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iPad Changes Education: For Better, Or Worse?

As a growing number of schools adopt tablets, students and teachers need to hold on for a bit of a bumpy ride during the implementation phase.

Across America, the presentation of school curriculums is being transformed by mobile technology. Laptops, ultrabooks, and the recently more popular general-purpose tablets -- like the Apple iPad -- have been distributed to some of our nation's students in an effort to align them with technology, despite their various socioeconomic backgrounds.

Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District implemented a $1 billion effort to provide each of its students with iPad tablets. The district's ambitious program, however, has fallen under intense scrutiny due to poor planning and implementation, security and Internet concerns, and worries from parents about out-of-pocket expenses and lost devices.

But the news isn't all bad. In fact, some schools have already mastered the implementation of iPads in their teacher-led curriculums.

Dr. Susanne Maliski, an advocate for iPad-assisted learning, holds a master's degree in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in educational technology. She also holds a doctorate in education leadership from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Dr. Maliski currently teaches,  oversees sitewide technology, and coordinates the iPad program at Ascension Lutheran School, a private K-8, also in Thousand Oaks.

When asked why she chose the iPad, Maliski said, "We decided to implement the 8th grade iPad One-to-One Program after researching many options. We selected the iPad based on the costs, durability, and battery length that were issues when our school issued laptops previously. Our goal was to create meaningful lessons that engaged learners and helped further 21st century learning goals."

[ There's a better way to acquire curriculum. Open Educational Resources: Smart Policy. ]

Maliski indicated that overall, the program integration has been smooth for both students and teachers.

"As a teacher, the iPad gives me another resource to engage learners in new and different ways. The device also allows students to collaborate through applications. The students have a wealth of tools at their fingertips that they can access anywhere on campus and from home," said Maliski.

Although the transition to iPads in the classroom has gone swimmingly, it is difficult to obtain the resources needed to make the switch. In addition to the high costs of purchasing, providing network support, and monitoring the iPad program, there is the issue of changing technology, which forces teachers to maintain a balance of staying abreast of these obstacles while still striving to learn themselves.

Maliski added that, when implementing iPads, it's important to know "educational resources are growing especially with the shift to Common Core. But the real challenge is getting a handle on who owns the device and who owns the curriculum. It's different from purchasing textbooks in the past, which could be used for many years. Apps can be purchased and reassigned in many cases if the school owns the iPads. This is an area we are still researching, but as it stands the curriculum right now needs to be repurchased per user."

It may be easy to see how a private school in California can implement a costly technology program, but what about Culver Community High School, a small, public school in rural Culver, Ind.?

Vickie Benner, a teacher at CCHS, holds a B.A. from Butler University and an M.A. from Ball State University. She chairs the English department and teaches English, journalism, US history, literature/composition, and humanities. If that's not enough, this 35-year teaching veteran also teaches courses for Purdue North Central University.

Three years ago, the school system incorporated iPads at both the nearby middle school and the high school. Benner indicated that her teaching has been positively impacted by the technology, since it has become a supplemental tool during instruction. In her classrooms, students research, take notes and pictures, write, present, collaborate, and evaluate from their devices. The devices have also eliminated some of the excuses for incomplete assignments or inability to access materials. Furthermore, lesson plans, textbooks, and teachers' grade books are always available to the students.

But it's not all peaches and cream out in that Midwestern town.

"Obviously, the immediate and widespread availability of information is awesome. However, there are some negative factors too," said Benner. "Sometimes glitches can ruin an entire lesson plan, so a contingency plan is necessary. In addition, students can become distracted by the iPads and try to use them to play games or message each other. Also, cheating can be an issue," Benner claimed.

All-in-all, the pros in this educational model shift seem to outweigh the cons, if you consider the importance of educating our children right alongside technological advances. It is clear that students and teachers need to hold on for what seems to be a bit of a bumpy ride during implementation stages, but it will be well worth their while. Considering the technological progress that is being made all across America, regardless of any resistance to change we might have, students should be glad the days of lugging backpacks with legions of books in tow may soon be over.

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