iPads for all Maine middle-schoolers? Maybe.

The state's first-in-the-nation laptop program may be going iPad.

Maine is negotiating five options for its next Maine Learning Technology Initiative contract. For the past seven years, that program has placed Apple MacBook laptops in the hands of every seventh- and eighth-grader in the state.

Two new options include computer tablets for the first time.

"The last time we did a bid, nobody made them — they didn't exist yet," said Jeff Mao, the Maine Department of Education's learning technology policy director.

State officials expect to pick the winning lease option in the next few weeks.

It's now a debate of pros, cons and costs.

"I think there's still a lot of folks who are comfortable with what laptops do, understand them," Mao said. "I think there's also a lot of folks who are looking at tablets and saying, 'This is the way of the future.'"

He added, "The challenge is, for everything that you can try to defend that a laptop is better because it does 'blank,' you'll find something else, 'But on a tablet, you can do blank.'"

The state put out a request for proposals last fall, DOE spokesman David Connerty-Marin said. It asked for certain parameters — educational software, ability to access the Internet — without specifying the type of computer.

"We tell them what we want to accomplish educationally," he said.

Sixteen proposals came in, winnowed to five: the Apple iPad, Apple MacBook Air, Hewlett-Packard ProBook, Hewlett-Packard ElitePad and CTL Classmate PC Netbook. 

Apple iPads came in the lowest at $217 per machine, per year. The other computers range from $250 to $300. 

The cost of the current contract is $242 per machine, per year, for 70,000 MacBooks, Mao said.

About 30,000 laptops are in grades seven and eight, paid for by the state. Another 25,000 are in grades nine to 12; about half of Maine high schools opt to purchase them for those upper grades and share the cost with the state. Another roughly 15,000 are with teachers.

This is the first time the state has negotiated multiple potential contracts at once, Mao said. It's also the first time Maine has opened the process to other states: After the five contracts have been negotiated, other states will be able to step in and buy the machines at those prices, either as a state or as school districts.

"Our hope is that it increases the likelihood that other states will do this style of work, which will then increase the number of people we can then collaborate with, things like sharing curriculum or sharing teacher professional development methods," Mao said.

Making the final decision is Mao's team, the commissioner's office and the Governor's Office.

"We're balancing a lot of different competing interests, between budgetary challenges, educational value of the solution, supportability of the solution, actual usability, all of these things," Mao said.

Whichever contract the state deems the winner, Maine school districts don't have to commit to that option, but most likely will, Connerty-Marin said.

At the end of this school year, the current four-year-old Apple MacBooks are being offered to districts for $47 each. Leftover machines will be sold through state surplus.

kskelton@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Steve  Dosh's picture

iPads for all Maine middle-schoolers? Maybe.

Kate 13.03.14 11:33 cst
A: Yes ?
This would be like the jr. high school laptop Auburn experience
It worked well •  /s Steve :)

Robyn Belcher's picture

Learning to write a proper

Learning to write a proper paper in middle school and high school is much different than documentation...There is a big difference also between kids using a computer in the classroom to do homework and the need for portability. Kids spend a majority of their days in the classroom. I don't think this is the way it should be, but it is the reality of public education.

Robyn Belcher's picture

Are Ipads conducive to

Are Ipads conducive to writing papers? I wouldn't think so. I hope this isn't the direction that schools are going in.

JOHN PAINTER's picture

I understand many people's

I understand many people's apprehension about the technology, and while data from research on this type of device in compulsory education is still in very early stages, it does suggest there is benefit. The benefits in early research show that the structuring of information is beneficial in learning the sequence, steps of a variety of disciplines. It also suggests the sheer repition, for developing litteracy, core math and logic skills is beneficial. One of the wild cards is the high portability, since that could potentially open up any environment as a learning environment, as well a it could open any environment to a distraction. But in terms of whether iPads are conducive to writing papers, in my work with them this is what is now becoming the industry standard in behavioral health care for documentation, there are indications tablets in general are over taking laptops in industry as well. For anyone thinking the iPad is mostly a toy, while it can be, it is a none the less a very powerful and very mobile computer capable of doing heavy statistical work, I've been using the Biostatistics App developed by Stephen Ashley which is as powerful as SPSS and in terms of portability for field research more so. You can read about the app here http://www.strattonpress.com/biostatisticsappwebsite/

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