Classrooms wheel in iPad technology
Four elaborate iPad carts have recently come to Wilton High School, and technology director Mathew Hepfer says "the sky's the limit" to what they can offer students and the traditional learning experience.
Amy Korn helped pioneer the acquisition, when in 2010 she successfully requested a federally funded grant for her accounting class to experiment with that year's break-through innovation.
Ms. Korn invited students to toy with the iPad and focus on finding practical educational advantages.
"I asked, 'How can these help make your learning better?' It really built a lot of excitement and they came up with good ideas."
At the time, her course came with a thick workbook, and course enrollment was at a low level that reflected poor enthusiasm. So upon learning the publisher was offering a digital substitute to the print, she drafted a request for 10 more tablets under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education grant, which was approved.
"We were trying to come up with new and innovative ways to bring them in to accounting," she said.
The idea and request for iPad carts — interconnected charging units of 30 devices, complete with a MacBook laptop, which enables teachers to manage and monitor student activity, as well as synch programs — was initiated by the business and applied social studies programs, but was nixed from last year's budget.
This year, however, the school is wheeling in a contingent of four, each coming at an expense of roughly $18,000-$20,000 to the school board, with a small educator's discount of $20 for each device if ordered in packages of 10.
Mr. Hepfer said he is excited about the purchase, and said Wilton High is well poised to take advantage of the resources, especially after recently completing the move towards complete wireless Web access.
Each iPad brings students a variety of apps, ranging from organizational tools such as timelines, spreadsheets and digital texts, to dynamic presentation tools, e-publishing features and media workshops.
The school is focused on finding apps that are free or affordable — often for 99 cents — and able to be incorporated seamlessly with tried-and-true classroom work.
Mr. Hepfer said digital texts are not only preferable to readers — allowing them to click on words for definitions or Web links — but also lend themselves to more accurate and sometimes cheaper material.
"If you print something wrong in a history textbook, you're waiting 'til you make the next edition to correct it — or if history changes," he said. "With a digital textbook you can update it daily. That's the wiki world we live in."
Wiki refers to online data that is able to be developed and updated by users.
By sometimes allowing schools access to digital text only upon the purchase of a print edition, Mr. Hepfer said publishers are "trying to keep one foot on the dock and one in the boat.
"Once schools have digital tools, they're just going to get out of the paper business altogether," he said.
The easy-to-use publishing apps also allow for teachers to compile class material from one year to the next, essentially creating their own textbooks.
Mr. Hepfer also pointed to the less-cumbersome advantage to the tablet, speaking of how his daughter lugs a heavy backpack to and from middle school every day. He wondered if that long haul could ever be substituted with a leisurely walk with a tablet or small laptop computer.
"Changes usually come slowly in education. I have a feeling this one is going to come a lot faster than parents are even ready for," he said. "We're really just scratching the surface of what we can do with these."