This post is the 4th in a series describing how we set up an Android tablet 1:1 initiative at Forrester High School in Edinburgh. This is a review of our progress and experiences 5 months after we rolled out the tablets to each of our 140 S1 students. There are 3 previous posts in this series on planning, preparation and implementation.
The views expressed in the following evaluation of this project are entirely my own. Edinburgh Council has contracted Hull University to carry out a formal evaluation of our 1:1 pilot as well as the three other pilots across the authority: iPads at Sciennes Primary; Android tablets at Broomhouse Primary; and Netbooks at Gracemount High School. Working with Hull University we have completed a baseline survey of staff, students and parents and there will be follow-up surveys at the end of the year. This is in addition to ongoing review meetings with staff from the University.
Apps and usage
We have a wide range of apps being used by departments across the school. Interestingly, many are generic learning or productivity apps rather than curriculum specific apps e.g. Edmodo, Socrative, Evernote, Skitch, WordPress, Catch, Kingsoft Office and SimpleMind. We are currently considering the use of Edmodo as the standard mechanism for issuing homework to all of our S1 students. There are some other good examples of how the tablets are being used across the school on our 1:1 blog.
A couple of my personal favourites are:
- Maths students studying 3D shape, taking photographs of their work and then blogging about it
- A History class learning about the Egyptians using Minecraft to build pyramids and catacombs.
That’s not to say that there are not great curricular apps being used as well. In Maths we are teaching equations with the aid of the fantastic DragonBox. This is a paid app which normally retails at £3.99 but the publishers have been good enough to let us pilot the resource for free if we feedback our experiences to them.
Of course it’s not just about the apps, and many teachers are just using the devices to access the web. The tablets also come equipped with a camera, and so in Science students have been able to photograph their experiments. In Art, they have taken photographs of themselves which they then use to paint a self-portrait
Our short term aim has been to make the switch from paper to digital sources, and some departments have begun to digitise their resources which students can then download via a wiki or Edmodo. In Computing we have a wiki to support for all our courses, and students are now able to access all of this content on their tablets. I have spoken to a well-known publisher of Maths books about them making their content available to us digitally. The indication was that this might be possible, but it was clear from the conversation that they were not yet geared up for this. I think it will be interesting to see which publishers make content available in this way, and suspect that those who don not move quickly will find themselves in trouble.
One thing that I feel we do need in order to make the most of the devices is an integrated cloud productivity and storage solution. When we decided to go down the Android road, the indication was that Glow 2.0 would be built around Google Apps. However, this solution fell through at the 11th hour and now Microsoft 365 is the platform of choice. Hopefully this will provide a suitable integration experience with our Android tablets.
Firstly the positives…
Although the Toshiba AT-100 has now been on the market for around 18 months (a long time in the tablet world) it’s still a suitable device for the classroom in terms of it’s specification. It runs all apps and online content comfortably and we have yet to encounter any problems with storage capacity. It is a bit bulky and ugly compared to more recently launched tablets, but that’s not really an issue. The AT-100 is still running the Honeycomb version of Android, and although I’ve seen some rumours online we are still waiting for an update to Jelly Bean.
As one might expect, integration with Google tools like GMail and the Google Play Store is seamless. Set up of the devices was easy and we took the approach of having each student configure their Google accounts and then their tablets by themselves.
Supporting an Android tablet is a breeze. If a device doesn’t work as it should (warranty and damage aside), then a factory reset takes about a minute. This is a significant factor to consider when supporting 140+ tablets!
And the negatives…
Sadly we have had major problems with the Toshiba AT-100 tablet. Through no fault of our own or our students, over the 5 months of this project we have had to return around 30 of our 140 devices under warranty. In virtually every case the symptoms have been the same – no screen display caused by a loosely connected cable becoming dislodged. Toshiba claim this has been because we have received a bad batch, and have now agreed to come out to the school to test (and repair where necessary) each individual tablet. Unfortunately, the impact of sending away so many devices has been considerable, especially as it takes Toshiba weeks to repair and return each device.
In addition to warranty problems, there have been some instances of screen damage caused by pupils (this has justified our decision to buy insurance). Initially I felt that maybe this was down to a lack of care, and in some instances that has probably been the case. However, the AT-100 the screen doesn’t just crack, it shatters and splinters. On closer inspection I think that this particular model has been fitted with a poor quality screen which does not cope well with the rigours of a school environment.
