School Committee Hears “iPad Pilot and Beyond” Presentation

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Image (c)

On September 18, Network Administrator Colleen Murray and Director of Instructional Technology Donna Clements presented an update of the Bedford High School iPad pilot program to the School Committee. The presentation reported on the first year of the one-to-one pilot program and outlined how the remaining years will unfold toward 2013-14 when all Bedford High students and faculty are expected to be included in the initiative.

In an overview of the program, Clements stated that this academic year, 9th and 10th graders, all teachers in all grades, and 115 upperclassmen who take any freshman or sophomore courses have iPad2 tablets.  Similar iPad/one-to-one technology pilot projects are taking place across the country and across the state. Locally, some of the participating towns include Andover and Burlington.

One-to-one technology is expected to have multiple educational benefits such as:

  • Increases in student achievement;
  • Increases in student engagement;
  • Broadening of learning beyond the classroom;
  • Taking advantage of the teachable moment;
  • Preparation for tomorrow’s workplace.

To this end, Bedford’s Vision 2017 Strategic Plan states that “Through the use of technology, students will build their own personal learning networks, collaborate with others, and be producers of knowledge, content, and creative expression.”

Clements added that “technology itself allows us to do some of these things we couldn’t otherwise do or it makes it much easier to do them….We want to make sure we have students who are strong communicators, collaborators, critical thinkers and creative problem solvers.

To evaluate the iPad pilot’s first year and to make recommendations for how to move forward, Bedford, along with six other communities, took part in a program evaluation facilitated by Sun Associates last spring. Additionally, a survey was conducted to assess how Bedford High students, parents and teachers viewed the iPad program. Clements reported that 61% of students, 50% of parents and 73% of teachers responded to the survey questions.

Students’ and parents’ concerns were quite similar and included student distractibility issues both at school and at home; the length of time it took to complete some of the homework assignments; whether some assignments were effective uses of the iPad; unevenness  of  iPad adoption from teacher to teacher or subject to subject;  student training on the applications they were expected to use; clarification of policies and procedures; and not understanding the district’s overall technology vision.

Students also reported that they want a common application for note taking and organization across the curriculum.  Clements explained, “They said some teachers were asking them to use one app for something and put their materials in one place and other teachers were asking them to do something else. They were getting confused. They didn’t know how to use the apps. They were losing materials.”

Teachers, like parents and students, were confused about the technology vision and were likewise concerned about student distractibility. Additionally, because the introduction of one-to-one technology represented such a big change, teachers requested more time for ongoing professional development and for opportunities to share best practices within the departments and across the curriculum.

Despite the multiple concerns revealed in the survey responses, Clements reported that students were generally more organized and prepared for class and more engaged in classroom activities. Students were also able to effectively collaborate with other students on group assignments using technology such as Skype, Google Docs, Twitter, Moodle and blogs.

Clements spoke about the benefits of using supplemental materials, such as Khan Academy which improves math skills and understanding. “Students were not required to do the problems in Khan Academy but the teacher [who assigned them] estimated that every student did an additional 500-550 problems during the year. The students liked the fact that they had the videos, they could personalize their own learning, they could take it at their own pace, they could go back and test their knowledge with some of the equations. The teacher also collected data on their progress so he knew exactly what they were getting right and wrong and was able to address it in the classroom.”

Rather than lecturing, teachers with the new technology have been able to use classroom time to work directly with students to help them understand the concepts, Clements said. Assessment programs like Socratic or eClicker allowed them to be more effective in monitoring student understanding and made it easier to evaluate how each student was faring in the class.

Moving forward to address the concerns, Clements said that:

  • professional development for teacher training will be a focus;
  • common apps for note taking and organization will be used for all students and teachers;
  • faculty will test out assignments to make sure they are effective and timely uses of the iPAD;
  • teachers will train students how to use new apps;
  • the Technology Department will provide app specific information on the website about how to back up work.

Other improvements include better protective cases for the iPads to decrease the chance of damage. Misuse policies have also been added so that, if a student is found to be using the device in class for game playing, a warning is now be issued for the first offense; a second offense results in the iPad being turned in to the Tech Department where all games are eliminated and the student loses the ability to download apps from the Apple Store. The Assistant Principal is also informed of infractions.

Training on iPad etiquette, on applications and a review of the student iPad pledge are also parts of the plan going forward.

Looking toward the future, Clements predicted that “sometime soon, we believe there will be a ubiquitous device that kids will have and we won’t have to purchase devices for them anymore. But in terms of classroom management and the learning that goes on in the classroom, we felt it was crucial that all students have the same device.”

School Committee members followed the iPad presentation with comments about student organizational issues, cost comparisons of the iPad program to traditional textbook-based classrooms, making sure the devices are respected and not damaged, seeing the iPad as a tool rather than a toy, clear communication of the infraction and damage policies, and using existing/open source resources rather than spending time to re-invent content.

In summary, Chair Anne Bickford thanked Clements and Murray for a comprehensive overview of the program. “This went really quickly from a concept to an actuality. It’s a real credit to you and to the teaching staff that you weathered the [implementation] storm last year and came out with something that builds on [from where you started.] This really is the way that the future is going.”

For FAQs about Bedford’s program:

To read more about high school iPAD programs across the state:

For iPAD initiatives across the country:

Editor’s Note: Khan Academy was incorrectly referred to as Kahn Academy when this article was posted.