IRON RIVER—Is having a touch-screen computer for each child in a school really such a good idea?
That topic was one of several discussed during the West Iron County School Board’s Nov. 11 regular meeting.
Brian Rippey, the district’s technology director, brought up the issue when he talked about another U.P. district that is attempting to do “one-on-one”: one computer for each student.
Making more computers available for school children is a popular idea with the general public, but school administrators look at the many added problems that a one-on-one plan would dump into their laps, especially with touch-screen computers like the Apple iPad.
Rippey said such a program requires “an extreme amount of support because an iPad itself is not designed to be secured in any type of way. So when you let an iPad out, you don’t have a way of controlling how they install apps.” Some schools may have an idea how they plan to use the computers in the class, he said, but may not have a plan for the curriculum.
“It still boils down to whether you can read or write, whether you can put an equation into a spreadsheet, whether you can do calculus.” It’s not a matter of whether the students know how to run the devices—the students have that part down pat, he said.
If the iPads leave the school building, “You have a whole another set of issues: Who takes care of it if it’s broken, if it’s lost, if it’s damaged, if it’s left on a school bus.” Many districts, he said, are grappling with these issues, trying to find the right answers.
West Iron did a pilot project a few years ago in elementary and pre-K. It was expanded this year to fifth grade. The devices do not leave the district, which helps control support costs.
“The majority of these places are passing bonds to afford to be able to do all this stuff,” and Rippey wondered whether they will need to seek more bonding in a few years as more advanced touch-screen computers come out. “It’s a very cautious endeavor.”
Superintendent Chris Thomson, who said he and Rippey discuss technology and education every month, reported that many school districts are passing bonds so they can have one-on-one computing.
“That’s all wonderful for headlines,” Thomson continued. “but the end result is, if you pass a bond and put an iPad in everyone’s hands but they haven’t used the iPad in November, what good is that?
“Once you introduce it, you better make it work, because in three years, when they all break or you have to replace, where are you going to come up with the money for it?”
Thomson said Rippey is working to insure that technology in the classrooms “is a tool that is being used instead of a tool that is just being portrayed for public relations purposes.”
West Iron does have iPads in kindergarten through fifth grade, Thomson said, and they are being used in the curriculum. “We just don’t let the kids take them home.”
When WIC’s technology specialists work in other districts, Thomson said, “They see what works and what doesn’t work. So we are able to be very efficient with our technology money because we’re not chasing white rabbits all the time. So that’s a benefit for us.”
Besides not seeing the long-term benefits and the cost for the hardware, Rippey said, just about every school involved in one-on-one computing has to hire a full-time person to manage the system. “You can’t put 700 to 1,000 devices in a school and have somebody part-time. That will not work.”
Where touch-screen computers can really help, said elementary Principal Michelle Thomson, is with students who struggle with math or reading—there are many applications designed to help teach a subject. Some students seem to do better if they use computer programs to master such subjects.
“It’s been a very cautious roll-out,” Rippey said. “We’ve seen the disasters in all the other districts.”
• High school-middle school Principal Mike Berutti reported on the computerized testing programs. “It seems that’s all we’re doing, testing our kids.
“It’s important to get our kids on these computers to learn how the system work—and our staff, to know how to troubleshoot if we have any issues.” The first online MEAP tests, he said “went real smooth.”
“Our kids don’t seem to have as much of an issue with the computers as our adults do,” he noted.