Losing as many devices as we have through warranty, albeit temporarily, has had an impact on the project. At the end of the day, it’s not a 1:1 project if each pupil does not have a device. Whilst Toshiba have finally agreed to come out to the school to service all of the tablets, their support until now has been disappointing. I think we have probably been unlucky with this particular batch of tablets, but nonetheless I will be looking at different suppliers for the next phase of the project.
When we were planning the project, we discussed the merits of both Android and iOS platforms and decided to go with the Android. Twelve months have elapsed and as we consider a further roll-out we are again facing the same question about platform. My personal view is that the reasons for going with Android a year ago are still valid now, and indeed as a platform it is now virtually level with iOS. All of the problems which we have encountered have been on a manufacturing level. We have discovered that the build quality of some Android devices is simply not as good as their Apple counterparts, although over the past year it is clear that this gap is narrowing.
One concern which I did have at the start was in relation to the availability of apps for Android compared with iOS. It’s certainly true that some apps such as GarageBand are only available for Apple devices, but it is generally the case now that apps are developed for both platforms. At the end of the day, although there there are some differences, I think that both platforms are well suited to the needs of a 1:1 education solution, particularly in a secondary school.
On reflection, it is my feeling that S1 were probably not the best year group with whom to launch the program. S1 students see a wide number of different subjects each week, often for just a single period. This makes it difficult for departments to build in meaningful learning opportunities with which to use the tablets. As learners move up the school they spend longer in their chosen subjects and embedding 1:1 technology will become more natural for teachers. Our current S1 are soon to become S2 and at that point I feel that they will find greater opportunities to use their tablets more effectively in their new curriculum areas.
So, what have we learned in the 12 months since we started planning the project and the 5 months since we rolled the tablets out to our S1 students? What are the things I would do differently if I was to start this project again?
- Parental ‘ownership’: As mentioned previously in this post, inevitably some tablet screens have been damaged by the pupils, albeit accidentally in the majority of cases. However, because the school has paid for and insured the device it has been disappointing to note on a few occasions that the attitude of pupils has been an expectation that their device will be automatically replaced/repaired without considering that they might have looked after it better. In other words they do not show the same sense of responsibility towards the device as they would had it been something that their parents had paid for. I think parents need to have some kind of financial stake in the project in order to encourage a greater responsibility from the students. Perhaps parents pay might for the insurance premium and manage any claims. Or perhaps they might pay a deposit at the start of the program which could then be used to pay for any damage to devices.
- Cohort: If we were beginning this project again, I would look to launch it with our S2 cohort. However, as our current S1 students are soon to move into S2, my preference will be to roll the next phase of tablets out to our new S3 as opposed to simply repeating the process with our new S1.
- Gorilla Glass: When I looked at the specification of the device during the planning phase, I considered the processor, the available storage space and the operating system. I didn’t give much thought to the screen strength. When we procure our next phase of tablets, the screen specification will be a significant factor. Most tablet devices now come with Gorilla Glass 2, and Gorilla Glass 3 will be launched later this year. It is my opinion that any tablet being used in a school environment should have Gorilla Glass 2 or above.
- Robust Cases: For this initial phase of the project we purchased some basic off-the-shelf cases which are attractive enough and support the tablets relatively well. However, I think it would be worthwhile investing a little more budget in a case which is designed to offer a tablet some extra protection.
- Spares: The cost of a 1:1 program is hardly insignificant, but if the budget can be squeezed just a little further I think it would be worth holding spare devices (around 3-5%) in school. This would provide short term cover for any devices which need to be sent away for repair.
As a school we are now starting to plan for a further year group roll out. We are about to increase our bandwidth at which point we will be in a position to investigate a BYOD program to support those year groups who have not been issued with a tablet device. We are also extending the learning experiences and resources which we have been able to build into our curriculum because of 1:1.
So…is 1:1 the right model for secondary schools?
In a word, yes. 1:1 is the model which schools have to adopt. It is simply not a question of if, but when. A 1:1 model can change the way learning happens in a school, supporting 21st Century skills. Today’s students need to be able to have access to rich and engaging learning opportunities and tools, and be constantly online in order to access the resources they need to support their learning.
More posts on our 1:1 Android roll-out
Part 5- Long Term Review
The final post in this series will be written when we have had 1:1 in place for a year.