iPad Initiatives | News

Los Angeles iPad Program Leaves Keyboards off the Table

In its rush to get iPads into the hands of its 650,000 students, Los Angeles Unified School District left out one thing: external keyboards. The district recently began passing out the Apple devices at elementary schools as part of a massive multi-year 1-to-1 district-wide deployment intended to help individualize instruction for students. LAUSD expects to equip all of its schools by December 2014.

During a recent meeting of the Board of Education's Common Core Technology Project Ad Hoc Committee, CIO Ronald Chandler said phase one of the initiative, which is currently underway, didn't include plans to "provision keyboards." He acknowledged, however, that Smarter Balanced recommends "mechanical keyboards, but it's not required if there's an alternative way." iPads, of course, are outfitted with on-screen touch keyboards.

Smarter Balanced is one of two multi-state consortia developing the online assessments for states. Those tests are scheduled to be fully available during the 2014-2015 school year. In its technology specifications, Smarter Balanced noted that districts using tablets for testing will need to take into account how much "visual space the virtual 'on-screen' keyboards consume when utilized as the primary input method." The organization recommends the use of "external 'plug and play' keyboards for students needing to maximize viewing space on their devices."

Currently, the district plans to have keyboards by Spring 2015, in time for students to take the assessments. According to a presentation by Chandler, the district is "still determining the number of keyboards needed to complete testing in a three- to four-week window." The intention, apparently, is to share the keyboards among the classes that are tackling the tests during any given timeframe.

However, Chandler didn't address the issue of students who prefer to use an external keyboard for other purposes, such as typing papers.

The Los Angeles Times estimated that the additional cost for keyboards could be "more than $38 million at current retail prices." The tally for purchasing the iPads alone is expected to be about $500 million.

Chandler gave no estimate of keyboard expense during the committee meeting. His presentation simply stated, "We plan to work with our Procurement division to purchase keyboards that meet students' needs and fulfill the Smarter Balanced requirements."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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