The iPad Project: The Night Before Christmas

The school opens for business again tomorrow. iPads have been sync'ed and we've had the debate about whether it's sync'ed or sunk. I wanted to write a little about our take-home policy, since it's the question I get almost more than any other.

We are planning to allow pupils from Primary 6 upwards (age 10-11) to take the iPads home, subject to a signed agreement from home.

From the school's point of view, take-home has several advantages.

At a practical level, because the iPad has such great battery life, we can send the chargers home and simply ask that the kids bring the iPad to school with enough charge to get through the day.

Another problem we've always had is that setting any kind of practical homework that involves using the computer is an open door for "Sorry, sir, my computer was broken". Now, in some cases, that's actually true. It's remarkable, though, how frequently the slackers' computers break compared to the computers owned by the hard-working kids.

An iPad take-home program lets us deliver a standard hardware and software configuration to pupils' homes as well as to their school desks.

I had originally planned to start the take-home program around October, after there had been a bit of a probation period with the whole iPad system. We quickly realised, though, that most teachers were planning to deliver so much work - and, in particular, homework - digitally that to wait would only mean that we would have to figure out interim methods of delivering what we had planned to do until the iPads were allowed to go home.

So beginning, I think, on Tuesday, we'll be sending home some documentation and forms for signature. I can guarantee that the return rate on these forms will be unprecedented in the history of education.

From a sysadmin point of view, there's a lot more we can't control when a device goes home. This worries me a bit.

In particular, my number one concern is that a pupil will plug their iPad into a home computer and, accidentally or otherwise, blow their entire configuration away.

At some level, you have to trust that people will use your stuff properly. The true BOFH, however, backs all that up with policy.

Earlier this year, I completely rewrote our Acceptable Use Policy and developed an 'iPad Owner's Guide" that explains in some detail the kinds of things you are and are not allowed to do. I'll try and share some or all of it on this blog later if I can.

Other Things

Over the weekend we discovered that syncing iPads to user accounts that are mounted from a server over WiFi is a Very Bad Idea. I've moved all the sync computers that I can onto our gigabit ethernet network. The words "night" and "day" come to mind. WiFi is great but you can't beat some GigE.

I really want-slash-need a document camera of some kind to use when teaching about iPad applications. It's a shame that the iPad VGA adapter can't just mirror the entire screen on a secondary display. I'm hoping to be able to figure something out with an old video camera and a tripod but haven't succeeded so far.

We're also looking for a good iPad attendance marking app but, it appears, there are none.

I'll leave you with this photo that I took over the weekend. To see where we're going with this, just imagine this scene with the iPads replaced by laptops or netbooks.

iPad and Paper