Ava Bindas, Commentary

It’s official – they’re taking over.

The iPad pilot is back for its second year, and now half of Minnetonka High School students have their own personal Apple tablet to improve their learning, of course. The program continues to show success and grow accordingly, and last year’s guinea pigs, now sophomores, have adjusted to academic life with an iPad.

However, with the resurgence and expansion of the pilot comes grumblings reminiscent of those from last year (largely from upperclassmen without iPads): they’re impossible to write on, they make cheating a breeze, they’re not even necessary, and they have to be ridiculously expensive! But are these legitimate concerns?

Sophomore Andrew Kohnen affirms that the iPads live up to some of the infamy surrounding them, but certainly not all of it. While he says they are tricky to write on at first, “you get the hang of it.” Also, typing notes or just pulling up Smartboard slides from Schoology is a popular option to access information from class. He adds that the staff “did a good job explaining it, so the learning curve is pretty steep.” So maybe note taking isn’t totally impossible. Still, they’ve got to breed cheating since storing and sharing information is so simple, right?

Actually, the sophomores I asked about cheating swear they’ve “never seen anybody cheating” but also admit “it’s definitely possible”. The school’s general information provided to parents about the iPad pilot does nothing to discount the possibility. It points out “only formative assessments are administered on the iPad”. The school maintains that students who are tempted to misuse technology are “short-changing themselves because then the teacher doesn’t know what students need additional help learning.” Since a primary goal of the pilot is to make formative assessments more accessible and effective, cheating using an iPad wouldn’t benefit a cheating student when it came down to a summative test where iPads can’t be used.

The final, pressing question about the iPads (not so shockingly) comes down to money. How is it that at the end of every school year we’re down to only salmon-colored paper in the offices and printer toner is nowhere is sight, yet the district manages to invest in hundreds of iPads? The answer is the Minnetonka School District Instructional Technology Referendum, which was approved by voters in 2002 and renewed in 2007 through 2017. This is the same fund that paid for the Smartboards throughout the district in the last few years. According to the school district, money from the referendum does “not compete with other school funding for ongoing operations, classroom teachers or classroom supplies [and] can only fund technology and instructional equipment.” Hence the lack of paper and abundance of iPads.

To me, the argument that iPads are unnecessary is akin to arguing that the Smartboards in every classroom aren’t necessary. True, people managed to learn before the dawn of electronic whiteboards, but I don’t think there is a convincing argument not to upgrade when the opportunity arises. The iPads replace burdensome textbooks, make formative assessments easier to administer for teachers, and teach students organizational and technological skills. These advantages aren’t life changing, but they are definitely notable.

Just like other technology pilots throughout our district, the iPad program has some improvements to make, but maybe isn’t as ridiculous as I thought when the program was announced, and once again when it was expanded. I, along with other grumbling members of the upper classes, may have been wrong. The iPads don’t seem to exacerbate cheating, rather they makes students’ lives easier, and are funded justly. It’s admittedly annoying that my class missed out on such a cool opportunity, but our bitterness doesn’t mean the pilot itself is ineffective or unnecessary.