As Todd Ryckman prepares to show his Dos Pueblos High School students where the Suez Canal is, he doesn’t go to the whiteboard and pull down the huge paper maps that still have the Soviet Union on them.
Instead, with his iPad wirelessly connected to the flat-screen television mounted in the front of the classroom, he opens the National Geographic Atlas, turns it to satellite mode, and zooms in on Egypt until the students can see the waterway.
“How do canals work?” one student asks.
A quick Internet search yields a YouTube video detailing the mechanics of canals, making the learning process more fluid and interactive than the traditional lesson-planned lecture.
“That literally took me five minutes at the most,” Ryckman recalled to Noozhawk. “I would have been drawing stick figures on the board. I would have been trying to explain how canals work and using my horrible artist skills. It makes the learning so much more rich for the kids to be able to see it like this.”
Ryckman is the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s technology strategist. He also teaches social studies, history and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) at Dos Pueblos, where the new set-ups — iPad, Apple TV and flat-screen TV — have been installed in four classrooms, with 13 more in line.
“There’s going to be an explosion of these set-ups at schools,” Ryckman said. “I meet every day with staff from schools, and I don’t think one has left saying they don’t think they’ll do this. They all want to; it’s just a matter of money.”
He’s right; the district’s facilities department has outfitted 34 classrooms so far, with 86 more in the queue, which should be completed by the end of July, according to David Hetyonk, director of facilities and operations.
The district provides the labor and the schools come up with the equipment funding. Some have gotten help from parent-teacher organizations through fundraising and subsidizing teachers purchasing their own iPads to use in class. Others have received donations, like the Santa Barbara Mac Users Group’s gift of 16 Apple TVs last year to Dos Pueblos, or used parcel-tax money or site-specific funds.
Every school in the district will have wireless Internet by fall, with new infrastructure paid for from the 2010 voter-approved Measures Q and R bonds.
Dos Pueblos, San Marcos High, Santa Barbara High, Goleta Valley Junior High, La Colina Junior High, Santa Barbara Junior High, Franklin Elementary, McKinley Elementary, Adelante Charter, Santa Barbara Charter and Open Alternative schools have wireless installed already.
The catalyst pushing Dos Pueblos in this direction is SBUSD Superintendent Dave Cash, the school’s former principal.
When Cash left the Goleta campus to become superintendent of another district, subsequent principals didn’t make technology a priority. Now, with Principal Shawn Carey at the helm of the school and Cash in charge at the district, technology is back in focus, and schools are replacing document cameras and projectors with iPads and flat-screen TVs.
To provide teachers with an inducement to use the technology, Ryckman made a pitch to the Dos Pueblos PTSA: If teachers bought the iPads, would the organization subsidize each one by chipping in $300? The discount amounted to about half the cost of the device. In its second year, the school has almost 100-percent participation in the program.
“I don’t think teachers should have to pay for the tools they use for their jobs,” Ryckman said. “This was the only way they’d ever get them, though.”
Plus, “once they had some skin in the game, they were really more willing to go to trainings,” he noted.
Why iPads? Tablets can serve as document cameras, be linked wirelessly to the TVs, and be used as notebooks with students writing on them with a stylus or their fingers, says Ryckman, adding that the iPad was “clearly the only game in town.” Teachers have found that the device is easy to use; has a large, regulated app store; and provides access to digital textbook services.
“Dr. Cash was telling me that he read Steve Jobs’ biography, and one thing he really believed in was getting the technology in the hands of people and let them improve it,” Ryckman said. “I think it’s happening; more things come out for this all the time that make it more powerful as a teaching tool.”
When you do the math, buying flat screens for classrooms isn’t ridiculous — as long as all the doors have good locks.
The district currently pays $2,000 for every “projection package,” which includes projectors, document cameras and screens. The projector bulbs, however, burn out every two years and cost $400 each to replace.
In comparison, Ryckman’s 60-inch, LED TV was $1,400, and he expects it to last at least 10 years and use almost no electricity. Add the costs of the iPads (often paid for at least partly by the teacher) and Apple TV, which lets the tablets wirelessly stream to the TVs, and the set-ups end up costing less over the long term, he says.
The iPads work as document cameras, and teachers can stream videos or music to the TVs, all from one device.
Another goal — equipping the entire student body with tablets — may be far harder to reach.
Ryckman’s AVID students are the only ones who are assigned tablets and can take them home. Schools are instead encouraging students to bring their own devices to class, and they’re also buying one classroom’s worth of tablets for mobile computer labs.
Getting enough for every classroom would obviously be a huge expense, and schools are already worried about their budgets should local school-designated parcel taxes not be renewed in the June 5 election, and if midyear cuts come through again in December. School-specific fundraising efforts have helped the classroom set-ups get installed, but would be harder to maintain for such a large-scale project.
While the community generally supports the use of technology in education, surveys suggest people do not support putting a tablet in the hands of every student.
The implementation of tablets and personal computers in the classroom is recent, and voters, especially older ones, aren’t “with us” on adopting that technology in the classroom yet, said Bryan Godbe of Godbe Research, a market and public opinion research agency specializing in education.
In measuring support for another South Coast parcel tax, Godbe and fellow consultants found that enhancing computer and educational technology was heavily supported among the community, but “providing classroom instructional technology, including laptops and tablet computers” was the lowest priority.
The Board of Education-approved priorities for Measures W and X on the June ballot include enriching math, science and technology education, but have no mention of classroom devices. And every purchase made by parcel-tax funds must be approved by a citizens’ oversight committee, determining whether it is appropriate.
A self-professed “Mac geek,” district director of curriculum Cynthia White says the inclusion of technology in the classroom and at home is part of education’s move to a “hybrid model” of teaching, with lessons both in the classroom and at home.
Although there’s skepticism from the larger community, educators and students have embraced the change.
“The 14-year-olds would say, ‘Are you kidding? I want an avatar teacher,’” White said.
Common Core standards, which outline a framework for student learning, now include media and technology skills within goals for mathematics, English language arts and other subjects.
Online courses are gaining popularity for higher education and K-12, and more schoolwork is being done on computer programs. The Santa Barbara district offers an exclusively online elective course — Mandarin Chinese — and a credit-recovery program through which struggling students re-take classes online after school or at home.
Educators insist that no technology will ever be a substitute for teachers. Rather, technology can help schools offer more classes, and help teachers offer a more interactive learning experience. No longer are they stuck at their desks or next to the whiteboard, White said.
“Technology should never replace good teaching,” Ryckman said. “These devices are only as good as the teachers who are holding them, that’s a fact. This allows us to do more in different ways.”