Students get orientation as 600 iPad2 devices arrive

Mille Lacs County Times

Milaca High School students will each be able to take an iPad2 home with them during the school year, starting in the fall 2012.
The 600 devices will be arriving soon, and in preparation, Principal Troy Anderson has been conducting orientation sessions with each grade, ninth through 12th. He explained to the students why the district decided to purchase the device and its accessories.
“The iPad3 is not much different from the iPad2,” Anderson told ninth-graders Thursday morning. “And the reason we are going with these covers is for us to prevent breakage.”
The covers are the Driffin Defenders, military-grade protective cases designed to limit damage. Although the heavy-duty protectors are sturdy, he was sure to advise students they aren’t indestructible.
“Now, we’re not going to be playing Frisbee or anything silly with these,” he said.
Similar orientation sessions will be offered for parents before the fall school year. Parents, as well as their students, will have to make an agreement to abide by the stipulations of the iPad2 privileges. Students will have to agree to the acceptable use policies for both the device and the Google accounts they will need to activate in order to receive much of the digital material.
Parents will be asked to help the school in liability issues in one of three ways: They can pay a $50 non-refundable insurance fee; provide proof of their own insurance that would cover damages or losses of the devices; or, they can pay a $379 refundable fee that will be returned at the end of the year, provided the devices are undamaged. Parents will also be informed during these orientations on how to monitor and limit the students’ online activity at home.
“The filtering at home needs to be the family’s responsibility,” Anderson said.
Students will be expected to take the iPad2 home with them each night and are responsible for keeping the battery charged. If Internet is not available at home, they are expected to download all needed web content before leaving school that day.
With the growing popularity of the tablet, many students already have an iPad or its second and third generations.
“If  you have your own, keep that for personal use,” Anderson said.
He explained that students would not want to use their own devices for school purposes. Students and their families would have to purchase the many applications the district is using, some of which can be fairly expensive — which is part of the reason the $50 fee is part of the arrangement. The school also cannot be responsible for technical support on personal devices.
“The iPad is owned by the school, and should be used with school-owned applications,” he said. “If you’re going to ‘bling it up,’ bling the desktop, not the cover. They will be randomly searched, so make sure you don’t put anything inappropriate on the machine.”
“You will probably quickly lose your privilege for an iPad if you post videos on YouTube without permission,” he added.
If the device is lost or intentionally damaged due to gross negligence, the family will be responsible for replacing it. Unintentional damage or loss would be covered under the school’s insurance.
Students would be able to load non-school-use applications on the devices, if they are appropriate. However, the district will wipe the iPads each summer and the content may be lost.
Although the long list of expectations and responsibilities may seem daunting, the students in the audience appeared stoked about the opportunity.
“They’re excited,” Anderson said. “They’ve all been very attentive, and they’ve asked good questions.”
As more and more curriculum transfers to the digital realm, the move to the devices and away from physical text books, workbooks and handouts made sense to the district.
“Will this get rid of books?” Anderson asked. “Eventually, it will. We have told our teaching staff that we will no longer be buying texts or paperback books.”
At around $425 a piece (for the iPad2 as well as the case), the $255,000 investment may seem like a lot. But the transition will also realize savings, and in the reduction of paper usage alone, it could be substantial.
“We’re not going into this as a money-saver,” Anderson said. “It’s just a different way to educate. For us, the ultimate goal is a more engaging, more accessible education.”
The decision wasn’t made without extensive research, either. Anderson and other administrative staff have been touring neighboring districts for the past year — and learning from their mistakes. For example, Little Falls and Becker school districts advised them to opt for a stronger case right away. The two initially went with cheap cases and lost 10 to 15 percent of their screens in the first year of their iPad deployment.
Teachers at Milaca have also been using the devices this year to prepare them on how to use it with their curriculum before students were given their own.
“They feel so scared that this is going to be the new reality,” Anderson said of staff. “But they’re going to be way more ready [than teachers at the other districts were].”