Winnetka, News

New Trier students and teachers disagree on classroom devices as district locks in four more years with iPads

More than a decade ago, New Trier High School began requiring all of its students to have an iPad for classroom use as part of the district’s 1:1 Mobile Learning Initiative.

Despite a program evaluation that showed mixed feelings on the program, the iPads will continue to be the mobile devices used by students, at least for the near future.

The results of that evaluation were presented to the New Trier Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday, July 11.

Michael Marassa, the district’s chief technology officer, said it was decided to take a look at the iPads this past year because New Trier has been using them since 2011.

“And we were at a point in time to do a program evaluation to determine if this technology tool was meeting the needs of our current students, and to prepare students for college as well as the 21st century workforce,” he told the board.

Prior to the evaluation, in the spring of 2021, the district surveyed students, parents and faculty on their opinions of iPads. Instructional technology manager Jacqui Pritchard shared the results of the survey.

In response to the statement, “The iPad is the most effective mobile learning device to support my academic work,” more than 68 percent of the 470 students surveyed responded that they agreed or strongly agreed. Parents had a similar response, with nearly 64 percent saying they agreed. But Pritchard said the most surprising result was when teachers were surveyed.

Nearly 52 percent of the 157 faculty members who responded disagreed or strongly disagreed that the iPad is the most effective mobile learning device for the classes they teach, while 48 percent agreed — with only 16.56 percent of that number responding “strongly agree.”

Marassa also revealed that only about 10 percent of responding staff members use an Apple MacBook for their lessons, with most teachers preferring to use PCs.

As part of the evaluation, seven New Trier teachers tested one of two Windows laptops in their classrooms during the 2021-2022 school year — the HP X360 Student Edition, which is similar to the device most faculty use, and the Microsoft Surface Pro 7+, which an unidentified Chicago-area high school uses as their laptop.

English teacher Carlo Trovato, who also serves as the faculty adviser for the New Trier News, was one of the teachers who piloted the Surface Pro in his classrooms. He said the student editors of the newspaper preferred It to the iPad.

“The iPad for this class was never totally useful,” Trovato said. “The keyboard was a little bit iffy, kids couldn’t write on it, the screen was too small, and it was a little bit awkward for our purposes.”

On the other hand, special education teacher Paul Newman said his students experienced challenges on the Surface Pro.

Newman used the Surface Pro during the spring 2022 semester in a chemistry class. Students were used to submitting their assignments via the Canvas app with one click, which Newman would then receive immediately; however, he said the operating system did not always work well with Canvas, and students had issues submitting their work.

He said after the unit where they used the Surface Pro, he gave his 13 students the choice of staying with the Surface Pro or going back to their iPads.

“All but four switched back to the iPad,” he said. “And the other four loved it and used it for the rest of the year. It was kind of a mixed bag, I would say.”

Students overall had a negative view of the Windows devices, according to those who were surveyed after the pilot. Twenty-nine percent of students surveyed gave the Windows devices a B, while 26 percent gave them an F. The survey also revealed that 46 percent of students thought it was difficult to organize content on the Windows devices.

Those same students gave completely different responses when asked about the iPad — 55 percent of the students gave the iPad an A, with 33 percent giving it a B.

Based on the study, Marassa said the technology staff is recommending the school keep the current iPad program in place. He said his staff will continue to work with Apple and neighboring school districts to improve student learning experiences and will work on workflow improvements as well as document management systems.

Board members suggested that, while the district will keep using iPads for at least the next four years, they keep their options open in the future, since most of the teachers don’t use an Apple computer themselves.

“I would want to just keep an eye on what kind of developments happen with respect to the Surface,” board member Kimberly Alcantara said.

Winnetka campus library to be named in honor of former superintendent

Dr. Linda Yonke was New Trier’s superintendent from 2006-2017.

In other board action, members unanimously approved a proposal to rename the Winnetka campus library and library commons after retired Superintendent Dr. Linda Yonke.

Yonke, who served as superintendent from 2006-2017, oversaw the campus’s west side improvement project, which included a new campus library, cafeteria and modern classrooms.

Board member Cathleen Albrecht, who was on the board during the last three years of Yonke’s tenure as superintendent, praised her work with the Winnetka campus west side project, saying she witnessed firsthand how involved Yonke was in the planning and preparation for it.

“Linda was an excellent leader,” Albrecht said. “When she wanted to get something done, she was going to get it done.”

Winnetka Campus Principal Denise Dubravec said that Yonke always put students first, and attended every student event she could, from sports to music performances.

“She really wanted what was best for students,” Dubravec said.

A formal dedication ceremony will be held in the fall.

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Peter Kaspari

Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.

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