Will iPads in the Classroom Make the Grade for Students and Teachers?

Santa Barbara Unified School District is rolling out 1,200 iPads to three elementary schools and an alternative high school. Los Angeles Unified School District plans to put iPads in the hands of all 640,000 students. The goal is to improve learning through interactivity. First, school districts need to mitigate costs and get teachers on board.

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Thu, February 13, 2014

CIO — High school teachers have a new disruption to deal with in the classroom: the coming of the iPocalypse. At schools across the country, teachers are being told they must use iPads, which will upend everything they've learned over the years about how to teach students. For some, it must feel like the latest, ignominious blow to a profession often under siege.

Todd Ryckman and student at Santa Barbara Unified School District
Todd Ryckman and student at Santa Barbara Unified School District.

But Todd Ryckman, a former high school teacher and current director of technology at Santa Barbara Unified School District, sees the iPad in a more positive light.

Ryckman says he believes his small iPad pilot project will invigorate teachers, not dishearten them, and make their jobs easier. He says the iPad's simple touch interface and easy-to-use apps belie a device capable of revolutionizing the American classroom. Then there's this extra credit: iPads in high schools might help bridge the digital divide for low-income families.

"This is a fabulous new tool," Ryckman says.

An iPad in Every Backpack

After three years of planning, Santa Barbara Unified School District is finally rolling out 1,200 iPads to three elementary schools and an alternative high school this month. Eighty-five miles to the south, Los Angeles Unified School District is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar plan to put iPads in the hands of all 640,000 students by the end of this year.

The iPads-at-schools goal, of course, is to reshape the classroom and bring it into the digital age. The iPad promises to change the teacher from lecturer and instructor to facilitator of interactivity, whereby students take on a greater role in their learning.

Ryckman says teachers can finally get out of the game of getting students to memorize facts -- after all, Google and Siri make searching for facts easy -- and instead help students to think critically about those facts.

"The [board of directors] realizes where we are in history," says Ryckman, who taught high school history for 15 years. Everyone will have an iPad or a similar device in five years, he says, and Santa Barbara Unified School District students need to be ready for this future.

The future of iPads in high schools looks bright, yet iPad pilot projects should start now.

Textbook Publishers and MDM Vendors Buy In

After initially dragging their heels, educational text book publishers are finally getting onboard with ebook versions. Introduced a couple of years ago, Apple's iBooks Author that lets teachers create multimedia textbooks has been gaining traction at Santa Barbara Unified School District, Ryckman says. Apple has made strides to combat theft with a service called Apple Care Plus that essentially bricks lost or stolen iPads. And mobile device management (MDM) vendors are coming out with tools aimed at high schools.

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