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Students will get iPads to use

Portable technology could replace textbooks some day

March 16, 2011

Along with fresh suntans and the latest teen fashions, some students in Wauwatosa's middle and high schools will have something else to show off when classes resume this fall: a shiny new iPad.

The Wauwatosa School Board on Monday approved spending $397,000 to purchase nearly 1,000 of the tablet computers, a move lauded by district officials and some board members as a big step forward.

But School Board member Phil Kroner said he would have liked to have seen more concrete policies and educational plans in place for the use of the devices before the proposal came forward for a vote.

The board voted, 5-1, to purchase the computers, with Kroner dissenting.

Taking advantage of a deal

The purchase initially was slated to come before the board for approval this summer, but Apple reduced the cost of the original iPad after the company introduced its next-generation version of the tablet computer last week, said Jamie Price, district technology director.

With the reduction in cost, Wauwatosa was able to purchase nearly 200 more computers than originally planned while staying in budget, he said.

The iPads will be used in several classes - including a number of Advanced Placement courses - at Wauwatosa East and West high schools and Longfellow and Whitman middle schools. Each of the schools also will have a "mobile lab" of about 30 computers that can be checked out for classroom use by teachers.

Based on current enrollment, each middle school will get about 220 iPads and each high school will get about 275, but those figures could change as enrollment numbers solidify next year, Price said.

All of the computers, except for those in the mobile labs, will be issued to students for their use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Price said. However, there will be security features and monitoring systems in place.

"Students will not be able to download any (application) they want," he said.

Also, students wishing to use the iPads for Internet access at their homes will need a wireless connection, Price said.

The new textbook?

School districts across the country have started to embrace iPads in the classroom, with students using the portable devices for everything from playing educational games to creating multimedia presentations.

The iPads could eventually replace physical textbooks, too, said Beth Erenberger, Wauwatosa's director of student learning. For instance, Advanced Placement psychology and AP statistics courses - two classes that will be offered in the district for the first time next year - will use digital textbooks through the iPad.

Digital textbooks cost half or a third as much as a traditional textbook, she said.

Funding for the purchase already was part of the technology department's budget. The district has been reducing the number of personal computers it purchases and replaces on an annual basis - no PC purchases were planned for the upcoming year - in an effort to launch the mobile device initiative.

Policies still needed

Kroner said he 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.

Price said the district needed to act quickly, since Apple is not producing any more first-generation iPads and there is a finite supply. The district expects the computers to have about a four-year lifespan.

The administrative team studying the rules for use and security of the devices will model policies after districts that already have them in place, he said.

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