The great debate between tablets and textbooks has been waging since the release of products such as the iPad, Kindle, and Nexus 7. Thanks to innovative technology from Apple, the iBooks interface has made textbooks from publishers like McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton-Mifflin easily accessible. The device has also created an opportunity for teachers to compile their own materials digitally. Proponents and opponents of this new technology make equally valid claims that constitute one of the hottest arguments in schools across America today.
At Pius XI, students pay a base rate of $500 each year for textbooks, regardless of the amount of books they need. A brand new 4th generation iPad runs for the same price, and comparable tablets sell between $200-400. Each digital text can be uploaded via the iBooks store for as low as $14.99. Printed textbooks become easily dog-eared and filthy beneath the hands of ill-mannered teenagers; but technology is already a major part of the 21st century lifestyle. Why not integrate the iPad into an educational setting? There are many disadvantages, as Dr. Brian Kangas points out.
“I’ve read a little about classroom iPads, and there seems to be 3 main weaknesses: cost, security, and controlling its use,” said Dr. Kangas in an interview. “I would be worried that kids would leave it in class or resource and get it stolen. Also, they would be nearly impossible to monitor - how do I know if they’re looking at the text or going on Facebook?” However, Dr. Kangas also believes iPads have promising prospects when used under the right circumstances. “The potential really exceeds the negatives. The internet is an outstanding resource. I would be a Luddite if I said I didn’t support technology.” For teachers like Dr. Kangas, who use the internet extensively in class for real-time studies, the iPad would be beneficial for his students when used properly. “I guess I just need to do more research,” he concludes.
Junior Ian Cooper has similar opinions. “I feel like everybody would be playing games and snapchatting, especially when they first get them. It’s a good excuse to have them out,” he admits. “On the other hand, Pius could always just download software to block websites or have them pre-programmed so they can’t be used recreationally. And we’d only have to carry one thing in our backpacks- besides not having to use textbooks, we could just type our notes right onto the device.” He predicts that hand-held computers won’t make a permanent appearance in the classroom for another 30 years. But, as a teenager, he is ultimately in favor of them. “iPads could really work for us if we use them right.”
The iPad can provide major paper cost savings, up-to-date information, and convenient portability. But besides the issue of monitoring usage, there is the concern of cost for schools. According to Infographic, if the US government wanted to supply an iPad to every student in America, it would cost $27 billion dollars - enough to provide a yearly salary for 675,000 teachers. However, if a 900-student school like Pius were to independently equip each student with an iPad, it would cost about $432,000. If each student were to buy an iPad on their own, they would pay $480 each - $20 less than the cost of book fees each year. Assuming the iPad didn’t get lost, stolen, or broken, the student would have the iPad for all 4 years, thus saving about $1200 after the cost of each digital textbook.
Wauwatosa East and West High Schools, along with Longfellow and Whitman Middle Schools, began using iPads in the classroom at the start of the 2012-13 school year. For $376,000, they have been able to provide over 1,000 iPads for students’ personal usage, as well as 30 iPads for a “mobile lab” for teacher checkout. Students aren’t able to download any applications they want, but have access to the devices 24/7. Phil Kroner, school board member, was “…wary about approving the large-scale purchase, especially since the district doesn't have any policies in place governing how students can use the devices or what their accountability will be in the case of damage or loss.” He also said he would like the board to see more options in terms of potential offsetting cuts when a large-scale purchase like this is proposed in the future. The district expects the devices to have a 4-year lifespan.
Although teachers are certain to have concerns about in-class usage of the iPad, and the question of its care, responsible teenagers may find that the popular gadget can reap many educational benefits when used properly. Interactive learning tools that only the iPad and iBooks interfaces can provide may help bridge the gap between typical high school learning and the world of higher education and, eventually, the workplace. Perhaps with usage regulations set into place and consideration given by administrators, Pius may one day provide for a student body that is better connected to the world of technology already surrounding them.