While some Johnson County schools are starting to equip every student with an iPad to use in class or even take home, one local school district is taking a slower approach.
Greenwood school officials know students need to start using more technology in class, but they don’t know whether iPads or laptops are better for students.
They also don’t know what kinds of lessons teachers can or should use tablets and computers for, or whether Greenwood should pay for the devices or let students bring their own.
To find those answers, Greenwood put iPads and laptops in the hands of 109 students enrolled in two middle school science classes, a high school English class and a high school Spanish class.
The teachers of those classes used the devices with their students throughout the year to find the best ways to combine technology-based lessons with traditional lessons.
The point of the pilot classes was to give school officials a better idea of how to use tablets, laptops and the Internet in class, and administrators are now reviewing surveys taken by teachers and students about how the pilot went.
Most students said they preferred the blended courses to traditional courses, but it’s not clear yet what devices — tablets or laptops — students work best with in the classroom.
School officials also have to consider what it will cost to connect all of Greenwood’s students to the Internet, and whether the school district should pay that expense or whether students should bring their own smartphones, tablets or computers to class, director of secondary education Rick Ahlgrim said.
“We did not want to begin rolling out programs before we began to build up a body of understanding. And that’s why we did pilots,” Ahlgrim said.
Center Grove schools is spending more than $1 million to purchase iPads for the school district’s 2,300 high school students, and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson plans to buy iPads for its nearly 1,100 sixth- through 12th-graders. Franklin schools also will start allowing students to use their own tablets, smartphones and computers in class before the end of the year.
Ahlgrim said that nearly all of Greenwood’s classrooms will be changing as the Internet and devices such as tablets and computers become a more regular part of lessons. But no one knows exactly what those lessons will contain yet. And school officials also want to be sure that online-based lessons aren’t seen as a replacement for lectures or other direct instruction from teachers, or for in-class group work, Ahlgrim said.
That’s why the four pilot teachers have been using different kinds of lessons, such as assigning students to watch video lectures at home with iPads and laptops. The students can watch the lectures as many times as they need to, and teachers have more time during the school day for classroom projects or to work with students who need extra help.
As school officials review the feedback from teachers and students, they’ll also look for ways to expand blended learning into other classrooms. That will give the school district a chance to continue collecting more information from teachers and students on how well the devices and new lessons are working, Ahlgrim said.
To ensure teachers are prepared to use laptops and iPads in class, Greenwood will need to start providing training for more of its teachers, including elementary teachers. While the pilot classes have focused on the middle and high school students, elementary teachers also will need to know how to prepare students for the kinds of blended lessons in middle school, Ahlgrim said.
“We can’t just spring that on (students) when they get there,” he said.
At the same time, Greenwood school officials need to start considering what devices students should use in class, and where they’ll come from.
Students in the middle school pilot classes used laptops while the high school students used iPads, and neither teachers nor students have said one device was better than the other.
The iPads are more portable but lack keyboards, meaning students can’t type as easily or as quickly. And some students got bored with the devices and stopped bringing them to class.
The middle school science students were given laptops, which students used regularly throughout the year.
Greenwood will need both tablets and laptops, as different devices will work better for students’ different needs. But all of those devices are expensive and need to be replaced every few years. So the school district needs to consider whether to allow students to bring their own devices to use in class, so that Greenwood isn’t responsible for providing one device for each student, Ahlgrim said.
Greenwood also has been working to upgrade the Internet at its schools, and the school district will have to continue to improve its service so that more students can use devices in class.
Finding ways to improve student access to the Internet in class won’t be easy or cheap, but is necessary for students develop stronger research and critical thinking skills, Ahlgrim said.
“The textbook did OK for us for a long time. But it diminished in its effectiveness a long time ago,” he said.