When the Maine Learning Technology Initiative began putting

laptops into the hands of middle school students in 2002, Maine

schools rose to the forefront of the effort to fuse technology and

education. Now, almost a decade later, laptop computers are being

surpassed by new technology, in the form of e-readers, like the

Amazon Kindle, and tablet computers, like the Apple iPad.

When the Maine Learning Technology Initiative began putting laptops into the hands of middle school students in 2002, Maine schools rose to the forefront of the effort to fuse technology and education.

Now, almost a decade later, laptop computers are being surpassed by new technology, in the form of e-readers, like the Amazon Kindle, and tablet computers, like the Apple iPad. These devices offer even greater portability than laptops, and interfaces much more friendly to long stretches of reading.

The new devices also have the potential to further reshape how education is delivered, and once again Maine should take the lead in developing this technology as a way to lower costs and bolster curriculum.

It is not hard to see e-readers and tablet computers negating the need for row upon row of books in a library, or replacing expensive, hardbound textbooks. Unlike textbooks, the devices can be easily updated, and can come with embedded links that open students to an almost infinite amount of information related to particular subject.

“The benefits of digital media can’t be overstated,” said Jeff Mao, learning director at the Maine Department of Education. “Right now, we’re buying textbooks, right. But what we are really buying is, yes, the intellectual property and the paper and the binding materials used to make that textbook.”

The information, said Mao, could also be tailored to a certain audience. For instance, a section in a digital textbook covering the Battle of Gettysburg could for Maine students have a special focus on Joshua Chamberlain and his role in the battle.

“I think the idea of digital media replacing traditional textbooks is definitely part of the future,” said Mao. “There’s definitely movement in that direction.”

That kind of educational enhancement is already available on laptops, and some Maine schools have done laudable work integrating the technology into the curriculum. But the tablets and e-readers represent the next step in that evolution.

For now, schools are taking a slow approach to the new technology. The Cape Elizabeth School Department has purchased two iPads for each of its schools, and South Portland schools recently bought some Kindles to test out at the elementary level. Scarborough schools purchased one e-reader, which is being used to download books from an online library.

In Cape, the iPads are being used to help students with reading difficulties, as the devices can read sections out loud and supplement the stories with graphics and videos to better engage the reader. Because iPads can zoom in on text, South Portland has been using one to help a student with vision problems.

By testing the devices, these schools will slowly figure out how to best use them in the classroom. It should be the state’s role to monitor what is happening with these devices, at schools in Maine and elsewhere, to come up with a model for best practices. Because as the cost of the devices inevitably drops, and their capacity increases, the opportunities for use in education will only grow.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing.


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