iPads can play a great role in engaging students, but using them as an effective pedagogical tool in classrooms relies on having adequate infrastructure to support them, according to Aaron Cox.
"We hear so much from other schools that iPads are not working at schools, the infrastructure's not there, it's flaky," says Cox, the ICT coordinator at Kingswood Primary School – a public school in south-east Melbourne with around 480 students.
"When that occurs, what happens? You have disengagement by the students; and especially when you have disengagement by the teachers you can't really move forward. You need to have them on board.
"Teachers need to know when they come into work that the network is up and running and, if they're going to have all these kids on iPads doing something, it's not going to be flaky on them."
The roll out of iPads to students at Kingswood pushed the limits of the school's infrastructure, with the addition of a bring-your-own device (BYOD) scheme for staff and the increased reliance on software-as-a-service (the school uses Google Apps) threatening to bring on the bandwidth blues.
As a consequence, last year the school decided to bump the capacity on its Internet connection by putting in a second link to augment the existing Department of Education link, after consulting with the department to make sure management of the secondary connection would meet security standards.
"You go from having a lab at a school a few years ago to suddenly putting laptops and so on into classrooms, and then people want more laptops ," Cox says. "Then you have 1:1 programs, BYOD – the number of devices skyrockets over a short period of time."
The defining moment in the decision to opt for an additional, fibre-based link, provided by Victorian internet and telephony services company Broadband Solutions, was an iOS update issued by Apple in October 2011. Anyone relying on an education department-provided connection was unable to access Apple's servers to update the devices.
"Part of it was security settings that meant anyone from behind the department was unable to connect with Apple. That meant if you had 100 devices sitting at your school you were unable to do any updates of the operating system and any downloads from the App Store, unless the school relied on teachers personally taking them home overnight and downloading [the update] over their own home networks, which a lot of teachers ended up doing."
The department has recently changed its network to solve the problem but at the same time now throttles traffic to the App Store. "1900 government schools are all throttled down when they attempt to reach the iTunes Store," Cox says. "They giveth with one and taketh with the other."
The introduction of BYOD scheme for staff has meant that more than 60 per cent of teachers have decided to opt for their own devices over aging department-supplied laptops, Cox said. Outside of some group policies that are rolled out by IT, the devices are unmanaged. The technical team offers support and troubleshooting advice for devices brought in under the BYOD scheme, but doesn't take responsibility for the device.
The other traffic-driver on the network has been the use of cloud. The school opted for Google Apps for Education in the wake of Victoria's Ultranet debacle. Kingswood uses Google Drive as a learning platform, and it after dabbling with it last year began employing it across the school from Term 1 this year. "All staff are now running completely off Google Drive and the students use it as well," Cox says.
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