Georgia Legislature Considers iPad Investment

Georgia Legislature Considers iPad Investment
March 20, 2011

Georgia legislators are contemplating a pilot program that would replace textbooks in the state’s public middle schools with iPads and other electronic readers, joining a burgeoning worldwide trend aimed at reducing education costs and engaging cyberminded students of the 21st century.

“Georgia spends 6 out of every $10 on some form of education in the state,” including higher education and the state’s community colleges, said State Senate President Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) “About $40 million is spent on textbooks annually, many of which are outdated.”

Williams is backing a pilot program aimed at introducing Georgia middle school students to the electronic devices.

“Utilizing some type of e-reader or tablet device in the place of a textbook would give students the most up-to-date information in a format that’s engaging and interactive,” Williams wrote in a column he previewed to School Reform News. “This approach can save schools money on books, paper, printers, and ink, and allows teachers to store coursework and tests all in one place.”

No estimate of the cost of the pilot program has been given. The basic iPad model costs $500 apiece, and Williams has been soliciting private donations for the effort.

Positive Early Reviews Positive
Williams and his colleagues in the Georgia legislature are the latest to contemplate the possibilities of iPad-based education, just one year after the device was introduced to the public.

The first round of pilot programs using the device in the classroom is about to complete its first school year.

Perhaps the best-known advocate of the iPad as an educational tool is Fraser Speirs, who outfitted every student with the device at the Cedars School for Excellence in Scotland. Speirs has been writing about the experience at a weblog followed by experts in the tech and education sectors.

“The iPad has been in users’ hands for less than a year,” Speirs wrote in January. “Everyone is still finding their way with it and what's happening in education with [the tablet] is exactly what's happening in society as a whole: normal teachers are excited about and interested in technology.”

Not for Money-Saving
Speirs warns against adopting electronics merely to save money, however, saying such efforts could distort the educational purpose of the device.

“Justifying the iPad on hard cost grounds alone is not the right approach,” he explained. “You may see some cost savings but you'll probably also drive an ‘everything on the iPad’ mentality that will force its use when it's not appropriate.”

In the United States, four-dozen students in two humanities classes at Roslyn High School in Long Island, New York were given iPads for school use this past December. The school district plans to expand that program to 275 students in the fall, and eventually to all 1,100 of the school’s students.

Dan Brenner, superintendent of Roslyn Public Schools, agreed with Speirs’ approach and his understanding of the issues involved in adopting the iPad in the classroom.

“I think it has to be conceived of as an investment in technology, which most schools make,” Brenner said. “I’m not saving money by buying iPads, and I think anybody who says that is not being fully honest.”

Training Essential
Brenner said iPads did help cut some costs—most novels used in English classes are in the public domain and thus free on the device’s reading programs. He expects eventually to free up classroom space now occupied by seven computer labs. But helping students learn is the highest priority, he said.

“You have to put the right professional development in for teachers, or the device won’t be utilized as greatly as it should be,” Brenner said. “We’ve done that, but I can see you wouldn’t get the value you should if professional development isn’t invested in.”

Positive reviews from Scotland, New York, and elsewhere are spurring Williams in his quest to bring iPads to Georgia students.

“For children who are raised on computers, video games, and texting, traditional methods of learning aren’t effective,” Williams said. “This pilot program is an effort to change the culture of education as we prepare digital students for the 21st century.”

Joel Mathis (joelmmathis@gmail.com) is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia.