By Steven Hoffman
All 1,224 students in Oxford Area High School (OAHS) will have iPads in their hands within four months as a result of a technology initiative to enhance how students learn.
At a Sept. 25 assembly for more than 100 parents, OAHS principal Christopher Dormer said that the tablets are an essential tool in education.
“Students are used to getting instantaneous information,” Dormer said, explaining that youngsters today can enter any subject into a Google search and have millions of options at their fingertips within 1.5 seconds.
The principal added that studies of schools that have implemented a similar technology model show numerous benefits for students.
“These programs help prepare students for higher education,” he said. “They increase the time on task by 20 percent to 30 percent. That’s pretty staggering.”
He explained that more time on task means that students can get what amounts to 45 to 50 minutes of learning and instruction during a 42-minute class.
The students will be more engaged as teachers incorporate technology into their lesson plans.
According to Dormer, there are benefits for the staff as well.
The iPads will help support richer lessons and provide more varied curricular resources. They also support the self-directed learning styles of all learners. “Technology allows for individualized and differentiated learning,” Dormer said.
Teachers at the high school have been trained on how to use the devices in the classroom since June. There are weekly training lessons for teachers.
The portability of the iPads will provide for a seamless transition between home and school for the students. They will have access to their educational tools 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And the vast amount of assistance that’s available online to students means that they no longer have to wait for the help of teachers to finish school work.
“It’s about seizing every opportunity to gain knowledge or skills and not wait for a teacher,” Dormer said.
The school district will be handing out fourth generation iPads, a protective case, and a charger to students starting with the 346 ninth-graders on Oct. 7.
The iPads will be given to the students with a variety of programs and apps pre-loaded on them, including iOS 7, messages, photos, camera, maps, clock, photo booth, calendar, contacts, Notes, reminders, newstand, the iTunes Store, the App Store, a game center, FaceTime, Safari, mail, videos, music, and settings.
There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when students will use digital textbooks.
“We have been working with the publishers of our current textbooks to have access to eBooks and digital versions through the publishers’ websites,” Dormer explained.
He noted that, like textbooks, the iPads will remain school district property and are being loaned to the students.
“It is the same as a textbook,” he said. “We are giving the iPads to the students to enhance their education.”
While students will be able to utilize the devices for educational and personal uses, their use of apps and web browsing will be filtered 24 hours a day, seven days a week to protect them from accessing websites that they shouldn’t have access to.
“All traffic will come through the Lightspeed filtering software,” Dormer said.
Students will also be restricted from accessing such social media websites as Twitter or Facebook from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. They also won’t be able to update Apps during the school day because the updates slow down the system so much.
The students will be able to take the iPads home with them and they are responsible for charging the devices each night so that it’s ready for the next school day. The iPads have a battery life of up to 10 hours.
“One of the reasons that we were drawn to this product is the long battery life,” Dormer said.
There is an option to sign the devices into a charging cart in the library for overnight storage if students don’t want to take the iPads home with them.
Dormer said that the assembly with parents was effective. The question-and-answer session helped clarify some issues for parents. The district may hold an iPad training night for parents so that they have a good understanding of how the devices can be utilized in education.
The iPads will be distributed to students in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades no later than January 2014, though district officials said that schedule could be expedited as the iPads are handed out and the digital infrastructure at the high school proves capable of allowing for the use of more than 1200 devices. Each classroom has been wired as an access point for between 30 and 35 devices.
“All of our tests so far have been good,” Dormer said. “We’ll be testing all these as we go. We’re excited and we’re ready.”