Boston Globe gives iPads to classrooms, reimagines NIE for the digital age

The Boston Globe is giving iPads, projectors and free Boston Globe digital subscriptions to local public school classrooms in a digitally reimagined version of the Newspapers In Education program.

A major goal of longstanding NIE efforts has been to hook young readers on the print habit by dropping off free newspapers in schools and incorporating their content in lesson plans.

But that logic has faltered in recent years, the Globe’s Robert Saurer told me.

“We kind of walked away from NIE a little bit — we didn’t know what to do with it. We didn’t really believe that a 10- or 15-year-old reading print in school is going to continue on later to be a print reader in their 20s and 30s,” said Saurer, who is director of customer experience and innovation. “But a digital Globe reader in schools today might, in fact, turn into a digital Globe reader in their 20s and 30s.”

So the iPads-in-the-classroom approach gives the Globe a fresh angle to hook young readers in a digital format. But it’s also a chance for the Globe to learn about how the next generation uses digital media.

The iPads aren’t just for reading the Globe digitally — they can be used in classrooms for all purposes. ”We want to just gauge the use case,” Saurer said. “They don’t have to go to Globe content … We just want to get a sense of what they’re doing news- and information-wise.”

It also gives students chances to be much more engaged. With print papers, they could read and discuss. With tablets, students can interact with content and create their own media — such as a newscast-style video that they present to classmates.

This approach shifts the cost structure of NIE significantly, but on the whole may not incur extra expenses. The Globe has to invest in the technology up front, but then digital delivery saves all the costs of physically printing and delivering the thousands of papers to schools each day.

The pilot project equipment — about 75 iPads or projectors so far, with 75 more coming soon — costs about $65,000, Saurer said. It is supported by the traditional NIE funding source — print subscribers who donate the monetary value of their subscriptions while their delivery is suspended for vacations.

The Globe also expects to spend about $100,000 to $150,000 annually to hire a new staff person, create or license NIE content and build out some digital NIE products as Web pages or apps, Saurer said. The Globe hopes to find sponsors who will help offset the costs in exchange for having their brand attached to the program.

The Globe will start assessing the results in April through focus groups with teachers, Saurer said. Its sister paper, the (Worcester, Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, started a similar experiment last fall.

“We’re hoping to take this next year and learn as much as we can, so we can then replicate it to the other public school systems throughout Massachusetts.”

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