Almond, N.Y. —
One year ago, in mid-March 2012, Alfred-Almond Central School introduced technology to its 5th through 8th grade students not seen in area middle schools before.
Every middle school student was assigned an iPad.
The endeavor was deemed such a success that now, one year later, Superintendent Rich Calkins announced Alfred-Almond’s high school age students can expect the same equipment for the 2013-14 school year.
The school will also acquire four class sets of iPads to be shared among kindergarten through fourth-grade students.
In an interview Thursday, Calkins spoke passionately about the benefits these tablet computers have already had on students, and what they can offer in the future of education.
“Students have been navigating this technology for years, but education, I think, has been a little bit slow to understand the significance of technology and in particular, the significance of looking at iPad instruction on a one-to-one basis,” Calkins said.
He called the iPads “equalizers,” closing the gap between “the haves and the have nots.” This gap exists in most school districts on a financial basis, and also on a learning ability basis, according to Calkins.
“Everybody now has an equal playing field,” he said. “Everyone will now have the same access to the same technology, whether it be calculators, or word processing, or cameras, or video streaming. This is absolutely an equalizer in the educational field.”
He said the technology offers new opportunities to students with different learning styles, or with learning disabilities as well.
“Every modification that’s necessary, can be done with an iPad, whether it be having text read to a student, whether it be recording answers in an alternate manner, making text larger or smaller, or even having a teacher highlight important information for a student,” he said.
The iPads have significantly affected everyday classroom interactions, according to Calkins. He calls the concept “flipping the classroom,” meaning students absorb information through online lectures, videos or slideshows posted by their teachers as homework. In class, then, the teacher’s responsibility is to check for understanding and enforce applications.
“Now the job of the teacher is not the regurgitation of inane facts,” Calkins said. “It is taking that knowledge and applying it to real-life situations, allowing our students to hypothesize and to generalize this information and to work together on projects that will demonstrate in real time and through real-world applications that they not only understand this but they can apply it.”
The Evening Tribune and Wellsville Daily Reporter posted a question on their Facebook pages Thursday, with incredible response. It asked readers if they think iPads in the classroom are a vital resource or an unnecessary luxury. Although the majority of responses praised Alfred-Almond’s program and listed educational merits the iPads have, one of the most often repeated concerns was for the cost of these iPads and how they were paid for.
Calkins said the district has utilized federal and state grants for the majority of the cost. He said any monies used from the school’s budget have been spent wisely.
“We’ve funneled local monies through BOCES, so next year we get our aid back on those. So every dollar I’ve spent on an iPad, I’ve gotten 80 to 85 cents back on the next year,” Calkins said. “So in the short-term, we’re just about breaking even, and in the long-run, in five to ten years, our expenditures are going to reduced, because so many of the resources we used to pay for are now free.”
The superintendent pointed to savings seen already in purchasing digital textbooks instead of hard copies.
“We’ve shifted a lot of our expenses,” Clakins said. “We’ve been spending $80 per textbook, now with our iPads, we have the opportunity to purchase some of those same textbooks for between $10 and $12. So there’s a significant savings there.”
The superintendent said he has heard the argument that the equipment is too expensive, but in his opinion, updated technology is a necessity.
“For schools not to do this borders on irresponsibility. They can’t afford not to do it,” Calkins said. “We’re either going to make a decision to maintain the status quo, to keep doing what we’re doing, or we will make the conscious decision to provide these students a higher level of education, and the ability to access nearly every resource in the world through their iPads.”
Alfred-Almond has just begun developing an evolving technology plan, according to Calkins.
“I believe Alfred-Almond’s doing very well in this regard, but we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg in terms of where we will be next year or in three or four years. It’s a very exciting time,” he said.