(Travis Gulbrandson/Vermillion Plain Talk)
By Travis Gulbrandson
Interaction with technology continues to be a growing aspect of most areas of life, and this month, students at Vermillion High School saw this interaction spread to their classrooms.
That's because on Nov. 13, each VHS student was provided with an iPad for use as a tool for doing homework assignments, studying and communicating, both in and out of school.
"All of their assignments will be basically developed off of this," said Jason Gault, assistant director of technology at the school. "Teachers will be able to disseminate all of their stuff to them – notes, PowerPoints, everything that they would initially get through either paper handouts or some other source, they now can receive on their device and have at all times.
"With the device, they get the iPad itself, they get a cover for it, they get a charger, but they also get all the stuff that goes on the inside, all the programs and tools that they're going to use in their everyday schoolwork," he said.
The iPads were acquired as part of the state's "1 to 1 Initiative," part of former Gov. Rounds' Classroom Communications project to provide incentive money for school districts to initiate one-to-one laptop or tablet programs for high school students.
According to James McGuire, the school's director of technology, the iPads were purchased on a three-year lease, with "a significant amount of money" from the technology budget for those next three years going toward their acquisition.
The devices arrived in the summer, at which point some of them were distributed to teachers. A further 380 were distributed to the students earlier this month.
"Basically all the teachers K-12 have one, and there will be two carts of them at the middle school, and there will be an extra one in every classroom at the elementaries," McGuire said.
Although it has only been about three weeks since they were distributed to the students, they already are being used by classes of all kinds.
"At first it was hard because everyone was learning, but now everyone is starting to get a better hang of things," said VHS senior Mikaela French. "We're working iPads into (our classes) more and more each day."
"This last week or so I felt a lot like a technology teacher," said Spanish instructor Megan Fischer. "However, it's getting better. I didn't realize how much of a learning curve it was going to be for a lot of students. I thought they were going to catch on a little bit more quickly, but they've done really well."
French said she was impressed by the variety of tasks that can be performed on the iPads, from taking notes and making presentations, to doing assignments and taking tests.
"It's very different, it's very interesting," she said.
Fischer said the devices make things easier from her perspective in that when an assignment is turned in, she is notified of that right away.
"The technology at their fingertips means that I can contact them with immediate feedback," she said. "I can also get in contact with them about corrections."
McGuire said this early period is being looked at as a kind of test for the program at the school.
"We expect a whole bunch of changes between what we're doing right now and what we're doing come next fall," he said. "This is a true testing ground for us. Right in our policy it is stated that we expect this to be very much changing the way we use them and our expectations of what's going on with them."
Part of those expectations involves what kinds of programs the students can access on the iPads. Gault said the devices operate under strict filtering systems that will not allow the students to access inappropriate materials in or out of school.
"We really want to make sure people are aware that we're not just giving these kids devices, and then they can go home and get whatever they want on them," he said.
Gault said the public also should be aware of the fact that the devices come at no cost to the students.
"We wanted to give everybody the same opportunity," he said. "That was our big push from the get-go. We didn't want to attach a fee to them, we didn't want to attach any sort of money value, because we just didn't want people to have to come up with that."
Fischer said one of the overall benefits of the iPads are that they give each student the ability to focus on the aspect of any subject with which they are having trouble.
"They have more opportunities to work on what they feel they need to," she said.
Gault said this personalized interaction with the devices is one of the most important parts of the program.
"These (devices) are probably what these kids are going to have to use when they hit the job market, when they go into their field of study," he said. "If you go to a hospital, if you go to a grocery store – you go everywhere and these portable tablet devices are (there)."