School backpacks, your days may be numbered.
At least, that’s the case at Oklahoma City’s Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School, where Principal David Morton said he’s seeing fewer and fewer students carrying backpacks as they roam the halls between classes.
The reason? This is the first school year McGuinness has issued iPads to all of its students. The school’s pupils are now storing class work and text books on their digital devices.
They join a growing number of state students whose class work will be performed mainly on an electronic tablet device.
“Certainly iBooks and e-books, the greater availability and how interactive those books are, it’s a great learning tool,” Morton said. “The other side of that is what it presents to the kids. It presents, I think, another dimension of learning.”
A survey by the state Education Department conducted last year found 36 of the state’s 517 school districts have a policy in place allowing all students to perform learning activities on an electronic device, whether it is an iPad, Android tablet or laptop. Many other districts offers tablet-type devices to at least some students or grade levels.
Morton said about 70 percent of class work at McGuinness will be done on the devices. That means students are now more likely to upload apps than they are to load up backpacks with heavy textbooks and binders.
To outfit McGuinness students with iPads, leaders at the private school turned to parents. Morton said parents purchased their own iPads. The school also provides the option to lease the devices for a small monthly fee until the end of the school year, when the students will own them.
Some public school districts in the state have turned to bond issues to fund such technology upgrades.
Last school year, the Putnam City School District used proceeds from a $6 million bond issue to equip its students with about 11,000 devices, ranging from full-size iPads for older students to mini iPads for kindergarten students.
And in Calumet, school district officials used a little more than $200,000 in bond money last school year to pay for 360 iPads for all of the district’s students and teachers.
Calumet Superintendent Keith Weldon said he sees the benefit of having his students grip interactive learning technology in their hands.
“I really believe that they get to see it, touch it, hear it,” Weldon said. “That’s just going to help students learn faster and be able to retain more.”
He said elementary school students study reading and math on their iPads, while those in grades seven through 12 use the devices for all core subjects. School officials check the iPads out like library books and collect them at the end of the year.
In the process, the school has been able to cut down on paper usage by 50 percent, Weldon said, and sees few of the iPads damaged or destroyed. In fact, only nine of 360 were broken last year.
“They take pretty good care of them,” he said.
Weldon said school leaders provide training for younger students on how to use their devices, but it’s readily evident which students already have such devices at home and are familiar with their operation.
McGuinness’ Morton said such familiarity allows educators to create more opportunities to engage students, and potentially can make learning easier.
Meanwhile both leaders said they built in enhancements to their technology and security infrastructures, and they stay on the lookout for students using the devices to text or surf the Internet for content not related to school.
“We know that you can text with it, you certainly have some online capabilities, but our firewall system is pretty beefed up so they can’t get to places they shouldn’t be,” Morton said.
“We felt like they needed to be able to use it as an educational tool and not just a toy.”