A first-grader at Maywood Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District uses her iPad to complete a chart separating nouns and verbs. Credit: Brenda Iasevoli/The Hechinger Report

A first-grader at Maywood Elementary in Los Angeles uses her iPad to complete a chart separating nouns and verbs. Credit: Brenda Iasevoli, The Hechinger Report

LOS ANGELES – “D” is the letter of the day in Maria Martinez’s kindergarten class at Maywood Elementary. On a recent weekday, Martinez drew a capital and lower-case d on the white board.

“Beautiful!” the children shouted. “Nice!”

They used their fingers to form the letter D on the wide writing lines that appeared on their iPad screens. The 5 and 6-year-olds in this largely poor and Hispanic school in Southeast Los Angeles County already know how to navigate many educational apps loaded onto tablets, some 10 million of which are in classrooms across the U.S., according to Apple Inc.

“I can’t imagine teaching without iPads,” said Martinez, whose classroom provides a window into how technology is being used successfully to help children learn – even as the Los Angeles Unified School District attempts to salvage its botched attempt to distribute the pricey, high-tech devices. The district is the nation’s second-largest after New York City.

LA Schools Superintendent John Deasy has called the intended $1 billion program to provide an iPad to every student in the district a civil rights imperative with potential to equalize access to technology. But the initiative, the largest of its kind, stumbled this fall during its first phase – a $30 million rollout to 47 schools – after some 300 high school students skirted the tablets’ security to surf social-networking sites.

Under pressure, Deasy called for a delay of the rollout, which means all schools aren’t likely to get the devices until 2015 – a year later than planned.

Cautionary tale

Mistakes made in Los Angeles are now being heeded nationally as a cautionary tale, with school districts halting technology rollouts until rules regarding the use of the devices are finalized and teachers get more training.

“If we take away the old textbook, and replace it with digital curriculum, there’s a transition that has to take place, and it doesn’t happen just because you hand out a device,” said Debbie Karcher, head of technology for Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The district recently halted its plan to hand out devices to seventh and ninth-graders. “I think people and districts want to go from zero to 60 in five seconds.”

A Maywood Elementary first-grader’s iPad shows a completed chart separating nouns and verbs. Credit: Brenda Iasevoli/The Hechinger Report (ONE TIME USE)

A Maywood Elementary first-grader’s iPad shows a completed chart separating nouns and verbs. Credit: Brenda Iasevoli, The Hechinger Report

Technology advocates say the LA Unified school district failed to ask basic questions that must be addressed before schools introduce large-scale technology programs.

“I haven’t seen anything like this in the 10 years I’ve been doing this work,’’ said Leslie Wilson of the Michigan-based One-to-One Institute, a nonprofit that provides technology guidance to schools and districts nationwide. “Did they have a desired goal beyond the ever-present we want our kids to be 21st century learners? Why do we want every child to have an iPad? Because it will do what?”

Many school districts now want to get their rollouts right from the start, and are calling to ask, “How do we prevent going down the same path as these major debacles out there?” Wilson said.

In LA, the district and school board disagreed over whether or not students had been allowed to take the devices home and who was responsible if they were lost or stolen. And some teachers still question the purpose of high-priced tablets.

Just 36 percent of 255 teachers polled strongly favored continuing the iPad initiative and the majority said they did not have enough training, according to results of a recent anonymous survey by a Board of Education member and employee unions. Survey participants teach in the 47 schools that have received iPads so far.

Other school districts are also learning from bad experiences. The Fort Bend school district in Texas put the brakes on its $16 million iPad program in October after a review showed the program had “unrealistic goals” and did not meet state standards.

Some may take a page from Houston, where teachers received iPads so they could learn how to use them before students get devices in their hands. LA is considering this strategy for the second phase of its rollout.

Take time to plan

That idea makes sense to Scott Himelstein, interim director of University of San Diego’s Mobile Technology Learning Center, which studies how mobile devices in classrooms affect teaching and learning.

“That’s smart because you really need time to plan for this and get staff used to the technology,” Himelstein said.

Advocates for using iPads as teaching tools are quick to point out that they are only effective if teachers are well trained – otherwise, they may simply be used as replacements for textbooks and worksheets.

“We have decades of historical evidence demonstrating that what people do with technology is to extend existing practices at great cost with very little learning gained,” said Justin Reich, co-founder of EdTechTeacher, which trains teachers in how to use technology in the classroom.

