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Goodbye, chalkboards; school districts add new technology

POSTED: July 25, 2014 12:47 a.m.

The new interactive audio-visual projection system at Friendship Road Elementary allows anyone to write on the "screen" using a special stylus that can change colors.

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Students in both districts are using technology such as interactive whiteboards to engage with coursework, and both districts are working to provide even more technological teaching tools.

In Gainesville, wireless access points are being installed in every classroom to ensure students can stay connected as opportunities to use technology as a teaching tool expand. Keith Palmer, director of technology for Gainesville schools, said every student in a classroom will be able to connect wirelessly at the same time once the project is complete.

In Hall County, schools are being updated with interactive wireless projectors that will allow teachers and students to use special pens to write on the board, operate a PC or tablet in connection with the board, and save things that have been written to bring up on the board later.

“You can have flexible learning environments,” said Aaron Turpin, executive director of technology for Hall County schools. “It’s another tool to allow students to be producers of information instead of just consumers.”

He said the new projector systems are part of a $2.7 million upgrade to audio and video equipment in the district. He said the interactive projector systems are $2,000 less expensive than interactive blackboards such as those produced by Promethean.

The projectors will cast an 85-inch image across existing dry-erase boards and also include sound. He said the projectors will allow both students and teachers to connect wirelessly, and will make the board more visible to students sitting in the back of the classroom or viewing from an angle.

The district is currently installing the projectors in classrooms that have no interactive technology or where the technology is more than 5 years old, with plans to install the projectors throughout the entire district in the next three years. The expected approximate cost is an average of $2,400 per classroom, Turpin said.

The installation of wireless access points in Gainesville schools will cost $975,000, and Palmer said it will allow teachers to use more technology in the classroom.

Palmer said all schools currently have wireless coverage, but it was designed to allow teachers to use laptops, and won’t allow for entire classrooms to be connected. He said Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School already has the expanded wireless coverage, and the success of technology integration there has prompted the district to implement the program at its other schools.

“When we built Fair Street, it gave us a chance to put this into place there kind of as a pilot program,” Palmer said. “It was really successful, and we’re going to go districtwide.”

Palmer said the expansion is part of an ongoing plan to integrate technology into the classrooms.

“In the 20 years I’ve worked here, we’ve gone from about 60 computers in our whole system to 5,000 now,” he said. “That’s the way kids learn today. ... They’re all engaged in this because there are so many things they can do with a device that you can’t do with a book. We don’t want (inefficient wireless accessibility) to hold them back. We want them to be able to learn in the way that students learn best.”

Palmer said the district hopes to put interactive projectors in the 30 to 40 percent of classrooms that don’t have them already, and to provide school-issued Android tablets to every student, but it’s not clear precisely when it will be feasible to do so.


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