One of the greatest benefits to technology in the classroom is that it gives students the chance to be creators as well as learners. And one of the best examples can be found in the Lorain, Ohio, City Schools, where middle school students are using video-on-demand to create student-produced lessons for one another.

John Eigenauer, technology coordinator for Lorain City Schools, called the video-on-demand project “a teacher’s dream: students designing proficiency-oriented lessons, teaching those lessons, learning from other students, and allowing teachers to act as guides in the educational process.”

Video-on-demand is video content stored on a server so it can be streamed to the desktop the minute it’s needed. For now, only a handful of schools in the country have video-on-demand capability, Eigenauer said.

The video project debuted last spring as students at Longfellow and Lorain middle schools–guided by their teachers–designed, filmed, and edited tutorials on classroom topics such as how to test for mineral hardness. The lessons, which had to conform to Ohio state standards, were digitized and stored on a server so other students could access and learn from them.

The project was funded through an Ohio Department of Education grant called “Raising the Bar on the Middle Grades.” It was awarded to the district last November. Debbie Hansen, the district’s middle school technology coordinator, guided the project’s implementation and showed the teachers how to train the students.

The grant enabled the district to install the necessary video networking equipment at its two middle schools, including a video caching device and a video delivery system that broadcasts and records live content. It also allowed the two schools to expand their existing video labs and production facilities.

“This is something that students can build on year by year,” said Eigenauer. “This year’s students can learn from last year’s digital lessons and also add their own aspects to each lesson.”

Tremendous enthusiasm

The digital lesson project is just one example of how Lorain City Schools–a blue-collar district 30 miles west of Cleveland–is using technology to transform educational goals.

A fiber-optic, 622-megabit asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) backbone links the district’s 16 buildings in a high-speed network. Every classroom has at least one computer with an internet connection, and each building has from five to nine computer labs complete with 30 workstations in each.

Nearly 60 percent of the district’s 1,500 high school students are enrolled in computer classes, Eigenauer said–and about two-fifths of those will be eligible for networking certification from Microsoft or through the Cisco networking academies located on each campus.

At the middle schools, the numbers are even more impressive–nearly 100 percent of students take computer classes.

Much of the credit for the district’s technology success goes to Eigenauer, a former high school and college teacher who served on the NASA Lewis Research Center’s technology committee before joining Lorain City Schools.

What is the more remarkable is that Eigenauer has only been on the job for a year. Before he arrived, there were no local area networks, no district-wide area network, only a few applications classes, and each high school had only one computer lab with assorted Apple IIe’s and older Macs and IBMs.

By the end of the summer, Lorain City Schools will have quadrupled its bandwidth–from two T-1 lines feeding the 16 buildings, to eight. Eigenauer said he also hopes to expand the video-lesson project to include both high schools in the coming year as well.