Tablet computers – nimble, multipurpose machines surging in popularity across the country – are finding a home in Indiana classrooms thanks to a state program designed to make 2013 “The Year of the Digital Learner.”
Within a few weeks of the start of school this year, more than half the districts in the state were using tablets in the classroom, according to the Indiana Department of Education.
Tablet computers are lightweight, portable machines capable of downloading multiple textbooks, facilitating tests and allowing students access to schoolwork and resources from home. Popular models include the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, Apple iPad and Google Nexus 10.
Many school corporations are trying to provide a tablet for each student, known in education as the 1:1 initiative.
“What we wanted to do was enrich our students’ experience and level the playing field with our students with technology,” said Keith Madsen, director of technology at East Allen County Schools in suburban Fort Wayne.
Madsen said East Allen schools are pursuing the 1:1 goal and now use iPads in every classroom.
The devices allow them to access iTunesU, which includes thousands of lectures and lessons from colleges — as well as 40 courses at East Allen. Thousands more educational apps also are available.
“It’s a fabulous tool,” Madsen said. “It’s a whole new world when it comes to digital information.”
Last year, the district began providing iPads for every student in grades four through 12, and one device for every four students in kindergarten through third grade.
Administrators said they financed the purchase with a loan, which will be paid back through existing funds dedicated to technology fees.
As much as East Allen and a majority of the state use tablets, some school corporations do not see benefits.
“At the high school level, tablets don't really answer the needs of students who need to create homework, work with complicated documents and have full access to the Web,” said Matthew Hapke, director of technology of Penn-Harris-Madison Schools near South Bend.