The iPad is making significant inroads in schools. Just over a month ago when Apple announced iBooks Author software and the iBooks textbook distribution method, Apple’s Phil Schiller said that 1.5 million iPads were in use in education settings, leveraging more than 20,000 education applications. While that’s a small number compared to the total number of students in the US, there are a number of recent announcements that will add to those numbers.
The state of Texas likes to do things big. In an announcement today, McAllen Independent School District in the southern part of the state began distributing 6,800 devices this week — mostly the iPad tablet computers, but also hundreds of iPod Touch devices for its youngest students.
The school district is planning to provide every one of its more than 25,000 students in grades K-12 an iPad or iPod Touch over the next year. The district believes it’s the largest to try for complete coverage and while Apple would not confirm that, other districts the company noted as having made large investments have not made ones as big as McAllen’s.
The district hopes to transform teaching and learning, change the classroom culture (making it more interactive and creative) and close the digital divide. The district has a significant number of lower income students.
Zeeland Public Schools in Michigan gave 1,800 iPads to all of its high school students last fall and hopes to eventually cover every student in grades 3-12. Chicago Public Schools bought about 10,000 iPads and some individual schools in the district have bought more using discretionary funds, but it’s far from districtwide.
A number of schools in the south bay Los Angeles area are experimenting with iPads.
“There is not a ton of debate about whether this is a direction the schools are heading,” said Annette Alpern, assistant superintendent of instructional services at the Redondo Beach Unified School District. “The question is more: How quickly will the future arrive?”
Leading the charge is Manhattan Beach Unified, which purchased 560 devices for a pilot project this fall. That’s one machine for every dozen kids in the K-12 school district – although many more students get a little face time with the iPads, as the devices are rotated from class to class, usually on a cart with wheels.
While 97 percent of the participating teachers in Manhattan Beach reported in November that the iPad makes class more engaging, that proportion had dropped to 86 percent by the end of January. The proportion of students who said so also dropped, though less steeply, from 81 to 77 percent.
This kind of drop in interest and excitement makes sense to me. Anyone who has experienced a new gadget will experience a similar type of drop in enthusiasm. That puts a tremendous onus on teachers to change the way they think about teaching and learning. I hope this kind of feedback spurs innovation and creativity in teachers to try new things.
A new research study shows that Kindergartner students using iPads scored better on literacy tests than students that didn’t use the device.
“The objective has to be learning, not just getting the technology out there,” said Muir. “We are paying attention to app selection and focused on continuous improvement — we aren’t just handing equipment to teachers.”
The study, conducted in Auburn, Maine, randomly assigned half of the districts 16 kindergarten classes to use iPads for nine weeks. In all, 129 students used an iPad, while 137 students were taught without an iPad. Each of the 266 students were tested before and after the iPads were introduced into the classroom.
“Too many innovative programs don’t prioritize their own research, and even if they collect observations and stories later, they don’t make the effort to do a randomized control trial, like we did,” said Muir. “We wanted to make sure we could objectively examine the contribution of the iPads.”
According to the literacy test results, classes using the iPads outperformed the non-iPad students in every literacy measure they were test on.
“We are seeing high levels of student motivation, engagement and learning in the iPad classrooms,” said Sue Dorris, principal at East Auburn Community School. “The apps, which teach and reinforce fundamental literacy concepts and skills, are engaging, interactive and provide children with immediate feedback. What’s more, teachers can customize apps to match the instructional needs of each child, so students are able to learn successfully at their own level and pace.”
As mentioned earlier, Apple announced their iBooks Author software just over a month ago. There is evidence that schools are considering going digital for their textbooks.
School Districts in Southern California are purchasing iPads for their classrooms. The biggest roll out by far will be done by the San Diego Unified School District, which announced late Monday it will be purchasing close to 20,000 iPads for its fifth- and eighth- grade classes and select high school subjects this spring.
The shift to digital text books will however take time. Many school districts will slowly phase in digital textbooks while some will go all in. The US Department of Education would like to see the shift made within five years for all students.
Encinitas Union Superintendent Tim Baird said he’d like to see publishers break digital books into individual units so teacher can purchase a unit on photosynthesis, for example, but not have to buy the entire book.
“I think digital textbooks are an intermediate stopgap between where we are now with paper textbooks (and the future) but I think in this day and age, you don’t need something that starts on page one and goes to page 327. You don’t need a textbook model,” Baird said. “Ultimately, my hope is that the child will never have to take home a textbook again or it will be the iPad. … That ultimately we are textbookless and paperless.”
One of the hurdles districts will have to overcome is how to pay for these digital books. The State Department of Education in California is broke. So individual districts will have to use local funds to purchase what they want. That may slow down the adoption rate for some districts – while other, wealthier districts, may find the cash they need more readily.
My opinion is that this shift will happen. What’s your opinion about the shift to digital textbooks and the proliferation of the iPad in schools?