City schools consider buying 6,000 iPads

Half of district's computers now at least 8 years old

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Which would you rather have: a new desktop computer or an iPad?

Mark Campbell, Pittsburgh Public Schools chief information technology officer, says the iPad is the better choice for students.

So he is asking the school board to use money that had been planned to "refresh" 5,000 old desktop computers for 6,000 new iPads instead.

The board is scheduled to vote Wednesday.

"We found that the [iPad] devices are more agile in nature," he said. "They can be moved in and out of the classroom. They support our initiatives in the academic side of the house as well."

Many of the old desktops are clustered in certain areas of the building, so teachers must reserve them and then move their students from the regular classroom.

Mr. Campbell noted applications on the iPad specific to special needs children as well as helping a shy student become engaged, providing virtual field trips and increasing interactive learning.

The district has 8,890 student computers, about half of which are at least 8 years old, which Mr. Campbell described as having "surpassed the end of life."

Some of the old computers, which will remain in the schools, can take 15 to 20 minutes to boot up, he said.

The district initially had budgeted about $2 million annually to refresh old computers but cut that in half, which would have been enough to lease about 5,000 new desktop computers.

Mr. Campbell recommends spending $922,000 each year for five years to lease 6,000 iPads. The cost also would include 160 MacBooks to assist with the devices and services of an Apple representative to assist with professional development.

At the end of the lease, the district could buy them for $1 each or trade them in at a depreciated value toward new technology.

IPads, which would remain in school buildings, thrive in a wireless environment, but the district has just pockets of wireless connectivity.

This summer, largely using federal Erate money, the district will install wireless connectivity in some schools, beginning with high and middle schools. After that, K-8 and K-5 schools will go wireless.

Schools will have to compete for the iPads, beginning with the first wave to be wireless by Aug. 1.

The district is issuing a request for proposals, and schools in the first wave must respond by 4 p.m. June 20. Winners will be announced July 3.

Peggy Shields, director of instructional technology, said the proposals preferably will be schoolwide.

"I think you get a better buy-in from teachers, and they're able to collaborate better if it is across the school rather than in a specific area." she said.

Extra weight will be given to schools that haven't had a schoolwide technology update in five years; haven't been part of other technology grants such as Computers for the Future in the past five years; show they can sustain their use; and have low student achievement or large racial disparities.

The district has 25,031 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Jerri Lippert, chief academic officer for the district, said some teachers, through various grants, already use iPads, such as health and physical education teachers who can evaluate fitness testing or record a student's technique and show the results to students immediately.

Some special education teachers, including speech and language specialists who travel from school to school, use iPads.

Ms. Lippert sees possibilities in a wide variety of subjects: doing calculations in math class, viewing websites at a student's pace for social studies and three-dimensional images in science.

education - neigh_city

Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published April 21, 2012 12:00 AM


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