Paperless School Board Meetings with iPads

Categories: Apps, Gadgetry
Comments: 3 Comments
Published on: November 20, 2011

Our school board has been paperless for over a year now, allowing them to be more efficient, less wasteful, and to save the time and money involved in generating the paperwork necessary for every school board member.

This weekend, our school board president, superintendent, and myself gave a presentation on how this is accomplished at the Illinois Association of School Boards convention. Our panel room was packed with school board members and superintendents from other districts, including several people standing in the back and sitting on the floor in the aisle. We were pleased to see so many other districts interested in moving to paperless meetings, and there were a lot of great questions afterward.

The Presenter
Your presenter for this morning

My portion of the presentation concentrated on why we chose the iPad over laptops, netbooks, and competing tablets. Several people asked for copies of our presentation after we were finished, and I’m happy to share that here:

Paperless with iPads (PDF)

On the software side, everything is handled with Dropbox. Our goal was to keep our expenses to a minimum, and Dropbox’s free accounts offer plenty of space for our needs. Our superintendent and district bookkeeper simply export the board packets and any supporting documentation to PDF, then drop them into a shared folder which is automatically pushed out to each board member (as well as anyone else subscribed to the folder).

This is a lot easier to organize than distributing documents via email, and it enables the board members to have everything at hand at all times, including packets, agendas, and so forth from previous meetings. It works well, and it saves the cost of subscriptions to services like Board Portal, which can cost thousands of dollars and, in our case, eliminate any cost savings in going paperless.

Another school board member recorded some video of our presentation, and he caught the first few minutes of my portion on video:

You can also see our school board president’s introduction to the panel on YouTube.

If anyone has any further questions about our presentation or how we handle our paperless meetings, feel free to leave comments on this post or contact me via email.

The Nook Tablet Enters the Fray

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: November 8, 2011

Barnes & Noble announced the Nook Tablet yesterday, and it boasts beefier specs compared to the Kindle Fire. The first question people ask, of course, is will it topple the iPad?


The Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire are clearly media consumption devices. They have seven-inch screens, no cameras, and, near as we can tell so far, no ability to add an external keyboard. In short, they’re not going to be very useful as content creation devices. Even with add-on apps, it’s going to be difficult to annotate PDFs or take notes on a 7″ screen (finger-writing notes on the iPad’s 10″ display is difficult enough!).

The pricing, of course, makes both very attractive. It comes down to whether you’re a fan of B&N’s openness or Amazon’s everything-in-one-place delivery, which is more personal preference than guideline for mass adoption in our environment.

Will students be able to read textbooks on them? Watch educational videos? Of course. The real decision will come down to what else teachers want the students to be able to do. The iTunes Store is still more comprehensive and enjoys more coverage in educational blogs and review sites than either the Google Market or the Amazon App Store, and Apple is still attracting all of the developers, including the textbook providers. I’m sure both B&N and Amazon will be happy to sell us e-textbooks, but educators may want more than that.

For example, here are the things the elementary kids at Forrestville Valley feel they can do with their iPads:

Will we be able to say the same about the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet? Can we even say the same about the Motorola Xoom or Galaxy Tab?

Then there’s the excitement level. Put an iPad in a kid’s hand and they immediately know what they’re dealing with. One of our high school special ed classes will be receiving the iPads soon, and not a day goes by the teacher or one of the students doesn’t ask me how soon they’ll get their iPads or doesn’t express how excited they are.

Forrestville Valley even let their high school students make a commercial to show off how they feel about receiving iPads in the very near future:

I hope to have a hands-on with a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet in the future, but with the uses we’re already seeing for the iPads in just a few weeks, my teachers are skeptical they’ll want to try anything less at this time. I suspect the disparity will divide the BYOD environments into the haves and have-nots: the Apples and the Androids.

The creators and the consumers.

Now we wait and see if a Kindle Fire DX appears.

iPads Are GO!

Categories: The Classroom
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Published on: November 1, 2011

Our iPads have iOS 5 loaded up, new cases, a preliminary set of apps, and they’re going into students’ hands!

We started simple with high school students last week, where the freshman class used the iPads as part of their Career Cruising work. We brought 50 students into the lab, put 25 of them on computers, and then surprised the other 25 with the iPads.

The morning went very well, and the site worked just fine on Safari on the iPads. The students enjoyed being able to spread out and to work in small groups rather than being confined to the computer tables, and when their work was finished they were able to explore the iPad, watch YouTube videos, and generally use them for leisure time. There were several instances of two or three students gathered around an iPad to share.

This week, the iPads went to the elementary school, and the kindergarten class has already begun using them in their small group “centers” at the end of the day.

iPad Center
Mrs Betts works with the students and their iPads

It surprises me how unafraid the students are of the iPad. They immediately start tapping and touching and swiping, and as we hoped, they understand the interface almost by instinct. We have apps for grades K-3 loaded up at the moment, and each child was quick to find their favorite game.

Teacher Assist
Mrs Betts observes a student's phonics game

The popular apps so far appear to be a pair of phonics games (ABC Pocket Phonics Lite and Dot-to-Dot ABCs), with a Halloween Puzzle and Toy Story close behind. Many students playing or working in the other centers around the room often stopped by to look over their classmates’ shoulders, and they were all happy to share and show off their work.

Kindergarten iPad
One student, already familiar with the iPad, shows her friend how it works

One lesson I did learn is to be sure to set the slider switch on the side to Lock Rotation. The students picked up the iPads frequently and were confused when the orientation kept changing. (To be fair, it stumped two of the adult helpers, too!) Once I made the change and helped them lock it down, they were good to go. Turning the screen to read better is a natural movement for them, and they were much faster at it than the accelerometer could cope with.

In general, the teacher is already very pleased with the results. Mrs Betts is one of the members of our iPad team, and she is already seeing many more possibilities for the iPad in her classroom, even just using five of them in a small group setting.

I will continue to work with her class this week, and I expect the other classes will be exploring the iPads soon. Later this month they will go to a high school class in a 1:1-type setting.

Exciting times for our district!

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