Pilot integrates student PDAs into classrooms

By Treena Mielke

A three-year project involving 100 junior high students from Bluffton and Crestomere Schools who were each issued their own laptop, has set the groundwork for the integration of student-owned devices such as iTouch, iPads, and Smart Phones in several schools in Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS).

The Alberta Education Research one-on-one project, started in 2007, allowed WCPS to explore opportunities for moving ahead on allowing students to use personal devices as learning tools.

During the project teachers worked with students to encourage critical thinking, problem solving, team work and communication skills will using their laptops.

“A focus on developing strong digital citizens was also a key emphasis. These skills are all necessary for 21st century learners,” said Mark McWhinnie, director of technology for WCPS.

McWhinnie said the one-on-one project allowed WCPS to launch the Alberta Education sponsored Student Staff Device Zone research project. The project, which began in 2009 at the pilot school, Ecole Secondaire Lacombe Composite High School, has now expanded to 11 other schools in Wolf Creek.

The SSDZ project provides students and staff with the opportunity to access all network services using personal devices.

“This allows our teachers to take advantage of digital resources without having to book a computer lab,” said McWhinnie. “And it’s been received well by parents and students.”

Penny Mueller, principal at Crestomere School, said the SSDZ project is working well at her school and students have been very responsive to the new and innovative way of learning.

“Part of this entire project is to teach the kids to be the best possible digital citizens they can be,” she said. “It is a huge component here in our school.”

Mueller said the school had a good start on the SSDZ project as students were involved in the one-on-one project at the beginning.

She said the school has progressed with the program in stages, first “ironing out the wrinkles” with administration and then providing in-service training for staff. The project was then piloted to Grade 9 students.

“They have access that enables them to be connected (to network services) right now.

Mueller said the SSDZ project will be available to other junior high students after Christmas.

Nolan Kraus, principal at Bluffton School said the program is working “fantastically” at his school. Several students in junior high are using their own laptops and he expects the numbers to increase.

“More and more students are bringing in their own equipment. The kids love it and it allows the teachers more freedom to teach different ways of learning.”

Chris Oram, assistant principal at Rimbey Junior/ Senior High School, said the project is in the infancy stage at that school.

“We need to make sure our students are ready. We are looking forward to learning more about it. We will proceed when we are confident and ready.”

McWhinnie said the introduction of student owned devices to the classroom does present significant challenges.

“A variety of communication steps are being taken to ensure that students, staff and parents are informed about the SSDZ project when a school embarks on integrating student-owned devices in a changing learning environment.

McWhinnie said the WCPS technology services team is working with network engineers to develop a solution that will allows students and staff from all Wolf Creek schools the opportunity to access all network services using personal devices.

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