David Cleland on Northern Ireland’s first 1:1 iPad educational initiative

Last September, Northern Ireland’s Wallace High School launched a 1:1 iPad initiative, the country’s first, which equipped 530 students at Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) with an iPad 2. The program has gained attention from Apple and educators worldwide, especially since Apple announced iBooks Author, textbooks in the iBookstore and its push for electronic books in the classroom.

I spoke with the school’s Vice Principal, David Cleland – a recognized Apple Distinguished Educator – about the program’s inception, adoption and progress. In short, Cleland says the 1:1 program is going “better than expected.” Staff, students and administration have embraced the iPad and iBooks Author is a big hit. Here’s my conversation with Wallace High School Vice Principal David Cleland.

52 Tiger: Tell me about the start of the program at Wallace High School.

David: It’s the very first 1:1 iPad initiative in Northern Ireland. We had a conference in December where we invited other schools in to look at what we were doing. We had over 100 delegates from each school. So that was probably 50 or 60 schools.

When I look at where we were last year, I see our teaching staff trying to teach students who have an HP laptop in the back, an Apple Mac with Tiger on one side of the room, one with Lion, someone might have an iPad, someone has a netbook…all the variety of personal devices that you have. If we actually allowed that to happen, it gets very difficult to teach. You keep saying, for instance, “If you’re on a Mac, open Pages. If you’re on a PC, open Word,” and so on. The teacher had to devise a lesson for every single platform instead of teaching to each student.

We started to receive letters from parents recommending the [iPad].

52 Tiger: Oh, really?

David: Well the parents were getting requests from their 11-year-olds saying they want a 17” MacBook Pro that costs £3,000. Many parents saw the iPad as a potential low-cost alternative. So they were looking to the school for guidance. That was a dangerous and difficult thing to do. Because if the device wasn’t right, we were going to hear about it.

We asked ourselves, what if we had a uniform platform? So, we had two boys who had iPads in my class and they developed Penguin Slider. We invited the department heads to examine the project and we found that it benefited the students across all subjects equally. And we saw what a plus that was.

Next we looked at the cost of the device, the battery life, how mobile it is, the average price of apps and so on and thought, if our teachers had that device and it was uniform across the school, learning and teaching could develop at a much faster rate. A year of exploration and research followed, in which we worked with Apple – we put them through the mill and they put us through the mill – on every fine detail until we got there.

52 Tiger: Now you’re now six months into the program, is that right?

David: Six months, yes. There was a lot of meeting with Apple and research before we started. I think it paid off. We had staff training at the end of the school year before we started. Apple distinguished educators supported the staff in their getting to know the devices, and then they had two months off. So the teachers had two months off to get to know the devices. We built in units of work they had to have done and they all returned leaps and bounds ahead of what we expected. What the teachers and students have been able to do has exceeded our expectations.

For example, we had one girl typing on her iPad in front of 900 parents and teachers. People were saying, “I can’t believe she can type that fast.” We watch our young people present and we can’t believe how far they’ve come. How confident.

52 Tiger: I want to talk about the program in general, but earlier you said something that intrigued me. When the boys built Penguin Slider, you said you saw academic benefits across all subject areas. Tell me about that, and has it been the case on a school-wide scale?

David: Here’s a good example starting in a science class. Previously, when the students did an experiment, they would have to set it all up, draw the specifics of the experiment and apparatus in their notebook and then write up the process so that they had some material they could go back and revise.

Now what they do is they use iMovie. They’re recording the experiment and adding a voice-over. So later, instead of reading notes, they just watch the experiment again with their pointers on the iPad. That’s completely changed the way the learn from experiments but it also speeds the whole process up. Students were spending 10-15 minutes drawing when there wasn’t really a need.

In Modern Languages class, students have produced Numbers documents with all of the vocab words. They’re updated as they learn more. Drama students had a homework assignment that required them to use FaceTime to discuss a piece of drama that was coming up later on.

Math students use Show Me. When you have an equation on a piece of paper it can be difficult. With Show Me, students can move objects around. There’s a certain amount of visual learning there. I heard a 12 year-old student say, “If you’re a visual learner…” It was the first time I heard a student talk the way teachers talk. They have an appreciation of learning now that I don’t think they had before.

52 Tiger: It’s interesting to me that students don’t have to spend time, for example, drawing an apparatus anymore. Or teachers don’t have to explain how to do something on various computers. Are the teachers finding they have more instructional time now that there’s less time spent explaining things and so on?

David: One good example of that is in Spanish class. The students have a two-week project where they have to imagine the President of Spain is coming to live in Northern Ireland and they have to make a brochure. Traditionally, they would spend the lesson gathering up all of the information and then the teacher would book a one-hour session in a computer suite so the students could get all of those assets together and produce the brochure.

So, it’s two weeks’ work and then they have one hour to put it together. With the iPads, the teachers found that that two-week scheme became a two-day task. What was six hours became two hours. The teacher would say, “You need to get a picture of your house.” The students would go home and use the iPad to take a picture of their house. Then they would add a description, build the brochure and everything with the iPad.

