This article from The Atlantic is interesting on many fronts. First, there are the figures for how much money is being spent nationwide on this technology, even though it’s still not clear what the value is. Second, we again have this nebulous need to keep up with the technology and facilitate testing. When will the testing bugbear go away?
But the core of this article is the tale of a district in Hillsborough, New Jersey.
iPads have so far been a gadget of choice at both ends of the economic spectrum: in wealthier schools with ample resources and demand from parents, and in low-income schools that receive federal grants to improve student success rates. Last fall, enthusiasm for the Apple device peaked when Los Angeles Unified Schools, the second largest system in the nation, began a rollout out of iPads to every student.
I would argue that HSE falls in the middle of that spectrum, neither particularly affluent or well-funded, especially with the hocus pocus of the school funding formula; nor is HSE particularly poor, being a large, suburban district with well educated, low-unemployment population.
However, the L.A. district quickly recalled about 2,100 iPads from students. At the end of the school year, leaders announced that schools would instead be allowed to choose from among six different devices, including Chromebooks and hybrid laptop-tablets. L.A. schools weren’t the first to falter: At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, Guilford County Schools in North Carolina halted an Amplify tablet program, and Fort Bend, Texas, cancelled its iPad initiative.
Hillsborough took a different approach. During the 2012–2013 school year, the district executed a comparative pilot, giving iPads to 200 kids and Chromebook laptops to an almost equal number. As other schools rushed into programs they would later scrap, Hillsborough took a more cautious approach, hedging its bets and asking educators: How can we get this right?
Those links are some interesting reading as well. Later in the Atlantic article, we have:
“Our goal was [to find out] not really which device was better, per se, but which device met the learning goals,” [Director of Technology] Handler said.
It’s refreshing to see some real project management and experimental process at work here; let the “business requirements” drive the technology, not vice versa. But it just makes our current situation in HSE sting that much more.
In short, the iPad device is not the universal best solution; the debate across the county is still unsettled, even while we charge ahead. This is especially the case as educators and administrators (and test designers) realize a keyboard is a necessity for many tasks. Having both a tablet and laptop, or a hybrid device (e.g. Microsoft Surface) is growing in popularity. For the districts that can afford it, of course.
And I use that word, “popularity”, with specific meaning, as I still don’t see any data saying this is the right or necessary thing to do at all grades, even as the devices gain greater penetration into the education market.
Fait accompli on the part of the technology consultants…