An elementary school in our district recently got 30 iPads and asked for some advice implementing them with students and teachers. In addition to suggesting some starter apps, I recommended that we have conversations with kids around the appropriate use of these devices. While almost every child has used an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone, the exciting learning opportunities these mobile, Internet-connected, media creation devices create also open the door to new challenges. Cyberbullying or inappropriate web publishing happens more through the camera than regular computer use does; the mobility of the device combined with the reality that multiple users are using the device with no personalized, password-protected, network-tracked accounts makes it more challenging to keep track of who is doing what with the device or that the device itself is safe.

Rather than tell the students how they should and should not use iPads, I felt compelled to involve the students in the conversation. “While your teacher and principal are the leaders in your classroom, you are the most critical factor in this school and we need your ideas and opinions for how to use the iPads”.

Knowing that all students had an awareness of the device, I started with the Camera app and opened with the question, “What do you know about the camera app?” Several responses came in as students were allowed to use the camera app at their desks:

  • You can take pictures and video
  • You can switch between front and back cameras
  • You can zoom in and out on the back camera by pinching
  • You can access your camera roll from the camera app
  • You can turn on a grid on the screen
  • When you push on the screen it focuses and adjusts lighting for that area

As they were taking pictures and video, I would purposely zoom in and take pictures of a couple students and take video of others without them knowing. Connecting the iPad to the SMART Board displays using the VGA connection adapter, I regained the class’s attention and began showing the pictures and video I had taken. Inevitably, students who were shown on the screen reacted with varying levels of embarrassment or shock, and some laughter generated from the class. I thanked the students shown in the pictures for being good sports and apologized if I had embarrassed them, but stated that this would help us all in the class learn about how to use the iPads effectively. I stated that the device allowed me to upload the video I had just taken to YouTube; that I could upload the pictures to Facebook or a blog; that I could put silly or mean captions on the pictures or take embarrassing pictures of them such as picking their nose. This led to the first key statement of the activity:

This began a conversation with the students. “There are all kinds of great features of this device – a camera, connection to the Internet, many great apps to help us create multimedia to share what we know and how we feel. That said,

At this point, I asked the students to brainstorm (either alone or with a partner) some suggestions, advice, or rules for how we should or should not use the iPads that fall under the categories of keeping people happy, learning, safe (or the devices safe), or a fourth category of setting changes that would make it a real pain-in-the-neck for others. We opened the Notes app and students had the opportunity to jot down their ideas which we. As I spent the better part of 2 days at this school repeating this lesson activity across multiple classrooms, when the Notes app was opened the students would usually see notes created by other students and would ask if they could erase the other person’s notes. This opened up a conversation about whether or not we should delete other work or media found on the iPad, or under what circumstances it’s okay to do so. Students continued to brainstorm their suggested ‘rules’, at which point we did a group share. Some of the rules were fairly straight-forward, such as, “Hold the iPad with two hands” or, “Don’t post videos of others on YouTube” or, “Don’t delete apps or install your own apps”, but many were discretionary such as practices with changing the wallpaper background. This led to another main point behind the activity:

Many practices that required decisions to be made included:

  • Pictures and videos – how long should they be allowed to be kept on the device? Should we be downloading the media from the device regularly to our school computer profiles and deleting them from the device? If so, how often?
  • Taking pictures and video – do we never take pictures or videos that include other students or do we just require their permission? Do we ever need the teacher’s permission to take pictures or video of other students?
  • Wallpaper – do we never change the wallpaper? Can we change the wallpaper if the picture is appropriate? Can we change the wallpaper at any time?
  • Charging the iPads in a tray or cart - do we do this after every class? Every day? Only when the battery power goes down below a certain percentage?
  • Do these practices just need to be agreed upon by each class individually or do some or all of these need to be school-wide agreements?

After this discussion, I made sure to have the students open Google Images on the Safari browser and show them how to find copyright-free images. Most students and teachers aren’t aware of the digital copyright laws which govern them or how to find copyright free images.

Visiting Google Images with the browser and clicking on one of the search results brings a beatiful iPad-specific layout where users can swipe their way through images. Pressing and holding on an image allows users to copy or save images.

This launched a conversation with the kids (and their teachers – none of which knew the digital copyright laws) that we aren’t legally allowed to download any picture we want (in Canada) – that many have copyright protection which prevents us from doing this legally. Yet there are many pictures which we can downl0ad and use freely – but how can we find out which pictures?

At this point I showed the students the white ‘gear’ icon in the upper right corner of the black bar on the Google Images page, and told them to select ‘Advanced Image Search’. Once on the advanced image search page, scroll right to the bottom.

I explained to the kids that in the normal Google Image Search results, the pictures we were allowed to use were mixed in with the pictures we were not allowed to use, and that we needed to use a filter to show us only the pictures that were “free to use or share”. By then selecting the ‘Advanced Search’ button, only those images labeled ‘free to use or share’ were displayed. While there are far fewer pictures to choose from, we can feel more confident that the pictures which are there we are legally allowed to use in our work.

Digital citizenship conversations, activities, and practices with students should not be viewed or framed only as ‘doom-and-gloom’ warnings or threats, nor should the use of technologies that open new doors to inappropriate use cause teachers and schools to shy away from their use. In fact, it should be quite the opposite – digital citizenship is as much about empowering individuals in their use of social media and technology to shape their online identities and successful experiences and providing students with authentic experiences at an early age which inform and shape their maturing use of technology in their lives. The fact that there is such a profound interest in the use of iPads in schools by both teachers and students made sharing conversations and practices of responsible technology use that much easier. I encourage you all to seize the opportunities and responsibilities involved with new technology implementations to empower student voice and to encourage students, teachers, administrators, and parents to create a shared, positive, cooperative vision.