The iPad Project: Day One

I'm about to start a series of daily blog posts about a project that I'm working on: do complete a 1:1 deployment of iPads to the school I work at.

First, a little back story.

In 2006, we massively upgraded the school's IT to move from a few creaking and Ill-managed iMac G3s to a proper computer lab. We bought 12 Core Duo iMacs - the white plastic ones - and an Xserve G5. I spent that summer building a proper managed network with common logins and all that kind of stuff. It worked really well.

It worked a little too well because you know what happens when you give teachers computers that actually work? They use them. A lot.

Demand grew and grew and so in 2009 we upgraded our wireless coverage and deployed 12 MacBooks. Another almost-huge success. I haven't been as happy with the MacBooks, mostly because I haven't been all that happy with the robustness of Portable Home Directories. Too many duplicated and lost files because impatient children won't let the logout sync complete before putting the laptop away.

Still, the computer setup in our school is extremely reliable by comparison with any other school. It's not that we have better financing - seemingly endless amounts of taxpayer debt is available to PFI-finance interactive whiteboards at £2000 per classroom - but we don't have the bureaucracy that state schools have. And the bureaucracy is of the type that Douglas Adams lampooned in Hitchhiker's Guide with the Vogons' demands for forms signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. And that's just to get a URL unfiltered.

Anyway, that's a discussion for another time.

In January, I convened a meeting to suggest ways that we could get past this problem that everyone wanted access to computers in almost all classrooms almost all the time.

We talked about the iPod touch. It was cheap and small, tons of software and we could easily give everyone a device. When it came to discussing capabilities, I constantly ran into three major problems:

1. You can't connect a hardware keyboard (remember this was iOS 3.x days)
2. You cant connect it to a projector
3. You can't do proper word processing

That was January 15th and the meeting broke up with general approval to move forward and see how many educational 'bases' we could cover with an iPod touch. We still had our computers, so we hoped that even just giving access to the web for everyone would be a big step up.

That was January 15th. On January 24th, Steve Jobs convened the world's press in San Francisco and introduced the iPad along with iOS versions of Pages, Keynote and Numbers.

The rest isn't quite history yet, but it felt inevitable.

Current status: the lease was approved yesterday, and the order was booked today. It remains a little unclear when we'll actually get the devices. We're buying 16GB WiFi models which, I've been told are not the most popular models and a little easier to get. It's the 32GB 3G that's the smash-hit model for most buyers.

We are buying the iPads and the Apple iPad case. I've been impressed with the Apple case, despite the negative reactions that it's received online. I just hope that the case seams hold together for the duration of the lease. No evidence from my hard-used case so far but it's still early days.

We are also _not_ buying iPad keyboard docks right now. We're going to let experience guide us. If we need them, we'll get them but it's a little awkward that the keyboard dock and the Apple case aren't compatible.

To be continued.