The Reality of Anytime, Anywhere Learning
Santa Ana USD Integrates Technology Into Its Classrooms and Staff Training With Wireless Computing
As the fifth largest school district in california, Santa Ana Unified School District faces the challenge of providing technology access to its more than 63,000 students and over 6,000 certificated and classified staff members. The district found the solution in wireless computing, which is now being used as a highly successful strategy for implementing technology integration into its classrooms, as well as providing professional development and training opportunities to its staff members.
Providing Flexibility and Freedom
When the high schools in Santa Ana received AB2882 funding to reduce the student-to-multimedia computer ratio to 4.75-to-1, two high schools decided that wireless mobile labs would be the best solution for providing increased computer access to students. The schools were able to purchase enough Apple iBooks to create three wireless mobile labs. Each lab was made up of 20 iBooks, an AirPort Extreme Base Station from Apple, a network printer and a computer cart. During the last two years that these mobile labs have been in use, it has been very obvious that wireless technology fills a need that a traditional computer lab or limited numbers of desktop computers in classrooms cannot satisfy.
In a traditional classroom, where teachers only have one or two computers, an instructor can set up a rotational schedule for computer use, which given enough time, could provide every student with an opportunity to use a computer in the classroom. However, by having the 20 laptop computers included in the wireless mobile lab as a class resource, technology integration can take place as a whole-class activity.
Even though there are traditional computer labs at each campus for instructional use, as well as computers available for student use in school libraries, the mobile labs provide students and classes the flexibility and freedom to use computers in noncomputer lab settings. Students benefit from using the mobile lab computers, because it gives them the opportunity to combine the resources they have in their classroom with the technology resources they need to complete assignments.
Wireless computing also provides opportunities that extend beyond classroom use. Wireless laptops are an unparalleled resource for students engaged in learning activities in science labs, fieldwork and all activity-based learning.
The Millennial Generation (i.e., anyone born after 1982, including all of our current K-12 students) has grown up in a world where technology has always been present as a dynamic element in their lives. This tech-savvy generation views technology as a constant and expected resource. Therefore, wireless computing meets the expectations of our current generation of students for ready access to technology-based resources. It also supports education in its efforts to make the concept of anytime, anywhere learning a reality.
From the perspective of classroom management, laptops are small and nonintrusive. They also do not take up classroom space that is already in short demand, which allows them to easily fit on classroom desks. By using a wireless access point to establish a wireless network, classrooms with one or two drops can easily duplicate the functionality of a computer lab to instruct an entire class. In addition, the laptop cart is easily managed in a classroom environment. Teachers need only to check out the laptops to students and return them to their cart for charging.
From the perspective of site technology management, the laptop carts can be used to meet the needs of larger groups, including professional development activities and team-teaching projects, simply by combining laptops and stations from two or three carts. Since the laptops are housed in secure, rechargeable carts, it is easy to manage and move them around the school site as needed. SAUSD's IT department uses a firewall and other safeguards to keep their networks secure, thereby addressing the security issues that can arise with wireless environments.
Several SAUSD schools are in the process of putting wireless computing systems in place to supplement their hardwired network by establishing access points as part of the school site plan. Those involved refer to the flexibility provided by wireless systems and the ability to offer technology as a resource without impacting classroom space as two of the most compelling reasons to use wireless computing at their schools. Currently, there are seven schools within the district that are under construction, all of which are developing an infrastructure to support wireless access.
A Nonthreatening Training Environment
Wireless technology is also an available resource for training activities that take place in SAUSD's Professional Develop-ment Center. Curriculum training is the focus of the PDC, and the two wireless laptop carts that contain 20 laptops each are continually used in a wide variety of professional development activities. The laptops in the mobile labs are fully integrated with additional resources such as network printers, LCD projectors and SMART Board interactive whiteboards, which are installed in each training room.
In addition to the technology integration workshops that are presented to certificated staff by the Education Technology Department, other departments have discovered the advantages of integrating technology into the training activities they deliver. District librarian Maggie Barnes has used the laptops in the mobile labs with library personnel from schools throughout the district to provide hands-on training in using the recently adopted Oracle procurement program. "I had great feedback from library staff after that session," says Barnes. "They really enjoyed being participants instead of observers in technology training, and I'm planning to use the wireless laptops for applications training this school year."
Besides providing staff with a hands-on training experience, one unexpected benefit of using the mobile labs in the PDC has been the increased comfort level of workshop participants. By bringing laptops into a training space that is not used exclusively for technology (such as a computer lab), many people participating in training seem more relaxed and less threatened by the technology they are expected to use. And a training environment that is nonthreatening is ultimately an environment that is more conducive to learning.
A wireless system can complement the access provided by a hardwired network in an educational setting. For the teacher or technology manager, wireless laptops have proven to be reliable and easy to use. Access to wireless computing can enhance any technology-integrated learning experience, whether the learner is a student in the classroom or a staff member participating in professional development, because it provides the learner with a personalized resource that is both nonthreatening and extremely flexible.
The eVan Delivers Technology Integration Training
SAUSD's definitive wireless mobile resource, the eVan, is being used to provide training in technology integration to the district's elementary schools. The eVan was the brainchild of Gary Wheaton, SAUSD's director of educational technology and media services. The eVan concept fits directly into Wheaton's vision for education technology, as he believes that "the future of technology in education is anytime, anywhere learning via wireless devices."
The eVan became a reality in the spring when Wheaton renovated a surplus district van. The interior of the van was refurbished by the addition of counters and seating space, and the exterior received new paint. The eVan uses Apple's AirPort Extreme as its wireless distribution system, which connects to a base station that is placed in the school site. A dozen laptops, a network printer and a TV monitor are the technology resources housed in the eVan for teacher training.
Technology curriculum specialist Mark Bello drives the eVan to school sites and uses it as his classroom, working with teachers on technology integration projects. "One of the advantages of using the eVan for training is that there is only a minimal loss of time for teachers between the eVan and their classroom, which helps teachers to use the technology integration skills that they have acquired in training as soon as they step back into their classroom," says Bello. Teachers are very enthusiastic about their training experience aboard the eVan; needless to say, eVan training provides an educational experience that is both unique and motivational.
Online Wireless Computing Resources
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.