The iPad Project: How It's Going

So we're now nearly five weeks into the iPad deployment and I thought it was time to update you in some detail.

The Educational Part

So many people have asked me to explain the educational impact of the iPad. I simply can't yet get to grips with everything that's happening. Put simply, the iPad deployment has transformed our school. Not evenly and not everywhere yet, but it's coming.

There are stages to technology adoption. Two important stages are 'replacement' and 'transformation'. With replacement, you take an existing resource and replace it with an essentially identical digital resource. Think of a paper textbook replaced by the same textbook in PDF form. That's not to be sniffed at - there are big advantages to that.

What we're reaching in some classes is the transformation stage. We're seeing the iPad completely change the way that certain subjects are taught. Our best example so far is Art. I will write and share more about what we're doing in Art over time but it's fair to say that it is already far beyond anything I expected in the first year, let alone the first month.

At this point, all I can give you are some practical anecdotes which, I hope, will give you a flavour of the change.

  • I picked up a ream of printer paper yesterday. It had dust on top of it.
  • Primary 2 pupils have now memorised their passwords. That's not something that happens when they get 40 minutes a week on computers.
  • Last week, we couldn't get the Primary 3 pupils to stop doing maths and go for lunch.
  • My daughter April asked me if I could install the educational apps from school on my iPad so she could use them at home.
  • We're seeing a reduction in the amount of homework forgotten or not done.
  • "Forgetting your folder" for a subject is now a thing of the past.

The one feature that my teachers are crying out for is a way to present the entire iPad UI on a projector. At the moment, it's up to the application how they choose to support the iPad VGA Adapter. Some, such as Brushes, show a 'presentation' style display but almost no applications mirror the entire UI. That's quite technically difficult for a developer, so it would be nice to see something in the OS to support video mirroring.

I've been looking at what used to be called "document cameras" but are now apparently called "visualisers". You know the kind of downwards-pointing-camera-on-an-arm thing. Those things are not cheap. They start in the multiple hundreds of pounds and go from there. I'm wary of buying when a future iOS update might obsolete them all at a stroke. (Note, again, that I know nothing you don't know on that front. Just a wish.)

The Technical Part

From a sysadmin's point of view, once set up, the iPad is quite an easy device to have on your network. I have already documented the trials involved in setup, so let me talk a little about the day to day running.

In the early days, when the set of installed apps was changing regularly, syncing the iPads was slow. When you're just backing up without installing apps, it moves along quite nicely. Gigabit ethernet is essential, though. We had a couple of classroom stations on WiFi and syncs were taking 20 minutes or more, which is no good.

We still find that deploying a new application to all the devices via sync takes too long. In Secondary, where each guidance class has 15 minutes three times a week to sync devices, we are not rolling out apps fast enough. It can take a week or more to make sure that everyone has had a chance to sync.

When we need an app on all devices quickly, we have found that having the class teacher manually install the app on the device through the App Store is about the only way to do it. This is obviously far from ideal but it's not too common an occurrance. We've only done it for two or three apps.

App deployment remains by far the least satisfactory part of the whole experience.

I have previously written about the impact of the iPad's battery life. We are not experiencing any problems with keeping the iPad running through an entire school day. Very rarely, a pupil will forget to recharge the iPad overnight and will need a top-up during the day.

We have had a couple of defective iPads. One device's LCD developed rainbow stripes, the other developed a dead strip across the screen that wouldn't respond to touch.

In both cases, the recovery procedure was:

  • Sync the broken device
  • Unwrap a spare
  • Restore the spare from the last backup

The procedure takes about 30 minutes from start to finish and the pupil is back up and running quickly. If you're going to do an iPad deployment, I'm starting to think it's essential that you have hot spares on site. The iPad is now so embedded in everything we do that to be without it for a single day - far less two or three - is unacceptable.

Both devices were replaced after a 10 minute visit to the Genius Bar. Try that with your £200 netbook.

The Apple cases are also holding up well. They do look dirty very quickly, which is a shame but, functionally, I have yet to see anything better.