As I think back to 1989, I remember walking, once a week, from our fourth-grade classroom in the elementary wing of Riesel Schools to the high school, which had the only computer lab in the entire district. Apple computers were all the rage at the time, with black “floppy” disk drives and games like “The Oregon Trail” and “Number Munchers.” By my senior year, we had a brand new lab of Compaq computers equipped with Windows ’95. Everyone else that had taken data processing up to this time had been learning MS DOS code. Boy were we glad to see the new technology, and the screens were actually in color! 

Technology has come so far since my graduation in 1997. We as a society embrace technology much earlier in life than I believe we ever thought possible. Now, our students at Midway High School in Waco, TX, carry an Apple iPad with them from class to class and home with them every evening. They have modern technology at the tips of their fingers. 

The questions on educators’ minds are, “How did we get here?” “What are some best practices?” and “What are some obstacles, and how do we overcome them?”

Getting There

Midway Independent School District (Midway ISD), through the prudence of some very thoughtful and purposeful leaders, has become a district that is forward-thinking in the technological world. The 1:1 iPad initiative was a collaborative vision of district leadership both in administration and technology. Conversations started among our leaders as early as 2012. The “What if we went 1:1?” question began to linger in everyone’s mind. 

In thinking about an implementation of something this massive, our district knew it would need to get all campus administrators, teachers, students, and parents on board. In the fall of 2012, administrators began using their (first generation) iPads during meetings and in conducting walk-throughs. By winter break, classrooms were being set up with Apple TV in preparation for teachers to receive their (second generation) iPads in January. 

In order for us to implement a complete districtwide roll-out, we needed to get buy-in from students and parents. Midway ISD began conducting community informational meetings throughout the spring of 2013, because in order for us to begin this adventure, we would need to obtain proper funding. We also formed student technology information groups to look at different devices and give us feedback to determine if the iPad was the best device for our students. 

In May 2013, our community supported our 1:1 iPad initiative by a funding measure through issuance of bonds that would help us purchase iPads for every student in the district. Then the real work began. 

Over the next six months, Midway had to select a device management system (Airwatch), and district wireless coverage and bandwidth had to be increased to handle growing traffic. All teachers received an iPad Air (updated from the iPad 2) since students would be receiving the new iPad Air device that was on the market in the fall of 2013. All teachers were required to participate in professional development that included classroom management training in a 1:1 environment. 

Six-week goals for integrating the technology into the curriculum were developed, and professional learning on the first goal was provided before any devices were given to students. Then we planned the last piece—the iPad roll-out. Our instructional technology staff began designing the most efficient way to distribute the devices throughout the district.

From January to March of 2014, the Midway district technology staff held parent meetings on all campuses before the students received their iPads. They also created MLINK, a website to communicate with all stakeholders. Then they rolled out the iPads to all students K–12, and pre-K classrooms were given a set of five. 

The Midway Technology department data shows a drastic increase from May 2013, when we only had 440 users, to May 2014 when we had 9,506 users throughout the district. The network monitor software from PRTG Network Monitor showed that in October 2013 we were averaging 30,825 kbps of data and in April 2014 we were averaging 183,637 kbps. We were using almost six times the bandwidth previously indicated in October.

Best Practices 

Once the iPads were rolled out, the ongoing training began. In the spring of 2014, we had a representative from Apple speak with all administrators in the district about embracing change and the SAMR model—Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. The district then had the same speaker discuss this model with teachers returning to campus in August. The ultimate goal was for teachers to function in the M and R range, where the technology allows the students an opportunity to reimagine whatever task is at hand. It redesigns or creates a new lesson from an old one; it is looking at education in a completely new way. This training was one of many that would be implemented throughout the next year. 

During the 2014–15 school year, the Midway High School campus provided most of the technology professional development during our campus’ PLC (Professional Learning Community) times. Our Instructional Technology staff and one of our associate principals were instrumental in the implementation of the campuswide professional development. They created what is called Tech and Teaching Tuesdays—they taught a new piece of technology or app (for example, Edmodo or Kahoot) on a Tuesday, and then the following Tuesday they helped teachers implement it. This allowed the teachers some time to look at it themselves and then have our technology instructors help them work through any difficulties they were having making the program fit their instruction. 

Managing the Logistics

Midway High School, with the help of the IT department, had to establish iPad procedures for the campus—how to issue iPads to new students; how to handle lost iPads, found iPads, broken iPads; what to do when a student withdraws; and what to do if a student is not following iPad rules in class. Something else our district had to decide on was the parameters for social media. I can tell you that we currently have the App Store open to students, and Twitter is available also. 

As a follow-up to launching the 1:1 iPad initiative, Midway ISD, as well as individual campuses, participated in a Bright Bytes Clarity Technology Survey for the district. This survey challenged us to look for ways to grow the program using this technology, asking questions like: Is there student collaboration online? Is there critical thinking at the student level? Are students able to create and produce online products? 

One of the pieces of information that we continue to discuss with our teachers is that technology should be a tool to enhance their instruction. Oftentimes, there were teachers trying to make it fit every lesson and work with it every day. There is still a time and place for good, solid, quality instruction without the iPad. The key is to help our teachers recognize the times when technology can take our students’ learning to a level never before thought possible. 

Alison Smith is assistant principal at Midway High School in Waco, TX, and has been named a Texas Assistant Principal of the Year. In writing this article, she received input from Susan Fletcher, Midway ISD director of instructional technology, and Midway’s Assistant Principal Becky Odajima.