By Travis Smola
The integration of iPad tablet computers into the teaching process is going well in Schoolcraft schools, said Chris Ebsch, middle school principal.
All middle and high school students have been issued school-owned iPads for the year. “We’ve really ramped up the number of devices in hand,” said Ebsch. The middle school introduced the Apple devices as a part of a larger technology rollout for grades 6-12 in the district.
The tablets allow easy access to online course materials. Students are also able to connect and interact with other students on assignments and group projects. Ebsch also said the students are able to practice college readiness skills and answer teacher’s questions with the devices. “The most impressive use I’ve seen thus far is the fact they are able to manage different structural issues like never before,” Ebsch said.
While technology is increasingly becoming a larger part of education, Ebsch stressed that the devices are a tool. “It’s not as if this has taken over our curriculum,” Ebsch said. “It enhances what we do, but it doesn’t replace the educational practices.”
The devices have presented some challenges. “There are some blessings and there’s some burdens,” said Ric Seager, high school principal, who came to Schoolcraft from Kalamazoo recently. This is the first time he’s worked in an environment where students are making use of this technology. “If you’re comfortable with a traditional learning process, this is not it,” Seager added. He said the biggest burden has been simply integrating the devices into the learning environment of the school. As part of this process, students at both the high school and middle school must agree to and sign usage agreements pledging that the devices are not abused. Insurance can also be purchased to protect in case of damage to the devices.
Ebsch reports no problems so far. Seager says they’ve had a few devices take some nicks and bumps, but students have handled the technology well for the most part. “They’re great kids here,” Seager said. “The big thing is to get used to a new way of education.” Getting used to new technology has been a learning curve for the staff as well in some cases. Seager says the technical support staff has been extremely helpful. He also says some students have been willing to help out with technical aspects, maintenance and repairs in some cases. Another concern early on was if the school had enough bandwidth for all the devices. “That was a big worry up front,” Ebsch said. It has not been an issue so far.
In an ever-changing digital world, a big focus of the rollout has been on the Internet. “We focused pretty closely on concepts related to digital citizenship,” Ebsch said. A big focus was on helping kids understand the effects of online bullying and the type of information that is appropriate to put online.
For safety and security reasons, the schools have control over the devices, ensuring the school can decide what applications can be downloaded them. Filters for the Internet provide an additional layer of protection. “The students were a little disappointed at first, but they understood,” Ebsch said. These additional functions also provided some peace of mind for concerned parents. “They’re fairly reassured by the steps we’ve taken to keep students safe,” Ebsch said.