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iPad Classrooms After a Year of Implementation: What Happens First?

Listen and learn

Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Friday, December 4, 11:30 am–12:15 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)
Presentation 2 of 3
Other presentations:
Technology and College Access: Exploring the Relationship Between the Internet & College Knowledge
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Linda Shear  
Dr. Andrea Beesley  

This paper will describe common features of iPad-enabled classrooms after a year of classroom use, and provide insights on learning opportunities that may require a clear instructional vision and supports to promote, based on research on a large-scale 1:1 program across schools in high-poverty settings.

Audience: Coaches, Principals/head teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Innovative learning environments
Grade level: PK-12
ISTE Standards: For Coaches:
Visionary Leadership
  • Contribute to the development, communication and implementation of a shared vision for the comprehensive use of technology to support a digital age education for all students.
For Education Leaders:
Visionary Planner
  • Build on the shared vision by collaboratively creating a strategic plan that articulates how technology will be used to enhance learning.
Equity and Citizenship Advocate
  • Ensure all students have access to the technology and connectivity necessary to participate in authentic and engaging learning opportunities.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand
Disclosure: The submitter of this session has been supported by a company whose product is being included in the session

Proposal summary


Launched in 2014, the Apple and ConnectED initiative supports 114 participating schools across the country, with the goal of meaningful improvements to educational and life opportunities for students. The schools range from pre-K to secondary, and each serves 96% or greater of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch. It thus offers a unique sample for the study of technology adoption across a wide range of high-poverty contexts.

A conceptual framework guides both the initiative and this study. The research-based model reflects the understanding that program success requires strong leadership (Leithwood, Seashore Louis, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004) and ongoing supports for implementation (Desimone, 2009; Garet et al., 2001). To that end, the initiative provides comprehensive support for schools, including devices (an iPad for every student and technology for every teacher); infrastructure upgrades and project management; a dedicated team of support professionals for leadership and teachers, including 17 days of on-site teacher professional learning in the first year after rollout; and other supportive offerings. Recognizing the diversity of the participating schools, the initiative also customized both implementation timelines and professional learning approaches to meet the unique needs of each school setting.

The framework’s expected trajectory recognizes that improving learning opportunities is a process that takes place gradually over an extended period of time (e.g., Argueta, Huff, Tingen & Corn, 2011). While excitement typically accompanies an initial rollout of this magnitude, and teaching and learning may take on a different and more engaged character with the integration of technology, deeper changes to teaching and learning may evolve more slowly (Harper & Milman, 2016), and ultimate outcomes such as improved test scores are likely to take several years to realize.

Previous studies of 1:1 programs and iPad initiatives (Harper & Milman, 2016; Zheng, Warschauer, Lin & Cheng, 2016; Thumlert, Owston & Malhotra, 2018; Silvernail et al., 2011; Chou, Block, & Jesness, 2012; Santori & Smith, 2018), have suggested many reasons for optimism about the changes to teaching and learning that may result, including increased student direction and autonomy, improved opportunities for language development and expression, more personalized or individualized learning, and in some cases academic gains. These studies also make it clear that tools such as iPads and laptops can be adopted by teachers and students to support any number of pedagogical strategies, ranging from inquiry-based learning (Thumlert et al., 2018) to the automation of more traditional forms of instruction (Fullan, Watson & Anderson, 2013), depending on the content and alignment of accompanying professional development, the goals of leadership, availability of aligned curriculum and apps, and many other factors.

Because the ConnectED initiative operates across a wide range of school contexts and deliberately encourages schools to appropriate the tools for their own purposes rather than promoting a specific pedagogical model, we would expect to see a wide range of implementation choices across classes. This paper seeks to identify themes across them.


This report is part of a comprehensive 6-year independent research study to investigate both implementation and outcomes of the Apple and ConnectED initiative. The study includes multiple complementary components: surveys of school leaders, teachers, and students; case studies of selected schools; rubric-based analysis of learning opportunities through the lens of lessons and student work samples; and a study of achievement outcomes. School leader and teacher surveys are designed for breadth, capturing data from 101 of the 114 participating schools, while case studies, student surveys and LOSW focus on smaller samples of 11-15 schools in order to paint a rich picture of the process and outcomes of technology-supported instructional change.

