Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. and an e-learning company are expanding classrooms in two southwestern Alberta schools to include the Web.

HP and Atlanta-based NetSchools Corp. Wednesday announced it will provide instructional and professional support to 105 students in Grades 7,8 and 9 and 52 teachers for two schools in Livingstone Range School Division (LRSD). NetSchools is providing its Orion software while HP donated a wireless notebook PC for each one purchased by LRSD and is providing instruction for teachers.

David Rideout, LRSD superintendent of schools, says it is part of a project to explore the use of technology outside of the traditional computer lab setting.

“We’ve been having some frustrations in looking at how technology was being used and some fundamental questions as to whether or not we were using it as effectively as we could be,” says Rideout.

“There’s been a lot of money directed at hardware for schools and students, but not a lot of attention has been given to how the power of the hardware can be harnessed to help the learning process.”

Rideout says the teachers have already begun their training and he expects it will help them with their lesson planning and course curriculum. Students, who should get their laptops early in the new year, will not only benefit from better-prepared teachers, but from a wider course offering.

“In a rural school division we don’t always have the numbers of students to offer certain courses that are wanted,” says Rideout. “If you have three or four students that want a course in say marine biology, we can’t put a teacher fulltime there. But there are options through online learning that can run parallel to the traditional school day.”

Laptops are notorious for being difficult to maintain, but Robert Miller, business development manager for government, education and healthcare, HP Canada, says he isn’t worried. While the laptops are more sturdy than standard versions, he says the point of the project is to demonstrate learning acceleration and improving literacy and adds it is one of several models being tested. He says it will testing a mobile lab program (laptops on a cart that are wheeled to a classroom) and a thin client environment.

“There are multiple devices that enhance teacher capability and the student, but this is really about addressing the needs of teachers and empowering students to learn in an always-on environment,” he says

Miller also says the program is being monitored by the University of Lethbridge to measure and research the results in hopes of creating a best practices for similar projects in the future.

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