VIRGINIA — On a recent Tuesday night, several area adults gathered in a Virginia High School classroom, all armed with their iPads and iPhones, ready to learn how to use them.

They were students of the iPad/iPhone for Beginners course offered through Virginia Community Education and taught by Troy Caddy, digital learning specialist for the district.

Beyond this reporter, there were six adult students who all needed basic instruction. Armed with my daughter’s school-issued iPad, I was the only attendee who needed instruction to support my VHS student’s education.

Caddy taught various gestures made to make the technology more efficient. Next, he led the class through settings and useful apps.

The class is built around the needs of the individual students. The previous day, Caddy had called all those registered to find out what their specific needs were and what they hoped to get from the experience.

When it comes to my daughter’s school-issued iPad, it’s part of a growing trend of technology in the classroom that didn’t exist during my school years, meaning the traditional paper and pencil homework is replaced.

It isn’t just Virginia either. School districts across the region have moved toward 1-to-1 devices. Some districts have implemented ChromeBooks, but most utilize iPads.

“We want to give our students a tool to create with, to show what they know and collaborate,” said Caddy. Virginia has repeatedly found that iPads are the best device as a creation tool while providing the necessary flexibility.

Although, it appears, that area school districts agree on the importance of 1-to-1 devices, they do not agree about training parents on how to use these devices.

At Eveleth-Gilbert, an informational sheet is sent home at the beginning of each school year about iPads. There are no classes. Eveleth-Gilbert Superintendent Jeff Carey directs parents first to classroom teachers for iPad questions, then the technology department.

Mesabi East Superintendent Gregg Allen commented over email saying, “My experience as a parent is that we did not have any training on the device because we could either have our student show us or we could look stuff up on our own device with passwords for our family accounts such as lunch, grades, discipline, attendance, schedules, credits, daily bulletins, activities, etc.”

Virginia implements 1-to-1

In 2011, the Virginia school district began considering implementing technology more fully into the classrooms.

“We looked at the vision of education going forward,” explained Technology Director Bill Bryson. “We knew we wanted something hands on for the 21st century learning environment.”

The group looked at laptops and tablets, but it found that only 70 percent of the students had internet at home, so the device needed to be able to function on and offline.

“We chose the iPad,” Bryson said. He explained that each year the technology department reevaluates that decision.

In 2012, 1-to-1 iPads were distributed to the eighth grade with technology carts throughout the school. The next year, fall 2013, sixth, eighth, ninth and 11th grades all had 1-to-1 iPads. As the budget allowed, devices were added. Currently, there are 1-to-1 iPads, which are only used at school, in Kindergarten through fourth grade. In grades 5-12, there are 1-to-1 iPads which students take home.

In Pre-kindergarten, there are technology classroom carts with one iPad for every two students.

“The device is not the student’s but the school’s,” Caddy said. “Parents have the right to see all that is on there. We recommend that they set a safe location to plug in, like the parents’ bedroom every night, and set ground rules for the kids and family.”

Bryson explained that “There has been a shift in education and how teachers teach,’ and the technology is used as one of the teaching tools, but not the only one.

Students do not sit all day staring at their iPad, and on average us it 10-15 minutes in each class. Similarly, Virginia High School Principal Lisa Perkovich explained that classes don’t stare at the textbook all day either, but use it as one teaching tool.

“There used to just be static curriculum,” Perkovich said, using the example of a printed textbook. “Now, digital curriculum gives the beginning, baseline. Teachers can now add that personalization.”

“It is about harnessing the power of the learning management system,” Caddy said.

For the first few years the iPads were implemented, there was an orientation for both students and parents. Each year, the attendance rate dropped from about 70 percent of parents attending in 2012 to about 10 percent attending in the 2016-17 school year.

“We have transitioned to an ala carte model,” Perkovich said.

Bryson added that the district has “always worked with personalizing to a parents needs.”

