The program, which has the goal of giving each 2nd-12th grade student a tablet or laptop for school use by 2017, was rolled out last year with little fanfare. There were no APS press releases or public announcements, and ARLnow.com only found out about some of the details thanks to tips from parents who were seeking more information on the schools system’s plans.
While some criticized the lack of transparency and the idea of school-issued computers for students, there is little denying that the move comes at a time when the younger generation is increasingly “digital native” — 72 percent of children age 8 and under, and 38 percent of children under 2, have used a mobile device for a media-related activity, according to one study cited by APS.
Today’s students are accustomed to reading, watching, writing, discovering and communicating on phones, tablets and computers. To supporters, it seems natural to transition from the age of pencils, paper and textbooks in schools to one increasingly reliant on computing devices. Additionally, supporters say providing each student with a device, much like schools currently provide textbooks, will ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t get left behind.
APS has now set up a Digital Learning web page and recently started producing a “#digitalAPS” video series, in part to make its case for technology in the classrooms. This week, ARLnow.com asked APS about where the digital learning initiative stands now and what future plans are for adding more laptops and tablets.
Arlington Public Schools is currently leasing 3,800 Apple iPad Airs for one grade level per elementary school (mostly 2nd-4th grade) and for middle schools (mostly 6th grade), according to school spokeswoman Jennifer Harris. Another 1,700 Apple MacBook Airs were leased for 9th graders. The annual leasing cost: approximately $400,000, or less than $73 per device, which comes out of APS’ $2.1 million technology replacement fund.
(APS expects to have about 20,000 2nd-12th grade students enrolled this fall.)
Individual schools are able to decide whether to allow students to take the devices home or leave them in school, according to Harris. As for what sort of instruction is taking place with the devices, Harris said that there are a “wide variety of examples where technology supports instruction,” and referred us to the three videos in the #digitalAPS series.
“We are using technology purposefully, not just for the sake of using technology,” Harris said. “Our focus is integrating it as an important strategy to support the teaching and learning process.”
More laptops and tablets — iPads for elementary and middle school, MacBooks for high school — are expected to be rolled out on an annual basis until all levels from 2nd to 12th grade have their own device. APS has previously set the goal of each eligible student having a device by 2017.
Harris did not specifically address a question about whether someday students will be reading digital-only textbooks from their devices, saving the school system money on physical books. She did, however, quote the following passage from this APS document.
The words of John Dewey best frame our challenge: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Arlington Public Schools is committed to providing all of our students with the learning benefits of a personalized education that will lead them to successful and accomplished tomorrows.
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