Five Years In, a Look at How iPads Have Changed La Salle

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Five Years In, a Look at How iPads Have Changed La Salle

iPads are now a regular part of the day-to-day experience for La Salle students and teachers.

iPads are now a regular part of the day-to-day experience for La Salle students and teachers.

Reilly Smith

iPads are now a regular part of the day-to-day experience for La Salle students and teachers.

Reilly Smith

Reilly Smith

iPads are now a regular part of the day-to-day experience for La Salle students and teachers.

Nehemiah Jackson, Assistant Editor

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Five years ago, La Salle made a revolutionary change to the way school runs; starting in September of 2014, all students were required to bring an iPad to school with them each day. Immediately, there were varying opinions as to whether the iPads were a good thing.

As the dust settled and iPads have become an extension of students’ hands, they have proved, to some, a device that serves as a distraction, and to others, a device that opens up an endless sea of possibilities.

The iPad’s journey began when Spanish teacher Ms. Lisa Moran received a grant to use iPad minis in the classroom. As she began the trial, she remembered thinking, “it’s exciting, [and] doing something new that engages the students is more interesting.”

Mr. Matthew Owen, a science teacher, has only ever taught with iPads. “I think this is the world we’re moving into… where technology is heavy,” he said. “And we need to see how different things can be used, how we can use it, and the different ways we can either create or consume.”

According to Ms. Alanna O’Brien, the Vice Principal of Curriculum and Professional Development, the original intentions of the iPad implementation were to help students develop skills that would be more prevalent as society moves towards a more technologically based world. In addition, they have “allowed the classroom to become more student-centered as the teacher is not needed to be the sole source of information,” she said.

Positives

Ms. Moran has seen these ideals of the iPad playing out in the classroom. “I believe that [iPads] require students to be more collaborative,” she said. “It’s not me just always giving them all the information. I can present the base of it, [and] they can go deeper with it.”

The iPad has also changed the classroom through the App Store; apps like Schoology and PowerSchool are required. The app Schoology is effectively an all-in-one school app, providing the student with the majority of their assignments, and a place to submit their assignments. It does all this while making it easier for the school to communicate with the students.

Mr. Doran, a Social Studies teacher, has noticed the efficiency Schoology has brought to La Salle. “[My classroom is] a lot faster and more efficient,” he said. “I’m not making photocopies, I’m not passing out papers and not returning papers. Those things are already there.”

Despite the benefits of iPads in the classroom, not everyone is a fan of them. The Falconer recently conducted a survey of teachers asking for their opinions on iPad use at La Salle. 40 teachers were invited to participate, and 31 teachers completed the survey.

In the survey, 19.4% of teachers responded that they believe iPads have had a neutral impact in the classroom, while 35.5% of teachers responded indicating iPads have had a mostly negative impact. 3.2% of teachers responded indicating iPads have had a completely negative impact. However, 38.7% of teachers responded indicating iPads have had mostly a positive impact, and 3.2% of teachers (this represents just one teacher) opted for a customized response, saying the iPads have had a positive impact, but there are definitely distractions.

However, for the students, the viewpoint on the iPads was much more positive. In a poll the Falconer asked Mr. Larson and Ms. Vermeychuk to administer, 110 freshmen, sophomores, and seniors responded, with 59.1% of 110 students saying the iPad’s effect has been mostly positive, and only 12.4% of students responding that it has been mostly negative.

After comparing the graduation programs from 2013 and 2014 to the graduation programs of 2017 and 2018, the iPad’s positives continue. These programs contain a list of every graduating senior who earned first or second honors distinctions.

For the graduating classes of 2013 and 2014, the requirements to receive the first or second honors distinction was 3.00-4.00+ cumulative GPA. In those two years, there was a combined total of 173 students (out of 290), 59.6%, who received some type of honor.

However, for the graduating classes of 2017 and 2018, the requirements to receive a first or second honors distinction was more challenging — students needed a cumulative GPA of 3.25-4.00+. Despite this higher threshold, in those two years, there was a combined total of 224 students (out of 318), 70.4%, who received one of these two honors.