As this paper focuses on early implementation, data emphasized are mainly from 2015-17, during the first couple of years that this initiative was rolled out in schools. Other research being reported at ISTE2020 looks at how the results reported here have sustained and evolved in later years.

Of the larger dataset, this paper draws primarily from case study observations and interviews (62 and 60 respectively across 12 schools during the first wave of data collection). The visits were conducted between 6 and 16 months after implementation, depending on school rollout schedules and readiness. Thus while this report summarizes implementation “after about a year”, specific timing varies somewhat by school. In selecting specific schools for case studies, the research team sought variation on a number of dimensions, including school type (elementary, middle, and high schools), student population demographics, school size, urbanicity, and leadership capacity as measured on the baseline principal survey. Schools ultimately visited were located from Alaska to the Mexican border, and served majority populations that were most often Hispanic, African American, or Native American.

Case study visits typically included interviews with the principal and six teachers, observations of the same teachers’ classrooms, and focus groups with students and parents, as well as interviews with district personnel, Apple team members and community members as appropriate. Interviews and focus groups were transcribed and coded using NVivo.

This paper also references data from surveys of teachers (n=2270) and principals (n=81) administered to all teachers and principals in 101 schools in spring 2017, an average of a year after implementation in most schools, with response rate 79% and 76% respectively. For more on survey methods, see Authors, 2018.


Participating educators in this initiative commonly reported that the planning supports, infrastructure upgrades, and ongoing professional learning that came before and during the first year of implementation lowered typical barriers to initial implementation such as unstable infrastructure and insufficient training. As a result, based on both case study and survey data, by the end of the first year most schools saw a high degree of technology integration into teaching and learning practices. In surveys after approximately the first year for most schools, 75% of teachers reported daily classroom use, and 44% reported that their students used the devices for 75% or more of class time. Although the technology came with a steep learning curve for many teachers, and some were still struggling to learn how best to use it, the iPads had become part of everyday instruction in most schools. This strong integration across a variety of school settings offers a good view of the types of changes that tend to emerge first in an iPad environment.

According to qualitative coding of classroom observation data, the most common changes in evidence were to elements of the learning environment: the ways that teachers and students interacted with each other and with information. Common attributes of the ConnectED learning environment can be summarized as follows, leveraging both observed classrooms and descriptions from teachers:

• Universal technology access that could be trusted. In most observed classrooms, iPads and connectivity were available to all students all the time. Teachers contrasted this with unreliable, difficult to schedule, or differential access prior to the initiative, which left them unable to plan their instruction in ways that meaningfully integrated technology. Ubiquitous access gave teachers more freedom and confidence to embed new resources into their instruction, and served an important equity goal for students who often lived in communities with very limited home access to the internet.
• Immediate access to information and resources. Looking up information became a core part of teaching and learning, and was reported on surveys as one of the top uses of iPads in the classroom. In addition to using external resources as part of their assignments, students often looked up answers to questions that arose in class discussions or in their work, or proactively sought more information based on personal interest or need. Teachers reported a change in classroom dynamics, with more autonomy for students, and more comfort among teachers that it was sometimes ok not to have all the answers. In some classrooms immediate access to resources also led to a prevalence of cheating and distraction: challenges that were mitigated to some extent through management software and deliberate teaching practices but were far from solved by the end of the year.
• Product creation. One of the most visible affordances of iPads in the classroom was the variety of ways that students could engage with content and demonstrate their understanding. Assignments in which students created products were commonplace, ranging from movies to embedded visual images to audio self-recordings to explain their work, and was seen across subjects, from student-created newspapers that document historical events to students in math class making videos of how they solved a problem.
• New classroom participation structures. In many classrooms, apps such as AirPlay, Nearpod, and Quizlet facilitated the central coordination and display of activities that students do on their own devices. Even in a simple vocabulary lesson, these structures can create an environment where everyone’s responses matter and no one can hide, which were seen to promote engagement, information sharing, and individual accountability.
• More organized and efficient workflow for teachers and students. ConnectED classrooms often featured digital access to class materials and assignments, online submission of student work, and other organizational features that teachers and students touted as keeping them organized and classroom activities flowing smoothly.

