Monica Cassara uses her iPad during a
freshman Algebra class at Archbishop
Mitty High School in San Jose, California
Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News/MCT
By Patrick May
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)
SAN JOSE, Calif. — It's midmorning and the faces of the students in Tim Wesmiller's religious studies class are bathed in the baby-blue glow of their iPad screens.
Instead of sitting in rigid rows of desks staring at a blackboard, as they would in a typical classroom, kids huddle in groups to brainstorm and blog about Indian culture. Lessons flash from tablets to digitalized white board and back. The "lecture" is a blend of YouTube videos and interactive maps. There's very little paper and no sign of chalk.
Faculty and students in this two-year iPad pilot project at Archbishop Mitty High School say this is the future of education.
"We still use paper and pencils sometimes," says Jeremy Pedro, a soft-spoken junior. "But our homework is mostly digital. Paper homework is a thing of the past."
So are one-dimensional science lessons, teachers glued to the front of the classroom, and backpacks stuffed to the gills with backbreaking textbooks.
"The richness and potential here is much greater than just e-books," Principal Tim Brosnan says. "The students have embraced the idea that learning happens not just in class but at home and anywhere else they can go online. The iPad's not some magic pill, but seeing students collaborate on them seems to add more life to the learning process."
For the past two school years, Mitty's pilot project has put Apple's popular tablets in the hands of 250 students in 14 classes. Next fall the school will rent an iPad for all 1,680 students and 104 teachers, putting Mitty at the vanguard of a quickening trend toward digitalized education.
"What's coming this fall is huge, and I think you'll see it happening in every school across the country in the next five years," Brosnan says. "It's almost as if the iPad was the device we were all waiting for."
John Couch, Apple's vice president of education marketing, says the iPad's lightweight, tech prowess and versatile user-interface make it a valuable learning tool for "a generation of kids who grew up in a digital world."
"They want to express themselves in class through the same media-rich environment they observe around them outside of school. I see the iPad as a classroom without walls," says Couch, adding that the tablet's just the latest in a long line of Apple's efforts on the education front. "We've built this ecosystem with a lot of content like iBooks that's not just digital but truly transformational, with interactivity and other features that traditional textbooks don't have."
While Apple's dominance in e-learning is certainly not guaranteed, considering how many hardware companies and content providers have already jumped into the space, the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant certainly has a solid toehold. And it owes a lot of that success to the iPad's seductive lure.
Earlier this month, Apple said it would offer interactive digital textbooks and tools for teachers to create their own books using iAuthor. This was a longtime dream of Apple's late CEO Steve Jobs, who once predicted the iPad would make print textbooks obsolete.
That's already coming true in Wesmiller's classroom, where students are following an online textbook their teacher personally crafted as a dynamic mashup of content from the Library of Commerce, YouTube and Google maps.
Valerie Wuerz, 17, peers into her iPad, where an app called 7 Billion breaks down the global impact of overpopulation in text, slides, video and forums where students can share ideas and develop projects. She calls the iPad "a great resource, because textbooks are expensive and heavy to lug around."
But the costs of going digital have raised concerns that struggling public districts will never be able to afford tablets for every student, widening a digital divide between public and private schools. Mitty bought the first 250 iPads at about $500 each, but will rent the ones next fall and charge each student an as-yet-undetermined monthly fee folded into their tuition. Even with those fees, Brosnan says parents will save money over time because an $80 print textbook, for example, will be replaced by a $14 iBook version.
Down the hall, science teacher Kate Slevin's class focuses on the subject of momentum.
"OK, guys," she says. "Open your iPads." They use a note-taking, audio-recording app called Notability that lets users write notes with their fingers over text on the screen. They can import a syllabus or a book chapter, create bullet outlines, and record the lecture in case they miss something. And they can email their marked-up document to the teacher, which is what Zak Hovey, 14, just did.
"I love the iPad," he says, "because everything you need is in your hands and all in one place."
Fellow student Jennifer Canfield, 14, uses the tablet in her Spanish class, "and it makes working on pronunciation and looking up words much easier than using a printed book."
Asked if she's tempted to wander the Web instead of focusing on class work, a concern some educators have raised about digital learning, Canfield replies: "I'm not that kind of student."
APPS USED AT ARCHBISHOP MITTY HIGH SCHOOL
7 Billion: a National Geographic tool that uses text, video and interactive maps to explore how our exploding human population impacts the world's limited resources
Notability: a note-taking app that lets you write with your finger on the screen and also allows you to audio-record a lecture; its time-stamp feature syncs your notes with the audio so you can easily search for certain words
The Elements: A Visual Exploration: the periodic table brought to life in text, video and 3-D photography
Dropbox: a file-sharing app that lets students drop a document or photo into a virtual bin where teachers and other students can access it
Doceri: allows teachers to move around a classroom while controlling their laptop remotely and wirelessly
Air Sketch: lets teachers see in real time on their iPads what students are doing on theirs
GoodReader: allows students to collaborate on a shared document by annotating text in a PDF file
(c)2012 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services