Four years ago, Superintendent Damon Gibbs and Director of Technology Roman Gaddis sat down to plan out a 1:1 roll out for the students of Dawson County.
Now, after three years of implementation, each student in Dawson County Schools has an iPad to help them further engage in their learning.
In 2018, the third phase of the roll out hit the last group of students at Dawson County High School, with some students adjusting more quickly than others.
“I don’t want to say it wasn’t smooth with the 11th and 12th grade. It’s just new,” said Nicole LeCave, executive director of teaching and learning for Dawson County Schools. “For the most part there is a positive sense of the teachers are willing to learn how to use it and new ways to engage the students, and the same for the students.”
With each roll out there were growing pains as both teachers and students adjusted to implementing instruction and assignments to the iPads. DCHS is no exception, but only four months into the roll out, the transition is on par with what the school system expected.
“I think the roll out went very well. I mean that’s a big task to get iPads out to 800-plus kids,” said DCHS Principal Brody Hughes. “It’s been an adjustment, especially for our juniors and seniors because the sophomores, this is their third year having them so they’re pretty used to them.”
Some students like junior Kathernine Myaskovski have found the iPads to aid learning because the portable device allows them to access assignments anywhere.
“It’s pretty useful because there is a lot of schoolwork you do online and you can just really easily get it out and do it,” Myaskovski said.
Others, like junior Sarah Teague, can see how the iPads have helped teachers but have thrown a curveball at the way students interact in the classroom.
“I think it’s easier for teachers because they don’t have to print everything off, but it’s kind of annoying because you have to copy the notes and type on the iPads,” Teague said.
How students would adjust to typing on the bulky iPad screen was a concern for Hughes and LeCave.
“A big area of concern…was typing, especially on standardized tests,” Hughes said. “But our last round of tests showed there was absolutely no change as far as scores go on the written part or the typed part.”
LeCave said the purpose is not solely to have the devices but about engaging students and creating 21st century learners to prepare them for college or technical school or entering the workforce.
“It’s about: can we provide our students and teachers with a way to be more engaged in those four C’s – collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity– and that’s been our focus,” she said.
As technology continues to be at the forefront, today’s students will be entering college or the workforce expecting engagement with technology whether through online courses, submitting resumes, participating in online training or collaborating with peers on projects.
“Learning how to use Google Docs or Gmail is going to carry them through everything they do, not just here,” said DCHS Media Specialist Deborah Caplen. “Kids coming out of here being able to use those things and know how to do stuff is a really good skill.”
“We wanted to transform the learning and engagement that occurred in the classroom,” Gaddis said. “We wanted to provide kids opportunities that they might not have without the use of technology.”
As to why iPads were chosen as the instructional tool of choice to help reshape education, Gaddis said it came down to a few factors gathered from feedback from a committee of teachers in 2015 who saw the iPad as the most flexible tool for instruction, assessment and accessibility for all age groups and physical abilities.
“It levels the playing field for all of our students to have that same device,” Gaddis said.
Another perk is students can work on assignments at home without the need for internet access in most cases.
“I think the biggest thing is even textbook companies are moving away from textbooks, so that’s where we are,"Dawson County High School Principal Brody Hughes
iPads were also being tested out in pilot classes three years ago to see how students and teachers would react to the new device.
Chemistry teacher Susan Wright taught one of the pilot programs for the iPads, having a cart of iPads in her classroom for two years prior to the roll out.
“I found, and I don’t know what other teachers would say, having them those two years… we had to work through some of the resistance, but we got better on that. I haven’t seen as much of it (this year),” Wright said. “If I can show them some of those electronic skills with the content then it just makes it easier.”
Results have shown over the past three years that students in Dawson County have become more engaged through the use of iPads in their classes, whether it’s through creating digital art in the visual arts program, recording choral pieces for review and critique, photographing plants in horticulture or sending essays out to be peer reviewed.
Of course teachers and students at DCHS are still spreading their technological wings and finding a balance between using the iPads to engage the content and using traditional teaching methods.
“I think the biggest thing is even textbook companies are moving away from textbooks, so that’s where we are,” said Hughes. “These devices provide that instruction or the research for that instruction and really opens a huge door, educationally, to a lot of resources that a paper book just doesn’t have.”
LeCave said teachers can utilize the technology to engage students, but also have flexibility to teach without it.
“We want them to find a healthy balance,” she said.