Students help unpack shipments of iPad and iPad cases in the High School Media Center. From left: Paige Fode, Alyssa Cordes, Josilyn Cordes and Danielle Fode. Photo submitted by Jen Hegna
By Alex Long
In just two weeks, every Byron student in grades 7-12 will have an iPad.
Students and their families have already chosen from three options given by the school. 137 students have chosen the "rent-to-own" option, in which they buy the iPad from the district with a series of payments. The rest will either use a district leased device or bring an iPad from home.
Students and their parents can pick up the iPads at the high school during one of three days, separated by grade level, starting Aug. 19. Each day is split into seven sessions, starting at 1 pm and ending at 8 in the evening.
The students, parents, and staff will spend the first half hour of each session discussing and reviewing the district's iPad policy, as well as turning in paperwork and fees. After that, iPads will be handed out and students will be trained briefly on how to set up and use the iOS operating system, which works much differently than the Windows 7 system that the school district has used.
All of the iPads and cases were delivered during the first week of July. The staff, with some student help, spent the next few weeks unpacking all of the iPads and putting them into their cases. Then, they began the slow process of scanning each individual iPad to match serial numbers with student names.
"One of the biggest reasons why 1:1 is important is to personalize the education experience for all our students. As more and more curriculum and lessons go digital, students need more access," said Jen Hegna, Director of Information and Learning Technology for Byron Schools. The term '1:1' refers to the ratio of students to computers. "Six computer labs (at the high school) still weren't enough, as teachers and students were constantly challenged by the availability."
The idea for a massive tech rollout of tablet computers really began more than two years ago, when the school board and a group of teachers and administrators decided that Byron needed to keep up with modern technological advances. "We wanted to do a pilot, and we needed to study it." said Hegna.
At the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, iPads were handed out to every seventh grade student. Throughout that year, the board of administration and a team of teachers paid close attention to how the iPads were affecting the seventh grade classrooms. After a few technical issues were bypassed, the change was obvious.
Seventy-nine percent of parents agreed that the iPads helped to prepare their children for the real world, and more than half of the students surveyed agreed that they were more productive when using technology.
Learning efficiency wasn't the only effect that was measured. "We did a study in our copy center the year before we implemented the iPads in seventh grade," Hegna said. "The teachers had made more than 50,000 copies by December of the prior year. After the 1:1 implementation in 2012, copies decreased to 6,500."
At the same time these results were coming in, district leaders learned of new leasing options from Apple that would make ramping up the 1:1 project even more affordable. Between those new leasing options and the district's reallocation of funds from textbooks and computer labs, the implementation of a full, 7-12, 1:1 curriculum became possible.
Hegna said that the district has learned a lot from the seventh grade pilot. "We've doubled our internet access, and almost every classroom will have a wireless access point." The old web filter, which had been an information bottleneck, was replaced with a new one. In addition, a new device management server has been set up to direct all the iPads wirelessly.
Hegna is hoping for no networking issues which, to her, would equate to "a complete success." What happens after that point is yet to be seen.
"Things aren't going to change overnight," Hegna said. "Things might not look too different in some classrooms to begin with." However, over time, the district hopes to see some of the same results seen by other districts with a 1:1 curriculum, such as Little Falls in central Minnesota. The district has developed a 3-4 year staff development plan to facilitate teachers' use of the iPads.
"When we think about having a 21st century curriculum, we need to make sure our students have access to the tools available in the world.... It's very important that teachers and students have the tools they need to learn and to showcase learning," Hegna said. In other words, the current mediums of student showcasing, such as posters or PowerPoints, are limited. IPads could change that, by providing tools for networking and multimedia presentation.
Because of the nature and portability of the device, learning can be recorded as it happens both within and outside of school. This is vital in a modern age when students are no longer competing for jobs with kids in their classroom, or in another school district, but globally.
"Some of the skills needed for today's workforce are creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration," Hegna said. "There's going to be some expectations that when students leave Byron, they're going to have these skills. To prepare our students for their future, we need to provide them with those types of learning experiences now."