Pilot program underway


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Paper and pencil have been replaced with touchscreens and iPads in some local classrooms as part of a tablet pilot program.

The program, implemented earlier this year in Iowa City, allows a group of teachers to use tablets in the classroom to gauge different learning tools, something officials said is a major step toward a more technology-based future.

“[The whole idea is] to compare different products to see if one works better than the other, so [the district has] that information as we go forward and make plans to have tablets in the district,” said Iowa City School Board President Sally Hoelscher. “Another thing to come out of it is teachers will get valuable information on what works.”

David Dude, the district’s chief operating officer, said the district is testing four kinds of tablets: the Microsoft Surface, iPad, Kuno, and LearnPad. Teachers received tablets after winter break and will keep them until the end of the school year. The program is testing devices in two to four classrooms in elementary, junior high, and high schools and is meant “to determine a district standard for tablets.”

Costs have not been determined for future implementation of tablets in the district.

Sarah Farnsworth, a sixth-grade teacher at Van Allen Elementary, said she has already learned many pros and cons of the system in the short two weeks she has been working with the Microsoft Surface tablets.

“Just working out those things [such as] ‘this doesn’t work; what other things can I use on this tablet instead?’ ” she said. “This pilot program is working on smoothing out … kinks so that someday when other teachers use them, they don’t have to encounter those problems.”

Farnsworth said some of the problems come when trying to sync the tablets, access to the app store, as well as making the traditional curriculum Internet accessible.

“The opportunities are endless,” she said. “I’m hoping that I can give suggestions in the future to how to effectively manage a classroom set of tablets.”

The tablets bring a certain level of engagement to the classroom, said Hoelscher, and the program is important to narrow down the choices to the best option.

Hoelscher said no matter which tablet is selected, there is always a concern that the increase in technology could cause distraction in the classroom.

“I think there’s always a possibility [of distraction] when dealing with technology, so I imagine this is something that will be discussed at the end of the pilot program as well,” she said.

Farnsworth said although sometimes maintaining student attention with the tablets can be difficult, she is finding solutions and thinks the overall outcome outweighs the difficulties.

“We’ve been trying to be very proactive about that … they had to sign an agreement to say they would only use it for educational purposes, [but] sometimes I have to give reminders,” she said. “But in general, we’ve just really been trying to be proactive so the kids know what to use the tablet for … [and] it’s amazing just to have access.”

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