Is the idea of the wonderful changes that can be wrought by bringing tablets into the classroom more appealing than the reality of technology deployment? asks Eric Lai writing in UberMobile. That could very well the case, especially when those responsible for designing a curriculum meant to work with the new digital gadgets instead seems more enamored by what the technology represents than how to make it work for a school.
Although iPads could serve as a useful educational tool, it takes more than just putting the tablets into the hands of the students and then sitting back and expecting miracles, says Lai. Rollout plans need to be very specific about how the tablets are expected to be used. He says administrators should leave enough room for a teacher inspired by a unique idea to try it out, by all means, but provide those with less creative impulse with some guidelines, too.
This too-common lack of specificity is what doomed the iPad rollout at the high school attended by Lai’s colleague John Fontana. When the plan to equip the student body with the tablets was first pitched, administrators were long on buzz words like “cutting edge” and “digital natives,” and woefully short on specificity. Fontana knew the effort was doomed when the presenters kept their focus on uses like email and phone calls — services that those in his son’s age group hardly utilize.
“Anyway, no text books, no apps, no home work, no digital assignments happened on the iPad all year,” he continued. “The thing that did happen was distracting internet surfing and game playing. The iPad experiment was never a discussion topic when I went to parent teacher conferences. I asked about it and was always answered with a grin and a shoulder shrug.”
One only needs to look at the state of a textbook after only a couple of years’ use to understand another significant challenge to digital deployment success. Apple’s iPads and similar tablets, while hardy by the standards of portable electronics are, in reality, incredibly fragile unless properly handled. And no school can afford to assume that students using the gadgets will handle them properly. At Zeeland High School in Michigan, which deployed nearly 2,000 tablets last year, the number of iPads requiring repair was 10% higher than the school’s estimates prior to the rollout. Although Zeeland offered students an insurance policy at a cost of $53, the 60% of students who failed to purchase it could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars in repair fees.
Insurance has become a requirement at many schools that are deploying iPads this year. Many of the policies are less expensive than the one Zeeland used.
At Manchester Area Schools, also in Michigan, insurance costs just $35 per year. And the insurance policy that Phillipsburg had on its stolen iPads is helping pay for their replacement.