Gary Lanoie, the Cape Elizabeth school district technology director, always has thought high school students would benefit from having enough laptops so each could use one whenever it was needed.
Laptops at the high school currently are stored on carts that must be checked out. With only one cart for each department, availability of the computers is limited.
“I’ve always felt bad that we haven’t been able to have one-to-one capability,” Lanoie said, but tight budgets have prevented that. “I built this year’s technology budget with the laptops being replaced, just because that’s what we’ve been doing. And then I started thinking … what if we could have one-on-one access with the same amount of money?”
Lanoie’s thinking led him to discover that for the same amount it would cost to replace the school’s 200 laptops, the district could buy 405 iPad 2s – enough to provide one for each freshman, sophomore and junior. And there will be enough in the 2012-13 budget for iPads for the fourth class, he said.
Swapping a laptop for an iPad isn’t an even trade. CEHS Principal Jeff Shedd said, in many ways, the iPad is better.
“There are all kinds of educational applications,” he said. “The iPads open worlds of possibilities.”
Thanks to a grant of nearly $44,000 from the Cape Elizabeth Educational Foundation, teachers won’t be excluded from those worlds. That money will be used to buy 60 iPad 2s for teachers and staff, and provide extensive training, including sessions with Apple instructors – expenditures that would have exceeded the district’s technology budget.
The iPads won’t be distributed to students until that training is done, which means it isn’t likely to happen until next March, Shedd said. That timetable, and the desire to keep within this year’s technology budget, is why the district decided to not buy iPads for seniors – who would only have about two months with the devices before they move onto their Senior Transition Projects and graduation. The purchase of more iPads for the 2012-13 school year will ensure that all high school students have the devices then, Lanoie said.
The iPad has become phenomenally popular since introduced by Apple in early 2010.
The tablet computer with a touchscreen allows users to surf the web, access email, video chat, write, edit videos and do dozens of other tasks, with a connection to the Internet through a Wi-Fi or a mobile card that provides a link through cell phone networks.
Since its introduction, people have developed thousands of iPad apps – everything from silly games to business tools.
An extensive and growing inventory of educational apps, such as math tutorials, anatomy lessons and guided tours of the galaxy, has been developed. The potential to greatly enhance student learning was a persuasive argument in favor of the grant for the teachers’ iPads, said Jennifer Scarpitti-Nelson, co-chair of the foundation’s grants committee.
CEEF brought a healthy skepticism to the proposal, she said, because the amount of the grant being sought was large, the technology is relatively new and the potential for misuse by students is high.
Scarpitti-Nelson said the committee listened to a presentation by Lanoie and Shedd and then called them back to have many more questions answered and to make sure the proposal had been thoroughly thought out.
“Given the size, scope and potential impact of this grant, we felt it was important to make sure we really understood what this would mean,” she said.
Lanoie said a key argument he used was the value of an iPad as a true “mobile learning tool.”
“The iPad has the potential to allow for individual instruction. It engages learners, provides instant access to information, it can be a strong motivator and productivity tool,” he said. “It encourages ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning and it could reach some underserved children.”
That argument was a strong one, Scarpitti-Nelson said.
“This is another way to improve the ability for students to learn beyond books,” she said. “I think it’s exciting. It’s going to give teachers another tool and there are so many applications out there. This may be a little bit of a leap of faith, but it meets our criteria for being innovative and exciting.”
Lanoie said there are some practical advantages to the iPads over laptops, including their lighter weight and longer battery life, which, at 10 hours, is more than double the laptops’ currently in use at the high school.
There also are no moving parts to break and the iPad’s capability as an e-reader has the potential to save money, he said, especially as more textbook publishers move toward electronic editions, which can be produced for a fraction of the cost of a traditional bound book. In addition, some classics are available to download for free, he said.
Still, there are also some practical drawbacks, such as limited storage space compared with laptops, district officials said in an informational sheet sent to high school parents in late May. However, that can be overcome by using web-based resources, such as GoogleDocs, which most students have become familiar with over the last few years, school officials said.
Another concern is the lack of keyboards. The iPad has a “virtual keyboard” that can be called up on its touchscreen, but some students might find it awkward to use, especially when writing a long paper. Even though the vast majority of Cape students have access to a computer and keyboard at home, Shedd said, the consensus was to make sure that the lack of a keyboard isn’t an issue, so 72 portable keyboards are being purchased at $30 apiece.
Lanoie said the laptops that are being replaced by the iPad 2s eventually will be passed on to Pond Cove and the middle school. “Basically, we use them until they break and die,” he said.
Shedd said a lot of work lies ahead as the school transitions to iPads. Teachers will be asked to “sift through, explore and use” educational apps before they use them with students.
The school also will have to figure out ways to limit students’ use of the iPads to school-related activities and avoid having the devices become distractions.
“We do not have all of the answers, but in the next several months we will be getting input from parents, students and teachers,” he said.
Lanoie anticipates that there will be issues with iPads as there are with any new technology, but they can be overcome. “I think it’s going to be a lot of work (to implement), but it will be an exciting year,” he said.
Both Lanoie and Shedd see the switch to the iPad as an evolutionary advance of technology, rather than a revolutionary step.Shedd said he was asked at a recent faculty meeting whether he thought iPads would transform learning in Cape Elizabeth and he said no, that they’re going to be an additional, great tool but not transformative.
“In my mind, nothing is ever going to replace an excellent teacher,” he said, “but teachers will learn to use excellent technology to do what they do even better.”