Teaching with the iPad: Behind the Scenes

January 25, 2013 Peter Baron

Inspired by their experiences building an iPad program at New Hampton School, Hans Mundahl, Justin Joslin, and Rebekka Joslin published their new eBook, Teaching with the iPad, in November 2012. In the interview with Hans Mundahl below, we dive into some of the book’s highlights and learn more about New Hampton’s iPad program.

hans book

Peter Baron (PB): In the book, you talk about contributing factors that will make an iPad program successful. For example, you talk about the importance of projectors and a good LMS.

Hans Mundahl (HM): That’s right. One of the things we learned was that iPad programs won’t be successful solely because of the device, and even with adequate teacher training there are still outside factors that will make or break an iPad program. Adequate and robust wireless, for example, or projectors so teachers can show what is on their iPad. And an LMS is critical, especially one that isn’t flash based and is mobile compatible. That’s why we’re so excited to be using WhippleHill, because all of this was in place even before we were ready to consider a 1:1 program.

PB: You’re obviously a big fan of the device. Is there anything it doesn’t do well?

HM: There’s the whole problem of passing in and passing back assignments. Paper is still a pretty good option for this. I see a lot of room to grow in this area; for example, integration with Google Docs and Google Drive is a great feature for schools looking to use iPads.

PB: In the book you talk about general principles that any teacher can apply in their classroom. What do you see coming in the future?

HM: Well, that’s just it. It’s hard to know what is coming in the future. I can say, though, that mobile technology isn’t going away. More and more schools are going in this direction. Even if they aren’t using the iPad, they will need solutions that fit a variety of mobile platforms. The general principles we talk about in the book, such as the continuum of technology integration, and a values-based technology strategy, are really designed to stand the test of time. They start from a position of what the school believes about education rather than what a particular device can do. When I see what WhippleHill is doing with Responsive Web Design, mobile video, open API, and all of the new features you have coming out, I can see that it isn’t about a particular tool or widget – it’s about a broader strategy that will last.

PB: We’ve talked about this a lot on the blog: when we built onCampus, we made sure to make it responsive, knowing that devices like the iPad are becoming a bigger part of the classroom experience. How do you see Responsive Web Design improving student interaction with Learning Management Systems?

HM: Students have pretty high expectations of web products these days – they are used to Google, Facebook, and Apple, after all. Students also expect that if a teacher or school asks them to do something online that it will work well, and that they won’t have to try too hard to do it. These are students we’re talking about, and I think ‘the website didn’t work’ is the new ‘my dog ate my homework’ – even more so than ‘my computer crashed.’ So Responsive Web Design means students can work from whatever device they choose and it will ‘just work.’ We shouldn’t have to ask students to learn in only one way, from only one device, at a particular time. That’s the beauty of a good LMS built on Responsive Web Design: it supports students in a variety of ways.

ipad kid

PB: Let me bring this back to New Hampton School. You were one of the first schools to adopt an iPad program, well before many started to see its potential in the classroom. What attracted you to the iPad? As a school community, what convinced you to build a program from scratch?

HM: We were initially interested in the iPad when it launched in 2010. It’s funny to think now what a crazy idea the iPad was back then! Many of us were using iPhones and liked that experience, and students were already bringing them into our classrooms. Apple understands education. They had the marketplace for apps, and media that gave us confidence that educational content would flow. Still, we were very frank in saying that we didn’t know if the iPad would be useful or not. So we went into our iPad pilot project with eyes wide open, asking the question, “Is this tool going to be useful to us?” And we built a program to answer that question, with both hard data and with softer metrics.

This was the exact opposite of our strategy with some other technology choices. Those strategies were based more on the idea that we had to keep up with everyone else. I think there is just too much tech out there to do it all, and this should be a really liberating realization for all of us. We are now free from the expectation of having to do everything, and are able to choose the products and services that fit teaching and learning at our individual schools. That’s what we call a ‘values-based technology strategy,’ which is the opposite of a ‘tool-based’ strategy. With a tool-based strategy, you wait for a tool to come out and then decide if you are going to adopt it. The trouble with this mentality is that tools are coming out left and right, and you can’t keep saying yes to everything.

Because we went into this pilot project – and then the 1:1 program – with this mentality, it allowed our teachers to feel confident that once we adopted the tool, we were doing so for really solid reasons that made sense to us.

PB: You also talk a lot about the ‘front-end infrastructure’ needed to create the technical foundation for an iPad program at a private school. I’m assuming that when you got going with the program, there weren’t too many models to follow. Tell me about the process of figuring out how the pieces fit. How did you go about writing User Agreements, deploying apps, creating iPad loaner programs, etc.? How did those experiences translate into the book?

HM: That’s exactly right; there weren’t too many models to follow! I think I’m most proud of our process. Starting a 1:1 iPad program isn’t necessarily the best choice for every school (though it has been really successful for us), but I think our process is completely replicable. We called it an ‘iPad Readiness Review.’ We basically formalized the process of asking what was working really well, and where we had opportunities for upgrade. We based this on data wherever possible, and looked at three areas of the iPad: mission congruence, infrastructure, and tolerance for disruption. We conducted the readiness review frequently and made adjustments along the way.

For example, early on we thought eBooks would be an easy win for the program. But it turned out that in 2010 the eTextbook market was really just getting started, and wasn’t well suited to the iPad. There were plenty of novels for English class, but little else. So we stopped focusing on that in the first years and worked on other aspects of the program. Only recently have eTextbooks become robust enough to focus on again. We’re at about 40% eTextbook adoption right now, and we’ll be looking really hard at what platforms work well and don’t work well going forward. I bet we will stay around 40% adoption, but we’ll narrow the list down so it is the right platforms and titles.

teachstudent ipad

PB: How did your teaching faculty respond to the iPad? What kind of training did you need to provide, both in the classroom and administratively (using an iPad to post grades, assignments, attendance – the daily tasks of an LMS)? What shape did that take?

HM: Like any new technology, there are early adopters and folks still catching up. But I think our philosophical approach was helpful because it created a ‘we’re in this together’ mentality. When we started having our teachers share what we were doing with other schools, that really spurred innovation. Teachers were proud to show what they were doing, and it created a culture of doing and sharing interesting things.

All that being said, we still do frequent trainings on the basics, and I think that’s really important. Our wiki is a huge resource for FAQs and tutorial videos. We set the bar pretty low for minimum expectations – for example, everyone has to post assignments once a week. We train the heck out of this process, and then department heads and, ultimately, the dean of faculty check to make sure this basic expectation is being met.

PB: Finally, in the book you talk about creating a teaching framework in order to build a successful iPad experience for students. If you had to offer one piece of advice for teachers to consider when building their framework (I don’t want you to give away everything in the book!), what would it be?

HM: Everyone is ready to teach with the iPad, because we all experience things in our classrooms that frustrate us. Sick of waiting at the photocopier? Consider eHandouts. Tired of your interactive whiteboard glitching? Attach your iPad to the projector. Students forgetting homework? Use the LMS more effectively. Once we are up and running with something, that makes our life easier then we’re ready to try the next thing.

I think many teachers are concerned that the iPad – or any technology – will change the way we teach. I believe teachers get to decide how we teach, and (together with our schools) what is important for students to learn and do. We should measure the effectiveness of a new educational tool by the quality of the dialogue about education that comes about as a result of the tool.

Thanks, Hans! Teaching with the iPad is available for purchase on iTunes for $4.99.

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