- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - Samantha Garrett uses her iPads to make a lesson about figurative language more engaging for students at Carver Magnet School, showing them how to make a presentation with photos and text on the subject.

Outside, students in Emily Mann’s class are doing mock interviews with famous historical reformers. Across town at Hidden Lake Elementary School, music instructor Debbie Tappan uses the Garage Band app to allow students to explore various instruments and record their music.

“This has been a huge boost to engagement,” Garrett said. “Students really get into what they’re doing, which is awesome.”

Technology and education don’t so much make great strides as they stumble ahead, tripping here and there, learning from the mistakes and then moving forward. Students, teachers and administrators are negotiating the learning curve involved with an ambitious iPad initiative launched by the city school system.

The system is spending $2.6 million over four years to lease more than 6,000 iPad Air and iPad Mini products for students. The system has also spent around $30,000 on covers for the devices. The money comes from the city schools capital outlay budget, money the system spends on facilities and hardware. Part of the cost is offset by a $30 user fee charged to each student.

The program has hit a few bumps along the way.

School system administrators have had to deal with Internet connectivity problems that have caused difficulty for students trying to connect to the Internet at home. They’ve also had to go from constantly updating a “blacklist” of banned apps to limiting apps students can download to a “whitelist” of approved programs. A fight at Northview High School was filmed with the devices and uploaded to social media.

There was also a problem with the social science textbook purchased for the devices. Students were unable to download the interactive textbook through the publisher because of a problem with the publisher’s download center. Instead students should download the i-book through an Apple program.

“They sold us on something they couldn’t do,” Dothan City School Superintendent Tim Wilder said, regarding the publisher.

Wilder said the iPad initiative is intended to provide students with engaging instruction in a relevant context. He said that because technology will be part of their daily lives in the work world, incorporating it into their studies only made sense. Wilder said the initiative also helps to bridge a “digital divide” between students whose families can afford technological educational resources and those who cannot.

Wilder said the success of the program will be measured in how well the students learn to use the devices and how they incorporate them into their work. He said using test scores as a measure for the program’s success would be a flawed metric, as many other factors influence scores.

Wilder said early hiccups are to be expected in any major technology rollout, and the iPad initiative was no exception. He said now that the devices are in all schools and students and teachers are becoming acclimated to using them, the hiccups are petering out and innovative new ways of teaching are taking root.

Mann said immediate access to information via the iPad i s the biggest change the devices have made in the classroom. She said the devices give her more access to resources such as pictures, audio, video and interviews with experts.

“This is their way of learning, their way of life for them to have instant info at fingertips makes leaning more applicable and relevant,” she said. “.It’s having a world of knowledge at our finger tips.”

Tappan said the devices have given her more options for learning. With iPad musical apps, she can allow students to experiment with a variety of musical instrument sounds, an opportunity they might not have otherwise.

“I think it’s great,” said Aniyah Dent, a Hidden Lake student. “Instead of trying to raise all the money to get instruments, this is a really good source so students can express themselves now with the iPad.”

With regard to student discipline, Wilder said the number of disciplinary actions related to the iPads has yet to be tabulated. He said school officials have seen a decrease in the number of disciplinary offenses on school buses since the introduction of the iPads, as they help to keep students busy on the trip to and from school.

“We have had to address our expectations and be very firm about what our expectations are,” Mann said. “So far, the majority of our students are very compliant.”

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Information from: The Dothan Eagle, http://www.dothaneagle.com

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