School makes switch to tabletsAbout 400 seventh- and eighth-graders at Mitchell Middle School could barely contain their excitement as they lined up to get their Apple iPad2 tablets this week during Tuesday and Thursday distribution sessions at the school cafeteria.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
About 400 seventh- and eighth-graders at Mitchell Middle School could barely contain their excitement as they lined up to get their Apple iPad2 tablets this week during Tuesday and Thursday distribution sessions at the school cafeteria.
“It was fantastic. You could feel the excitement in the room grow,” said Dan Muck, the Mitchell district’s chief technology officer. He predicted the tech-savvy students would have the touch-screen tablet computers mastered quickly.
The iPad2’s lower cost compared to laptop computers will reduce the district’s computer investment at MMS while increasing mobility and functionality, Muck said.
“It was just the right device at the right time.”
MMS Principal Brad Berens said students were given computers, cases and a brief orientation session on the new computers.
“The iPads are so easy to navigate, it didn’t take students long at all to start using them. They’ll be doing in-service classes for us soon,” he said with a laugh.
High school students who must keep their Dell laptop computers this year are green with envy. One parent who accompanied his middle school child to MMS to collect his computer told Berens that “my sophomore student is all up in arms.”
The shift to a tablet Apple platform is a big change for the district, Muck said. Working with both PC and Apple computer platforms is not intimidating for his staff, he said, “but it is challenging.”
Each of the 430 tablets — 400 for students and 30 for teachers — will cost the district $460 each, plus $29 for a computer case. That price includes insurance and an extended warranty. The district’s 1,100 Dell laptops cost about $800 each, and were purchased through a lease agreement.
The iPads weren’t leased. They were purchased directly using about $250,000 in district capital outlay funds. The hope was that the sealed iPad2 computers will lower maintenance costs for the district, Muck said.
“We can address software issues but we won’t be doing any hardware repairs,” Muck said. “All iPad2 hardware problems will be sent to an Apple depot and should have a two- to three-day turnaround. Our first year will tell us the true cost of ownership.”
The tablets will be a lighter load for students to carry, but they probably won’t be as tough as the Dell laptops, which will continue to be used by grades 9-12.
The glass top of the computer, which is made of durable “gorilla glass,” is tough, Muck said, but it is still the most vulnerable part of the iPad2. The district has purchased rugged cases to better protect the tablets.
“But more care has to be taken, and we’re stressing that,” Muck said.
Mitchell will be the third district in the state to make a large-scale shift to iPad computers. The Watertown and Beresford school districts have them, Muck said. He and others have visited both schools to prepare for the shift to Apple computers.
Beresford Superintendent Brian Field said his district initially invested in iPads last year, with 200 for students and 50 for its teachers, and it now has about 350 iPads. The district purchased the more expensive model with 32 gigabytes of storage.
“Overall it’s been a pretty good experience,” he said. The district had to repair the broken glass screens on about 20 to 25 computers and is shifting to a stronger protective case this year to reduce breakage, but the small tablet computers have held up well and students seem to place a high value on them. “We’ve found that overall, students have taken good care of their iPads,”
Field said his district opted to self-insure the iPads by charging students a $50 fee to cover repairs. The machines proved sufficiently durable that the fee will be lowered to $25 this year.
The Apple tablets also signal the district’s shift to “cloud” or Internet-based computing. The iPad2 computers have just 16 gigabytes of storage, significantly less than the Dell laptops, which have 160 gigabyte hard drives.
Students using the iPads will be given an extra 10-gigabyte virtual hard drive in the “cloud” where they can store their school work.
That means a student using a password-protected iPad2 can access his or her school work from any location, or any computer for that matter, using any available wireless connection. Students, for instance, will be able to do their homework at McDonald’s and store it on their virtual online hard drive for later access.
“The huge difference is that our computer servers aren’t housing as much information as they used to,” Berens said.
MMS students will have digital copies of their math, science and social studies textbooks on their iPads, said Berens, but that won’t save the district any money.
Ironically, said Berens, the district will realize no savings by going digital. “Textbook publishers tell us they will sell us the electronic (digital) version of the text, but it’s the same price as the hard copy.”
That could change, Berens said, as the demand increases for digital instructional materials.