When the iPad was launched in 2008, it was touted as education’s long-awaited digital revolutionary. 70% of UK schools have implemented the use of tablets in the years since, an adoption rate unmatched by any previous learning technology. Yet for all the hype, there is very little real impact to show for it. It is not because the iPad is incapable of transforming schools. It certainly is. The issue lies in a school’s ability to unlock that potential, and the unfortunate reality is that very few have succeeded. I believe the lack of a clear vision from the outset is the biggest reason
Start with a Vision Statement
The first step on your journey starts long before you unbox any iPads. It starts with a vision and the all-important question, “What outcome do you want to achieve from using iPads?” Here are some of the most popular vision statements I hear from schools:
- To improve teaching and learning
- To improve student engagement and interaction
- To raise outcomes and attainment
- To develop critical thinking skills
- To introduce independent learning
- To differentiate classroom activities
- To personalise learning
- To improve budget efficiency (e.g. going paperless and reducing running costs)
- To implement 24/7 learning
- Because competing schools are doing it!
I imagine your vision will probably include most, if not all of the points listed. I have often thought about creating an iPad bingo book listing these vision statements because I cannot tell you how many schools I have been to that share them. I could sit in meetings quietly ticking them off as the school’s senior leaders throw them around the table, quietly congratulating myself as I got a full house each time.
It is very easy to talk a good game; achieving it is much more difficult. When I ask school leaders to explain what these statements would look like in practice, very few are able to answer. This is because these vision statements are blanket concepts filled with the current educational buzzwords. They sound very nice, get the reciprocating nods of approval from the powers that be, but are almost impossible to fully achieve.
Vision statements alone do not make for successful projects; clearly outlined actions and milestones do.
Get Specific - Outline your Plan through Question and Inquiry
It is common for schools to skip over planning when it comes to technology projects. It is understandable when schools are already drowning in paperwork and staff are incredibly time poor, but unfortunately, it is one task that just cannot be skipped. It is a false economy because trying to save time at the outset will only lead to headaches and problems further down the line. You have a choice of where you invest your time: at the beginning to start on the right path, or later on to firefight problems. This is also true for schools already using the iPad, because it is always worthwhile reviewing the original plan or creating a fresh one.
Brian Tracey, a productivity expert, states that “every one minute spent planning saves ten minutes in execution.” Having seen the most successful iPad schools using plans to great effect, I could not think of any better advice than this to give you.
I recommend preparing your plan by using a ‘question and inquiry’ approach, making sure your overarching goals are developed into a set of specific targets that get right down to the nitty-gritty detail. Let’s start by expanding the most popular vision statement that schools target:
Vision statement: to improve teaching and learning.
Question your statement: Direct your vision statements and start asking “Do you want …” questions to get more specific. For example:
- Do you want an improvement in results?
- Do you want to increase student engagement?
Inquire more: If the answer is yes, determine how to turn the vision into a reachable target.
- Do you want to an improvement in results? Which subjects or with which pupils?
- Do you want to increase student engagement? How will you measure this?
By using the ‘question and inquiry’ approach stated above, we can reach specific targets.
Question: Do you want to an improvement in results? Yes.
Inquiry: Which subjects or with which pupils? Maths students with current D & E grades.
If the thought of more targets makes your eyes water, let me reassure you that targets will actually reduce your workload in the long run, rather than add to it. Plan, plan, plan and you will have a strategy to meet your targets and overcome whatever challenges come your way.
Use SMART Targets
Targets will give your project focus and help you to recognise when its aims are being met. Putting a few targets in place at the beginning will make life much easier once your iPad project is in full flow. Imagine that, targets making life easier! The tried and tested method of using SMART targets will go a long way in developing your plan further. The SMART acronym lists the most vital qualities your targets must have in order to be purposeful:
Many schools already undertake this planning process in other areas of the school, such as with Individual Education Plans or Education Health Care Plans, and it is no more difficult to apply to an iPad project.
To begin, I will map the vision statement through the SMART process:
Undertaking a step-by-step approach will increase the likelihood of achieving the goals you have set out for your iPad project. Once you have a series of SMART targets like the ones above, then choose one department or subject area in which to test them and develop it further. The key is to fail fast and learn from it. An interesting fact is that it takes on average six failed companies before an entrepreneur builds a successful one, and you will go through a similar learning curve on your iPad project.
If you start small and learn from the mistakes, failures and challenges you encounter, before long you will be consistently getting it right and then you can easily roll out and apply the process across more departments and students. I will talk about how you do that in the following chapters.
Many schools I encounter try to jump head first into a school-wide iPad project, aiming to improve teaching and learning across the board right from the get-go. It should come as no surprise that it is much more challenging to work towards multiple goals simultaneously. The benefit of approaching your project with just one key target area, such as improving C grade GCSE results in maths, is that you can focus both available time and resources to achieving that target. Once you have achieved it in one subject you can replicate it across others.
Adapting mobile technology in the classroom is a learning curve, and the most successful teachers evolve their teaching practice over a period of time. It is a cultural shift away from the ‘chalk-and-talk’ style to a more collaborative and interactive approach. It is challenging enough to improve a single department, so the bigger the stage you set for the iPad the bigger the challenge you are creating.
Create a clear vision that focuses on the learning goals rather than the technology. How do you see iPads transforming your school? Set the goal and then work backwards to figure out the relevant steps.
Ask specific questions and build a clear plan of action. Delve deep into your vision and break down each goal into its smallest components. Have a colleague play the role of head/governors/parents and ask you the hard questions. This will enable you to create a robust plan.
Commit to the process. Make use of SMART objectives to focus in on your highest priority areas. Align your iPad project with targets that may already be on the School Improvement Plan / School Evaluation Form. This will ease the learning curve for teaching staff and aid the culture shift in your school.