A touch of tech: Laptops, iPods enter the classroom
Published: Thursday, November 12, 2009 - 5:43pm
URBANA — Many believe that electronic learning is the future of education, but according to a growing number of the Uni staff, the future is here, and it's portable!
Thanks to last year's gift of $200,000 from graduates Catherine Chou Gruschow ('94) and George Gruschow ('95), the school purchased 40 MacBook laptops (costing about $50,000) as well as 40 iPod Touches (about $10,000) in order to create two new mobile technology labs for use in the classroom.
A close-up view of one of the school's new MacBooks. Gargoyle photo by Luke Karmazin. (click to enlarge)
The MacBook lab also has two charging racks that are capable of charging 20 laptops each. This set of computers is available for the use of any teacher, and can be brought into the classroom for student use.
This means that teachers are no longer limited to the times during which the computer labs are available, and instruction can be done within the classroom.
"The primary assignment we will be using the laptop lab for is the sophomore poetry explication wiki," said English teacher Suzanne Linder earlier in the school year.
In her view, the lab is "definitely a big step in the right direction for doing writing and other forms of composition in class."
For the most part, the students who have had the opportunity to use the new laptops have liked them. Many are happy to be able to write for an entire period without having to move to the computer lab.
"We use them almost every day, actually, and I think that using the laptops is much nicer than going to a computer," said junior Lilli Pearson, who is in Steve Rayburn's Nonfiction Writing class. "They're quieter, and it's easier to compare work — just trade laptops. The coolness factor is a bonus."
Fellow junior Ben Zehr echoed Pearson's sentiments.
"They have been extremely useful," he said. "It's much more convenient than going to the computer labs because it's a much more portable way to work on papers and research."
However, some students have not yet had the opportunity to try out the new additions to Uni's computer collection.
"I wish the laptops were available for checkout to use during our free periods or during some classes for note-taking, as the Eee PCs are in the library," said senior Diana Liu.
Other students see no advantages in the laptops.
"They weren't really any better than going to the lab, but it wasn't any worse," said subfreshman Mary Campbell.
Other subfreshmen, who edited video on the laptops as part of an English assignment, tended to agree.
"The computers were being slow," said Brigitte Dietz. "In some ways, it was better than the computer lab. For example, it is easier than actually going to the computer lab, and teachers have a little more control over what you do. But, in the computer lab, there are more programs readily at hand."
The second and perhaps more unusual of the two labs is the iPod Touch lab. This lab consists of 40 iPod Touches, all contained in a charging cart.
“There are about a dozen teachers who have expressed an interest in using them for a variety of purposes in a classroom setting,” said chemistry teacher David Bergandine, who was instrumental in creating the lab.
The uses of the iPods could range from quizzes to in-class review. The World Wide Web class plans to further extend their use through a mobile version of the Uni Web site specifically designed for the iPod Touch. The mobile Uni site will contain all of the material of the current site but will also complement the school's current projects involving the iPod Touch.
The iPod Touch lab is an interesting but not entirely original idea. For example, last year Abilene Christian University, a private university in Abilene, Texas, gave one iPod Touch to each of its incoming freshmen. Coupled with the school's mobile Web site, these were used to more efficiently distribute classroom material, course information, and schedule information.
But the real question is, will the use of iPod Touches work at Uni? We'll have to wait and find out. Will it be fun to do your homework on an iPod? Definitely.
More Photos: A Touch of Technology
Thanks to an alumni donation, Uni is now able to make use of more mobile technology in the classroom. Students in Suzanne Linder's sophomore English class work on the school's new laptops for an in-class assignment. Gargoyle photo by Luke Karmazin (click to enlarge)