LA schools didn't do iPad homework

by Laura Edghill
Posted 10/03/13, 09:25 am

Just one week into the Los Angeles Unified School District’s plan to equip all 640,000 of its students with iPads, the district abruptly halted the device rollout after hundreds of students hacked them to access locked features like Facebook and Twitter.

This initial phase of the rollout cost the district $30 million, and is just part one in a plan that will eventually cost $1 billion. District officials expressed admiration for the students’ ingenuity, but critics say they should have seen this problem coming.

Districts around the country are beginning to confront the disconnect between a traditional school environment, where the internet is only available in the computer lab, with the real world, where students can connect at virtually any time. There are Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schools, schools with classroom sets of shared devices, and others like LAUSD that have made the commitment to put a device in every student’s hands.

As LAUSD scrambles to collect and reprogram devices, manage a public relations nightmare, and figure out its next steps, other smaller districts around the country are quietly moving forward with their own redesigned learning environments.

Croswell-Lexington Community Schools in rural Croswell, Mich., rolled out its iPad initiative in August 2012 to 2,400 students. After the school board approved the program in January 2012, Superintendent Kevin Miller and his team spent the next six months researching options, shoring up infrastructure, and preparing both teachers and students for the change. That preparation included producing a detailed iPad User Agreement that both parents and students sign, as well as clearly defined Acceptable Terms of Use. Similar documents are also available on the LAUSD website.

“This is about student learning first,” Miller said. “It’s not a gimmick. It’s not a toy. We want to create digitally literate, 21st-century learners.”

The iPads are set up so that if a student attempts to delete the school-installed profile, the device disconnects from the internet and can only be reconnected by a district administrator. Offending students get a stack of old textbooks as a temporary exchange for their iPad. “It’s never happened with the same kid twice,” Miller said.

Student and teacher feedback on the change has been positive. Miller said the devices allow for “on-time, right-now learning” as teachers can provide immediate answers when students ask hard-to-answer questions. He also observes students digging deeper into content, whereas before they might have forgotten or lost interest by the time they visited the computer lab.

The district doesn’t plan to buy any more traditional textbooks. Instead, Cros-Lex students have access to electronic textbooks and educational apps, as well as the array of resources on the internet. Part of the curriculum at Cros-Lex now focuses on teaching students how to discern valid from unreliable sources of information.

Like Cros-Lex and other districts, LAUSD also wants to provide iPads so “students will develop 21st century knowledge, skills and abilities that will be needed to graduate high school and become college and career ready,” according to its website.

But its misstep provided district administrators with a teachable moment—good intentions without preparation and foresight lead to confusion and added costs. It’s a good reminder to students about the importance of doing their homework.

Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

Read more from this writer