Tablet program to grow in Beaufort County schools

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 4, 2014 

  • Assessing the iPads

    Last spring, the Beaufort County School District surveyed students and teachers in schools that have iPads.

    Two of the findings:

  • More than 75 percent of teachers said they believe equipping all students with their own mobile device is important.

  • About 90 percent of students surveyed said that having a mobile device aids them learn.

  • It has been more than a year since the Beaufort County School District rolled out more than 7,500 iPads to sixth- through ninth-graders.
  • The program has prompted many questions about what effect the tablets have on student achievement and what return taxpayers will see on the $1.8 million investment.

    While little hard data exist, district officials deem the program a success. So much so that they have decided to expand it next school year, with early cost estimates of about $4 million.

    "We feel strongly that providing each student adequate access to technology is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity," district technology services officer Ross Hendricks said.

    "A primary goal of the Beaufort County School District is to adequately prepare students for college and career readiness. In order to do so, we must effectively incorporate that use of technology in every classroom throughout the district."

    Starting next school year, the district will move the iPads currently at the middle schools and Whale Branch Early College High School to students in third through fifth grade. Chrissy Robinson, district director of educational technology, said there are enough iPads currently in use to equip each student and teacher in those grades.

    The Apple devices will work better at the elementary level because of the many applications geared toward younger ages, she said.

    This means the middle-schoolers will get some new gadgets -- Windows-based tablets, superintendent Jeffrey Moss said.

    While Moss would not provide specifics, he said the new devices would cost about $4 million, money already been approved by the school board.

    The decision to go with a Windows system came after much feedback from principals, teachers and students, Robinson said. Almost all asked for a device with greater capability for typing for research and essays.

    The district then tested several different devices with students and teachers to find the best fit, she said.

    Hilton Head Island Middle School principal Gregory Stickel said the school is excited about the new devices coming in August.

    "It was really great that we had those tools, but there definitely were some limitations," he said of the iPads.

    The growing number of tablets won't be the only new thing about the expanding program. All teachers will get more training before the students get the devices, Robinson said.

    "We rolled out the iPads so quickly that one of the pieces that could have made the initiative more effective would have been more training," she said. "Now, teachers won't just learn how to use the device and here are some cool apps, but they'll learn some sample lesson plans and how to not use it as baby-sitting tool but as a tool for learning."

    Stickel said the technology is a critical investment, and he agreed that thorough training is crucial to making the most of such an expense.

    "One of the things we wanted to make sure (of) is that it didn't interfere with student achievement, but enhanced it," he said. "It's critical that we have the program, but we have to do it thoughtfully and still maintain the standards we have the responsibility to teach our kids."

    It's unclear what effects the tablets have had on student achievement. Robinson said the district hopes to compile data in future years.

    But there is anecdotal evidence, Hendricks said. According to an evaluation the district completed last spring, students said the tablets aided their learning, and teachers said students are turning in more work, are participating more in class and are more engaged.

    The district plans to expand the tablet initiative to the high schools in the 2015-16 school year, Robinson said, probably with more Windows-based tablets. She said it hopes to eventually reach the younger elementary grades, but she doesn't know when.

    "It is our feeling that if students are turning in their work more and are more engaged in the classroom, then their achievement will be higher," she said. "But even with that being said, we feel that part of our job is to prepare students for the global world ... and this technology prepares them for what they'll experience after they leave."

    Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

    Related content:

    District to expand iPad initiative, citing increased student engagement, May 23, 2013

    IPad supporters tout student engagement, but effect on achievement unclear, March 9, 2013

    District's iPad plan puts devices in core classes, involves months of teacher training, May 21, 2012

    Beaufort County school board passes budget that includes iPads, calls for tax hike, May 18, 2012

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