iPads bold, good move by Jasper Schools
by Jack Mcneely
Jan 06, 2013 | 1601 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jack Mcneely
Jack Mcneely
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I rented my daughter a brand new Apple iPad for only $25 per semester as part of the iPad initiative launched by Jasper City Schools Thursday evening at Walker High School. The first distribution wave included 11th and 12th graders; 9th and 10th graders are scheduled to receive their iPads this week.

In all, Jasper City Schools will distribute 2,280 iPads in coming weeks. By the end of February, barring any technical glitches, every student in grades three through 12 will have a new iPad. The district is also providing iPods for classroom use in kindergarten through second grade.

I consider the school board’s decision last fall to approve the iPad lease agreement a bold, creative move that catapults the local school system ahead of the digital curve.

The iPads cost the school system $540,329 annually. According to Superintendent Robert Sparkman, the district will pay for the annual lease with its capital projects funds, which grew late last year to nearly $6 million.

After the board approved the initiative in September, Sparkman likened the iPads to “nice Christmas gifts” for the students when they return after the holiday break. I can only speak from my experience. After my daughter received her iPad, she was excited. Excitement leads to learning.

Of course, parents still have concerns about the initiative, primarily their cost. Each parent is required to pay $25 per semester for additional insurance. That’s a whopping $114,000 per year, or $57,000 per semester, that parents are asked to contribute to the initiative.

It’s not pocket change, especially for those families that have three or more students in the system. Of course, parents may opt out of the iPad initiative. If they do, their students are still required to complete respective classroom work.

I encourage parents to welcome the change. Paying $25 per iPad per semester gives you and your student(s) some skin in the game so to speak, a great opportunity to teach the young scholars some responsibility and accountability.

Meanwhile, following are some interesting tidbits regarding the move to digital in classrooms globally:

• IT spending is up. The Center for Digital Education estimated education spending on IT reached nearly $25 billion in 2011-2012 and it’s expected to rise again in 2013-2014. Despite school budget cuts, officials are spending more money on technology than ever before. Traditional educational textbook publishers are devoting more attention and budget to the digital world and tech giants like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are trying to push their devices into schools.

• Hardware spending is up. According to an Education Technology Market Watch report, there’s a clear move to channel funding into technology and the bulk of that spending (55 to 60 percent) in middle schools is on hardware.

• Digital textbooks taking off. Project Tomorrow reports that 27 percent of middle school and 35 percent of high school students use digital textbooks. On top of that, the Pearson Foundation reports that 58 percent of college students prefer a digital format for textbooks. Tablets and e-readers are the ideal windows for that content.

• iPad tests. In McAllen, Texas, public school officials have opted for iPads over desktop PCs and plan to distribute 25,000 iPads over the next few years. The total cost of $20 million in the McAllen district covers the iPads and also the Wi-Fi network and training needed to support their use. San Diego distributed 26,000 iPads to students this year and Chicago public schools have around 20,000 iPads.

• Worldwide adoption. Further afield in Scotland, the government recently announced plans to spend the equivalent to $95 million on tablets for universities, colleges, and schools. It’s fast becoming a worldwide trend.

• Promising case studies. A Learning Untethered case study offers a valuable insight into the pros and cons of tablet implementation in the classroom. Though there were a number of technical issues the results were overwhelmingly positive with greater student engagement.

Back home in Jasper, do I expect this initiative to roll out without a hitch? Absolutely not!

Students will forget to charge their iPads overnight. Some iPads will break or malfunction even under normal use, thus the insurance fee. The school district’s wireless network may even bog down after 2,280 students fire up their electronic notebooks.

There will be growing pains. And I am certain Dr. Sparkman and his staff will handle such obstacles in stride while still providing an excellent educational environment for our children.

Jack McNeely is Publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle and can be contacted by phone at 205-221-2840 or via email at jack.mcneely@mountaineagle.com.