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Will iPads in the classroom make the grade for students and teachers?

Tom Kaneshige | Feb. 14, 2014
Santa Barbara Unified School District is rolling out 1,200 iPads to three elementary schools and an alternative high school. Los Angeles Unified School District plans to put iPads in the hands of all 640,000 students. The goal is to improve learning through interactivity. First, school districts need to mitigate costs and get teachers on board.

Getting Teachers to Own the iPad Program
Getting teacher buy-in is another big problem, one that Ryckman began solving well before the first student got even a whiff of an iPad. Ryckman was just starting to make the transition from high school teacher to director of technology when he set out to get iPads for teachers.

Ryckman convinced the Parent Teacher Association, and, later, a wealthy donor, to subsidize half the price of a teacher iPad. The teacher can purchase an iPad at half price, which would be their personal iPad, not the school district's, in return for a couple of concessions: Teachers must agree to take Ryckman's iPad classes and use the iPad to enhance teaching in their classrooms.

Ryckman's big bet paid off, and many teachers opted in. Since the iPads were their personal devices, teachers didn't feel threatened by them. Like most iPad owners, they used their iPads daily and quickly became familiar with the touch interface and enamored with the exciting world of apps. They could see the iPad's potential to enhance their profession.

Some three years later, iPads are now being rolled out to students.

"We've had iPads in the hands of our teachers for a long time, well before students get them," Ryckman says. "I think other school districts have made a mistake by trying to do it at the same time."

This isn't to say, however, that the iPad is a teaching panacea. The platform still has limitations that need to be overcome. For instance, AirWatch's Teaching Tools lets teachers force student iPads to open a single, pre-determined app but not multiple ones, such as Calculator and Pages. It would also be nice if a teacher could blast out an app to students at the beginning of class and then take the app off the iPad when class ends.

Despite limitations, the iPad should be a boon for schools. You'd think Ryckman would want to roll out iPads to all 15,000 students at Santa Barbara Unified School District. But that's hardly the case. Many schools want iPads, he says, but they're not ready for them.

Ryckman interviews teachers at schools to gauge their interest, and he still sees some hesitancy. There needs to be nearly 100 percent commitment from teachers before an iPad rollout could be approved.

"This will only work if it's organic, not forced, if there's teacher buy-in," he says.

As a teacher himself, Ryckman knows that the best way to get teachers on board is by appealing to their educational values, which is why he offers iPad classes. It'll take time, he says, but eventually, as educators, they know they need to change with the times.

"Teachers themselves tend to be lifetime learners," Ryckman says, adding, "One 25-year veteran teacher told me after one of my classes, 'This is the most excited I've been about teaching in a long time.'"


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