MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

November 8, 2012

Hilldale out to provide tablet tech for students

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Discarded computer terminals, hard drives, keyboards and wires are piled outside Eric Wells’ office at Hilldale High School.

“Every day something needs to be replaced,” Wells said.

Wells, the district’s technology director, has plenty to replace as he and his assistants bring wireless technology to the school. He and his assistants play a key role in helping Hilldale transition to WiFi and eventually get a computer into each student’s hands.

He is developing pilot programs in which students test different tablet computers to see which one most helps them.

“Our goal is for each student to have some sort of device,” Wells said. “So, we’re involving students in deciding which works best.”

He said he’s planning a small pilot program before Christmas break, having 30 students sample different devices.

“We’ll rotate the program to have 30 seniors use them for a couple of days, then 30 middle-school students, 30 elementary kids,” Wells said. “We’ll probably find out that different solutions fit different kids better.”

The tablet computers could store textbooks. Some tablets enable students to use a stylus to highlight or circle parts of the digital textbook. Students also will be able to do online collaboration, he said.

“The tablets have special cases with keyboards,” Wells said.

Pilot programs are in their planning stages, and Wells said he hopes to test 100 tablet computers at a district summer camp.

His goal is for each student to have a tablet computer by the start of the 2014 school year.

Is that doable?

“If everything falls into place, the answer is yes,” Wells said, adding that smaller schools such as Liberty and Tushka already have such programs. At Liberty, its nearly 200 students each have Apple MacBook Air laptops, he said.

Wells was promoted as Hilldale’s technology director about two months ago after working in the district’s information technology department. Two tech assistants help him. Lisa Worthy, who worked in the IT department at Community Care College, was hired last week to do system administration. HHS senior Alex Richter works mornings to handle computer problems.

“If a teacher calls in a panic and says something is messed up, Alex comes in and saves the day,” Wells said, explaining that Richter works in the morning and takes concurrent classes in the afternoon.

Wells and his staff also are updating the district’s telephone system.

“Digital phones are long overdue,” Wells said. “Our analog system is failing us. The new system would allow us to have unified communication between the phone and email. And someone (from the district) could be in Texas and can make a call as if they were at Hilldale.”

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.