Editor's note: This story is the first in a two-part series taking a closer look at the Burlington High School's 1:1 technology initiative with Apple's iPad. Visit Burlington Patch tomorrow morning for a discussion with school department heads on their points of enthusiasm and concern in regards to the project.
In September 2011, (BHS) will become the first, and probably only, public school in Massachusetts to implement a 1:1 technology initiative using iPads. Other school systems, such as Beverly, are planning 1:1 initiatives but are using laptops as opposed to iPads.
The choice to standardize on iPads was made by the administration with input from the 1:1 Implementation Team, a group of twenty people including teachers, parents, students and administrators.
According to Principal Patrick Larkin, the iPad was selected primarily because of its price point ($500 each) and its battery life. An iPad has a battery life of about ten hours thus eliminating the need for charging stations at school. A typical laptop has a battery life of five to six hours, although longer if the laptop is in “sleep” mode for part of the day.
There are other benefits to the iPad choice, says Larkin. The iPad will have less impact on the IT staff at the school. Larkin claims that with laptops, the IT staff would be required to load all applications onto each individual device because laptops are harder to use and are more vulnerable to computer viruses. With iPads, Larkin feels that students can be trusted to download their own applications.
Sonia Rollins is a parent of three children in Burlington public schools and a member of the 1:1 Implementation Team. Rollins joined the team after the choice of the iPad was made, but she is enthusiastic. Rollins mentioned the plethora of available applications for the iPad and the need for teacher training.
“We need to trust our educators," Rollins said. “There will some bumps in the road but we have a committee that is trying very hard to implement this properly and an administration that is very committed to this initiative.”
In terms of financial commitment, Eric Conti, Superintendent of Schools, estimates the cost of the 1:1 program to be $200,000 per year. That cost will be partly offset by other savings. For example, in the 2011-12 school year, the cost of the iPads will be partially offset by a reduction in book leases, by retiring an older technology lease and by reducing the school’s permanent substitute staff by one.
Larkin points out that the department will not be providing the devices free of charge indefinitely. Larkin expects that within four years at the latest, the school will move to “device freedom” meaning that each student will be able to bring the device of his or her own choosing to school. Those devices would presumably be supplied by parents, although the school will have an assistance program for needy families.
There will still be ongoing technology costs however. Conti maintains that as a community, we must being to think of technology costs the way we think of utility costs.
“We pay for heat, electricity and books every year,” said Conti. “We need to pay for technology every year as well.”
Many parents and teachers have expressed concerns about inappropriate usage of the iPads, specifically cheating, bullying and texting during class.
English Department Chairperson Robert Conceison acknowledged that these are problems that teachers must deal with already.
“We have to be vigilant,” he said. “We don’t know if these problems will be heightened. If they are, we will need to adjust our policies.”
Larkin explained that students will have no expectation of privacy on their iPads. The iPads will be the property of the School Department and can be checked by staff for inappropriate content.
According to Larkin, BHS teachers will each receive their iPads in early June, so they will be able to familiarize themselves with the tool and its possibilities over the summer. There will be a “train the trainer” session near the end of June which will include teachers from each department. Those teachers will in turn be a resource for their colleagues.
Teachers may also find help from their own students. According to Larkin, the school intends to offer a credited course to students who have the knowledge and desire to help with this program. Larkin envisions a team of approximately 35 students who will staff a “help desk” located in the school’s former data center. The students would be available to assist staff members and fellow students with their iPad questions and some will even “roam” to classrooms to offer on-the-spot assistance.
“It all comes down to classroom engagement,” says Larkin.
Conceison, agrees. “We all know that our kids are tuned in to the latest in technology,” says Conceison. “If we want to stay relevant, we need to keep up.”
Photo credit, Principal Larkin's blog post "Becoming A 1:1 School - Edition 5 - iPads In Mr. Calvin's Class (Guest Post)."