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Saturday, February 05, 2011, 03:55 pm PT (06:55 pm ET)

Georgia state senator hopes to replace schoolbooks with iPads

The state of Georgia is reportedly considering a plan to get rid of conventional textbooks and shift middle school classrooms in the state to wireless iPads built by Apple, following positive iPad trials in place by schools around the US.

Republican Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams told the press earlier this week that the Georgia legislature and educators are considering a proposal by Apple to replace printed books, according to a report by Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Last week we met with Apple Computers," Williams said, "and they have a really promising program where they come in and their [sic] recommending to middle schools – for $500 per child per year, they will furnish every child with an iPad, wi-fi the system, provide all the books on the system, all the upgrades, all the teacher training – and the results they’re getting from these kids is phenomenal."

The senator added, "we’re currently spending about $40 million a year on books. And they last about seven years. We have books that don’t even have 9/11. This is the way kids are learning, and we need to be willing to move in that direction.”

Biggest thing since the overhead projector

A report by the New York Times last month described a pilot program at Roslyn High School on Long Island which started with 47 iPads. The school hopes to expand the program to include all of its 1,100 students.

It noted that the iPads "allow students to correspond with teachers and turn in papers and homework assignments, and preserve a record of student work in digital portfolios," citing teacher Larry Reiiff as saying, "It allows us to extend the classroom beyond these four walls."

The school described its initial purchase, which used 32GB iPads combined with a case and a stylus at a $750 each, was a part of an effort to go paperless and cut spending. In addition to just serving as electronic textbooks, the iPads are also described as running math games, being used to study world maps and interactive sky charting of constellations, and to simulate the keys of a piano.

Roslyn school superintendent Daniel Brenner said Apple's iPad would save money in the long run by reducing printing and textbook costs; estimating that the two iPad classes save $7,200 a year.

"I think this could very well be the biggest thing to hit school technology since the overhead projector," added school principal Scott Wolfe.

Schools around the country go iPad

The report stated that New York's public schools had ordered 2,000 iPads, 300 of which went to Kingsbridge International High School in the Bronx. It also noted that 200 public schools in Chicago have applied for iPad grants.

Apple points out that Chicago public schools, the third largest district in the US, are ecstatically supporting iPad as a learning tool. John Connolly, the technology director for Chicago Public Schools, states in a promotional video that "being able to outfit so many our kids with such a low cost machine could be a real advantage for our district."

The Virginia Department of Education is managing a $150,000 iPad initiative to replace history and Advanced placement biology textbooks at 11 of its schools.

The report also noted the Pinnacle Peak School in Scottsdale, Arizona, which "converted an empty classroom into a lab with 36 iPads — named the iMaginarium," while the private Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey bought 60 iPads for $36,000 and is considering providing iPads to all students next fall.

A number of eduction initiatives related to iPad are taking advantage of President Obama's competitive Race to the Top program designed to back the best ideas in education with federal support.

There's an app for that

Apple lists about 5,400 eduction apps for iPad, about a thousand of which are free. Textbook publishers are eyeing the potential for moving their content to the digital world, enabling them to update material rapidly and include interactivity.

Six middle schools in San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno and Riverside, California are now teaching the first iPad-only algebra course, developed by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which is studying the results of students using its digital program compared to those using conventional textbooks.

In addition to third party apps, Apple's iPad education page touts its own iWorks apps for iPad, which it says "help students and teachers put together professional-looking documents, presentations, and spreadsheets no matter where they are," and "when you finish what you’ve been working on, just tap the AirPrint icon to print it out directly from your iPad."

The company also highlights iTunes U, its listing of more than 350,000 free lectures, videos and other content from institutions including Yale, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Oxford, Cambridge, MIT, Beijing Open University and The University of Tokyo.

Critics complain that tablet-shaped devices using Android can be sold for $100 and supply basic ebook reader features. However, low priced ereaders are failing to rival iPad in the marketplace, with numbers from IDC indicating that Apple's iPad, starting at $500, continues to outsell low end ereader devices available for as little as $130.