CD Network in Carrollton Is Helping to Literally Change Learning

Named one of the top three districts in the country for "technological innovation" by the NII Advisory Council's recent McKenzie study, Carrollton City School System in Georgia is firmly committed to discovering how best to utilize electronic tools to improve the processes of teaching and learning.

Fueled over the years by various grants and community efforts plus myriad talented, committed people, Carrollton has had time to let the hardware "settle" and to train many of its teachers in multiple applications.

And the hardware is impressive, not so much for individual components, but on how accessible everything is made by networking.

Any CD, Anywhere

All the district's schools are linked by fiber to each other. There are also links to the outside world. Extensive CD-ROM resources, multimedia creation, OPAC library access, e-mail and more &emdash; are all available to users.

The Media Center, located at Carrollton High School, serves as a hub for media resources. Other schools host additional resources as well. An advanced CD-ROM networking bundle from Logicraft Information Systems, Nashua, N.H., ties it all together.

To feasibly utilize CD-ROMs districtwide, Carrollton wanted to have all of its CDs available to many desktops simultaneously. Logicraft's LanCD software allows up to 100 simultaneous users of a single CD and supports up to four protocols at once. The district boasts a 50-simultaneous-user license, but judges average use for a title to be 8-10 people at a time.

Carrollton's network comprises, at last count, 1,400 workstations and 70 CD-ROM drives. There are two CD towers with 14 drives each at the Media Center, plus other towers and drives at the high school, junior high and elsewhere.

And anyone, anywhere, can access any CD; "it takes about 10 seconds," comments Phylis Mitchell, media center coordinator for the City Schools and media center director at Carrollton High.

Helping to achieve that speed is Logicraft's FastCD fast cache software for the network, which creates "virtual CD-ROMs" stored on physical SCSI hard drives. According to the firm, users' access to CDs is up to 300 times faster with this option.

Easy Access Pays Off

All the attention paid to "usability" is paying off. Mitchell notes an internal study estimates that the OPAC is busy 100% of the time, and the CD databases are used by 80-90% of students and 60-70% of faculty.

This means that a part of every day learning (and teaching) involves use of the network &emdash; for research, collaboration and more.

A certified IBM EduQuest site, the Media Center provides a variety of CD reference titles from firms like Grolier, SIRS, EBSCO and Microsoft. For many students, EBSCO Publishing's Magazine Article Summaries (MAS Full Text) CD is their first port-of-call.

One of EBSCO's family of educational CD-ROM databases tailored for libraries, MAS lets students search by full text on 90 magazine titles, plus index and abstracts for some 400. Elementary students may go to Primary Search, which offers similar functionality for the K-6 level. And everyone in a class might want to check Facts On File, for current information; or Grolier's Electronic Encyclopedia or Microsoft Bookshelf or dozens more.

When Carrollton students do a search for a project, they find multiple pieces of information. They must then figure out what is more important, more true, more relevant to their purpose. "Half the time, they have to go back and look further to figure it out."

Training Pays Off

But that is, of course, the whole point of the exercise. "We're after a process here," explains Mitchell, "not just knowing facts."

She notes that the district has spent a "ton of money" to train its teachers how to best exploit technology's power to enhance learning. They even brought in a brain researcher to instruct faculty on how the brain works &emdash; all in an effort to be able to address many learning styles and thus teach everyone effectively.

"Our teachers are not just trying to integrate technology, they're trying to do it transparently," says Mitchell. "Teachers make assignments that mesh the multimedia, print and online elements." The performance of the network, both to LanCD's internal resources as well as the external links, greatly facilitates the process.

On the Web: For more on why the NII spotlighted Carrollton, go to http:// www.thejournal.com/past/jan/61tl1.html

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.

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