In the third and fourth years after the iPad was introduced and fully implemented, there was a 10.8% increase in the amount of students who received the GPA distinction.

Negatives

Despite these positive changes and the original intentions of the iPad, Mr. Dreisbach thinks that with the introduction of the iPad, “students are less prone to explore the various angles of an issue, preferring to take breaks on their iPads.”

At La Salle, students are required to buy iPads. Then, they are connected to a Wi-Fi network provided by La Salle, which restricts certain gaming websites, social media, and other types of websites. However, the entire internet is not restricted.

During his short time at La Salle, freshman Gabe Handley has already noticed the lack of restrictions on the internet. “Banning apps from the WiFi is meaningless, because you can just use a VPN unless you start banning VPNs,” he said. “But it is truly up to the students [and] what they want to do with their time.”

Mr. Gregory Larson, an English teacher of both freshmen and seniors, made a comment about the lack of restrictions on iPads, noticing that students aren’t making the healthiest choices with iPads. He sees that students are still able to access social media and play games. “There’s no way for [our] school to keep up with that ability to subvert control,” Mr. Larson said.

In the teacher survey the Falconer administered, there was a question designated for teachers who taught here before the introduction of the iPad, which asked about the focus levels of students before the iPad’s introduction. 83.3% of the teachers said their students are more off task with the rest saying focus levels are about the same.

“We also recognize that students are distracted by iPads and that we need to develop student agency and responsibility, as well as classroom and school-wide structures that set students up for academic success,” Ms. O’Brien said. “In order to be successful here, we need to define the responsibility of the school, the teacher and, ultimately, the student when it comes to iPad use in the classroom.”

Some teachers believe that the iPad’s distracting elements have manifested themselves in students’ communication skills. When Mr. Larson talks with students, he usually notices an iPad between them. “The relationship to grades through PowerSchool and the relationship to peers and teachers through conversation have heavily changed,” he said. “Now [the conversations are] mediated by digital tools.”

“Some conversations are too important for people to be checking Instagram,” Mr. Larson said. “With an iPad in between two people as they converse, the person with the iPad can be easily distracted by push notifications, which are constantly asking for your attention.”

With teachers battling the iPads for students’ focus, some teachers have found systems that work well to keep students on task. Mr. Owen and Social Studies teacher Mr. Michael Doran have similar procedures for getting their students to regain focus. They remind their students not to be distracted, and if that doesn’t work, then they will move towards the student’s general area of the room.

“Proximity is great,” Mr. Owen said. “Trying to move towards [them] is a really good technique.”

Like Mr. Owen and Mr. Doran, Ms. Moran’s procedure usually involves walking over and gently tapping the student on the shoulder, and sometimes she closes the student’s iPad. “Most of the time [my strategy works, but] do I catch all of them? No. I can’t watch 30 people at once,” Ms. Moran said.

When it comes to keeping everyone in class focused, Mr. Doran notices that students usually listen, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not like whack-a-mole,” he said. “Sometimes when you stop one problem, another one comes up.”

Considering how large a role monitoring students has become since the introduction of the iPad, Ms. Moran thinks that the iPad hasn’t changed the student-teacher relationship as much as some would think because, before the iPad’s introduction, cell phones already were a huge issue and there have always been other types of distractions, such as writing notes and doodling.

However, with teachers spending time monitoring students’ iPad use, it inevitably takes some of their focus away from teaching the class. This leads to the question of whether there should be a schoolwide policy for iPads to reinforce the rules as to when and how the devices should be used, which some teachers have advocated for.

“We are also aware that things like cell phones and earbuds or AirPods continue to be a distraction in the classroom,” Ms. O’Brien said. “It’s about how we can shift the culture so that those are away until students are invited to have them out.

Senior Andrew Shireman believes in creating such a policy.

“Teachers all need to be on the same page about iPads,” he said. “Some teachers know that kids are distracted and do nothing about it, which screws the students for the future when they get a teacher who is strict about staying in ‘academic mode.’ Also it seems like tempting fate to let a bunch of 14-18 year olds have iPads in school and tell them they can never be off task. La Salle’s expectations about what happens on students’ iPads needs to be consistent among all staff members.”