In Miami, assistant superintendent Sylvia Diaz says her district decided to follow San Diego’s example, where it took six years to get a device into the hands of each student.

“We’re going to take baby steps and get this right,” says Diaz. Miami-Dade has a few small mobile technology programs up and running in the district already. The most recent plan is to hand out devices to seventh and ninth-graders for use in social studies classes. If the program is a success, it will be expanded to other grades and subjects.

For any new program to work, teachers need professional development and technical support, she said. The district this week announced that it will equip all classrooms with a digital science curriculum and provide training for teachers on how to use it.

Above all, Diaz stresses the importance of making sure the instructional purpose of using iPads is clear – an issue that has gotten lost amid LA’s messy rollout.

“It’s really about asking, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Diaz said.

Little research

There isn’t a lot of research available yet on how iPads help students learn, but a new study offers some insight: Himelstein’s center researched an iPad program in Encinitas, observing four upper-elementary classrooms in four different schools at the beginning, middle and end of the school year to find out how teachers were using the iPad and how students were learning from the device.

A student at Maywood Elementary takes video of her classmates as they interview each other about the careers they researched and wrote about as part of a class project. Credit: Brenda Iasevoli/The Hechinger Report (ONE TIME USE)

A student at Maywood Elementary takes video of her classmates as they interview each other about the careers they researched and wrote about as part of a class project. Credit: Brenda Iasevoli, The Hechinger Report

The findings were mixed. According to the study, iPads improved students’ “research, writing and creative production,” yet didn’t improve math skills.

“In the classrooms we observed, the teachers who used the iPads well had better student outcomes,” Himelstein said. “That means students’ time on task improved, and teachers were able to provide more individualized instruction.”

At Maywood, where an iPad pilot program is in its third year, first-grade teacher Lorena Cisneros said using the tablet as a teaching tool is like learning “a whole new subject. It takes planning, time and energy. In the first year, it’s a lot of trial and error. But now we’re all really comfortable using the technology.”

The LA Unified school district has heard the concerns of teachers and plans to address them, said Bernadette Lucas, head of the iPad program.

In the meantime, Cisneros notices how iPads help students new to the English language open up. She listened to a recording they did as they told stories about illustrations that were uploaded to their tablets.

“These students never speak in class,” Cisneros says. “But I hear them in the recording, telling these stories and providing all these elaborate details.”

Cisneros also uses the iPad to transport them to different places. Recently, she arranged for her students to meet first-graders in a special-education class at Esplanade Elementary in Orange, California, via the iPad. One student used braille to read a story to Cisneros’ class.

“My students were mesmerized, watching her hands move over the pages,” Cisneros said. “I got chills.”

This article was originally published in The Hechinger Report.

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  1. David Bish 6 years ago6 years ago

    I hear what you are saying on the purely tech front Paul and sadly lots of tech workarounds are still needed with the constraints designed into the consumer model of Apple devices. Even Mobile Device Management software has limited abilities to get 'under the hood' of IOS. You point out a 'short' life of the Apple tablets, in fact it's even shorter. Program administrators need to bear in mind that Apple will continually upgrade the IOS … Read More

    I hear what you are saying on the purely tech front Paul and sadly lots of tech workarounds are still needed with the constraints designed into the consumer model of Apple devices. Even Mobile Device Management software has limited abilities to get ‘under the hood’ of IOS.

    You point out a ‘short’ life of the Apple tablets, in fact it’s even shorter. Program administrators need to bear in mind that Apple will continually upgrade the IOS operating system which software developers have to follow but leaves older devices behind.

    A fair bit of good educational software for iPad 1s simply doesn’t exist in the app store any more or is no longer compatible even though the devices work as well as they ever did (especially in that reading function).

    I am sure this has all been said before but the smart money should be taking a look a look at how the ‘One Laptop per Child’ movement resulted in the Ceibal project down in Uruguay for some best practice on giving every child the benefits of connected computer access. They kept costs at bay with a custom made netbook device even avoiding Windows and are now moving to the next stage of their project with an Android tablet designed for educational use.

  2. Paul Muench 6 years ago6 years ago

    It would be nice to take advantage of Common Core’s promise to share costs among states and use community developed textbooks. That could remove the internet requirement to get access to textbooks. If students are allowed to take tablet devices home that might remove barriers to student access to textbooks. Maybe increased access to textbooks would help students learn and increase test scores too.

