Evolving Toward Digital Instruction
Keene, N.H., is a small New England town best known as home to Keene State College, Antioch College of New England, and a Guinness world record-setting fall pumpkin festival for the most-lit jack-o-lanterns in one place.
But Keene School District SAU 29 wants to be known for its own accolades—top-tier technology—and it’s trying to achieve that by replacing teachers’ desktop computers with iPads and piloting them as replacement textbooks in some classes as Keene explores digital instruction, and moves toward the “electronic book bag” experts say is on the horizon.
In late August, the Keene SAU 29 nine-member school board unanimously approved a plan that, in early November, would replace 275 teachers’ desktop computers with an Apple iPad, and in every classroom place an AppleTV—Apple’s digital receiver used to access media content like films and photos on the internet or home- or school-based network. The board also approved two other big purchases: projectors for teachers to plug in their iPad or AppleTV for sharing content on large screens in lieu of bulky and dated electronic blackboards; and 100 iPads for students in Keene High School’s Advanced Placement biology class, for teachers at Ford Elementary School, and for a handful of special ed classes throughout the district. The total cost was $435,000.
Keene’s forward progress comes as districts nationwide implement 1:1 initiatives—providing laptops or tablets to teachers and students to help increase teacher efficiency and student achievement by enhancing how lessons are both taught and learned. “This is a trend that is moving quickly, in part because those in the large and powerful textbook industry are well aware of the direction that curricula are headed, and are taking steps to move into the digital age with their resources and offerings,” says Leslie Conery, interim chief education officer for the International Society for Technology in Education. “iPads and other tablet computers are especially popular for schools because they are less expensive than standard laptops, lighter to carry, and there are additional functionalities of a touch screen that are very helpful for teaching and learning for both young children and older learners.”
Digitizing Teachers’ Time
In September 2011, Keene rebuilt and relocated its 100-year-old middle school from the center of Keene to a bigger and better location in the western part of the town. Keene Middle School Principal Dorothy Frazier says when it was complete, the middle school was a $45 million building replete with some “exciting technology”: ēno Interactive Whiteboards, wireless voice systems that let a teacher’s voice be heard evenly from any classroom seat, carts with iPads for student use, and PC laptops for all teachers. After helping the new school get tech-ready, in the months following its opening Keene’s Director of Technology Mustafa “Moe” Zwebti says he wondered what it would take to raise Keene’s other buildings to the new school’s level while working within their existing structures (and budgets). In January 2012, he suggested to Superintendent Wayne Woolridge that the district replace older tech hardware with Apple products.
Woolridge knew that working with iPads could be big: Long a supporter of innovative classroom technology, he says, “it was an absolute no-brainer.” iPads could be a portable, economical way to increase teacher efficiency by giving them an on-the-go tool for accomplishing many teaching duties; enhance how Keene pupils learn by making textbook lessons more interactive than just reading off a page; and they would be cheaper than buying typical books. After the initial cost of an iPad, e-texbooks are less expensive than the average $80-$100 for their hardcover cousins.
Zwebti presented the following to Keene’s school board: spend $479 for an iPad filled with software and applications for teachers; $99 on an AppleTV for each classroom to access online digital media like films and photographs, and have access to the district’s network where shared resource materials could be housed; $450 on a projector and speakers for plugging into teachers’ iPads and sharing whatever is on the device with an entire class; and $250 for installing the hardware. The total: $1,278. “This package would replace a teacher’s electronic blackboard and desktop computer,” says Zwebti, all for less than one-fifth of the cost (or roughly a $2,500 savings per teacher).
Although it’s a new program, Woolridge says teachers are already appreciating their new “anytime, anywhere” ability to get work done, noting that the iPad is good for more than just lesson planning. The district has a parent portal which allows parents to check their children’s grades the second a teacher uploads them. The tablets and cloud-based student management systems will also let teachers work while at their own child’s soccer practice or if they’re home waiting to put their children to bed. Woolridge says teachers especially appreciate iPad access to PD 360, an online professional development tool that houses an online library of on-demand videos for teachers all over the world, which Keene teachers have enjoyed for years. “Instructional plans, sharing professional development, record keeping … the transparency and fluidity in terms of teachers’ time means there’s less inefficiency,” says Woolridge.
According to Apple, e-textbooks are available for 80 percent of high school core curricula used in 2,500 schools nationwide. “The cost of [hard copy] textbooks is going up and [the cost of] tablets is going down,” says Woolridge, noting that, by 2017, almost all digital textbooks will be on iPads. With tools that help students dig deeper into their lessons thanks to hot links within text pages and extra audio and visual content that tablets and e-books provide alongside lessons, “the ability for students to individualize [their learning] and the metacognition piece to learning is another reason to move from hard copy, 60-pounds-on-your-back textbooks,” says Woolridge.
In AP Biology at Keene High School, students are learning lessons from an iPad, a first for teacher Matt Brady. And the e-textbook Brady uses can be accessed on the tablet, which made for a natural pilot test. Brady notes that the iPad facilitates student-centered curricular design, a trend gaining steam nationwide. “The best part of implementing iPads is the students will now have an engaging tool to direct their learning,” says Brady. “Apps will allow my students not only to explore more engaging content, but to create video narratives explaining models; lab notebooks with photos and voice-over explanations [about the concepts they’re learning]; and the ability to share their work for peer review,” he says.
Brady will also use iPads for student self assessment. For example, teachers can use a device on the iPads that allows the iPad to become an automated response system. “That means I am able to project multiple choice questions [about a particular lesson being taught] for the entire class, and students ‘click’ [their iPads] to see how their answer compares to the correct answer.”
Students will also have instant access to online assessments (typically multiple choice) like the one that comes with the e-textbook he is using. Such quizzes will help students immediately see if they are understanding a lesson.
Despite his excitement, Brady admits he’s apprehensive about moving to e-textbooks. “Like me, my students have literally been trained to read from pulp-based material,” he says. “At the same time, no textbook should be the curriculum itself. It is just another tool to facilitate learning.”
Conery says when funding is as tight as it is today, districts are faced with difficult choices about how best to use resources to prepare students for the future; but, it’s “equally important for schools to provide the technology skills students will need to succeed in this digital age.”
“When finances are tough, we continue figuring out how to serve lunch and teach math at school,” says Conery. “Keene School District knows this. Keene’s No. 1 goal is to ‘raise the bar on student learning,’ and reaching that goal requires an investment.” Keene’s plan is to issue iPads to all students. Keene has teamed with local districts Claremont and Winchester to apply for a share of a federal Race to the Top grant, which would give Keene part of a $15 million award for which part would go toward iPads for all.