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Paperless classroom getting closer

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In the promised land, where technology blooms, there is a paperless office. No one has seen it, but everyone knows what it looks like.

It’s an image that was in the minds of some vendors at a technology showcase held last week at the Georgetown County School District offices, only they were talking about the paperless classroom. It’s an appealing image for the district, which is already considering tighter limits on the number of copies schools can make. The biggest cut would be nearly 50 percent at high schools.

At the Apple Computer display, where the iPad tablet was the main feature, the conversation went like this:

Teacher: Does it print?

Sales rep: Sure. Why do you want to print?

Teacher: So everyone has a copy.

Sales rep: They have an iPad. Send them a pdf.

Teacher: What if I want a copy for my files?

Sales rep: It’s already in your files.

Apple’s goal is to put an iPad in the hands of every student and teacher. And the iPad was high on the list of many teachers at the showcase. A key feature is the tablet’s ability to work with other technology that’s already in the classroom.

Since 2004, the school district has spent $3.1 million on 456 interactive white boards, in which the board becomes a display and an input device for a computer. The makers of these boards also have devices they want to get into the hands of teachers and students.

Promethean makes the ActivBoard. There are 325 in county classrooms. The board itself tracks the location of a pen that is used for input. “We started with pens because we wanted students to write correctly,” said Leo Gallant, who works for CSI Technology Outfitters, the Promethean reseller in the Carolinas.

There are also handheld devices that allow students to provide input. The basic models are geared toward elementary students, with yes-no and multiple-choice functions. For older students, the devices are like smartphones, which provide more complex answers by texting.

The company also has an ActivSlate, a tablet that can provide input from students and teachers. It’s also moving to touchscreen technology, which is a feature of competing systems.

“It’s all about student engagement,” Gallant said.

And he, too, held out hope that the trend is moving toward the paperless classroom as lessons, student work and grades are all tracked through the software.

“I remember when View-Masters were high tech,” one teacher said.

“I don’t think it’s a big leap,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “I think it’s coming sooner than later.”

It isn’t just school-generated paper that’s an issue. The state has also cut spending for textbooks.

The state now allows students to take standardized tests online. “I thought it was a good idea,” Dozier said. “We’ve had them lose boxes of tests.”

Vervatine Reid, principal at Waccamaw Elementary, said teachers love the higher-level input devices that are available for their Promethean boards. She also browsed a display of Kindle e-readers and Dell netbooks. “That’s cool. Kids will love it,” Reid said as she flipped the screen on a convertible tablet.

The cool factor is a big part of engaging students, but there’s more to it. “I don’t want my children to leave here and go to another part of the world and be clueless,” Reid said.

Another area where the district wants to go paperless is the boardroom. It estimates it can save more than $23,000 a year by providing information to school board members and district staff electronically.

“I’m drowning in paper,” Dozier said. “We’re spending way to much on typing, paper and overtime.”

The showcase was a chance for board members to shop, too. Teresa Bennani likes the iPad. Pat DeLeone likes the HP tablet.

“We’re still looking at the best product,” Dozier said.

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