While the experience of the Marathon Valley Academy in the first year of its iPad program has been mostly positive, there were still plenty of headaches — mainly dealing with keeping the devices functioning and up to date. For all their usefulness as a learning tool, the tablets are relatively fragile, and in the rough and tumble environment of a school nearly one in five of them broke during the course of the year.
The constant need for maintenance has even turned some administrators and teachers who initially supported the rollout completely against the device. Jeff Reiche, the principal of Marathon Venture, complained to the Wausau Daily Herald, in Wausau, Wisconsin, that repairing broken iPads sometimes fills up his entire day. Still, you can't count Reiche as anti-tech quite yet; he stands staunchly behind the device.
English teacher Mia Chmiel and science teacher Tera Fieri are right there with him. They say that the device has helped them better communicate with their students and increase the level of engagement and excitement. However, their experience has taught them that anyone who thinks that the Apple's popular tablet is some kind of teaching panacea will be severely disappointed.
"But the iPad is a tool, not a teaching strategy," Fieri said. "The use of technology has to work as part of the teaching strategy."
This year, more Wausau schools will be getting iPads, including Franklin Elementary School and students in eighth grade at Horace Mann and John Muir middle schools. These three schools will be serving as guinea pigs in the district's pilot program, the purpose of which is to determine if tablets can improve academic outcomes. More than $850,000 has been spent on equipping 1,000 students with the devices.
Marathon Venture Academy's experience shows that the devices are a valuable educational tool.
"Without a doubt, students are more engaged," Reiche said. He said the tablets help keep some students connected to their studies who "ordinarily would have checked out already."
Marathon began lending iPads to its students the same year that it converted into a charter school with an academic goal of making learning more hands-on. The iPads were purchased thanks to a private grant aimed at getting charters off the ground faster. Of the 135 initially lent out, 25 had to come back to the school for repairs with the vast majority requiring screen replacements — one of the most expensive repair jobs at a cost of $275 per unit.
The Academy requires parents to buy insurance for the iPads through a company called Worth Ave. Group. Parents pay $34 per school year for the insurance, a special group rate. There is a $50 deductible on the policy. If the devices are covered by homeowners insurance, parents have to provide proof.
While Reiche is an iPad booster, spending days dealing with the insurance paperwork is still not something he enjoys. The good news, however, is that at least in one way, students are taking good care of the machines. Not a single one was reported lost or stolen last year.