Archive for Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Digital decision

Baldwin High School senior 
Logan Endecott types on his iPad in  Rachel Smith’s 21st Century literature class. The class has been a 3-year pilot program for the possible introduction of the popular Apple tablet computer at the high school. This year, iPads were handed out to the school’s faculty and the district is considering whether they should be distributed to all high school students next year.

Baldwin High School senior Logan Endecott types on his iPad in Rachel Smith’s 21st Century literature class. The class has been a 3-year pilot program for the possible introduction of the popular Apple tablet computer at the high school. This year, iPads were handed out to the school’s faculty and the district is considering whether they should be distributed to all high school students next year.

January 16, 2013

Rachel Smith said she shocked the students in her Baldwin High School 21st century literature class last month on the day of their final.

“I told them to turn in their iPads when they were finished with their final,” she said. “They looked at me like I was taking their best friend. Our final was on the first day of finals. They were using them for their other classes and had all their notes and projects on them.”

Realizing the use students were making of the iPads, Smith relented and allowed the students to keep the iPads until they finished all their first-semester finals.

For three years, Smith’s 21st century literature class has been a pilot program for the use of Apple’s popular tablet computer at Baldwin High School. The 25 students in the course open to juniors and seniors are given iPads for the semester, which they are free to use in other classes and take home at nights.

Sometime in the next two to three months, Baldwin High School Principal Rob McKim will decide whether to recommend expansion of the pilot program to all students at the high school for next year.

USD 438 Superintendent Paul Dorathy started the pilot program as the first step in an initiative to place one-to-one full-time computer technology into the hands of students.

“I was looking for something that was cost effective, portable and easy for students to use,” he said. “I felt like the iPad was a good option for that. A lot of school districts went in the laptop direction and have since decided to change over to the iPad.”

At Dorathy’s recommendation, the board approved the $25,000 purchase of iPads for all the school’s faculty members for this year. The purchase was made so faculty could become familiar with the devices and start training for their uses in the classroom should they be made available to all students in 2013-2014.

Although board members supported that move, they have voiced concerns about the expansion. They worried about the need to replace lost, broken or stolen iPads, possible added or hidden costs for tech support and maintenance, and students visiting inappropriate sites.

Smith’s pilot program has quieted some of those concerns.

“In three years, I have not had one iPad lost, stolen or broken,” she said. “Sometimes, a student can’t get access to an app (application) the rest of the class is using, but that’s part of problem solving. We say, ‘OK, that’s not going to work. Let’s try something else.’ And kids have the capability of doing that.”

Students in the class are given uncensored access to the Internet, Smith said.

“We don’t really censor what they do on them, but they don’t abuse it,” she said of students going to inappropriate sites or playing games during school study periods. “They know they are for school work, and we really haven’t had problems. We have great kids in this school. But in the event something happens, we use it as a teaching moment.”

The school has found further safeguards, McKim said. It has found an app that can quickly and easily reveal what Internet sites students have visited and another that allows instructors to control all iPads in the classroom, he said.

But perhaps the most important test asked of the pilot program was to find out whether the iPads could be a viable learning tool or merely an expensive toy. Smith said it was a question she put to her first class of students, who were taking the course to meet a requirement and not a love of reading or literature.

“They said it was definitely a tool,” she said. “Kids who had read very little said they were reading for hours.”

Smith said students also read more books beyond the one they were required to read for each section.

She required or encouraged students to use features available on the iPads to enrich the reading and learning experience, Smith said. Some of those, such as highlighting key words, phases or passages or writing notes on the text, would be discouraged in district-owned books.

The class keeps evolving as students teach her new ways to use the iPads, Smith said. She views the empowerment of students to learn and adapt in the technical environment as they search for ways to access information as another benefit of the iPads.

“They are digital natives,” she said. “They open doors and find ways to solve problems.”

The iPads have worked well in her class but would be a better fit for math and science classes, Smith said. They allow students to expand notes with drawings, charts and graphs, while digital textbooks and apps provide access to videos of subjects they are studying, she said.

That is what his faculty has been discovering as they became familiar with the iPads they received, McKim said. To help with that process, the school has brought in Kansas University professors and others with knowledge of how to use the devices in the classroom and is scheduling visits to schools where they are already in use, he said.

Last weekend, he received an email from one of the high school’s biology and chemistry teachers excited about the educational applications being demonstrated at a seminar, McKim said.

“They still have to get into the lab to dissect the pig, but they will be able to view video experiments on the human heart — something they would not be able to do in our science lab,” he said.

But as excited as some teachers are, the school and the district are still in the evaluation stage, McKim said. The deciding factor will be whether the school’s faculty thinks iPads will be a useful classroom tool.

“I’ve been an advocate, but I want the high school staff to tell me they are on board with this,” Dorathy said. “If they say they are not ready or this is not the way to go, I won’t move forward and recommend it to the board. If the staff is not on board, it will be a lot tougher to make it work.”

It is estimated it will cost $225,000 to provide 400 iPads to all students at the high school in 2013-2014, Dorathy said. The district is now investigating another possible cost.

