iPads Gone Public

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Published on: October 7, 2011

The word is out!

WoodCoJo Headline
Top news story this week

The iPads for testing and student evaluation have arrived, and the local paper has spread the word to the community. I also delivered the news to the full district staff this morning and shared some updates and developments in our iPad program over the summer and from Apple’s iCloud and iPhone 4S announcements.

I felt, then, this would be a good time—at last—to outline how the iPad evaluation will work in our district.

We are a rural Illinois K-12 school district with about 600 students. While we are not in as bad shape as some Illinois schools following the collapse of the state budget, we can’t afford to jump in whole hog and go 1:1 with tablets or laptops, especially if we are not yet sure how teachers and students will make use of them. Our district has made tremendous strides in technology in the six years I’ve been here, but we have a broad range of technology skill levels in our staff and there are several opportunities for professional development.

Last school year, the staff agreed looking at the iPad would be the way to go to evaluate a 1:1 program. We selected 10 volunteers from a pool spanning all grade levels, then purchased each of them an iPad and a $50 iTunes gift card to start their own evaluation. The team met as a group during institute school improvement days, and we set up a few professional development days for them over the summer.

These teachers then agreed to bring iPads into their classrooms through the current school year for students to evaluate. With board approval, we purchased 25 iPads which will rotate through the iPad evaluation team’s students. Elementary (K-4) students will use them in classroom activities and the junior high and high school students will be able to take them home and use them as if they were their own.

Getting them into students’ hands is the key. We want to find out how the students will use the iPads in class. We want to find out where they enhance student learning and where they may fall short. We want to know if students have any surprises for us in how they use the iPads whether benefits we weren’t aware of or abuses we may not have predicted.

We also want to determine if we will be married to the iPad. While I believe Apple and the iPad offer advantages over the Kindle Fire and Honeycomb tablets at this time, we need to know whether the apps are key for learning or if students still see all the benefits from just having a tablet available.

Once those questions are answered we can start discussing funding. While the $199 price point of the Kindle Fire has us very interested, we need to look at usage first. If the combination of apps and Apple offerings is what really makes this program work, then that extra $300 per student is money well spent. However, I don’t plan to give it too much more thought until May when we can make some informed decisions.

It’s going to be an exciting year for our district. Several students have already asked me when they’ll be receiving their iPad, and I’m looking forward to working with them and seeing how their learning is affected.

This is what technology is about: results and progress are more important than general support.

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