RSF School to purchase new iPads to replace Chromebooks

Rancho Santa Fe School students will be making the switch from Chromebooks to iPads next year. At the June 22 school board meeting, the RSF School District board approved $352,174 to purchase 820 iPads. The cost includes trade-ins of current iPads the district owns.

Six years ago, the district was among the first to go with a 1:1 device implementation for students. The district first purchased iPads for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students in 2012 and switched to Chromebooks at grades 5-8 in 2015.

RSF School District President Todd Frank said they took a two-year break from iPads and in that time the price dropped by 66 percent and the technology got better. Technology Director Ben Holbert said they probably jumped into iPads two years too soon, purchasing the devices at the cusp of transition — in the last six years they have gained a lot of knowledge about what works best for students.

Holbert said the district made the decision to switch to Chromebooks in 2015 as a way to give students access to a full keyboard and as the initial cost for the devices was one-third of the cost of iPads. English language arts teachers said the volume of writing improved significantly when students were able to use a keyboard.

But there were also some things lost when they made the switch. Holbert said the Chrome touch screen technology was inferior to the iPad and hand annotation of documents, critical in the classroom, was difficult. There were limited apps, the devices lacked a well-integrated front-facing camera and they weren’t as durable or reliable as iPads. Holbert noted that 90 percent of the iPads from the first three years of the district’s 1:1 program are still operational after five years.

“Chromebook have been a nightmare at home,” said parent Tom Powell. “They are not nearly as reliable… The comparison between the two in terms of usefulness, it’s night and day.”

Holbert took a second look at the iPad and saw Apple responded to losing market share to the Chromebook by improving its enterprise management system, providing productivity tools for free and introducing a $294 iPad with volume education pricing. For the keyboard needs, Logitech has partnered with Apple to provide a $99 rugged hard-wired keyboard case that allows charging while the keyboard is in use.

The iPads will enable efficient testing of fourth through eighth grade students, provide for easier hand annotation of material on the high-quality touch screen and will allow teachers to use Apple Classroom.

With Apple Classroom, teachers can keep track of what each student has on their device,watch them work in real-time, share e-books and websites for instruction, lock apps and share students’ work as it’s happening on an Apple TV in every classroom.

Teacher Steve Riviere said that collaboration is what they really lost when the district switched to Chromebooks.

“We really lost the ability to showcase high-quality work in the flow of the lesson, getting the kid to project their work so everyone could see it. It wasn’t reliable with the connection the Chromes had with the Apple TV, it just was the circle of death, we lost the flow,” Riviere said. “It turned into something that teachers stopped doing because it was too difficult to get the kids to project their work.”

Teacher Jackie Mendez said they have never had the ability to manage and direct before on a device the way Apple Classroom and iPads will allow. She said it will increase productivity to be able to show students on their devices all at once.

“The amount of time and efficiency is instrumental in the classroom,” Mendez said.

Regardless of the chosen device, the district was facing a buy for the next school year. To maintain status quo and replace Chromebooks would cost $131,000 over the next three years compared to $254,000 for the iPads.

With the new iPad purchase there will be 400 devices for K-5 students, 250 for 6-8 students,100 for staff and iPads tagged for science, a mobile cart and spares.

In K-3, there will be 20 devices per classroom to enable the whole class to participate in learning together and in small group activities — they are not 1:1.

In fourth grade, there will be a transitional year where each student is assigned a device to use only at school while grades 5-8 receive the 1:1 iPads to take home.

Holbert said the technology plan for the coming years also includes refreshing student work stations in 2018-19. The district has about 300 desktop computers that were manufactured in 2005. The biggest complaints about the desktops are that they take teaching time away as many times students are watching the “wheels spin” — some teachers say it takes up to 15 minutes to start up but Holbert said it usually takes him three minutes to get the computers going.