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Wireless network provides more flexible learning

Brittany Workman/Daily Globe Anny Sompamitwong, a sophomore at Worthington High School, browses through one of the six e-book readers available to students at WHS.

WORTHINGTON -- The idea of having a computer in a classroom, let alone a computer lab, may have seemed like a novelty to students and teachers in previous decades.

Times have rapidly changed and today desktop computers seem cumbersome and obsolete.

Now, the norm has shifted to a wireless world. District 518 plans to change as well, as its schools will be entirely wireless at the start of the 2011-2012 academic year.

"Theoretically, anybody can take a wireless device anywhere in the school and be able to connect to the Internet," said Amy Ernst, District 518's technology director.

Students currently have access to various electronic devices, such as laptops, e-book readers, iPads and iPod Touches.

Many students also own their own electronic devices. Ernst hopes they will be able to merge district-owned devices to what students already own.

"Ultimately, we want to open up some learning possibilities," she said. "Wireless is not a new technology, and many schools and buildings already are (wireless). We didn't set it as a priority previously because it is expensive to install and, until recently, not many wireless devices were in use to connect to the network."

Students will have limited access to the wireless network, unless they work with the technology department and register their own electronic devices.

The district is working on establishing a policy for students checking out the schools' devices, such as the Nook, an e-book reader that enables students to have thousands of books available at their fingertips.

Educators generally view a wireless classroom as a gateway to more resourceful learning. Cell phones, though, have typically been thought of as a foe to the classroom.

That notion may soon change, as the district is also working toward implementing a policy that would allow students to use smartphones as an educational tool.

"A lot of phones work like a little computer," Ernst added. "Why not utilize what kids have in their pockets already? Instead of fighting it, let's work what we have available to us and make it educationally effective."

While the idea of cell phones being acceptable in the classroom may seem contradictory to a learning environment, Ernst believes such devices could enhance student learning if utilized correctly.

"It's a mindset change, and we have to change the way we think," she added. "Kids learn digitally, so we have to find ways to help them learn digitally in school. We can't limit ourselves to what we grew up with because that's not what's in society today."

She also hopes a wireless network will aid with many population challenges the district is currently facing.

Many teachers cannot currently utilize their classrooms during their preparation time, and this new change will seamlessly enable teachers to go from room to room with their laptops.

"It's exciting," Ernst added. "I think it (wireless network) will open up several opportunities for teachers and students to be more flexible."