The Jefferson City Public School district is rolling out a technology initiative this fall that holds the potential to revolutionize the way students learn.
Called "1:World" - pronounced "One to World" - the initiative is going to put an iPad tablet in the hands of every ninth-grade student at Simonsen 9th Grade Center.
With the new tablets, not only will students be able to learn online, they'll also be asked to submit their work, complete projects, take quizzes and perform a multitude of other tasks.
Garrett Miller, JCPS director of technology, spoke at length about the initiative at a coffee klatsch held Thursday at Hy-Vee. Nearly 60 people - including many from a local Mac computer users group - came to hear his presentation.
He said the district's ultimate goal is to provide a tablet to each ninth- to 12th-grade student in the district. Once assigned, the tablets will stay with the student through his or her school career. Upon graduation, the device is the student's to own - permanently.
Each costs $379.
"That's an amazing price-point," Miller said.
The tablets come with sturdy, protective grip cases.
"We tested it. It's bulkier than most cases, but I could drop it off a building, and the tablet would survive," Miller said.
Miller noted the district's teachers were given iPads last fall, so that staff would have a full year to get comfortable with the new technology and learn how to use the devices as instructional tools.
A "Media Center," staffed in part by students who have exceptional technology skills, will help other students use the devices to their full potential and troubleshoot problems.
Miller said one of the benefits of the iPads, as opposed to laptop computers, is their lack of moving parts, which can be prone to breaking. He noted about 10 percent of laptops purchased by the district fail within the first year of ownership. He noted, since the district's shift, work orders for computer repairs dropped 24 percent.
"They don't break easily," he said.
Students will not be assigned tablets without the signed approval of their parents or guardians, who also will be asked to agree to a contract involving use of the machines.
Superintendent Brian Mitchell said parents who don't want their children to have access to the Internet via the tablets would be able to opt out and would be given alternative methods of learning.
"They'll (learn) in an alternative setting, or they'll turn (the tablets) in in the afternoon," he responded.
Listeners at the meeting wanted to know how the district will respond if the devices are damaged, lost or stolen.
He noted the district will carry an insurance policy on the investment. But he also said it doesn't make any logical sense to steal the tablets, since they can be easily tracked by GPS and since they can't access the Internet - a primary purpose - without discovery. Each will be branded and date-stamped.
Also, school leaders are hopeful, since the students will essentially have "ownership" of the devices, they will be incentivized to properly care for the tablets. Students will be asked to come to school with their tablets charged overnight.
A "Help Center" at Simonsen will have a few loaner tablets available to forgetful students, he said.
"We'll also have different charging stations for "oops' moments," he added.
And for students who don't have Internet at home, space at Simonsen will be staffed from 7-8 a.m. to help teens with tech issues.
Miller noted his team studied numerous similar tablet devices before settling on the iPad for its durability, ease of use and ubiquity in the marketplace.
He noted establishing enough bandwidth in the school buildings - so that the machines operate without glitches - also has been a goal for his staff. Wireless Internet "now covers every corner ... and can grow as we add devices," he said.
Other listeners wanted to know what will happen if students use the tablets for inappropriate purposes - such as making purchases, searching for sexually explicit content or perusing dangerous websites.
Miller said the school district puts up "firewalls" that prevent access to such websites. But he acknowledged through free WiFi locations, or via Internet access in students' homes, it could be possible for students to gain access to the web.
Mitchell noted administrators report dangerous behaviors - such as researching bomb-making - to law enforcement already, even if they hear of it happened outside of school.
"We report it, even if we're aware of it happening at home," he said.
"There are always ways for kids to get around technology," Miller said. "It's a personal responsibility they'll have to learn."
But he noted that the tablets are designed to help humans create, not consume, information.
He noted students, with the touch of a few buttons, will be able to see a video of a three-dimensional strands of DNA replicate in motion, compared to a static illustration in a book.
"Being digital makes the content so much more rich," Miller said.