iPads Replacing Laptops in Several Nebraska School Districts

Students enrolled in Schuyler Community Schools used to get laptops for use in class, but no more. Starting next year, kids attending schools in the Nebraska district will be getting something cooler: iPads. Jeff Droge, the district’s technology director, and the one instrumental in the decision to make the switch, said that the device will serve to future-proof the schools and allow students to become more engaged in their learning.

The purchase of 185 devices which will be used by the district’s 8th-graders and teachers will be funded by a grant of $446,000 approved by the school board last month. The money will also fund the purchase of 450 more devices before the 2013-14 school year to equip the district’s high school students with iPads as well. Some of the money will also go towards training the school staff to use the gadget and advise on ways to best integrate them into the classroom.

Fort Calhoun launched a “one-on-one” initiative last year, buying iPads for all of its high school students, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

The department tracks “one-on-one” initiatives — those in which schools supply technology to individual students either for the entire school, certain grades or certain groups, such as special education students.

Fort Calhoun is one of just three districts with mobile one-on-one initiatives, compared to 41 districts with similar laptop initiatives.

Although no other Nebraska districts are adopting iPads in the coming year, several are either launching or planning to launch pilot programs utilizing the device this September. Among them is the Papillion-LaVista district where 70 high school students are currently experimenting with using iPads in class, and Norfolk Public Schools which is issuing iPod Touches to its special education students.

One obstacle standing in the way of wider adoption is the fact that the operating system powering the iPad isn’t considered secure enough to allow students to use them to take the statewide standardized tests. Although the upcoming operating system upgrade from Apple, which produces the devices, provides tools to make them more secure, the company that currently administers the exams in Nebraska uses technology that’s not available on the iPad.

District officials are waiting to see what the life cycle of the newer technology is and whether a shorter lifespan than a laptop would reduce savings over the long haul, Langer said. Also, iPads require individual users to have iTunes accounts, and LPS isn’t sure it wants to make such a requirement of its students.

Schuyler’s Droge said the statewide testing issue was an obstacle but not insurmountable for the district of about 1,800 students.

The district had been researching a one-on-one initiative for about four years, he said, but the school board denied an earlier — and more costly — proposal to buy laptops for all students.