CAPE ELIZABETH — A brave new digital world was unveiled at Cape Elizabeth High School Tuesday as students received the first distribution of iPads.
By 8:15 a.m., the junior class had received the new devices, covered by a cloth binder monogrammed in the school crimson color. As technology integrator Olga LaPlante began leading the setup process, student Charlie Laprade was unfazed.
“This is pretty easy, I have used one of these before,” he said.
The school bought 468 iPads, tablet computing devices lacking hard keyboards, for about half the cost of laptops, said Principal Jeffrey Shedd.
The purchases do more than replace 148 school laptops stored on carts and distributed throughout the day – they allow the entire ninth through 11th grades to have individual computers that can be taken home after school and during vacations.
The choice of iPads has as much to do with educational quality as cost, Shedd said in a letter to parents found at http://bit.ly/xODhru. He citing a range of iPad applications, or “apps,” which allow the tablet to enhance learning. Cape Elizabeth students demonstrated the most useful apps for parents and peers in two workshops held before the iPads were distributed.
Shedd said the iPads also hold a battery charge throughout the day, an advantage over the laptops. He said the purchase price was less than $500. Students who get parental permission and pay a $22.99 insurance fee covering accidental damages can take the iPads home in the evening and during vacations.
The devices can be taken home by students who receive parental permission and pay a minimum of $22.99 for an insurance policy covering accidental damages. Next year, full-year insurance policies will cost at least $40.
The iPads must be returned at the end of the school year. Students will use the same iPad throughout their high school years.
Because district administrators and teachers knew the iPads would not be ready for introduction until more than halfway through the school year, none were bought for seniors to use.
On Tuesday, LaPlante led introductory session on iPad use for each grade. By next Monday, students have to download apps for taking classroom notes, making videos, creating spreadsheets and making multimedia presentations.
The laptops, all about seven or eight years old, will remain in use in other district schools, Shedd added.
The change from laptops to iPads occurs as the district revised policies governing computer and Internet use.
The new policy, which can be viewed at http://bit.ly/x4AW0Z, details the permitted uses of computers and mobile devices issued by the school district. Students are allowed to use computers and mobile devices for non-school activities as long as no licensing or software agreements are violated and no illegal or unacceptable materials are downloaded.
An exception to the policy involves laptops loaned to middle school students through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, the state program funding laptop use for middle school students.
Students are required to share passwords and access codes with district administrators and teachers, and parents can request the codes. The new policy also considers parents responsible for home computer and Internet use by students using school-owned devices.
Using iPads is becoming more commonplace in local schools and governments. In South Portland, city councilors began using the devices last fall, and 55 were distributed to sixth-graders at Mahoney Middle School late last October.
Two Scarborough town councilors are testing tablet computers to see what benefits they offer councilors.
Andrew Wallace, director of technology for South Portland schools, said iPads were introduced with other laptops to see which type of computer would become the future choice for city schools.
“It was sort of a test case,” Wallace said, adding he has been pleased with the results since the October distribution of iPads.
“They provide multiple pathways to learning,” because the variety of apps suit many types of students, Wallace said.
Wallace said he was initially wary of the soft screen keyboard featured in an iPad, as were the parents who commented on the proposed switch.
“But kids can type on a variety of smaller objects,” Wallace said, noting the prevalence of texting on cell phones as an example.
In South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, there are keyboard adaptors available for students who find it difficult to type on the iPad screen.
Wallace said the iPad may not always be the best tool for learning, but he has seen students using iPads and laptops quickly discover which is better suited for certain tasks.
“They intuitively know what the right tool is. Not everything can be solved with just a hammer,” Wallace said.
Cape Elizabeth junior Richard Wilson opens his new iPad, provided by the school. The tablets were distributed Tuesday to replace laptop computers.