The iLearn Generation – The iPad Program
Bend-La Pine Schools prepares for full rollout of iPad program
By Erin Rook
Two years ago, the Bend-La Pine School District started a pilot program, checking out whether a select number of students would benefit from what school administrators called “digital conversion,” and what students called, getting an iPad!
And, this school year, that program will roll out past its initial stages, as the iPad program reaches all students in grades 3-12; all told, it will include some 14,000 students for the 2015-2016 school year.
Skip Offenhauser, director of curriculum for the Bend-La Pine School District, says they already have served as a model, with educators and administrators from other districts visiting to learn more about the local program. Even so, Bend is in the early stages of its iPad program and continues to learn as it goes along.
“One of the things I like to remind people of is this is not about speed, but direction,” he explains. “We’re in the right direction but this change isn’t going to happen over night.”
But not everyone agrees the digital is the direction to go.
Grace Lemmon, a 16-year-old rising junior at Summit High School, says that while she enjoys playing around on an iPad at home, she prefers more conventional approaches to learning at school.
“I’d rather write on paper,” she explains. “I feel like I’m paying more attention.” She adds, “Most teachers let kids fart around on their iPad for most of the period,” adding that despite the district’s filters, students still find a way to play games, access social networking sites, and pass virtual notes with friends.
At this point, iPad usage is optional for most teachers. But starting this fall, iPads will be required for third through fifth grade teachers, because the reading curriculum for the later elementary school grades will be entirely iPad-based. Still, Offenhauser argues, it all goes back to learning—as it should. He notes that program was chosen not based on its digital compatibility, but based on the strength of the academic program.
“My stance I take is that technology is never going to solve every problem by itself; it’s never a replacement for good teaching,” Offenhauser says. “An average teacher is still going to be an average teacher, a great teacher provided with technology will be even better.”
In other words—neither computers nor robots will be replacing teachers anytime soon. And despite the apparent ubiquity of the tablets, Offenhauser says that tech is not always appropriate.
“There are times and places where technology is to be used and not used,” Offenhauser says. “We don’t want to use technology for technology’s sake… We want technology to enhance and enrich.”
But Lemmon is skeptical. She concedes that some people do better with “immersive learning,” and notes that no one seems to outright hate using the iPads. But she also worries about younger students transitioning to digital so early on.
“Why are they taking books away so early if they don’t know if it’s improving kids’ learning?” Lemmon asks.
But Offenhauser says iPads provide benefits beyond the delivery of academic information.
“It’s not just about the content,” Offenhauser says, “but how are our kids using the technology in the classroom beyond the content to demonstrate those 21st century skills.”
In addition to standard curriculum, he explains, the program includes lessons on how to be a good digital citizen, including information on protecting privacy and avoiding cyber-bullying.
“It’s really about preparing our students to be good citizens for our community and preparing them for jobs we don’t even know exist,” Offenhauser says. “The more we can do in the schools and the more we can do to prepare them to be good learners, the better.”