I work at a school that had 60 iPad 2s purchased through a couple of different government grants. One of my first jobs was to get them locked down so the students couldn’t abuse them. That was back in February, and as the school year went along, I have to admit that I never really saw them being used much. My job in IT support takes me all throughout the building during all parts of the day, and on only a couple of occasions can I actually remember seeing them in students’ hands.
One day, a request came in from a chemistry teacher to use some of the iPads for a class. All I knew about the usage was that there was one particular staff member that was in charge of the tablets, and that they had something to do with something called Title 1 and Title 30. So after this request came in, I decided to go talk to this staff member to see about the chemistry teacher using some iPads, because I would be the one to install the app she needed for her class. What I found out shocked me and kind of made me mad.
The iPads were all bought with money from a couple of grants. All told, it was somewhere around $30,000. Now I understand that with that kind of money, it probably comes with some guidelines; I found out from the staff member that there were in fact guidelines, and they were strictly enforced.
When she first got the iPads, she was given the guidelines but honestly didn’t think much about them. She wasn’t expecting that there was going to be a whole lot of contact with the agency that provided the money, but boy, was she wrong. At the end of last school year, she told me that an auditor came to check on all of the logs for the iPads, who had been using them, and what they had been using them for. The auditor came down pretty hard on the school, and this staff member realized that these rules had to be strictly followed.
The rules were basically this: Only students that are failing or in special education classes are allowed to use the iPads.
Now the school I work for isn’t very big. My best guess would be around 500 students total in K-12th grade. So, in order for the iPads to get used, more than 10% of the students would need to be failing or in special education. No wonder they were hardly getting used! Why give a school money to buy some sweet technology, only to let that technology sit on a shelf collecting dust most of the time? That makes no sense to me. Why not let the school treat the iPads the way that they want to, and actually get some real use out of them? I could see a couple of iPad carts that could be wheeled from classroom to classroom, and I would bet that those iPads would be getting used almost every hour of every school day.
The school also has over 150 netbooks that are used in the classrooms. If more than a couple classes use them in a row, teachers have to worry about finding enough of them from the cart that still have some juice. With iPads, you could run them in every class and not worry too much about whether the battery is going to last until the end of the hour, let alone the end of the day. I see lots of other benefits of the iPad over the netbook in a school, but that’s not really my focus here. I almost wish that the school had not bought these tablets since I just see them sitting on a shelf most of the time.
I think if some agency decides to give a school money for new technology, then that school should be able to use it however they choose. Hopefully there is a time limit on the reporting part of the grants, and sometime soon the school can start using the iPads how they choose, actually getting some use out of them.