‘Strategic decisions taken over the previous four years enabled us to continue teaching effectively’

Steven Rowe, assistant headteacher at Salesian College, details their journey to a 1:1 device programme, what factors made it a success and how it has been invaluable over the past year

2020 was a most extraordinary year for everyone in education. The Covid-19 pandemic has required us to reflect carefully on long-established norms and practices, and to adapt to new procedures and routines in education. When Salesian College closed to students in March, strategic decisions taken over the previous four years enabled us to continue teaching effectively, albeit remotely, utilising the iPad which each Year 7-11 student is now loaned as a personal learning device for use within college and at home.

The deployment of a 1:1 electronic device to all students as an aid to learning was a key feature of the vision of our new headmaster, Gerard Owens, who joined the college in September 2014. In today’s world we utilise technology constantly in our personal lives; we find it on our desktops, in our briefcases, rucksacks and pockets and on our wrists. Use of personal mobile technology is commonplace in the world outside the classroom and therefore, to assist in fulfilling our mission of ‘educating for life’, we decided that the time had come to additionally embrace it within the College.

Our vision was to change the way in which our students connect, communicate and collaborate in their learning with educational use of mobile technology providing the possibility of more personalised learning strategies and the potential to extend learning beyond the traditional time and space constraints of the school day.

Our journey towards the deployment of a 1:1 device began in earnest in 2015 with extensive research, primarily through visits to schools already using a 1:1 device, attendance at conferences, exhibitions and CPD events, and the reading of published material detailing schools’ engagement with similar programmes. This research and preparation stage took us almost two years, but this was time exceedingly well spent as we were able to consider the advantages and disadvantages of various types of device, including Chromebooks, laptops, Android tablets and iPads.

It also gave us the opportunity to reflect on our vision, to promote it and to engage with interested stakeholders, particularly our students, parents and governors. Furthermore, we also needed time to consider costs and budgetary issues, and to evaluate our IT infrastructure making necessary upgrades, particularly to our Wi-Fi provision.

The final decision to introduce the iPad as our 1:1 device for students and teachers was reached in mid-2017. A period of preparation, including the engagement of a commercial partner/supplier followed, with deployment to teachers finally taking place in February 2018.

We chose the iPad as we believed it to be accessible, media rich, creative, collaborative and connected. It offered a secure and robust operating system, high battery capacity and, through use of Apple Classroom, we knew that we could enable effective use and monitoring in the classroom.

The engagement of a commercial partner was a key factor in the eventual success of the project as they were able to provide advice, help us with technical audits and gave us access to an Apple Trainer who has worked closely with us throughout in developing digital learning strategies.

Our iPads are fully managed by the college using JAMF, our chosen mobile device management system. Apps can be deployed to or removed from iPads by our IT staff as necessary. In line with our vision for the iPad as an educational device, we do not allow students to download apps themselves. However, students do have the chance to have their say regarding iPad use and can recommend apps via the student digital leaders who are part of the college student council.

All apps deployed by the college are tested and risk assessed before use. Initial concerns about the cost of apps proved to be unfounded as the majority of apps chosen for use were either free, or available with a substantial discount for educational use.

This research and preparation stage took us almost two years, but this was time exceedingly well spent as we were able to consider the advantages and disadvantages of various types of device

We were conscious from the outset that the introduction of a 1:1 device programme would require significant changes to teaching and learning strategies within the college and that many staff would need considerable support in developing iPad expertise.

To facilitate this, we decided to appoint a full-time member to our support team to be known as the digital learning technologist, or DLT. Our DLT has a keen interest and considerable expertise in use of IT, and works closely with teachers both within and outside the classroom to assist in iPad skill development and the exploration of novel learning strategies.

He has also worked closely with our Apple Trainer and has been invaluable in assisting staff to embrace digital learning and in assisting them to work towards their ‘Apple Teacher’ qualification, which the vast majority of our teachers have now achieved. The appointment of a DLT represented a considerable extra expense for the college, but it has been a key factor in our success. As he does not have teaching responsibilities, the DLT is available to support staff throughout the day and runs a daily ‘surgery’ in the staff room every lunchtime.

Alongside decisions regarding the type of device, sourcing and support, we also needed to consider our workflow methodology. We were keen to continue with the use of Microsoft 365 software rather than switch to Apple. Attendance at a conference at the Microsoft Office in Reading convinced us that Microsoft apps would be effective on the iPad.

Primarily, when in college, our students continue to work in exercise books, but our use of Microsoft One Note Class Notebook and Microsoft Teams has proven this system to be robust on the iPad and was invaluable during the periods of school closure during the summer term 2020 and spring 2021.

We were able to switch to online learning easily and staff quickly became adept at delivering live lessons, sharing their iPad or PC screens and audio with students at home, facilitating active engagement in remote lessons via typed ‘chat’ or through audio conversations.

The iPad’s inbuilt microphone and camera proved invaluable. Students completed their work in Class Notebook, which automatically saves to the Cloud, hence teachers were able to access work easily and provide feedback, including in real time during lessons.

More recently, students isolating at home whilst the majority were still in class have been able to take part in lessons and experience classroom activities remotely. In science, for example, students at home have taken part in small group practical work as a student in school has been able to use their camera to broadcast experimental work live to the student at home alongside the use of audio for two-way communication. Microsoft Teams has also enabled us to run virtual parents’ evenings smoothly and effectively.

Our historical timeline for the deployment of digital devices is shown below. September 2019 saw complete deployment or iPads to every teacher and to all students in Years 7–11. Teachers have also been provided with Apple Pencils which have proven invaluable in facilitating electronic feedback to students and in allowing annotation of, for example, students’ work, PowerPoint slides or photographs.

We delayed a decision on provision for sixth form students until 2019. Following consultation with students we decided not to introduce a managed device and so from September 2020, all sixth formers have embraced the opportunity to bring a device of their own choosing to lessons in college. The students have welcomed the extra flexibility and responsibility that this brings for them as they move towards increased autonomy at university or in the world of work.

The physical provision of devices and development of supporting IT infrastructure is just one aspect of developing a 1:1 device programme. Our initial research suggested that many schools have found it easy to spend money on devices without fully understanding the potential impact on teaching and learning.

There is a real need to develop a vision for teaching and learning before spending any money on kit. Our project leader worked closely with our teaching staff to develop a vision for teaching and learning, drawing up a detailed five-year digital learning strategy, which we continue to review and develop further on a regular basis.

Sharing good practice events take place frequently and staff have become used to welcoming other teachers into their classrooms to observe good practice. The senior leadership team appreciates that amongst the staff, there will be a wide range of expertise regarding iPad use in lessons and encourages development in a positive way with staff being committed to an ongoing programme of training and developmental opportunities, supported by our project leader, DLT and Apple Trainer.

There is a real need to develop a vision for teaching and learning before spending any money on kit

As with traditional teaching and learning, the development and introduction of new ideas is a dynamic process with strategies being tested and then adopted and shared or rejected. Inevitable staff turnover means that there will always be considerable difference in expertise as we move forward, but in the supportive environment that we have created, development opportunities are readily available.

We are pleased that our students are now able to enjoy many learning activities that could not be provided in a traditional classroom. Many of these activities replace or extend traditional approaches, for example, the use of quizzing apps to facilitate assessment for learning, but we have also introduced more novel opportunities through use of, for example, augmented reality.

Ultimately, we aim to provide access to a learning environment within which the iPad is seen as just one resource amongst many available to teachers and students, both traditional and modern. We consider ourselves to be ‘a school that uses iPads’ rather than ‘an iPad school’ and believe that our use of technology replicates provision in the wider world of work that students will eventually enter.

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