Report on iPad program effectiveness gives mixed results
Craig Clough | September 18, 2014
LA Unified’s ambitious plan to get computer tablets into the hands of its 650,000 students just received its first evaluation, producing decidedly mixed results.
In a 95-page report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a Washington, D.C. research group hired by the district to evaluate the Phase 1 rollout of the program, students and teachers reported numerous positive responses to the possibilities the tablets offered. But technical problems resulted in less than half of the classrooms observed using the devices and very few using their pre-programmed educational software.
“These initial hurdles included problems navigating the interface, login, and scheduling conflicts with instructional time,” the reports executive summary stated.
In response to the report, the district said it is already applying its findings in the planning for the 2014-15 school year.
“We welcome the constructive input and meaningful points highlighted in this report,” said Bernadette Lucas, director of the district’s technology project, in a statement from the district. “When we first embarked on the CCTP” — Common Core Technology Project — “we had a vision to have a device in the hands of every LAUSD student to close the digital divide. This is still our vision.”
Phase 1 of the $1.3 billion program involved the deployment of iPads to 30,490 students and 1,360 teachers in 47 schools during the 2013-14 school year. The total cost to the district so far has been approximately $61 million.
AIR sent representatives in May to 19 CCTP schools to observe 245 classrooms and interview program participants. Observers noted that iPads were present in 79 percent of classrooms and in use in 48 percent.
Chief among the report’s negative findings was that the challenge of simply deploying and programming working iPads hampered their actual implementation in the classroom. Project staff not on the deployment team spent a lot of time on technical troubleshooting “rather than supporting technology integration in the first year of implementation,” according to the report.
The district said the plan is to now improve the iPads’ classroom functionality.
“This year, the focus will be on supporting the integration of technology into teaching and learning based on the Common Core State Standards,” the district’s statement said.
On the positive side, students saw a wide variety of promise in the iPads, including the increased communication with teachers via email and submission of homework, project-based learning exercises such as movies, animations, story writing and drawing; adaptive learning programs and the virtual field trips they made possible.
Teachers reported seeing promise in the interactive lesson content, the increased communication with students, including the submission of homework, the in-class chat function for student questions and the recorded lessons available for viewing by students who were absent.
Among the technical challenges reported were the time required to set up the devices and the technological readiness of some schools. The report concluded that the current deployment model “is not sufficient to meet the goal of full-scale deployment” and offered a number of recommendations, including finding a faster solution in provisioning each device and increasing support staff.
The iPads included — or were supposed to include — educational curriculum software provided by the software company Pearson. Among the biggest trouble spots in the report was its analysis of the software, which was meant to be a cornerstone of the iPad program.
While students and teachers were making use of the iPads in a variety of creative ways, the Pearson curriculum was basically not being implemented, and was witnessed by AIR staff in use by only one teacher in the 245 classrooms it visited. District staff reported that the Pearson software has not been used at all at the high school level. The problems with the software included login glitches, incomplete content, inadequate teacher training and long download times.
Another problem the report found in the iPads being used to their full potential was the district’s ruling that students could not bring them home. This occurred after students at three schools in September of 2013 figured out how to disable the content filters. Requiring that the iPads stay on campus “created logistical challenges for schools to distribute and collect devices on a regular basis,” the report stated. “This challenge was particularly pronounced in secondary schools, where students change classrooms and teachers throughout the day.”
Tracking the iPads became a logistical headache for many schools. As one district official told AIR, “If you have checked an iPad out to a child at 8 in the morning and the expectation is they go back to someplace and check it back in, if they depart during the middle of the day what happens to that iPad?”
The report noted that district officials have said the plan is for students to be able to take the devices home for the 2014-15 school year. AIR recommended the district establish a secondary-level task force to address logistical challenges of iPad distribution and monitoring.
It’s unclear how the report will impact the future of the CCTP and Superintendent John Deasy’s standing with the school board. Deasy, who has long championed the tablet program, halted it in late August in the face of mounting criticism that he and a former deputy, Jaime Aquino, may have influenced the bidding process that gave the deal to Apple and Pearson. Deasy has said that a new bid process will begin soon.