Apple rolled out its iPad 2 on Friday as it attempts to stay atop the growing tablet PC market, and educators are one segment of the population that's embracing the new technology with gusto.
At a recent Chattanooga lecture by national education reform advocate Geoffrey Canada, more than two dozen of the thin, handheld computers lit up faces in a darkened and packed University of Tennessee at Chattanooga auditorium.
The gadgets - which cost roughly $500 each - provide almost all the functionality of a computer while replacing a clunky keyboard with a bright touchscreen. Most tablets weigh less than 11/2 pounds and pack all their features into a device that's about the size of a piece of notebook paper and less than half an inch thick.
From college campuses to secondary education classrooms, teachers and students are embracing the technology at a time when schools are flush with federal grant money for technology purchases.
"Our administrators are using tablets for evaluations and for everyday tasks like e-mail and managing their schedules," said Danielle Clark, spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Department of Education.
Hamilton County Schools has allocated about $65,000 this year to buy tablet PCs for administrators. The system's new teacher evaluation program, Project Coach, allows principals to take notes on teacher performance using an iPad, then immediately upload the data to a website, Clark said.
Ridgeland High School in Walker County, Ga., bought 40 iPads.
French teacher Nancy Edwards uses hers to monitor students' progress on assignments and to review student work and immediately know where a student's comprehension of a subject stands.
"I can help them make connections to what they are working on at any given time," Edwards said. "It helps me to conference with each student about the particular concept or problem that they are having while I'm at their desk without having to call them to my desk. I can give them quicker, ongoing feedback this way."
Both Ridgeland and Hamilton County Schools used federal stimulus money to purchase their iPads.
Cleveland High School Principal Autumn O'Bryan uses her iPad constantly. Like her Hamilton County counterparts, O'Bryan said the device has great functionality when evaluating teachers.
"It's very easy to use in the classroom," O'Bryan said. "I can turn it on instantly and then send my comments to the teacher immediately. It gives them immediate feedback."
O'Bryan said the device allows her to step into a classroom, slide into a seat and immediately get to work rather than lugging in a larger laptop and waiting for it to boot up as the teacher delivers her lesson.
Her use of the iPad has been contagious, and more of the devices have been embraced by other staff at the high school, she said. On Friday, she ordered five more iPads for other administrators.