Mansfield schools' iPads increasingly more tools than toys

Posted Monday, Jan. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Mansfield school district's PowerUp! project: edtech.mansfieldisd.org

Digital Learning Day, Feb. 6:

www.digitallearningday.org

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Author Marc Prensky has observed that many students have to "power down" when they come to school. Although kids may have access to electronic tools and digital resources outside of school, scarcity of equipment and restrictive policies limit access to technology during the instructional day.

This can limit the engagement of students in the learning process.

The Mansfield school district is working to reverse this trend. The district's strategic plan, adopted in 2011, calls for "educational opportunities delivered through innovative and inspiring teaching methods." One key strategy related to this goal is the PowerUp! Initiative. This program provides each student and high school professional staff member with access to a school-issued iPad2 and to training and other tools.

On Feb. 6, schools across the United States will celebrate Digital Learning Day, an initiative of the Alliance for Excellent Education to highlight the effective use of technology by teachers and students.

The completion of the initial deployment of 10,000 devices in late September marked only the beginning of Mansfield's project. There is still much to be done. However, signs show we are off to a good start.

People who are new to a technology typically use it to accomplish existing tasks or complete them more efficiently. This is similar to what we are seeing with our Mansfield students.

Surveys completed by more than 600 students in October and more than 5,000 this month indicate that students now type notes (91 percent), read electronic textbooks and resource material (69 percent) and access websites and apps (77 percent). Another key indicator of progress has been the explosion of traffic on sites that Mansfield district teachers and students use to post assignments and turn in completed work.

Anyone who has bought a new electronic device knows it can be a distraction for some until the novelty wears off. In focus groups conducted late in the fall semester, students reported in growing numbers that they increasingly viewed their iPads as a learning tool and less of a diversion.

The recent survey results reflect that same reduction. The distraction level at school with the iPads has dropped 9.4 percent since October.

Research on educational technology also suggests that student engagement grows as tasks are redefined or new ones developed that could not be completed without these powerful and versatile electronic devices.

Between October and January, we've also seen significant increases in the number of students reporting they have created electronic presentations (9 percent) or created art, animations or other unique content (8 percent) for their classes.

Overall, 64.4 percent of students who responded to the surveys reported an enhanced learning experience (a 5.1 percent increase) with the iPads.

What's next? We look forward to the innovative ways students will demonstrate what they've learned as we continue to integrate these technologies into the curriculum. We believe we are on the right track to increase student success in all areas using the iPad initiative to deliver innovative educational opportunities.

By continuing to equip students and teachers with powerful tools coupled with the educator training needed to incorporate them seamlessly into our curriculum, our vision is to effectively prepare Mansfield graduates to thrive in the 21st Century.

Doug Brubaker is the Mansfield school district's assistant superintendent for technology and information services.

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