April 6th, 2012, 11:36 am · 3 Comments · posted by delstonejr
I read with interest reporter Katie Tammen’s story about a pilot program to give students at Laurel Hill School iPads as part of a pilot program to test their viability in a high school environment.
But the price – about $140,000 for 150 of the devices – sounds high to me. I talked to Katie about the particulars. Here’s what she told me:
- That $140,000 includes training, software, insurance, and other costs.
- The iPads will be insured so if they’re lost, stolen or broken, the money to replace them won’t come from the students’ or school district’s pocket.
- They’ll be throttled in a way that prevents objectional material from being downloaded.
- Students like the iPads and learn more when using them.
- State law is pushing districts into the use of digital textbooks.
Having dealt with books from both sides of the process, and from using iPads and other tablet devices, I’d like to make a few observations of my own.
The whole point of going digital with books is to save production costs, make it easier to update content, and allow for interactive content. While an iPad – or any other tablet device – makes all three an option, the advantage is lost if the device costs too much, and the books are priced too high.
At the estimated cost, each iPad would run about $1,000. For that price you’d better get a LOT of software and training.
As for the books, most ebooks are cheaper than their print cousins, but they’re still more expensive than they should be, and textbooks are ridiculously expensive. I hope the district will lobby for a price that better represents the cost of production. I’m curious to know if textbooks be repurchased each time content is updated, and will the purchase price be prorated to reflect the degree of change.
- Tablets will be dropped and broken, probably on a daily basis. What happens while the student’s iPad is being repaired or replaced, or will it be replaced immediately? It’ll need to. Will insurance rates go up if there’s a rash of claims?
- Having used an iPad many times, I can assure you it’s not only “not easy” to type on an iPad, it’s darned near impossible to do anything more meaningful than tweet, update your status on Facebook, or send a quick e-mail. Doing homework on an iPad that requires actual writing? Forget it. Some students may get the job done but I predict most will struggle. You’d have to equip each iPad with an external keyboard.
- And the batteries? They have a 10- to 12-hour lifespan – when the iPad is new. But like all rechargable battery-powered devices, over time the battery loses its ability to hold a charge. My Nook Tablet will hold a charge about eight hours. A year from now that may be down to four.
I’m not suggesting schools shouldn’t use digital books, apps, or other interactive teaching tools. Digital is not just the future. It’s the present - it makes too much sense, and there’s too much to gain for tablets to be ignored.
But I’m not sure $1,000 per tablet is a good price. True, I don’t have access to the district’s cost analysis. It just seems high, especially when my Nook will do many of the things the iPad does, and cost only $200.
Here at the paper we looked at getting iPads for our reporters. There were certain, specific tasks an iPad would have made easier, but there were also drawbacks – the cost of Internet access, adapters for cameras and keyboards, and so on. We decided the logical alternative was a netbook, a small, laptop-like computer, not much bigger than an iPad, that required no special software, came with all the ports we needed, and could use the air cards we already owned. Netbooks were a lot cheaper, too, about $300 for a top-of-the-line model, opposed to almost $500 for a bottom-of-the-line iPad.
But let’s assume a netbook isn’t an option. I’d suggest a Nook or a Kindle. Both should do everything the district needs, they’re a lot cheaper than an iPad, and they run Flash.