As use of our iPads expanded last year to include supplemental materials such as calculators, dictionaries and notes, teachers reported concerns about having iPads available in test environments. No matter the device, many teachers are hesitant to have devices accessible during test conditions, primarily due to a student’s ability to access programs or resources such as search engines, external websites or notes. Testing environments vary wildly in terms of their intent and scope, but with a few considerations the iPad can be present in the testing environment with a relatively high degree of security. The following guidelines can help if you want to utilize iPads either to access an online testing environment or as resources during testing through apps such as calculators, dictionaries/glossaries, or notes (when desired).
While the iPad is not meant to be a testing tool, and a course which is built on lecture-and-exam style delivery will be at odds with any 1-to-1 program, there are many scenarios in which a teacher may want to create exam-style conditions while still having access to the iPads. Possible examples:
- Accommodations for students
- Use of calculators or simulation tools
- Dictionaries, thesaurus, glossary, translators
- Open-book/open-notes exams
Two Class Policies (plus a bonus)
One of the great advantages of the iPad over laptops for this use is the wide viewing angle of the screen in combination with the ability to place the device flat on the table. While it takes some force of will to introduce, I suggest two clear-cut policies when beginning a testing situation with the iPads:
- The brightness must be turned all of the way up. Ensure that students can use the four-finger swipe or home button double-tap to get to their Control Center, and turn the screen brightness to its highest setting. This will allow you to clearly see what app or website is active on a student’s screen from a fair distance around the room.
- The iPads must be flat on the desk. The iPads have an extremely wide viewing angle, and when they lay flat on the desk, a teacher standing or moving throughout the room should have line-of-sight to most of the screens in the room. This is a major difference from laptop screens which traditionally have a more limited viewing angle and have to be vertical, which blocks teacher line-of-sight.
The combination of these two policies when in “testing conditions” makes it very easy to quickly scan the room and identify which apps or websites are active. One of our teachers has also implemented a policy where students known that he can (unannounced) double-tap the home button on a student’s iPad to access the list of active apps while testing. If he suspects that a student has another app running in the background, this may catch that app. My only hesitation around that policy is that iOS doesn’t, by default, ever shut down an app–apps run silently in the background when you switch to another app or back to the home screen. I could foresee a scenario where a student was studying at the last minute, walked into class and switched to the approved testing apps, but had notes still running in the background. This teacher’s strategy would “catch the notes,” even though they weren’t being used at that time. It’s a valid approach, although it seems like it would require explicit instruction to shut down all apps before the test begins.
Managing by Walking Around
In any 1-to-1 classroom, room arrangement and physical proximity/visibility is vital to a productive working environment. In general, I encourage teachers to consider multiple classroom layout options (when possible) to reflect the nature of that period’s work. For example, having standard classroom arrangements for lecture/presentation, group work and test/writing conditions help to support each use case. These can be as simple as drawing the room on the board and asking students to move the desks/tables at the beginning of class.
For test conditions, I would recommend a room layout which provides easy and quick scanning of as many screens as possible. A horseshoe/”U” shape, often used for class discussions, works very well if the iPads are flat and bright, since the teacher can stand in the center of the shape and see all the screens at the same time. Many other layouts are possible, but consider vantage points and line-of-sight to the highest number of screens at any point in time.
Coaching vs. Guarding
This all may seem draconian from a class management perspective, but this can be part of an ongoing conversation with students about managing distraction and devices in a class environment. If we reflect on our own technology habits, I think most of us would agree that a little visibility helps “keep us honest” and on task. When I’m working some place public or visible, I find that I’m less likely to be distracted and jump to off-task websites or activities. It’s not a forced working condition– I often put myself in a visible location when I know that I need some extra help staying focused to take advantage of the conditions. Talking to students about managing distractions, and being explicit about creating a situation where you can support their focus and help reinforce their good habits, can frame this as a positive learning environment rooted in solid class management principles.