Missouri District Takes First Step on Road to Digital Classroom

Apple’s introduction of the iPad wasn’t the first time that educators considered what might follow traditional textbooks, but it was the first time that a major transition seemed possible. As Kris Hilgedick of the News Tribune reports, the Jefferson City Public Schools District in Missouri is taking the first step in the path to a full digital classroom by spending more than a quarter of a million dollars to purchase 2,000 iPads for its elementary schools.

Although JCPS isn’t adopting one-iPad-per-student policy quite yet, the district bought enough of the digital tablets to put five in every elementary school classroom and give one to each teacher. If this limited pilot is a success, district officials hope to purchase enough for every high school freshman in 2014.

There’s a reason why Jefferson is going for a limited rollout. As David Luther, assistant to the district superintendent, explains, it gives enough time for teachers to grow comfortable with using the device and integrating it effectively into their instruction.

With thousands of lessons now stored online, electronic tablets are viewed by educators as a new method for encouraging students to interact and be creative with their learning. Not only can the devices hold hundreds of digital textbooks, they are lighter to carry than a printed book and help students better prepare for a world immersed in technology. But Luther added the district is turning to the iPads to help the district perform better on statewide assessments.

“Like it or not, the high-stakes standardized testing mandated by the federal and state governments is now moving online,” Luther said. “That means no more pencil-and-paper tests. So, if you are going to ask a third-grader to write about an experience, what do they have to be able to do? They have to be able to type.”

In order to make sure that students are prepared, keyboarding classes are being offered to younger kids the way cursive writing was at one time.

According to Gretchen Guitard, who oversees Jefferson’s staff services, many district administrators would like to see traditional textbooks go in favor of a digital approach, yet many teachers are hesitant. Instructors want to try a mixed approach: using traditional textbooks in addition to e-texts.

Will the district save money by purchasing more technology in lieu of fewer text books? The jury is still out. The iPads cost the district about $379 each, but a high school textbook’s average cost is about $70. Recognizing that a sea change is about to occur, Guitard said, textbook companies are working quickly to get in front of the problem.

“I’m bombarded daily with e-mails,” Guitard said. “The textbook companies are working fast and furiously at developing electronic resources that the school districts would be interested in purchasing.”

So far, those digital versions of traditional textbooks aren’t any cheaper.