students are given server accounts, so they already had an Active Directory account. ADTRAN brought us a variety of access points to try out, and sent a team to determine best placement locations. We ended up with 72 access points, with some placed in high-capacity locations such as our cafeteria, theater, and courtyards.

DA: What software and applications do the students and administration use?

SJ: The required apps were chosen because they are considered among the best by university standards, and we are a college preparatory school. Price was a consideration; these are less than $30 total. We are continuing to look at these and new apps and will add and remove as needed. Some of the best software we use includes:

  • Reflection, which allows teachers to wirelessly mirror their iPad onto a Smartboard or whiteboard
  • Nearpod, which allows teachers to push interactive presentations from their iPad to the students’. Any data entered by the student gets emailed to the teacher in real time.
  • Bluesocket from ADTRAN, which has a number of useful features including one that enables us to locate a missing iPad by identifying which access point to which it is connected.

DA: How much did digital textbooks influence your decision to implement iPads?

SJ: Students take four classes a semester and are required to purchase books for each. We put together a comparison that revealed the large savings of digital textbooks compared to print. That, coupled with the elimination of heavy books from backpacks, greatly excited parents. One challenge has been working with teachers who may have been using a book they loved for several years. As the digital versions are always the current edition, some teachers have had to re-examine and modify lesson plans based on a new book.

DA: Do you have professional development to help teachers transition to new teaching methods that incorporate the iPad?

SJ: Teachers are teaching the same way now as they have in the past. It is simply the tools that have changed. They have loved being able to use Nearpod to push out presentations. Also, they are finding out what we read in our research—that students are more engaged and less distracted when using the iPad. However, classroom management is what has to be re-learned. Teachers are asking how to manage a room of students with digital devices. Professional development addresses this, as well as new apps and programs like iTunes U, which allows us to put content online.

DA: What about the parent community? How do you communicate with them? Was there any resistance to your iPad initiative?

SJ: When we began our research, we were concerned with how parents would respond. So, we sent out a questionnaire asking what devices they had at home, thoughts about iPads in the classroom, would they prefer to rent or buy an iPad, etc. We also held three meetings, allowing families to sit through an informational presentation and give feedback. Since parents are such an important part of our community, we wanted to include them. We are always available to them via phone, email, or regular newsletters. The open meetings also made us think about what we need to do on campus to support our teachers and students. As a result, we made a new hire and put in a Help Desk that is open every day for any questions.

DA: In general, what are some of the lessons learned? What do you wish you knew at the start of this process?

SJ: One piece of advice to other schools considering implementing a mobile device platform is to consider the culture of your school. We were initially focused on the nuts and bolts and failed to think about environmental issues, like identifying the best way to help our teachers who are using these programs for the first time. What works at Archbishop Riordan may not work at another school. We are now focused on ongoing training for teachers and students. While it is a commonly held idea that the students know more about the devices than the teachers, we want to train them on using the familiar device as an educational tool in a best practices way.

To view this web seminar in its entirety, go to: