By Karen Billing
The Rancho Santa Fe School District board voted to put iPads into more students’ hands at its May 1 meeting, approving the purchase of 250 new devices for increased deployment for second through sixth grades.
The $103,080 purchase will mean there will be 1:1 iPad deployment at grades fifth through eighth, and 2:1 deployment at the second through fourth grade level. Kindergarten through first grade will continue a program of six per classroom.
One parent in attendance voiced concern about rolling out the iPads to the younger grades as she said the “jury was still out” on their effectiveness. Parent Beth Nelson said before the district adds more iPads she wants to see more information on if they have improved students’ test scores, bettered computer skills or have been a help or hindrance in the classroom.
“It has been anything but productive for our seventh grader,” Nelson said. “It’s very distracting, especially the chat feature, it’s difficult for her to manage her time and it will only be more difficult for fifth and sixth graders because they’re less mature.”
Nelson also expressed concerns about the risk of loss or damage with younger students, and also noted that working with an iPad has been an added stress as her daughter lost work on her device twice due to software upgrades.
District Superintendent Lindy Delaney said she was sorry that Nelson’s experience has been less than stellar, but said that overall complaints and incidents have been few. Admittedly, some work has been lost due to upgrades and, by a horrible coincidence, it happened twice to Nelson’s daughter.
“The reality is we’ve had problems and the number is way too high,” said Ben Holbert, the district’s technology director of the 20 percent of work that has been lost. “We’ve done the best we can do this year but it’s not going to happen next year.”
Holbert said it wouldn’t happen next year as the district approved purchase of a new mobile device management module, which will allow them to push applications through the air rather than take devices in for upgrades. He said as Apple can’t prevent individual users from doing operating systems upgrades, sometimes the devices were out of sync when they were turned in for upgrades and work was lost.
In regards to Nelson’s concern about loss and damage, Delaney said there is still a lot to talk about when moving forward with the 5/6 deployment — it might be the case that the iPads don’t travel home with the students.
Assistant Superintendent Cindy Schaub also addressed the concern about the iPad’s role in the classroom and its benefits. She said this year at the middle school level, with 1:1, there has been a high level of engagement; extended learning beyond the classroom; collaboration between students; and increased volume in reading and writing. Schaub said that students keep their work organized in folders; keep track of calendars; and enjoy a paperless, digital exchange of assignments and data.
“They’re communicating more and more with teachers, and engaging more with the content than when all they had in front of them was a textbook,” Schaub said.
She noted teacher Maureen Cassarino had previously been “steadfastly against” using iPads for writers’ notebooks, preferring her students use the old-fashioned method of pen to paper.
Schaub said that now there’s no way Cassarino would go back to the old method as the volume and quality has completely gone up this year due to the iPads.
“Our students live in a digital world and we’ve got to respond to them and meet the kids where they are or we will become the dinosaurs,” Schaub said.
She said use of the iPads also complement the Common Core State Standards requirements for multi-media presentations and analysis of digital sources, and also are a step toward he district’s goal of lighter backpacks.