District 16 evaluates iPad use with one year under its belt

It’s been one year since Spring Lake Park School District 16 issued iPads to nearly every student.

It’s been one year since Spring Lake Park School District 16 distributed iPads to nearly all of its students. The technology has brought many positive changes for learning, educators and students agree.File photo by Olivia Koester

It’s been one year since Spring Lake Park School District 16 distributed iPads to nearly all of its students. The technology has brought many positive changes for learning, educators and students agree.File photo by Olivia Koester

The one-to-one digital learning initiative has changed the way students learn, affecting everything from students’ organization to the ownership they take of their own learning, district staff told the school board in January.

“Technology is part of almost every lesson, every day,” according to Maureen Peters, a continuous improvement coach at Westwood Intermediate School. “You can walk through any of our classrooms at any time and you will see the iPads in use.”

The district issues students in grades 5-12 iPads. Students in second through fourth grades make use of iPad Mini tablets in the classroom, and the youngest students in the district use iPod Touches as a tool, according to Jerelyne Nemanich, learning technology coordinator in the district.

The total number of devices that go home with students or are used in the classroom is more than 5,520. The majority of the devices are iPads – 4,633.

When seniors graduate, their iPads are wiped clean and redistributed to incoming fifth-grade students, according to Nemanich.

Positive effects on learning

Educators are hopeful future assessments will reflect new learning strategies at play in the classroom, made possible by technology. They can see positive changes already occurring, as can students.

“My test scores have become a lot better,” said Eric Carlson, an eighth-grade student at Westwood Middle School. He said being able to email teachers after school, when he’s studying for an upcoming exam, has been a great help.

Learning really has become a 24-7 process with the iPads, staff said.

Teachers provide digital assessments that allow them to individualize learning plans for each student.

Students are taking initiative, “becoming producers of content, rather than just consumers,” Peters said. “They’re now putting things out on the web, adding to their digital footprint in positive ways.”

Additionally, teachers are seeing less binders overstuffed with papers, and lost homework. “It’s some of the little things that are also making a big difference in our days …” Peters said.

Staff and students found it difficult to come up with challenges the new technology presented.

Board Clerk Amy Hennen was encouraged that challenges students did list were technical ones – Internet speed slowed when entire classes hopped on a certain website, etc. Technical glitches can be fixed, she said.

Financing the one-to-one initiative

Leasing so many devices annually is not cheap.

The majority of the funding comes from an $8.6 million capital projects and technology levy, passed in 2011.

“I don’t know if students realize – I think that most of the rest of us do – how generous our taxpayers were to support a referendum so all this technology could be purchased …” Boardmember Marilynn Forsberg said.

When the district went out for referendum, iPads were not necessarily its objective.

“[The levy] was to make sure that students had technologies that were up to date for their learning, but it wasn’t [specifically for] a one-to-one technology initiative,” said Amy Schultz, director of business services in the district.

With research, the district moved in that direction. Now, other districts are clamoring to do the same.

Board members expressed concern that mentoring other districts as they prepare to make the one-to-one leap may be eating up valuable time that could be spent on other tasks. With leadership comes responsibility, Board Treasurer Jim Amundson said, but there needs to be balance.

Though there are significant costs required to maintain a collection of iPads, students do not shoulder those.

There was no cost to families in the 2012-2013 school year when devices were introduced in phases.

This year, families are responsible for damaged or lost devices; they have the option to take out an insurance plan, which is “as affordable as possible,” Nemanich said.

District administrators could not provide a report on insurance costs at this time as data is still be collected, according to Nemanich.

Olivia Koester is at olivia.koester@ecm-inc.com

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