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Wauwatosa schools strive for wireless Internet in every classroom

Oct. 10, 2012

Wauwatosa schools could have wireless Internet access in all classrooms by February.

The cost of installation is estimated at $713,000 for components and $185,000 for networking. A more specific cost proposal will be introduced for action at the next School Board meeting, Superintendent Phil Ertl said at the board's Monday meeting.

Beth Erenberger, the school district's director of student learning, said the technology will bring education in Wauwatosa into the 21st century.

In a presentation, Erenberger cited educational advantages, including better use of instructional time, real-time feedback and assistance for students and teachers, hybrid methods of teaching and learning, and the flexibility to adapt to a rapidly changing world, to name a few.

As further proof of the need for Internet access, Ertl said McGraw-Hill, a prominent publisher of textbooks, stopped publishing text-only books without digital components a few years ago.

Who provides devices?

The model presented Monday assumed students would bring their own devices, such as laptops and tablets, which raised questions of equity. Erenberger countered that students bringing their own devices would free up district-owned devices for students who cannot bring their own.

District technology coordinator Jamie Price said the district has 2,410 computers available for student use - a ratio of students to computers of about three to one. The district also has 950 iPads for student use.

Ertl said that the district has distributed iPads at the secondary level and will continue to buy devices.

Computers are used in specified classrooms in some Wauwatosa schools, but Erenberger said the wireless installation would provide equal access across the district and save instructional time.

Ertl further explained that taking a whole class to a computer room means lining up students, walking to the room, turning on the computers, waiting while they boot up, and shutting them down at the end of class - amounting to a loss of valuable class time.

"We talk about it (computer use) as a choice, but it really is not a choice," School Board member Mary Jo Randall said.

Heavy use anticipated

Price said even students as young as 4-year-old kindergarteners pick up iPad skills quickly, and Erenberger said there is a wide range of applications (apps) and software available appropriate for every age group.

Board member Sharon Muehlfeld asked about the cost of software and apps for hundreds or thousands of students, but Erenberger said many educational apps are available for little or no charge.

Therese Kwiatkowski, director of student services, added that wireless devices also aid special needs students. Non-verbal students, for example, have used DynaVox devices costing $7,000 or more each, she said. An iPad with appropriate apps can do many of the same functions for $500.

"It's not about technology - it's about delivering the content" to student desks, School Board President Michael Meier said. Computers and iPads are more efficient content delivery tools than the mimeographs and photocopies that earlier generations remember, he said.

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