Empire High School in Vail, located on the edge of Tucson, is the first in the Arizona schools to be all-electronic. Instead of textbooks, the 350 students use wireless, Apple laptop computers to research, organize their data, write and graph assignments, and create class presentations.
The Arizona’ s Empire High is a new school with a blank slate. Arizona schools officials could hire new teachers committed to technology-based teaching and purchase computers instead of textbooks. The Arizona schools officials wanted to move teachers away from habitual teaching from textbooks, cover-to-cover, and gave area students the choice to attend Empire or another school.
Having researched schools in other states prior to the all-electronic decision, school officials found students who were clearly more engaged in their studies and unusually enthusiastic about school. One reason was that they took a more active part in the lesson process, rather than everything being “fed” to them. Another advantage to laptops over textbooks is that groundbreaking information takes five to six years to get into textbooks, especially in the science fields. Of the few all-electronic schools across the nation, many are doing well from the perspective of both the students and the educators. The Arizona schools officials clearly felt they could enhance their students’ educational experience with technology over textbooks.
Replacing textbooks with laptops for other Arizona schools would prove expensive at $850 each. For Empire, they took the usual $500 to $600 cost per student for a complete set of textbooks for four years, as well as the cost of a computer lab, and used this money to purchase the laptops and added technology needs.
Some new challenges had to be faced by the Arizona schools’ new Empire High and research was done to address them. They had 350 students, who needed to be continuously and reliably connected to the Internet at high speed. All the laptops had to be configured to best suit the needs of the students for learning. The needed educational material had to be located on the Internet and integrated into lesson plans. A method for students to submit assignments across the Web was needed. These were problems they knew had to be resolved before the school year began.
What the Arizona schools officials had not planned on was a different sort of technological problem. It seems that many students who used home computers for gaming, surfing the Internet, and X-Box, had a difficult time translating these skills to those needed in school, such as using word processing software, saving documents to specific locations, and being able to retrieve the files later. Skills training had to be added to the lesson plans.
For other schools that are interested in setting up an all-electronic school, the Arizona schools officials advise that it must be a public choice. You cannot force such drastic learning changes. Include the parents and teachers in the planning at the ground floor.
After a year, the system is working well overall. Arizona’s plan to increase enrollment at Empire High to 750 students in the near future.
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