A good start…for now!

The District was very pleased with the distribution process that provided more than 2,000 iPad tablet computers to students since August 15th. We had many, many positive comments about how smooth and efficient sessions ran and how surprised parents were that the entire process was completed in one hour or less.photo

Frankly, we had no idea what to expect. Months of planning and diligent analysis turned out to pay dividends. In retrospect, here are a few of the smarter things we did:

  • Decided to pre-configure all student iPads rather than having families configure them at the orientation/distribution events. We had initially thought this would be a neat part of the event and would be efficient. However, after further discussions with several individuals knowledgeable about the variety of ‘rollout’ strategies that have been used, we made the wise decision to complete that for families ahead of time. Technicians Cindy Samuelson, Sandy Fjelde, and Bruce Dybvik completed this pre-configuration with great skill and diligence.
  • Held a ‘practice’ distribution a couple of days prior to our first big events on August 15th. This session, involving 99 students — most of whom were children of District staff members, showed us where the ‘choke’ points in the process could be. Again, it made a significant difference.
  • Set up our new credit card provider so that families could complete the insurance fee online. This helped move the process along for all involved. Director of Finance Val Mertesdorf was at every distribution event to ensure families were successful with the process and fielded many calls in helping with the new system. This will pay dividends to all families who will be using the system to make deposits into their student lunch accounts.
  • Had plenty of volunteers to assist with assembling the Griffin Survivor cases. The cases are certainly robust. However, the assembly can be challenging. We had dozens of volunteers — including teachers, parents, educational assistants, board members, and administrators. Even our Superintendent, Chris Richardson, assisted with the cases. He became our ‘go to’ when it came to training new volunteers how to assemble them.
  • Using the expertise of our Media Specialists. Our secondary Media Specialists Rebecca Glassing (High School) and Amy Sieve (Middle School) are experts at many things, including tracking a large number of materials. We added all iPads to our library management system, so they are checked out to students just like any book. They did an excellent job with this part of the process.

Another decision that proved wise was beginning the distribution process prior to school starting. The District has been planning the infrastructure changes to support the mass inclusion of mobile devices for more than a year, beginning with our wireless infrastructure upgrade last summer. In addition, as we significantly increased our Internet capacity (bandwidth) and our main network (‘head end’) equipment. We noticed a few issues following students receiving their devices and were able to make some changes and software patches that cleared them up. Most of these issues have probably gone unnoticed by students, but we know that they are making a significant difference.

There have also been some learning experiences that have been more noticeable. In order for the District to utilize our content filtering system when students are outside the school walls, we need to use a global proxy server. This means that all iPads, no matter where they are connected to the Internet, travel back through the school network. We have had a few issues with the proxy server that governs that traffic. The most noticeable was an outage that lasted for about 10 minutes during our Middle School parent open house event. This was pretty poor timing! We believe that outage had to do with my ‘pushing’ of an extremely large app to Middle School students a few hours before. Most of the 10 minute outage was technology staff walking to the Media Center to restart the proxy service. We’re going to be more judicious in ‘pushing’ our largest apps. We have also found what we think are patterns in what has crashed the proxy server and shared those instances with our vendor. Nate Knutson, our Network Manager, has been excellent in keeping close tabs on a handful of data points we believe can inform us about the execution of the network planning.

On balance, we have felt successful. However, that success is fleeting in our minds. While we believe we have appropriately developed an executed a quality plan, every day is a new challenge. As staff and students get to the real work associated with this initiative — the customization of teaching and learning — there will be new boundaries that we cross, additional learning experiences, and possibly even some ‘disasters’. These boundaries and challenges will come in many forms — technical, curricular, pedagogical, and human. We will continue to work hard in addressing issues in the most expedient manner possible. The truth is that the possibilities far outweigh the challenges. We are already seeing doors that weren’t open to us educationally before. It truly has been exhilarating!