“We’re not sure yet, but it may be necessary to add bandwidth,” he said. “If it is, it will cost more money, but I don’t have that figure.”

It was hoped the digital textbooks used with iPads would cost less than hard copy books because there would be no printing costs, Dorathy said. But he said it appears there won’t be significant savings in textbook costs.

There will be costs for apps, but there is an app for that.

“Many apps are free but some we may have to pay a little bit for,” Dorathy said. “From time to time, apps that have fees are free as a promotions. We have an app that tracks that. It’s just a matter of searching and downloading those apps for free that would usually cost about $3.”

If he doesn’t recommend the iPads’ introduction for next year, it’s only a matter of time before they, or some technology like them, are part of the educational experience at Baldwin High School, Dorathy said.

“I still feel regardless of how we come out on this, that this is the future,” he said. “Students will be using these kinds of devices in the future. Whether we do it now or five years from now, it’s going to happen.”


Highstreet 6 years, 7 months ago

No matter what oldsters think of the internet, these kids need to stay out in front of it or it will run over them and leave them in the dust. Plain and simple.


Torch 6 years, 7 months ago

Curious if you believe that it's the responsibility of parents or the district to keep them 'out front'. I'm not being confrontational...just curious. Do you think it's the collective responsibility of the community to provide technology to students? Or do you think their responsibility lies in teaching them? Taking notes on iPads is simply easier than a notepad, but the results are the same are they not?


Stacy Napier 6 years, 6 months ago

I don't really think you are going to stay out in front of it on an Ipad. How many places of employment use Ipads or even apple computers?


loosecaboose 6 years, 7 months ago

I hope Mediacom has nothing to do with their connections!!!!!!!!!!!


1776attorney 6 years, 6 months ago

It's bad enough that in a severe economic downturn that the school district would flaunt $25,000 on an experiment, but they still seem to be living in an hallucination to consider spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars as our neighbors and citizens are losing their homes or moving away because of high property taxes.

Based on this news story, here's what's wrong with this picture and shows why this "experiment" is flawed.

The cost for 400 iPads is $225,000 for a basic model. Consider the fact that within 12 months the current iPad technology will already be antiquated. So by 2014 the school district will be stuck with 400 old iPads.

Not all textbooks are offered now as eBooks, so hard cover textbooks will still have to be purchased unless a teacher wants to choose between a great hard cover text book versus a substandard eBook textbook. Many publishers prefer to offer their best textbooks in hard cover still because they make a higher profit.

Managing 400 iPads and eBooks for students involves a dedicated tech person to manage the servers, wireless network equipment and iPad maintenance issues. This person must be Apple / Mac and network trained.

The additional costs of wireless and server hardware is easily $50,000 to serve 400 students.

Just because the small experiment sampled only a few iPads, ramp that up to 400 iPads and it is inevitable that you will have breakage, lost, stolen and wear-and-tear issues.

What about the "legacy material" left on the iPads when student turns their equipment in and it is issued to a new student. You can be assured that personal pictures, emails, browser histories, passwords would all need to be permanently deleted - not an easy task in the iOS system.

It's obvious that these and other issues haven't been considered by the school district. It is not as simple as just writing a check for 400 iPads. The infrastructure and management of something is much more involved and costly.

And taxpayers shouldn't be expected to shoulder another school district boondoggle. These are thing that families and parents buy for their own children.


Bloggerboo 6 years, 6 months ago

1776, you are awfully quick to jump in with an accusatory tone. The school district did exactly what most sensible districts are doing: piloting some new technology, seeing how it works, if it fits into their system, checking the pitfalls that go along with it, etc. They are still examining it. Did you miss the part where the board was concerned about lost/missing/broken/abused iPads? They felt the same as you. However, they are waiting on a recommendation from the principal and the teachers before they make a decision. That seems like a smart, well-thought out plan to me.

Your concerns may be valid, but your approach to having a discussion is just atrocious. These people, except for the superintendent and principal, do not get paid to do this job. They (the BoE) are tasked with making a lot of hard decisions each month, and for you to take this tone while they have done nothing wrong on this particular issue, is just amazing to me. The hatred in you must be a terrible burden to you.


Stacy Napier 6 years, 6 months ago

I don't really think so. Most districts have not even touched this at all. The Lawrence School district will never be able to provide 1 on 1 for every student.

Second I have heard that each teacher received one. Each teacher already has a macbook to take home and now they have an I pad too. At my work I don't get any take home computer and at home I only have one laptop. This district never stops. It is time for a new Super. One that says we are going to cut costs period.


Nathaniel Johnson 6 years, 6 months ago

1776attorney has made valid points. I would say that the cost of the individual devices should be born by parents with appropriate programs for low-income families. I do think that it is appropriate for the district to keep a wireless infrastructure in place which is something that they already do, therefore those costs are not accurately reflected in his/her post. The tablet is an excellent tool and I have no doubt that over the next twenty years it will largely replace paper text books. The obsolescence curve is more like 30 months rather than 12 months but it is certainly a concern. I think that parents are currently responsible for their students having computers and there is no reason to subsidize any particular company's technology and leave that decision in the hands of parents and students.

Nathaniel A. Johnson


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