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Digital Life

Could an iPad be your child's new teacher?

School districts around the world are buying iPads in record numbers, with Texas and Michigan school districts using the tablets to supplement their curricula. In the case of several Dutch schools, the tablets have begun to replace textbooks outright, and educators find themselves working more as coaches alongside this new technology rather than instructors. Could iPads and similar tablets become the new teachers for your kids?

The use of textbooks in educational environments is already on its way out, as pens, pencils, chalk, and chalkboards are being replaced by Apple's iPad and other tablets at the opening of at least seven "Steve JobsSchools" across the Netherlands last month.

The Steve JobsSchool students, who will each receive their own iPad as opposed to standard textbooks, are part of a new educational effort in which they'll receive highly customized lessons that accommodate their learning skill, speed, and style. According to the O4NT (Education for a New Era) foundation, which runs the Steve JobsSchools, the students will be immersed in an environment where the teachers will act more like "coaches" while the student's iPad will handle the primary job of conveying knowledge.

"A child starting school today has to be prepared for the world of 2030 and after, a world even more digitized than today's world," says Maurice De Hond, a Dutch entrepreneur and an Education For A New World initiator. "But most schools are preparing their students for yesterday's world." The O4Nt has also stated that it expects to convert an additional five Netherlands schools to digital education principles between the 2013-2014 academic year.

While the idea seems somewhat out there, there are some interesting points behind it. According to the O4NT, iPad-based virtual learning can occur at any time throughout the year, whereas traditional education scheduling tends to be more rigid. As a result, parents can plan vacations without having to worry about their children falling behind in their courses. In addition, a study conducted at a Riverside, California middle school between 2010 and 2011 connected iPad-based learning with higher performance and comprehension, according to Wired.

As radical as the idea of replacing textbooks may seem, similar efforts are beginning to make their way to the United States. In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District confirmed that it will be spending $30 million to provide iPads to all of its 640,000 students in the district -- the second largest in the country -- by the end of 2014.

As mentioned in USA Today, Zeeland Public Schools in western Michigan incorporated a similar effort where 1,800 high school students were given iPads as part of a long-term plan to provide every student in grades 3-12 with an iPad. "They think technology now - live, breathe and eat it," says John Holwerda, assistant principal at Zeeland West High School. "We're coming to their world, instead of them coming to ours."

The effort is part of a $20 million bond being placed towards school improvements, which also provides insurance for the iPads should they break in day-to-day use. To date, teachers within the Zeeland Public Schools have begun communicating with students, assigning homework, and administering tests. The schools have blocked access to Facebook on the tablets while still offering Twitter, Skype, and games on the tablets.

Finally, according to KUT News, Texas is apparently thinking big as the Eanes school district will become one the first in the state to distribute iPads to each of its K-12 students. The move, was approved by the Texas Legislature in December of 2012, allocates $1.2 million to buy iPad 2 tablets for every student in the school district. "It's worth the money, and also, this can change the educational dynamic in the classroom in making it much more student-driven is what makes it a very powerful instrument and the board felt it was worth the money," says board President Kal Kallison.

Eanes Superintendent Nola Welman says they've been carefully rolling out iPads to make sure the devices actually help students learn. In 2012, each high school student in the Eanes school district received a tablet. "We're finding that students realize it's just a tool, it's just like a textbook or a piece of paper and a pencil," Welman says. "And they're much more comfortable with it than those of us who didn't have it when we were in school."

The school district has stated that, prior to the distribution of the 2,700 iPads, the teachers received technical training on how to use the tablets, while the students were trained in appropriate use of them. The iPads themselves were Apple's WiFi-only model, allowing only internet connections that had passed through the school system's filtering systems for appropriate content.