Thursday, August 11, 2011

The iPad Experiment - Day #1

Yesterday, I received my iPad cart fully stocked with 30 iPads and a laptop that acts as the hub for syncing the devices. Today was the first day that I attempted to use the devices with my class. We spent about 20-25 minutes discussing the iPad Driver's License requirements and reviewing the rules for iPad use. The students were very excited about the opportunity to use the devices, and they asked a lot of good clarifying questions about the rules. I then gave the students about 30 minutes to just explore the iPads and play with the apps that I'd downloaded.

The Good
1. I like the iPad cart overall, and I think that it has great potential as a classroom hub. It is so efficient at syncing the iPads, and it makes managing the devices far less cumbersome than I'd anticipated. The cart doesn't take up a lot of real estate in my classroom, and it's easy to move around. It locks easily, and the back lights up to show the numbers of the devices that are plugged in. It makes for a really well-organized system for managing the iPads, especially since all of the students are given numbers and assigned a specific device to use each and every time. As long as they put it in the right spot, I should be able to gauge how well they've been put away pretty quickly.

The Bad (a.k.a. the issues that we'll need to work on...)
1. The cart is a bit cumbersome for plugging and unplugging the iPads. Rather than having the standard iPad plugs, the cart has special cords that plug into the hub to allow for multi-unit syncing and charging. They don't fit into the iPads super-smoothly, and they can be a challenge to navigate. Several students were getting frustrated with them today, and I had to explain that this was a learning experience for all of us. Through much trial-and-error, we determined that the best way to put them back in was to plug the device into the hub, and then rotate the iPad into its slot. When students tried putting the device into the slot before plugging it in, they had a much harder time getting the plug to attach correctly.

2. Not all of the devices synced correctly the first time. On several of the iPads, students could see the icons of all of the apps that were loaded, but when they tapped on the icons, the app would begin to load and then crash. We had to re-sync those devices, and then they worked. All of that was fine, but it was frustrating for the students and me because it was time consuming, and they were all very eager to use their iPads. We were also a lot slower at pulling them out and putting them away because it was our first time, so it just compounded the inefficiency of the process.

3. Not all of the iPads were synced the first time, period. Many of them appeared to be plugged in, but they hadn't connected completely, so they didn't get synced. I learned today what to look for and that I'll need to carefully check the device list to make sure I have all 30 devices connected. It also seemed to matter that I ejected them one by one through iTunes after the sync and before the students took the iPads out of the cart.

4. Volume controls matter! The students are going to get the earbuds for the iPads so they can listen to their apps and work independently, but we didn't have those today. I asked the students to mute the devices so that they wouldn't disturb others around them -- some of the apps are very audio-rich! We figured out, though, that we need to have the volume on when the students return their devices to the cart so we can hear the chirp that tells us the iPad is plugged in correctly.

None of these issues are all that significant, but they're definitely things I didn't anticipate going into the learning experience today. As always, troubleshooting on the spot doesn't always yield the most efficient solutions, either. The students were wonderfully patient throughout the process even though some of them really only got about 10 minutes to explore their iPad. I was also so busy figuring out the technical aspects that I didn't really get to see what the students were doing with the iPads or how they were using them. Now that we've got some of these issues worked out, I'm planning to give the students another opportunity to explore the iPads tomorrow, and hopefully everything will go more smoothly. Once we've got some of these kinks worked out and the students have had an opportunity to "play" with the iPads, we'll really begin to dig into using them for social studies. I'm planning to start those lessons next week.

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