Canby School District
has made quite a name for itself down in Silicon Valley through its work as a faithful guinea pig for Apple. As an early adopter of its newest technology for education, Canby has worked closely with Apple engineers and developers for years, providing feedback. The district, which encompasses nine schools and approximately 5,000 students, is approaching a collection of nearly 12,000 iOS devices as they finish implementing 1:1 iPad® mobile digital devices in classrooms.
I recently spoke with Dan Fleck, part of the Mobile Learning team under IT Director Joe Morelock, about the risks and rewards of being an early adopter. Here’s what I learned.
Early on, Fleck says the biggest challenge they were faced with was finding content to populate the new devices. Canby has a large population of native Spanish speakers, and finding content for them was especially difficult, so they ended up having to create a lot of their own content. Keep in mind that the newest devices don’t have a well-developed app store with hundreds of thousands of apps. Content for those new devices may be slim-pickings for a while, until developers have a chance to populate the market.
Another challenge Canby encountered as an early adopter was training teachers on how to manage their devices. IT “wanted them to have as much control as possible,” Fleck says, because IT professionals aren’t high school English teachers or middle school math teachers; every teacher needed to be proficient and self-sufficient with the device to effectively use it to teach a class.
Fleck calls this the greatest struggle and the greatest success, as it required more work upfront (two days of training, with lots of 1-on-1 training) but ended up empowering the teachers in a crucial way.
Without hesitation, Fleck cites the increase in student productivity and in Canby’s test scores as the ultimate reward of being an early adopter. That notable increase
was what Canby had been aiming for with its early adopter program and Fleck’s voice fills with enthusiasm when talking about it.
He also points out that it has been incredibly rewarding to see students who were always antsy, bored and uninterested in class become genuinely interested in learning because now, it’s fun.
The material is no longer a book written in 1996, nor a PowerPoint presentation full of ClipArt. Now, it’s an interactive video, or an app that teaches math in the form of a video game. Students are excited to learn on these devices because it’s fun for them, and it’s intuitive: while teachers got two full days of training, the kids needed just fifteen minutes.
So, what’s Fleck’s advice to someone who wants to become an early adopter? “Just dive in. If you look at the water too long, it gets dark and you have to go home.” So, learn from your mistakes, learn from your students, and remember, Fleck says, the reward comes later, so just get started.
Are you an early adopter of new technology in the classroom? What challenges have you encountered? What advice would you give newbies?