52 Tiger: And no need to wait for your precious hour in the computer suite.

David: Right. The Information and Communication Technology [ICT] is embedded in the scheme now much more than a build-on. With finite resources, we had five computer suites in the school. Even with that, the demand for them meant that pupils weren’t getting in. Now with the iPad, the ICT is embedded and invisible. Basically, they go to the iPad when they need to.

52 Tiger: It’s like they’ve got access to the computer lab in their bag whenever they need it.

David: When people think of a one-to-one program, they sometimes think that we’re taking everything that we’ve done to date and putting it to the side. There will be no more jotters and no more textbooks. The reality is that what we’re doing is replacing a visit to the computer suite with a computer suite they have with them all the time. We’re enhancing the learning and supporting it a lot better.

The same lessons and the same learning is happening, but ICT is now much stronger throughout that learning.

52 Tiger: Another nice benefit of a one-to-one program is you’re able to avoid the divide between students who do have an iPad and those who don’t. Here in the US, a lot of schools are strapped with tight budgets.

David: The parents pay for the iPads. We lease it off Apple and they lease it off us. It’s £14 per month. Built into that is gap insurance, damage insurance…so they’re getting a package, not just the iPad.

It’s made a difference in my house as well. We were running multiple devices and my son just uses the iPad now. Many parents find they don’t need a second computer anymore or even games consoles. In English classes, a lot of the books the pupils need are free in iBooks. One thing a lot of people don’t see in education is that if you give out 172 books that cost maybe £10 each, you have to get 172 back or you’re going to lose money. Now you can say, download the free book and you don’t have to worry about getting it back later.

52 Tiger: Have you had a chance to play with iBooks Author?

David: We love it. We got it on the night it was launched. Within two days, our head of biology had a biology textbook done. A chemistry teacher had a chemistry textbook done. They love it. It offers exactly what we had hoped for. A lot of our teachers had their teaching materials already in Pages, so they were able to bring them into iBooks Author easily.

The chemistry one is fantastic. There’s a video of a student demonstrating it on YouTube.

We have a lot of pupils who use flash cards, and the built-in flash cards are great.

52 Tiger: And how do you distribute the textbooks to the students?

David: Because we have our own intranet and because of the licensing, as long as you’re not selling it, you can distribute it internally. One concern was video as they can be so big. We have 16 GB iPads. But with iTunes Match, we’ve found that not a lot of those have to live on the iPads.

52 Tiger: So do you see a revolution in the process of developing a lesson plan?

David: Definitely. With iBooks Author you don’t need to know how to program an app. You can actually use an intuitive piece of software to create your own textbook really, really quickly. What I can possibly see happening is, instead of creating a year’s-worth textbook, you can create unit textbooks. A department might say, we’ve got five teachers here, we’ve got five units, so they divide it out amongst themselves and share those.

Plus, at the end of the year, they can say this worked, that didn’t, let’s make a change. Opposed to when you buy an ebook, if there’s a part that doesn’t work, you’re stuck with it.

52 Tiger: Six months in, what’s been the most surprising thing?

David: The speed at which things have developed. We did think that we were going to say that every department had to have one iPad-specific task within their scheme of work. We didn’t expect that the iPad would be embedded across subjects as easily as it was. There were a couple of guys in from Apple the other week to see how it was working. I said, we’ll walk down the corridor and find two or three classrooms using the iPad. The very first one we walked to, students were showing homework they had done on the iPad.

We thought that teachers would have to drastically change their scheme of work, but that’s not the case. Also, it allows the pupils to manage their work in the way they feel most comfortable. Some take notes, some create a mind map…it’s a catalyst to more learning happening.

We also see a huge boost in pupils’ confidence. We had one girl who was presenting the fact that Pages documents can have video in them. She held up her iPad, it was connected to the projector so that everyone could see, shot some video of the audience of 900 and added it to her document. I never could have done that at her age.

Another girl was trying to embed some media and it didn’t work. She tapped the media button and for some reason it didn’t display her media. She said no problem, I can just do it another way. Students are learning to problem solve and become very comfortable with IT. People were thinking, what’s going wrong? This poor girl is 13…She wasn’t flustered at all and just got on with it.

Me: What has the most challenging thing been?

Dave [hesitates]

Me: [laughs] It’s funny that you have to think to come up with a negative experience.

Dave: Probably breakages. We thought that if an iPad was in a case, it would be safe. But we’ve learned that if an iPad is in a portfolio case, it might as well not be in a case at all. There is a Griffin one with a plastic shell that we’re looking at. It’s heavier but still an ultra-portable device. A colleague said he’d rather have his iPad slightly heavier than lose it for a couple of days. The challenges aren’t half as big as the benefit of things.

Me: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Dave: The success of the program really comes down to people. If any credit comes down it comes down to the people and how well they’re taking it to the next level and taking opportunities to use it. Our IT coordinator Dr. Jane McMath is brilliant. She looks after the day-to-day running of the program.