iPads have a place beside the blackboard

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As seen in the Nov. 26 issue

Education as we know it is undergoing a global pilot program. Since the 1950s, when the Manchester Mark 1 first booted up at the Victoria University of Manchester, scholars, educators and computer scientists have sought to integrate digital technology into classrooms worldwide. Although efforts to marry computers to schools have so far been obtuse and inconvenient, as entire rooms have been set away as “computer labs” where rows of desktop computers spend much of their time unused and unloved, a landmark experiment may be advancing this pilot program into a groundbreaking phase.

At the center of this evolutionary stage is the tablet computer. By mobilizing practically every tool and service used by students, tablets, especially Apple’s ubiquitous iPad, have developed into Swiss Army knives of education.

Now schools themselves are looking to build the fruit-emblazoned slates into student experiences. Close to home, Hawthorne Elementary School is pioneering an iPad-based program in some elementary classrooms in the pursuit of a paper-free curriculum. With the school’s objectives to include the adoption of interactive textbooks and collaboration via Skype and shared documents, the initiative seems poised to meaningfully enrich student education, as long as the program is not mishandled.

It is not unwise to expect Hawthorne to succeed, as technology has very successfully melded into education in the past. Massive open online courses, which offer unlimited and open access to students and require no more supplies than a device with a web browser, have received widespread acclaim and support, especially the non-profit websites Khan Academy and Coursera. In fact, Khan Academy’s lessons, which are used by over 6 million students each month, have been integrated with the curriculums of about 20,000 classrooms around the world, according to Forbes. Services such as Khan Academy will likely become more prominent in education in the future, as educators opt for flip teaching, wherein students learn from video lectures at home and teachers offer guidance to students via “homework” assignments done in class.

However, the difficulties have typically resided with making education fit technology. The Los Angeles Unified School District’s initial phase of its $1 billion iPad program, which would put tablets in the hands of each student in the district, has been infamously troubled. Students hacked their devices, protestors loudly abhorred the program and information about what the program actually entailed was slow to spread.

Although the implementation of 21st century technology in school appears to have proven itself a cataclysmic farce, the current transition should be sustained by educators and administrators. Despite the LAUSD’s fiasco being riddled with issues, it is an important step for not just California, but the entire nation in terms of the advancement of education. With about 655,000 students enrolled, the LAUSD is the second-largest school district in the country, and if the district makes headway with the program, it could quickly encourage districts across the nation to follow suit.

If that wave of advancement is going to spread, and it most likely will, Beverly ought to stay at the forefront of the action. A little responsibility on Hawthorne’s part in making sure their iPad program is administered responsibly and patiently could go a long way in keeping Beverly on the cusp of innovation.

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