Is the iPad the Future of Education? Students in Palm Beach Florida Find Out

ipad in palm beach
Palm Beach School District gave students in elementary, middle, and high school settings iPads. They were popular to say the least - more than 90% of students polled expressed feelings of comfort and joy at incorporating the iPad into their classrooms.

Failing national school system? iPad might have an App for that. The Palm Beach School District in Florida finished their Pilot Program for iPad integration last year. Now, their exhaustive Wiki on that trial is garnering awards, gaining media attention, and possibly pointing the way towards successfully transforming the modern classroom. Starting with a relatively small group, just nine schools and about 150 iPads, the Palm Beack Pilot Program, and its sister project, eMobilize (5 classrooms, each with 22 iPads) explored the practical details of getting kids on tablets. Battery life, app selection, iPad purchasing, security, training, compatibility – Palm Beach County took a look at it all, and shared their findings. As this school district seeks to expand their tablet computer program, others are following suit, and a practical guide may be just what the education industry needs to finally give digital education a chance.

App-based education promises to invigorate classroom learning by providing students with engrossing experiences that still provide solid instruction. Among the many apps explored by the Palm Beach Pilot Program are titles like Shakespeare in Bits (which gives an interactive look through the play MacBeth), iMuscle (an anatomical exploration), Sentence Builder (a basic grammar instructor that teaches through exciting visuals) and Pocket Penguins (real time look at the penguins at the California Academy of Sciences). Engaging students with multimedia rich, self-directed learning experiences is at the core of the tablet education craze, and feedback from pilot programs across the US have been enthusiastic to say the least:

While there is little doubt that using digital textbooks (or other eBooks) removes the burden of physically caring books in a backpack, there’s little conclusive data that fun, friendly apps will really capture student’s attention and improve their learning. Yet that’s not really the concern of the Palm Beach Pilot Program. It’s much too soon to objectively know if tablet computers are a path towards dramatically better education. As seen in the video above, anecdotal evidence is strongly in favor of the technology, however, and that’s enough to get educators asking how they can best utilize the iPad in the classroom.

ipad zoo kids
Of the many ways Palm Beach incorporated iPads, this has to be my personal favorite. Children dressed up as zoo animals and used their tablets to help present research papers on the creatures. Click image and scroll to bottom of page to watch a video.

To that end, Palm Beach’s Wiki on iPad integration is much more concerned about what works, not hard evidence, and that focus on near-term improvement is what makes this such a valuable resource. Would be iPad inclusionists can find a wide range of helpful resources including teacher recommended apps, example projects that take advantage of the tablet’s mulimedia capabilities, and a comprehensive guide on the true costs and requirements for such a program to succeed. That final benefit is crucial when so much in education depends on navigating shrinking budgets and limited resources. It’s important to understand that a classroom of 20 iPads, when including the costs of associated hardware, in class support, and associated Apple software will run close to $15,000. Yet a 30 iPad lab would only cost $20,500 or so. By exploring those costs, along with all the myriad technical (and boring) details associated with such a program, Palm Beach is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for school districts that will follow their example in the future.

The logistics of storing and securing dozens of ipads is not trivial

Those programs are already taking shape. Singularity Hub has discussed pilot projects in Maine and California, and there are others cropping up all over the US and the globe. Palm Beach County is reportedly expanding from their iPad pilot to include 1500 students in the 2011-2012 school year. In Davie, Florida Westlake Prep School will provide Galaxy Tablets to all 126 of its students (with drastically reduced costs for parents: $150/tablet and $40/month). In India, the government spear-headed a massive campaign to create an entirely new reduced price tablet computer (the Aakash) for use in higher education. Again, the enthusiasm for this little revolution in education is strong. Palm Beach County’s wiki will help temper that enthusiasm with practicality.

With any luck, the drive for updating classroom devices will push us to revolutionize the entire education system. Apps are a fun addition to learning, and digital textbooks certainly have advantages over their printed cousins. Yet digital education is so much more than putting all the old information on a new screen. Dynamically flowed hyper linked texts, user driven curriculum updates, self-paced video instruction, globally collaborative education projects, social media study groups – these are the true signs of next generation digital education. iPads are only the means to an end, they aren’t the goal itself. Yet how wonderful it is to see a large educational institution like Palm Beach make that first step easier and more appealing to the old guard school system. This is just the beginning, but it’s very auspicious.

[image credits: Palm Beach Pilot Program]
[video: Apple via uukk7 on YouTube]
[source: Palm Beach Pilot Program wiki and blog, Sun Sentinel]

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