In the 2013-14 school year, Virginia Community Education began offering iPad classes. Classes were held four or five times a year with 10-12 community members involved. Again, attendance has dwindled and this semester there were only six students signed up for one class. The other offered time was canceled.

In the 2014-15 school year, the student tech support class was created.

“They have been our first line of tech support,” Caddy explained.

Now, through Virginia Community Education, the student tech support group offers a class twice a month where the community can bring their device into the school and the student provides the support.

“This is an opportunity for the students to get exposed to the different technology and community members with their wide range of problems,” said Caddy, who leads the group. “We want them to have the authentic technology support experience when they leave school.”

Bryson said that they try to match the community member with the student who will be able to provide the best support.

“We set them up with a student with a specific skill set,” he added. “Each kid has different skills.” These skills range from solving a specific problem or working with a specific brand of device.

The class is called Coffee, Computers & Conversation, a one-on-one technology help session is held at the Urban Edge student-run coffee shop. Students from the Virginia Student Tech Support class are on hand to assist the public with various device and technology questions.

The next Coffee, Computers & Conversation will be from 9:10 to 10 a.m. Tuesday Nov. 12 and 19. Registration for these sessions is through Julie Eddy in the Community Education department at 742-3990. These sessions are free of charge. The school also offers that parents contact the technology department directly with specific questions or concerns.

Caddy said the Technology Department is planning on offering another set of iPad/iPhone for Beginners courses during the Spring Community Education classes. These classes are $20 but no one will be turned away based on an inability to pay.

The current issue for the district is that no one is calling or asking for support, and attendance is dropping from the offered classes.

Parent engagement with iPad

“I never once went on either of my girls’ school issues ipads,” said Laura Bachshneider, over email, whose daughters graduated from VHS in 2017 and 2018. “When they first came out with that parent portal thing--- I signed up for it and looked at it occasionally, but then I was never really worried about their assignments, tests, attendance etc. so I stopped looking ...In the short time I did creep on them, it was not super effective anyway because many teachers do not keep their grades and assignments updated- so it’s pretty useless information.”

Bachschneider said she wasn’t concerned with her daughters failing classes. She gave trusted them to take responsibility for their education.

“I don’t recall any classes on how parents can use the ipads...,” said Bachschneider admitting, “I likely would never have gone to a class if it would have been offered because the way I looked at it- it is their work- not mine. I certainly helped my kids study, etc. if they asked me- but I already graduated- it’s a them issue.”

When asked if a parent should be involved in their child’s device, Caddy said that is the parents’ decision. “ We want to provide the opportunity for parents to learn, if they have the desire...We’re on your team to support your kid.”

Device use varies by classroom and teacher.

“You can see your child’s grade and if you student is struggling, dig deeper into their assignments,” said Bryson.

When it comes to technology use, the parent knows best. “It depends on what fits the dynamics,” said Caddy.. “The best thing a parent can do is sit down with their kids and say ‘Show me what is used in the classroom.’...The kid is the expert.”

Julie Eddy, from the Virginia Community Education department, said her son was an upperclassman when iPads were implemented. Both mother and son struggled with the transition.

“I knew nothing about iPads,” Eddy recalled. “Some of the best times we had were him showing me how to use the apps.”

“Parents should have a basic understanding of how an iPad works,” said Virginia Superintendent Noel Schmidt over email this week. “The primary advantage of having this understanding is to be aware of how their child is using the iPad and support them when they are utilizing it for learning and educational reasons and conversely, shutting down attempts by their child to inappropriately use the device.”

Perkovich pointed to the scientific research which shows that when parents are involved in a child’s education, they are more likely to succeed.

“Having a negative or a positive attitude toward a topic matters,” she said explaining that negative conversations breed negative attitudes. Positive conversations breed positive attitudes.

“If the parent fears the iPad, the kid hears that and takes that back into their education,” explained Perkovich. “How we say something matters. We have the power to change their feelings...Get over our own personal fear to support their education.”

One thing agreed upon at the table was, “Technology is not likely going away. Change is coming at an unpredictable speed,” said Perkovich.

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