Wadena Deer Creek iPads: the good and the bad

Wadena Deer Creek students, grades 5-12 moved into a brand-new, state-of-the art middle/high school building in September 2012. The previous high school was destroyed by the EF4 tornado of 2010. Each teacher and student, fifth through twelfth grade received a school-owned iPad to help WDC be technologically advanced. One of the selling points was the iPad would be digital information that can be instantaneously updated, no more out-of-date textbooks.  In the school technology plan, a goal was to give students living in the WDC School District who have limited technology, access outside the school building/district.

With everything, there is good and bad. The district, teachers, and parents are facing a challenging learning curve. The kids seem to have caught right on and have advanced at a very rapid speed.

First of all, some may wonder what the heck is an iPad? An iPad was designed and is marketed by the Apple computer company. It is a tablet computer, basically a cross between a laptop computer and a fancy touch screen cell phone. It is approximately 7 ½ inches wide by 10 inches tall and about 1/2 inch thick. It has a multi-touch screen and a virtual keyboard.

On this tablet computer, one can watch movies, read books, listen to music and play games. There are numerous applications, also known as “apps” that can be added. Some of the app categories are business, education, entertainment, lifestyle, music, news, social networking, sports and travel. Apps are the programs or software on this type of computer or fancy cell phone.

The iPad has a built-in camera that can take photos and shoot video. These photos and videos can be uploaded instantly to a social media site such as Facebook. Or videos can be added to YouTube which is a website anyone, anywhere can post videos of everything imaginable both good and bad. With this built-in camera and an app such as Skype, a person can have a video real-time chat with anyone in the world.

From the iPad, a person is able to send and receive emails and browse the internet. It is a wireless device, meaning anywhere there is a WiFi internet connection, the World Wide Web is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In the beginning of the year, students, faculty and parents signed a contract on the use of the school’s iPad.

For protection, each iPad is locked by a personal passcode. But the slideshow feature is not locked in order to identify who’s iPad is who’s. Anyone touching the slideshow icon has access to view the photos on the iPad.

Which brings us to the recent incident where a teacher’s iPad was left unattended and a curious student touched the slideshow icon. Apparently, five students reported they saw an inappropriate photo of the teacher. The students did the right thing and notified the office. The office confronted the teacher and the teacher had a different version about what the students saw and how the image got on the iPad. At some point the photo was deleted. The teacher was suspended for ten days. After the ten days, the teacher was back teaching. The incident was under investigation and the iPad was supposedly sent to forensics to recover the deleted photo. It has been reported that the photo was unable to be recovered.

I went to my first school board meeting, Monday, November 19. Other parents were also there to discuss the iPad issue. A father of one of the five students who saw the inappropriate image, tried to ask questions to the school board but one board member kept repeating “we are legally not allowed to discuss this.” The board member also tried to assure us that our children are safe.

It was extremely frustrating.

Our children are safe from ever seeing an inappropriate image of that particular teacher?

They are safe because that teacher and/or any other adult in the school will never have a lapse in judgment?

Or perhaps our children, 5-12 grade, who each received a school-owned iPad and is encouraged to take it outside of the semi-monitored school internet connection are safe because…

  • They can view and search almost anything, anytime what the internet has to offer?
  • They can contact and have immediate conversations anyone in the world via email, chat or real-time video (with the video chat, clothes are optional.)
  • They can immerse themselves into the lives of others through social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr and distancing themselves from living, breathing people.
  • They can use the camera and video to shoot whatever and post to the internet.
  • The kids are so advanced. If the IT Dept. puts a block on, for example: www.facebook.com the kids have already figured out that if they get a link in their email to the blocked site, they can access the blocked site without a problem. I was told the school took the Skype application off but the kids figured out if they don’t run the updates, they still have access.

If a teacher allegedly inappropriately used the school owned iPad, what are our curious children doing with their iPads? We don’t know. We need to know for the safety of our students.

It was suggested at the last school board meeting when I brought up iPad concerns, that my child could leave her iPad at school. I am not against iPads, nor technology. We are living the technological age. My concern is the safety of the students.

My goal is to open the discussion regarding the capabilities and use of the iPad. As adults we need to teach our children what is acceptable and what is not. But first we need to face this challenging learning curve.

My request from the school district is for parental controls, adult education, along with, open and honest communication regarding the iPads.

As adults we need to accept the responsibility to understand technology. We need to set parental controls for boundaries, we need to know how to monitor the use of this technology and if the boundaries are ever crossed, we need to have appropriate consequences to teach our children what is and what is not acceptable.  As parents, we need to get educated. We need to get up to speed on what is going on so we are able to guide our children into adulthood because the technology is here, the good and the bad.