iPads in the Classroom: A Reality

Burlington, MA is a community of primarily upper middle class citizens who have a mall, a growing commercial district, and a relatively decent school system. On a good year maybe one or two students will get into Ivy Leagues, and the rest have a tendency to go to very good local colleges (i.e. UMass, Northeastern, BU, etc.). What differentiates Burlington from all the surrounding towns, however, is the introduction of iPads into the classroom four years ago, when I was a junior in the high school. That’s right, every single student got an iPad from the school, free of charge. Apple even came out to do a short documentary on us, found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsQ2CwiKcbA

Beyond the initial excitement of being able to blow off class and play Angry Birds (while it was still popular back in 2011), relatively unlimited access to all of the features the internet offers was a slightly overwhelming experience for students. The largest complaint for all teenagers is the lack of responsibility they feel adults allow them to have. Well all of a sudden, we were given complete responsibility over our education, and that makes a world of difference.

As my AP World History teacher, Todd Whitten, described in the video, “When you open it up to a student and say, ‘Go find this, and show me in your own words and your own way!’, it becomes a much more lasting learning experience”. What I found was that I was suddenly thrust into a position of having to take a lot more responsibility for my work, because we as students were not as heavily watched over as we had been in years past. I’m sure this sounds awfully familiar, because it is exactly the same mentality that professors in college take towards students, and that was the point. BHS administration had decided that it was time to stop babying us, and let us experience what it was like to pass or fail completely on your own accord.

So what were the conclusions of this giant social experiment Burlington High School attempted with its’ students? The answer there is sadly ambiguous. I wish I could say “It was a giant success, and everybody benefitted from it,”. Sadly that’s not the case. The detriments of giving every high school student an iPad is exactly what you might expect: Distraction in the classroom, misuse of the iPad, and a large number of technological difficulties were all common occurrences, not to mention that I can’t tell you how many broken screens I had seen between my junior and senior year. However, talking about the benefits now, it’s completely fair to say that I felt prepared for the added distraction of technology in the workplace and lecture hall after high school. I didn’t have to relearn to fight the urge to use social media every chance I got, because I had seen the negative outcome of that one too many times. The student body as a whole also became more technologically savvy, to a point where everybody I knew was able to quickly adapt to changing apple products with little complaint.

The end goal for BHS was to integrate Apple technology into the classrooms of the middle school and elementary schools, which it was able to do in 2013 after I left. The results have, once again, been mixed, but the benefits have remained the same. Burlington has created a community of youths that are more scientifically and technologically literate than any of the surrounding towns, despite a few more readily available distractions.

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