Computer program connects students, success
Just as wireless technology has changed the way people use telephones, wireless computer technology is changing the way students learn. At least that is the case at the Walled Lake (Mich.) School District (WLSD), where some students use, and in some cases own, wireless laptop computers to complete classroom assignments.
The students’ computer use is the result of the district’s participation in Anytime Anywhere Learning (AAL), a program developed by Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. The company initiated the AAL program to facilitate students’ use of wireless laptops by contracting with manufacturers to install software in computers through an academic license. The manufacturers sell the laptops loaded with software to school districts at reduced prices.
By voluntarily enrolling their children in the AAL program, parents can purchase laptops for their children at the reduced price. For the students not enrolled in the AAL program, the district purchases general-use laptops that teachers can check out.
At WLSD, laptops are equipped with wireless cards that provide access to network resources, printers and the Internet without “plugging in.” Therefore, students can use their laptops anywhere in the school — such as in classrooms, hallways and the cafeteria — at anytime.
William Hamilton, WLSD’s assistant superintendent for curriculum K-12, initiated the district’s wireless laptop program after learning about AAL at a conference. The district first began buying laptops through AAL in 1999 by contracting with Wixom, Mich.-based Access Interactive. Fifth graders at four of WLSD’s 14 elementary schools and sixth graders at each of WLSD’s four middle schools could enroll in the AAL program.
That year, WLSD purchased 200 general-use laptops for students to share. At the same time, parents purchased or leased 450 personal-use laptops. By the 2001-2002 school year, 1,400 WLSD students had enrolled in the AAL program.
WLSD has continued to offer the AAL program to fifth graders at the four elementary schools and to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at each of the middle schools. It will extend the program to the other 10 elementary schools next year.
Last year, WLSD contracted with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard to supply the laptops and wireless networks for five years. Under the same contract, Irvine, Calif.-based Dyntek is providing the district with asset management, technical support and laptop deployment.
For the 2001-2002 school year, laptops cost $1,285, which included software. Additionally, the district offered students qualifying for free or discounted lunches a 50 percent subsidy for the purchase of laptops. The district provides printers, training and support for the AAL program.
WLSD has a partnership with researchers from Wayne State University and the University of Memphis to study the AAL program. Based on that research, WLSD has found that students participating in AAL are more motivated, are better writers and work more effectively with others than students not involved in AAL.
Next year, the district is expanding the AAL program to accommodate ninth graders at each of its four high schools. The program started serving approximately 2,000 students this fall.