Horry Schools committee studying need of keyboards for middle schoolers

Forestbrook Middle School sixth grader Xavier Gore shows how each student's iPad has their photo as the homepage background.
Forestbrook Middle School sixth grader Xavier Gore shows how each student's iPad has their photo as the homepage background. The Sun News file photo

Before possibly handing off 4-year-old iPads to younger students, Horry County Schools technology committee wants to study whether or not middle schoolers need keyboards or can stick to tablets.

The committee met Monday afternoon to discuss whether to hand down middle school iPads to third and fourth graders or purchase new tablets for the younger grades. The committee already talked pros and cons of giving younger students the older tablets at a meeting in April, but wanted district staff to study the need for keyboards before making any decisions.

It just doesn’t make sense, especially since the district has the money and a plan. There’s just a hiccup somewhere.

Jason Morgan, parent of Green Sea Floyds Elementary student

The iPads are scheduled to be replaced every four years to keep up with system updates and improvements, according to Charles Hucks, executive director of technology. The devices currently in schools were planned to stay in the grades until after the 2016-17 school year.

Janice Morreale, board member and chairwoman of the committee, suggested a districtwide study to see if middle schoolers need keyboards for any of their digital instruction. She’s heard comments from teachers that the iPads – while great for certain curriculum and programs – lacks something.

“They felt there was a lot they could continue to do, but I think the keyboard is the biggest component that we’re missing,” Morreale said.

$600 Amount district budgeting per student device

The committee unanimously agreed to review the effectiveness of iPads as educational tools in middle schools, but that leaves elementary students hanging – at least for now. Fifth graders were given iPads this school year after weeks of debate, but the Board of Education voted against the initial plan of giving younger students a device at the same time.

Deferring years-old devices to elementary students doesn’t seem fair to Jason Morgan, parent of a Green Sea Floyds Elementary student. He said that since the district already planned to buy new iPads for middle schoolers – and already has it in the budget – the younger students don’t deserve equipment that won’t be as up-to-date as a new tablet.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Morgan said. “If the teachers don’t have an issue with keyboards, if the principals don’t have an issue with keyboards, then why does the board feel the need to take this new plan upon themselves?”

Sherrie Todd, board member, said she just wants to be sure the district is getting the best device for its money. The district has budgeted $600 per Personalized Digital Learning initiative device, and some middle school class curriculum requires the use of a keyboard and Adobe Flash, Todd said. Board members want to be sure middle schoolers have everything they need to succeed before the district replaces the iPads with another tablet.

It’s just a matter of working with our teachers and instructional folks, and determining what’s best and what’s in our budget.

Charles Hucks, director of technology for Horry County Schools

If the Board of Education decides to give elementary students the iPads used by middle schoolers, the younger students will have to deal with aging equipment until their next “refresh” in 2019.

“That means those devices that were supposed to last three to four years would have to last six to seven years,” said Edward Boyd, chief officer of accountability and information.

Older technology means fewer updates – and consequently fewer programs available for elementary students, Hucks said. Though yearly software updates are a “pain” for district officials, the improvements significantly improve functionality for district staff and students.

Morreale said the study will be done as soon as possible, and the committee should make a decision in time for the district to purchase devices for the next school year. Superintendent Rick Maxey said the district will compile a group of constituents to advise on the use of keyboards, much like the group used to originally select the iPads.

“We would like systemic data before we make any decisions about changes,” Maxey said.

Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN