Make It Work: Sharing Class Sets of iPads

In my most recent post, I laid out the reasons that one-to-one tablet devices are the best possible option for students. But, coming from inner-city failing public schools, I know it’s not always financially possible to go one-to-one. So if you can’t afford an iPad for every student, what can you do?

First, be absolutely certain you can’t afford to go 1:1. It might not be as expensive as you think — check out the real cost analysis in the table at the bottom of my From the Dark Side post. Take a look at grant options, as well. Jenny Magiera, a teacher in Chicago Public Schools, bought her class set of iPads using grant money and offers suggestions for teachers looking to do the same.

If you’re sure you can’t go 1:1, you’re probably asking if shared class sets of iPads will work. The short answer is they can, indeed, work. The longer answer is, they can also fail if they’re not rolled out properly.

So what’s the key? The expectation needs to be that teachers will regularly utilize the iPads. But let’s be honest — teachers are busy people. We have enough on our plates and, often, even with the best intentions, we fall into old routines. So there are some procedures that schools can put in place to help teachers utilize the iPads as effectively as possible.

iPads Live on Desks, Not in Carts

Do NOT allow the iPads to live in mobile carts — when I see an iPad in a cart, I see money being burned. The carts should be where the iPads sleep when school is closed. This is where they re-charge. But there should be a school-wide routine that as soon as kids enter a room with an iPad cart, they each walk up to the cart and get their assigned iPad. They should keep that iPad on their desk until the end of the day and return it to the cart as they walk out of the classroom. iPads should be as essential to a student desk as pencils were 20 years ago.

Teachers (and kids) will be much more likely to pick up and use the devices if they’re right there, as opposed to having to plan to take them out and use them for “tech time” and then put them away. Think about how you use mobile tech in your everyday life — you pull your phone out of your pocket to look up information when it’s relevant, rather than waiting until your “computer time” later in the week. Students should be able to do the same.

The Cloud is Key

At the Aquarium where I now work, we had 100 high school students share 25 iPads throughout the summer. How did we do this? The Cloud.

Most of our students came in one day per week. When they arrived, they’d get an iPad and could login to their personal Dropbox, Google docs, iCloud, Notability and email accounts. Most students used the app Notability to take notes throughout the summer — this app can be set up to automatically sync with a Dropbox account. So when the teens logged into their Dropbox accounts, they could access their virtual Notability notebook. They could also add new notes using the Notability app. By logging into the Apple Store, they could automatically add photos and videos to their iCloud Photostream.

At the end of the day, they’d log out of all the apps they used that day. And the next day, a new student could come in and use the iPad — because everything was saved in the cloud, it didn’t matter what iPad students used, as long as they had a device that was connected to the internet. Additionally, all our students could access their notes, photos and videos from any internet-connected device when they went home.

The obvious problem with this set-up is: what if students need to access their notes or photos on a day when they don’t have access to internet-connected devices? So teachers need to plan ahead — what notes are appropriate for the iPad and what notes need to be taken 20th-century-style, with pencil and paper?

Rotation Schedule

If you can’t afford to purchase one iPad for every student, what should you aim for? I’d recommend one iPad for every 5-10 students, which you share via class sets. (You can have students work in pairs or groups of four, as well.)

Much like computer labs are assigned to specific teachers on specific days, you can assign iPads to specific teachers on specific days. I would encourage schools NOT to have the iPads available solely based on reservation. As most of us know, this means that a handful of tech-savvy teachers use the devices all year. While this is great for these teachers and their students, many other students don’t get the opportunity to use the devices, and the other teachers are conveniently off-the-hook for getting comfortable integrating them. Would you allow a class of students to operate like this? With three or four meeting all expectations, while the majority of students didn’t complete the work?

When purchasing iPads, the expectation must be that all teachers will utilize the devices to help them meet their objectives. Not all teachers are comfortable using technology, though, so it’s important for administrators to offer all necessary support to set up teachers for success. (For more on this, check out Four Simple Steps to Schoolwide One-to-One iPad Success.)

When determining a rotation schedule for class sets of iPads, there are several viable options — each with pros and cons.

1.) iPads one day per week

If you have one iPad for every 5 students, you can assign them to classes for one day a week. If you have fewer, you can assign them to classes one day every other week (i.e., first and third Monday or second and fourth Friday).

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
iPad class set #1 Room 1 Room 2 Room 3 Room 4 Room 5
iPad class set #2 Room 6 Room 7 Room 8 Room 9 Room 10
iPad class set #3 Room 11 Room 12 Room 13 Room 14 Room 15
iPad class set #4 Room 16 Room 17 Room 18 Room 19 Room 20
SMALL set of 8 or 16 iPads (for group work) can be reserved can be reserved can be reserved can be reserved can be reserved


Of course, you’ll probably have complaints, as most school holidays fall on a Monday, and many projects take more than one day per week. So you could assign the iPads for a full week at a time. This allows you to block out weeks for school vacation or testing, so no teachers or students get the shaft. And it helps teachers plan for unit-end projects.

2.) iPads one week per quarter.

Week #1 Week #2 Week #3 Week #4 Week #5 Week #6
iPad class set #1 Room 1 Room 2 VACATION Room 3 Room 4 Room 5
iPad class set #2 Room 6 Room 7 VACATION Room 8 Room 9 Room 10
iPad class set #3 Room 11 Room 12 VACATION Room 13 Room 14 Room 15
iPad class set #4 Room 16 Room 17 VACATION Room 18 Room 19 Room 20
SMALL set of 8 or 16 iPads (for group work) can be reserved can be reserved VACATION can be reserved can be reserved can be reserved


3.) One iPad per table group

A third option is to simply assign a small number of iPads (say, 5 or 8) to each classroom to remain there for the entire year. While this can work in many classrooms that utilize learning centers or lots of collaborative learning, it can also be really difficult for many teachers to implement effectively. Good or bad, most lessons involve students working whole-group. Additionally, it’s more likely that these iPads will be put “away” most of the day and only taken out for special projects. If your school does decide to go down this route, I’d encourage you to keep the iPads out, one on each group table, so students can easily access them throughout the day.

Every school and school culture is different. The best bet is to come up with several possible plans with the devices you have (like the three plans laid out above) and present them to your staff. Have teachers discuss their plans for the iPads — which plan makes the most sense for them in the current situation?

Katy Scott

I spent 5 years teaching in low-income districts in Phoenix, where most of my students were English-language learners. There, I taught 3rd- and 4th-grade self-contained classes, as well as 7th-grade resource. I spent a year teaching 5th- and 6th-grade science in an inner-city KIPP school in New Orleans. I did double-duty as a technology integration specialist for the last four years of my teaching career. I am now the Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where I work to help PreK-12 teachers and students utilize technology to better understand science. I'm a maker, a snorkeler, and a certified Google Education Trainer.

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  1. October 31, 2012

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  2. November 3, 2012

    […] Make It Work: Sharing Class Sets of iPads […]

  3. April 11, 2013

    […] ← From the Dark Side: How I learned to stop worrying and love the iPad Make It Work: Sharing Class Sets of iPads […]

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