STA initiates classroom experiment with iPads for all
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STA initiates classroom experiment with iPads for all

$300k of Mac tablets will go home with teachers, students

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By: Joan Davis,

— Students and teachers at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Catholic High School are embarking on an experiment in education technology this fall with iPads for all.

The change means that actual paper- and- ink textbooks for geography, social studies, history and math will eventually go away, as will the need for many school supplies parents purchase this time of year, like spiral-bound notebooks.

No need when there's an app for that.

Joshua Wittie, technology coordinator and teacher, said the school began student training sessions this week — two sessions a day, three days a week for two weeks— to ensure that all 380 students in grades nine through 12 are ready for their new interactive classrooms using the Macintosh tablets.

Students will still use textbooks for some courses, but eventually, all ebooks will be installed on the iPads as pdfs, apps or text files.

"They will still need backpacks, but they will be a lot lighter," he said.

The school is the first in Tangipahoa Parish and the first in the entire Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge to launch the program.

The cost of the program at STA — about $300,000 — is for 430 iPads, one for every student and teacher, upgrades to Wifi and other infrastructure. Rather than finding a grant to fund the project, Wittie said the the school is assessing each student a $350 technology fee included in the tuition. Apple is financing the loan over three years.

The decision to change over from laptops to iPads came about in the 2011-2012 school year, but faculty have considered the one-to-one program the last four or five years, first considering a laptop program. "One-to-one" means every teacher and student has the iPad which is not tied to the classroom and is assigned to be taken home.

Wittie did the research comparing various brands on iPads and laptops before recommending the purchase. In the summer of 2011, updates became available to the operating system of iPads which pushed him toward that choice.

"It's cheaper to maintain, and the word processor, spread sheet and presentation only cost $15 extra," Wittie said. "And you don't pay for virus software."

The school purchased the equipment directly from Apple Computers through the Apple Volume Purchase program, which gave the school a discount for each pack of 10. While Apple offers consumers an education discount on other Mac computers, it does not offer one on iPads, which are priced at about $499 each.

"They feel like they're priced as low as they can," he said.

Currently, most schools use desk PCs, laptops and interactive white boards, which replaced chalk boards in the classrooms several years ago. However, once Wittie saw the Apple TV box, at a cost of only $100 each, he was sold. The Apple TV uses AirPlay to stream wirelessly to a white board or pull-down screen via a projector, mounted on the ceiling. The process is called video mirroring.

"Say the teacher assigns a Keynote presentation," Wittie said. "He calls on anyone in the room to see their presentation. The student connects to the Apple TV wirelessly. It's better and cheaper."

Other benefits of the iPad include longer battery life, and the number of applications available are more cost-efficient than laptops, personal computers or other Mac computers. The technology allows student interaction without cables. Also, the iPads have few moveable parts.

"We don't have a huge tech staff to manage repairs that come along with laptops, which have a lot of moving parts," he said.

"iPads have just four buttons, so there's very few moving parts to fail. Overall, it's just a better experience."

The iPads were delivered in May, and teachers had their training in June, he said.

"They were very excited and a little nervous because it's something new," Wittie said. "They see how much easier it's going to be to use in the classroom, and the benefits of students having the same thing. Everyone has the same model and applications, so there is consistency and ease of use."

Michelle Chauvin, director of advancement, a teacher and an STA mom, said she's still practicing on her iPad3, the latest and best iPad, which was released this spring. The school had signed the agreement for the previous model and then was told they would receive the upgrade.

"It was like a party in here," she said of the announcement.

Chauvin said other Catholic schools in the Diocese are watching STA to see how the first year goes, especially St. Michael the Archangel in Baton Rouge, which is currently making the decision. STA is technologically ahead of the curve.

"It's nice to be the one watched," she said.

The Mac technology, long considered by many overpriced in comparison with PCs, has become more popular in recent years because of iPhones. Wittie estimated about 90 percent of the student population are familiar with iPhones.

Making each student responsible for his own iPad is a separate issue, Wittie said. At each session, he goes into great detail the ramifications when a student loses an iPad or is otherwise responsible for destruction of one. If an iPad is damaged in an accident, the student pays $50 deductible. If the iPad is damaged through negligence, the student must pay the entire cost of replacement. Each iPad is protected by an Otterbox case which is not to be removed.

The school has partnered with Nortech Computer Support Services in Hammond, which will assist with any incidents of damage.

Students have also been apprised of the "acceptable use policy" and are allowed to use the iPads to communicate with teachers and other students through their own email accounts, but they are not allowed to install any other apps. The App Store, available on Mac computers and iPhones, has been disabled.

"We have control over the devices," Wittie said.

Besides care of each unit, he said each student will be responsible to charge the battery on the iPads each evening. No student will be ensured a place to charge iPads during the school day.

"It's the same if they forget a textbook at home," he said. "It's a lesson in responsibility."

The students and teachers will start using their new equipment in the classroom on Aug. 9, the first day of school.

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