Survey shows parents are generally satisfied with school’s iPad program

A recent survey conducted by the Watertown-Mayer School District showed that parents are generally satisfied with the district’s new iPad initiative this year, but also raised concerns about how frequently the devices are used for gaming.

The school district’s survey drew responses from about 275 parents, 56 percent of whom rated the program as either a 4 or a 5 on a scale of 1-5 when asked how satisfied they are with how their child is using the iPad for education. Eighty percent of parents rated the program as 3 or better, leaving only 20 percent of parents that responded with a 1 or a 2.

At the same time, however, parents also reported that they see their children using the iPad more frequently for gaming than for any other purpose. When asked what activities they see their children using the iPad for, 93 percent said they see their children playing games, while 83 percent said they see their children working on homework.

More specifically, when asked what activity they see their children using the iPad for the most, 47 percent said playing games. Thirty-two percent of parents said their children use the iPad more frequently for homework than anything else.

“Some of the most important things we look at from a district level is that generally speaking, people are pretty happy about what’s being done with them,” said Scott Fitzsimonds, the district’s Director of Teaching, Learning and Technology. “The one thing that sticks out that parents are responding too, and something we see in a couple different areas, is especially for students that didn’t have a device before, they’re interested more in using it as an entertainment device and not as an educational tool.”

While almost all parents reported that their children use the iPad for gaming, very few reported that it was negatively affecting their child’s schoolwork. Roughly 49 percent of parents said the iPad has not changed the level of their child’s homework completion and organization, and 37.6 percent said their child’s homework completion had actually gotten better. Only 13.5 percent of parents said the iPads have had a negative effect in that regard.

“That’s very much in line with similar survey’s we’ve seen with other districts,” Fitzsimonds said. “The kids can’t say I lost my homework, because they know where to log in to get another copy. On the organizational side, once students get more used to using this, it’s amazing the transformation you see. It’s less missing homework, and less ‘I didn’t know.’”

Even though students’ gaming doesn’t seem to be having a negative effect on schoolwork, Fitzsimonds still indicated the district would like to see a transformation in the way the devices are viewed among students.

“We want to get to a point where they see it as a tool, and not just as an entertainment platform,” Fitzsimonds said. “That’s a natural progression you’ll go through.

Fitzsimonds pointed out that the idea students would use the devices for gaming was not unexpected, nor was it ever the district’s intent to restrict students from doing so. Instead, Fitzsimonds said the goal all along was to provide students with a device they can use as an educational tool 24 hours a day, and that by not restricting the devices’ uses, it allows students to truly personalize the device and make it their own.

While the devices can be programmed to prevent student from downloading games, Fitzsimonds said that doing so would not only limit the amount of personalization for students, it also creates logistical challenges. In order to download educational content, the iPads would have to be collected by staff, unlocked in order to download content, and then re-locked.

Middle school principal Nick Guertin reported to the school board during the Nov. 12 meeting that the gaming issue seemed to be a bigger issue at the middle school level than other grade levels. He said that in several instances, he has had to lock the iPads for several students, but hopes to eventually give those privileges back to students once they display they can handle the responsibility. Guertin and several members of the school board noted that the iPads and their uses could ultimately be seen as a lesson in personal responsibility for students.

Fitzsimonds said that he believes the iPads will eventually transition into more of a learning tool over time, especially as teachers become better trained in using the devices in an engaging fashion. The faster teachers can learn to use the devices to develop new content, the faster student’s perceptions of the devices will begin to change, Fitzsimonds said. The progression Watertown-Mayer schools are going through right now has been seen in other districts in the past, he said.

“There is nothing new here,” Fitzsimonds said. “It’s just a different tool that students have in their hands that gives them more access to more things. There’s nothing alarming in what we’re seeing. As we talk to other districts and some of the things they’ve seen, everybody has gone through the same types of things. Districts that have been using them for a few years, they’ve gotten to the point where it’s not really an issue anymore, because the device is looked at as a tool instead of a novelty.”