Mobile Computing | Feature

iPad No Longer Optional

A 1,000-student private K-12 school in Tennessee will require students in grades 4 through 12 to bring iPads to class beginning next semester.

Beginning in the fall of 2011, students at The Webb School of Knoxville will be carrying more than just books and binders with them to school everyday. That's because the private K-12 school in Tennessee is making Apple iPads mandatory on campus and asking all students in fourth grade or higher to either buy or lease a device for the coming school year.

Rekindling Interest in 1:1 Computing
The implementation of mandatory iPads has been a long time coming, according to Jim Manikas, technology director for the 1,050-student school. Administrators and teachers have been mulling over a 1:1 computer program for the last 17 years, said Manikas, "but it's just never been the right time for an actual implementation."

The excuses ranged from laptops being too costly to teachers not being ready to integrate computers into their classrooms on a 1:1 basis, said Manikas. But when Apple introduced the iPad, he said, the idea of "one computer per student" was rekindled.

Positive reviews from those schools around the nation that are already using the tablets in the classroom, along with the device's more affordable price, pushed the private institution back into a 1:1 shopping mode. "We see this as a piece of technology whose advantages far outweigh the disadvantages," said Manikas. "The device comes with an easy price, is simple to use and support, and handles the vast majority of what our teachers need it to do in the classroom."

Equipping the Students
Before announcing the initiative, Manikas said, his team gave the school's existing technology infrastructure a good, hard look. What they saw were about 700 computers, a high percentage of which had either passed into obsolescence or come pretty close to reaching it. Replacing those units would cost the school about $550,000--an investment that would simply put the IT infrastructure "at a reasonable level," said Manikas, "without expanding it in any way."

The fact that a half-million dollar investment would only provide "sufficient" computing power for the school pushed Manikas to consider other options. "Our teachers wanted to be able to do more with technology, and students needed to graduate feeling like they were prepared to use that technology," said Manikas. "If we had to spend all of that money, why not vastly expand what we were doing programmatically with technology by giving students a device they could use on a 24/7 basis?"

Manikas said the answer was a no-brainer and that the school at that point decided to roll out its mandatory iPad initiative for the 2011-2012 school year. With all of its funding generated through student tuition and gifts from donors and parents, the institution then had to consider where the money would come from to finance the initiative.

"We looked at whether we should increase tuition, or just charge a fee and have parents pay for the [devices]," said Manikas. "We also knew that some parents had already purchased the tablets for their kids, and that a tuition increase would mean those students would be paying for their devices twice."

After assessing the options, Manikas said, the school's leaders decided to allow those pupils with iPads to bring them into class, while the rest of the students would have to purchase their own tablets. Those in need of financial assistance would be eligible for an annual, interest-free lease whose cost will total about $200 a year, paid in monthly installments.

Prepping the School for E-Learning
The devices will be used to conduct classroom research, create interactive lessons, and store electronic textbooks, among other activities. Manikas said the rollout will expand the horizons for both students and teachers who currently have to schedule lab or network time to gain Internet and computer access. "Everything will be so much more immediate," he added.

As the school prepares for the rollout, Manikas said, his IT team has been making infrastructure and network tweaks to ensure that both can support 1,000-or-so new devices simultaneously, 24 hours a day. "It's not a big deal, but there are definitely a few changes that we need to make," said Manikas, who added that tech support for the devices will be handled by the current IT staff.

"We don't think this initiative is going to require additional personnel, and in fact we're hoping that it decreases our support costs and makes it easier for everyone," said Manikas. "Teachers will be able to handle the majority of the [issues] right in their own classrooms, most of the time by simply hitting the device's 'home' button."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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