FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Schools in Indiana that issued iPads to students this year say they are finding ways to teach children not to use them inappropriately and are working to allay parents' fears about the devices being used for everything from posting items on social media to downloading inappropriate content.
Bill Diehl, director of accountability for East Allen County Schools, told The Journal Gazette that any district with this type of technology will have problems with students not using the devices for educational use only.
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"Anyone who says they didn't would be fibbing," he said.
East Allen, Huntington County Community Schools and Concordia Lutheran High School are among the districts in northeastern Indiana that spent millions of dollars as part a new of initiative designed to put a personal computing device in the hands of each student.
In Huntington County, about 2,000 iPads were distributed in August. Parents were offered an in-school tutorial, and a digital presentation remains on the district's website to show parents how to set up parental restrictions.
But Brian Wohlgemuth, the parent of a high school student and a network engineer for a major telecommunications firm, said students are finding ways to get around the firewalls the school puts up to block access to certain websites on school grounds.
"The biggest problem I have is that not only are they getting unfettered access, the school, when told about it, says 'Oh, they can't do that,'" he said.
Huntington Schools Superintendent Tracey Shafer said the schools have been dealing with some concerns pointed out by parents. Some problems have involved technology upgrades that did not include the iPads. Some of the software the district used for a long time did not interact well with the new operating system.
All incoming and outgoing data at the high school is filtered through network firewalls, Shafer said.
But problems still occur. At Highland Middle School in Anderson, a female teacher reportedly uploaded a topless photo to her iPad. Four students were suspended in October for viewing it, The Herald Bulletin of Anderson reported.
Apple, which makes iPads, has updated its filtering options that allows schools to "lock (iPads) down and make them more secure," Diehl said. East Allen prohibits access to social networks such as Facebook on its devices, and with the update from Apple the district has "really been able to clamp that down," he said.
Administrators say when there are problems they work to try teach the students about why what they did was wrong. Joshua Sommermeyer, assistant principal for curriculum and technology at Concordia, approached a student who had posted something inappropriate on a social networking site and asked him if he would say it in the gym with a microphone in front of 400 students. When the student said he wouldn't, Sommermeyer explained that is essentially what he had done.
"There's no unit, lesson plan or curriculum that's a silver bullet," Sommermeyer said. "Sometimes it's just sharing those types of stories. Those are much more powerful."
The East Allen district developed a digital citizenship curriculum with lessons that teach students about the dangers of sharing information on the Internet, what not to share, how to interact with people and other topics. The curriculum was taught as part of the two-week rollout of the iPad initiative. Lessons have been added as issues have come up, Diehl said.
For students who don't follow the rules, the school can essentially turn the tablet into nothing more than an electronic notebook, Diehl said.
"We have had to do that," he said.