    Replies

    • Manuel 6 years ago6 years ago

      The problem is that if the states took it upon themselves to design and produce curriculum as well as design and build a specific device as was done in Uruguay then they would be accused of competing with established businesses, of creating a government monopoly. The State will then have total control of education leaving all those good corporate citizens out in the cold. That's not what the creators of Common Core had in mind and … Read More

      The problem is that if the states took it upon themselves to design and produce curriculum as well as design and build a specific device as was done in Uruguay then they would be accused of competing with established businesses, of creating a government monopoly. The State will then have total control of education leaving all those good corporate citizens out in the cold.

      That’s not what the creators of Common Core had in mind and I am sure you know where that would lead.

      So, no, that will never happen here in the Land of the Brave and Home of the Free. It is against Truth, Justice, and the American Way because, after all, the business of America is business.

  3. Paul 6 years ago6 years ago

    David, as a computer scientist who turned to K-12 teaching (and has since returned to IT), I recognize and strongly endorse the other, advanced applications of tablets in the classroom. I think we agree on the potential benefits. As someone who has observed firsthand the poor computer skills of teacher candidates, the myopic approach to computers in some teacher preparation programs, the skepticism of school administrators, and the inability of school district leaders to plan effective … Read More

    David, as a computer scientist who turned to K-12 teaching (and has since returned to IT), I recognize and strongly endorse the other, advanced applications of tablets in the classroom. I think we agree on the potential benefits.

    As someone who has observed firsthand the poor computer skills of teacher candidates, the myopic approach to computers in some teacher preparation programs, the skepticism of school administrators, and the inability of school district leaders to plan effective technology projects, I also know that these benefits will be long in coming.

    I don’t want the savings from textbook replacement to be held up by structural problems. And there is no question that money would be saved, provided that districts made intelligent purchasing decisions. Perhaps this too is unlikely.

    1. Tablets have short economic lives (3 years, perhaps). Except for savvy districts, schools and teachers, the first purchase need not be of advanced tablets, as textbook replacement will be the main application. Generic tablets running the Google Android operating system are adequate for this simple use, and cost less than $100 apiece. It would be absurd to buy Apple iPads at upwards of $500 apiece until California’s K-12 education system is ready for them. (Apple’s practice of holding prices constant while increasing processing power, memory, screen resolution, and camera resolution every year makes Apple products a horrible choice for general use in schools. The needs and desires of consumers are far different from the needs of most teachers and students.)

    2. Desktop computer support — “reimaging” systems (or, for tablets, reloading iOS or Android), repairing machines or sending them for repair, etc. — has long been uneconomic. Purchasers should overbuy, and simply discard individual machines when problems occur.

    3. Again, all of the major textbook publishers discount digital editions by 50%, except where per-user (as opposed to per-book) and time-limited (as opposed to economic-life-limited) licensing is used. The California Department of Education — or consortia of school districts, in the absence of leadership at the state level — can easily negotiate favorable terms. The standard discount on just two of the four or more textbooks that each K-12 student typically requires is sufficient to pay for a generic iOS tablet.

    Replies

    • Manuel 6 years ago6 years ago

      Paul, what you suggest is not what is driving LAUSD. There, the impetus is testing, testing, and more testing. The whole enterprises is called the "Common Core Technology Project" and it requires not only the purchase of the devices but the institution of an entire, from-scratch, WiFi network in each campus together with a "Mobile Device Management" that is based on a single off-site vendor providing proxy service for every single transaction. Thus, your suggestion that … Read More

      Paul, what you suggest is not what is driving LAUSD. There, the impetus is testing, testing, and more testing.

      The whole enterprises is called the “Common Core Technology Project” and it requires not only the purchase of the devices but the institution of an entire, from-scratch, WiFi network in each campus together with a “Mobile Device Management” that is based on a single off-site vendor providing proxy service for every single transaction. Thus, your suggestion that “a special-purpose subnetwork with affirmative firewall rules” is a non-starter and implementing the WiFi network capable of servicing 600,000+ devices 24/7 is a very tall order indeed.

