Increasing numbers of school districts are experimenting with iPads — tablet computers — as a replacement for textbooks. No surprise there: Kids (and adults) adapt quickly to the technology, the hardware is fairly cheap, virtual textbooks are much cheaper and easier to update than actual ones, and a single, small notepad is much easier to lug around than a backpack full of books. Still, schools need to make sure they dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s before making a huge commitment to this technology.
For one thing, not all homes are hooked up to the Internet. A student with an iPad may need wireless telephone service to connect. As smartphone users know, that’s not so cheap. And though wireless phone service is generally available everywhere these days, coverage can be spotty in places. So school districts have to make sure all students can receive the necessary wireless signals from home, and to offer them reasonable alternatives if they can’t.
They also need to keep actual textbooks around for kids who abuse their equipment, as kids will occasionally do. That the money to buy the equipment may be coming from an outside source (like BOCES), or from government grants, is no reason to throw caution to the wind. Taxpayers are often the source of such funds, in one way or another.
Indeed, BOCES will be reimbursing the Sharon Springs school district for most of the $214,000 it recently spent on iPads for each of 150 7th- through 12th-grade students; Verizon wireless Internet service; teacher training; hard plastic cases; even insurance. After this year, the district’s only recurring costs should be $13,000 for the wireless service and nominal textbook licensing fees. Officials say they will make the school’s academic support room available after school for any student with Internet signal issues at home, and it will continue to keep a small number of hard-copy textbooks around, just in case. Good.
The experiment in Sharon Springs certainly bears watching. The district is rural, poor and not really representative of very many across the state, but if the experiment can work there, it can probably work anywhere.