The Shanksville-Stonycreek School District is moving forward with plans to test the effectiveness of electronic mobile devices in the classroom.
The school district has purchased 30 iPad2s using about $18,000 acquired through a federal grant. Within two months, the iPads will be available to any classroom in the district interested in trying out the technology.
"This is the world our kids live in," Superintendent Tom McInroy said. "We are excited about the possibilities, but we are proceeding with caution. We won't do anything that would endanger the quality of education."
School officials plan to test the iPads in fourth- and fifth-grade science classes as well as high school language and visual arts classes. The mobile devices will be used in addition to the classes' standard textbooks. Administrators and teachers have looked at free online textbook applications, such as Google eBooks, to use on a trial basis. McInroy described the project as experimental.
"We've done our homework on this thing, but we're looking at this as a test pilot," McInroy said. "We'll try the iPads out this year and we'll make recommendations moving forward."
McInroy emphasized that teachers in all grades and subjects will have an opportunity to occasionally use the iPads.
"Obviously we only have 30 iPads right now and honestly there are some classes that just don't lend themselves to (mobile devices) at this point," McInroy said. "Ultimately the teachers are the experts. Textbooks are resources to better explain the concept. If we can find things (such as Internet applications) that are educationally sound — not like Wikipedia — then we'll look at better ways to implement the resource."
There are savings to be had long-term if the mobile devices catch on in the school district, McInroy added. The average textbook costs between $50 and $75.
How the students will react to the technology remains an unanswered question. Will the mobile devices cause more distractions than benefits?
The school district upgraded its wireless Internet infrastructure in August. Along with a faster connection, the upgrade included stronger security and monitoring. Student Internet activity will be remotely monitored and illicit and unaccepted websites will be blocked.
"The teachers are still going to teach," McInroy added. "This is meant to be an interactive tool and the teachers will instruct and police the classroom as they always have."
While the school district plans to take a wait-and-see approach with the test pilot, policy committee members have already begun to develop policies that could allow mobile devices of any kind — smartphones, Kindles and laptops included — to be used in school. McInroy said the school may eventually work toward a "bring your own device," setting.
"We're not there yet, and we don't have it all figured out yet," McInroy said. "But we're excited and we want the kids to be excited about school. We'll do whatever we can to give the kids a better chance to be successful when they leave our doors."
Shanksville school experimenting with iPads
Apple's iPad2 (Image courtesy of Google images)
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