However, if there’s a schoolwide policy, Mr. Larson worries that there won’t be enough flexibility between departments. “I imagine physics teachers use the iPad in a very different way than I use them,” he said. “I don’t want to prescribe certain practices for Physics that would inhibit them from teaching in the way they need to teach.”

All four of the teachers interviewed in person for this article, Mr. Owen, Ms. Moran, Mr. Larson, and Mr. Doran, believe that change to how the iPads are used is necessary, and Ms. Moran believes it is especially necessary in order to limit distraction among underclassmen.

Mr. Owen offered a possible solution to the distracting elements of iPads and the schoolwide policy debate by suggesting that teachers should still have individual flexibility; however, he believes there should be more concrete norms in the classroom, and he suggested those norms could be a grade-by-grade situation.

Outside of the classroom

With the iPad’s introduction, there are now more possibilities for school to follow both students and teachers home.

“I pretty much put everything on my iPhone calendar,” Mr. Doran said. “In a lot of ways, I feel like our life has been made very routine based on an iPhone calendar and Schoology mirrors that.”

Mr. Larson, who graduated from La Salle in 2008, commented on the iPad’s connectivity. “I never emailed my teachers,” he said. “They would be around till 3:30 p.m. or so. If you didn’t catch them, they weren’t available. There was no ‘I’m going to reach out to them at 11:45 p.m.’ I’m constantly feeling like I need to check my email.”

Schoolwork following members of La Salle home affects students as well. Freshman Anna Dethlefs said, “I think that teachers can’t post something on Schoology if they don’t say it in class because it is very unfair to the students, and it makes me have anxiety.”

However, according to Ms. O’Brien, the iPad’s connectivity is one of its main selling points. “The opportunities for students to collaborate with each other both in the classroom and out of the classroom, either through Google Apps or discussion forums has definitely been a shift,” she said.

In addition to Schoology and emails, iPads seem to have affected students’ perception of the amount of sleep they get. In the student poll the Falconer conducted regarding the effect of iPads, 49.1% of students said that their sleep hasn’t been affected, 44.5% of students said that iPads have negatively affected their sleep, and only 1.8% of students said their sleep has been affected positively. (The remaining 4.6% of students responded with a variety of other perspectives.)

Sleeping patterns are determined by circadian rhythms, and these circadian rhythms are determined by the light of the sun. However, artificial blue light, which appears on phone and iPad screens, interrupts those rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep. With the iPad’s introduction, there is more of a demand for students to be on screens, which could explain the perceived loss of sleep.

Final thoughts

Although iPads have changed many aspects of the classroom experience at La Salle, many parts of school have not changed.

“I don’t feel like [the iPad has] completely revolutionized how I teach nor how my students learn,” Ms. Moran said. “I think, to me, language is still something that’s spoken. It’s not going to change the fact that you have to learn how to speak it.”

With the new possibilities iPads have brought to the classroom and with high school’s purpose in mind, Mr. Larson believes students shouldn’t just have an impressive array of facts they’ve gathered. Ideally, they would have a set of tools that they can use to think critically. And he thinks the technology is dangerous when it inhibits students’ ability to focus and do complicated work.

“I think our job as an institution is to equip you with a set of skills, some related to science, some related to history, some related to English, some related to health, that allow you to become a more full version of yourself than if you didn’t go to school here,” he said.

Mr. Owen emphasized the need to find the right balance with iPads. “I think that we have to try to juggle [the fact] that the purpose of the iPad isn’t for us just to use it because it’s there,” he said. “It has to be directed, there has to be a focus with it. It shouldn’t be a default, it should be a tool.”

In 2014, Mr. Doran asked his seniors in the fall whether or not they should go back to paper in the spring. “They all were adamant, despite all of the challenges, the problems, the pitfalls that we faced in that first semester, that I should not turn away from electronics,” he said. “That motivated me for the next semester.”

Now that we are five years in, it is clear that the iPads are here to stay.

“I think the reality is that technology is not going to go away,” Ms. O’Brien said. “And the best that we can do is teach students how to use it responsibly and use it for good. I think everybody in the building understands that.”