      Then there is the issue of using the tablets to provide access to digital textbooks. LAUSD has yet to cross that bridge, but if one can judge from their deal with Pearson for the “Common Core curriculum,” it seems as if vendors expect a user to “visit” the vendor’s server to obtain authorization to access the content, some of which may sit in the iPad and some that will sit elsewhere, even the vendor’s own servers. So, no, there is no way that this model is similar (or cheaper) to paper-based textbooks.

      And, yes, I too believe that it is a horrible idea to use a wonderful media delivery platform instead of a dedicated device built for the educational market. As it is, the contract was negotiated with the apparent aim of getting all iPads delivered in one year. Now, it is a multiyear effort and this means that the only device they will get will be the iPad 4, even though it is already obsolete and more than 500,000 iPads are yet to be approved by the Board, much less delivered.

      It is a bungled program, all right, and it is all due to hubris and arrogance.

  4. David Bish 6 years ago6 years ago

    Paul, you are suggesting a way to make iPads (tablets) into screen readers to potentially save a little in book purchase costs. Quite apart from the fact that the math doesn't hold up if giving the student the iPad, this is really not what any of this article is suggesting as the potential for tablet learning. Using tablets as text reading devices is all about input. Pedagogically a tablet can offer so much more … Read More

    Paul, you are suggesting a way to make iPads (tablets) into screen readers to potentially save a little in book purchase costs. Quite apart from the fact that the math doesn’t hold up if giving the student the iPad, this is really not what any of this article is suggesting as the potential for tablet learning.

    Using tablets as text reading devices is all about input. Pedagogically a tablet can offer so much more potential in terms of student output and engagement like the kids above spelling out letters or making videos of each other. This promotes task-based and interactive learning which moves the students well up Blooms’ Taxonomy to Higher Order Thinking skills as well as promoting interaction between them for shared learning opportunities.

    You are so right, that some training and appropriate policies need to be in place. Not least of all deciding on the pedagogic approach. Internet access on those devices is essential for student based research in-class and to use of the flipped classroom paradigm at home. With all this comes student autonomy and choice but that has always been the case. If you give a disengaged student a pencil they write on the desk, if you give them a dictionary they search for rude words, if you give them an iPad… (see where I am going?) . Teachers still need to be teachers and engage their students but with the potential of such tools that part has improved.

    Returning to the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow you mentioned; Dwyer’s pioneering research there hit the point where potential for learning through technology was only really going to go forward when the ICT could be available to all students at all times plus a wider societal acceptance of the tools. It looks like this project is absolutely headed that way but it seems like an awful lot of money is being spent fast without working out a few details first.

  5. Paul 6 years ago6 years ago

    Rolling out iPads (or generic, non-Apple brand tablets) strictly as textbook replacements is a straightforward matter: verify the functioning of the PDF reader app. and copy the PDF files provided by the publishers. No student-use network is needed, and not much student or teacher training is needed. (If one wanted networking, a special-purpose subnetwork with affirmative firewall rules -- access only to listed IP addresses -- rather than the typical and futile restrictive rules -- … Read More

    Rolling out iPads (or generic, non-Apple brand tablets) strictly as textbook replacements is a straightforward matter: verify the functioning of the PDF reader app. and copy the PDF files provided by the publishers. No student-use network is needed, and not much student or teacher training is needed. (If one wanted networking, a special-purpose subnetwork with affirmative firewall rules — access only to listed IP addresses — rather than the typical and futile restrictive rules — access to all IP addresses *except* those listed — would be easy to set up. This assumes the presence of networking infrastructure at school sites, and the availability of technical personnel. Again, student-use networking isn’t necessary for a strict textbook replacement project.)

    Textbook publishers discount digital editions by 50%, as a rule of thumb. Some pricing arrangements are not directly comparable, as they include per-person (rather than per-copy) charges or are time-limited (e.g., one semester’s or one year’s worth of access, where at least some portion of a shipment of printed textbooks will last the length of an adoption).

    All things considered, tablets should be adopted immediately and universally for strict textbook replacement. Bigger goals — other classroom uses of tablets — do indeed have to wait for policy clarification, thorough teacher training, and student training. It’s funny that no one in charge seems to remember the computers-in-education experiences of the 1980s and early 1990s (the Apple II; Apple’s equipment donation program/tax write-off; organized state/provincial-level responses to software costs and software availability, e.g. MECC; and even organized provincial/state-level responses to hardware capability, e.g. the Ontario ICON). There is nothing new or unexpected *at all* in the technology rollout difficulties described in the article.