Big WLAN on Campus

Illinois school district uses Toshiba Tablet PCs to facilitate teacher-student collaboration.

By bringing Tablet PCs and wireless projectors into its classrooms, Hinsdale Township Public High School District 86 is revolutionizing teaching in Illinois.

It was nearly eight years ago that the schools mobile computing vision started taking form, but it wasnt until last year, during a Tablet PC presentation by Microsoft Corp. and Toshiba America Inc., that the school found the perfect fit.

Hinsdale had wanted to replace its stationary desktop PCs with more-mobile hardware, which would allow increased student and teacher interaction and better student collaboration. Various laptop models werent ideal for the classroom environment because their screens created a barrier between teachers and students, said James Polzin, assistant superintendent for the school district, in Hinsdale. But the Tablet PC, which allows students to input data with the units laying flat on their desks, solved the problem.

"It was the most intriguing thing wed seen, and it eliminated the screen as an upright barrier. Plus, we could do annotation in color, inking in color, highlighting, diagrams," said Mark Pennington, assistant principal. "It really brought thoughts to paper in a colorful way that can be shared electronically."

/zimages/5/28571.gifeWEEK.coms David Coursey sees a Tablet PC in your future. Click here to read more.

Coupled with wireless projectors from InFocus Corp., Toshiba Portégé M200 Tablet PCs would allow teachers to project their notes onto a screen, leaving them free to walk around the classroom and interact with students. Students can also share their work with other students via the projectors, without the fear of having to walk to the blackboard.

Using the tablets stylus, teachers can annotate changes on students tablets and project those changes on the screen for the class.

But picking the right hardware was a small step compared with the undertaking Hinsdale had ahead. Introducing a new technology into a school system presents numerous barriers, including cost justification, teacher adoption, instructor training and hardware implementation.

To tackle that effort, as well as the hardware procurement, Hinsdale turned to CDW Government Inc., a Vernon Hills, Ill., reseller for the education and government sectors. Hinsdale had worked with CDW-G in the past, mostly on hardware for its administrative offices.

Hinsdales idea: a pilot test. So with CDW-Gs help, the school last year launched a pilot test in one of its math classes whose PCs were up for replacement. During the pilot test, all the schools teachers were required to visit the class at some point to see the technology in action.

"We made sure that everybody who could be impacted was involved in the process from understanding it to providing feedback and input," said Polzin.

The pilot test was a success, according to Polzin, and it helped those leading the charge to gain approval from teachers—a big part of implementing new technologies in a school system.

The pilot test also helped Hinsdale prove to the board of education that Tablet PCs offered enough educational value over laptops to justify the extra cost.

"Tablets are more expensive than traditional desktops, and we had to work with the board of education for financial support," said Polzin.

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