Together, these attributes of the learning environment appeared to be impactful for educator-cited and observed outcomes such as student engagement, ownership of learning, and language development. Many of these attributes of the classroom may also be recognized as important precursors of deeper learning: for example, always-available access to multiple sources of information can provide excellent opportunity for critical thinking, and student-created products can result from projects that represent in-depth inquiry. Indeed, some very strong examples of deeper learning were observed in a number of ConnectED classrooms.

But these were in the minority; more frequently, observed and collected student products were multi-media summaries of what was found in factual searches. Teachers who entered the initiative with goals for deeper learning found the iPads to be a very fertile tool to support and expand their ideas for what is possible instructionally. However, while most teachers appropriated the tools to make impactful changes to the learning environment, the actual learning that students were asked to do was often more aligned with existing pedagogies. The common features described above result from immediate application of tools that are resident or easily available on the iPad (such as iMovie or Keynote) that represent “low-hanging fruit” for instruction and can be incorporated without necessarily changing the kinds of cognitive processing students are asked to do. As others have observed (e.g. Thumlert et al., 2018), deeper pedagogical change is less likely to emerge naturally with new tools unless it is promoted by an ongoing system of teacher supports to that end.


This study points to the finding that when powerful devices such as iPads are in widespread use in classrooms, learning environments can be quick to change in positive ways, but significantly new learning opportunities may require more concerted focus and a longer timeline to change. The expected trajectory documented in this initiative’s theory of change suggests that increased engagement and learning environment changes are a precursor to deepening learning. This paper suggests that in order for those more transformative opportunities to become widespread, that goal likely must be a continued explicit focus of ongoing teacher professional learning and other deliberate steps to encourage the transformation of teaching practices. Later years of research on this study will continue to follow these schools to unpack how the trajectory unfolds.


Argueta, R., Huff, D. J., Tingen, J., & Corn, J. O. (2011). Laptop initiatives: Summary of research across six states. Raleigh, NC: Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, North Carolina State University (pp 1– 20).

Authors (2018). The Apple and ConnectED Initiative: Baseline and Year 2 Findings from Principal, Teacher and Student Surveys.

Chou, Chientzu Candace; Block, Lanise; and Jesness, Renee (2012) "a Case study of Mobile Learning Pilot Project in K-12 schools," Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange (JETDE): Vol. 5 : Iss. 2 , Article 3.

Desimone, L. M. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers' professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38(3), 181–199.

Fullan, M., Watson, N. & Anderson, S., (2013). Ceibal: Next Steps. Final Report.

Garet, M. S., Porter, A. C., Desimone, L., Birman, B. F., & Yoon, K. S. (2001). What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 915–945.

Harper, B., & Milman, N. B. (2016). One-to-one technology in K–12 classrooms: A review of the literature from 2004 through 2014. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 48(2), 129–142.

Leithwood, K., Seashore Louis, K., Anderson, S., & Wahlstrom, K. (2004). Review of research: How leadership influences student learning Report commissioned by the Wallace Foundation.

Santori, D., & Smith, C. A. (2018). Teaching and learning with iPads to support dialogic construction of multiliteracies. Middle School Journal, 49(1), 24-31. Retrieved from

Silvernail, D.L, Pinkham, C.A., Wintle, S.E., Walker, L.C., & Bartlett, C.L. (2011). A Middle School One-to-One Laptop Programme: The Maine Experience. Portland, Maine: Maine Education Policy Research Institute at the University of Southern Maine.

Thumlert, K., Owston, R., & Malhotra, T. (2018). Transforming school culture through inquiry-driven learning and iPads. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 3(2), 79-96. doi:

Zheng, B., Warschauer, M., Lin, C., & Chang, C. (2016). Learning in one-to-one laptop environments: A meta-analysis and research synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 1052-1084. doi:

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Linda Shear, SRI International

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