The City of Madison School District in Alabama is about to say goodbye to chalk dust forever. Trading its blackboards for large-screen display monitors, the district soon will introduce Gateway multimedia computers to each of its 323 classrooms. The computer system, called Gateway Destination, has a large, 27-inch display monitor which can be used as a “virtual blackboard” in the classrooms.

“What we’re after here is something like what the chalkboard or overhead projector is to the classroom of today,” said Kathy Rains, the district’s technology coordinator.

The school district will be the first in Alabama and just the third in the country to put a large-screen computer monitor in every classroom, according to Rains.

A remote keyboard and mouse controls the computer from anywhere in the room. Anything a teacher would ordinarily write on a blackboard will now be typed and displayed on the monitor, with only minor adjustments to classroom set-ups so that all students can see the screen. The keyboard can then float around the room for student interaction.

“We were looking to put a multimedia computer in every classroom,” Rains said, “and we wanted a system with a large TV screen for instructional purposes, not just for teacher administration.”

Destination: Success

It was around the same time that a local Gateway representative introduced Rains to the Destination system through a videotape presentation.

“I watched the video, and what I saw was just amazing,” she recalled. “The system answered all of our concerns about being able to use computers for instruction.”

Once she got to see the system up close during a trial, Rains said she was impressed by the quality of the monitor output, particularly compared to the district’s current practices.

The district currently uses a portable cart system to bring technology to its high school and middle school classrooms. Rains hopes the new permanent solution will help spur teachers to spend more time using technology as an instructional tool.

“It’s just a much different situation than when a teacher has to sign up to use a cart,” she said.

Each Destination system consists of a central processing unit just like any personal computer, with a choice of Intel Pentium processors. The machine comes with a CD-ROM or digital video disk (DVD)

drive.

The monitor, which is available in a choice of 27-inch or 35.5-inch screen, doubles as a fully-functional television–meaning VCRs, laser disc players, cable lines, or digital satellite systems can be plugged in just as they would be to any standard set.

Still, moving to the new system will be quite an adjustment for the district’s teachers and staff, and Rains concedes there’s a certain degree of apprehension toward the technology. Hoping to quell any concerns that teachers and staff may have, the district will embark on an extensive training program this summer. Teachers and administrative staff will be required to attend a minimum of three hours’ training.

Sessions will cover not only use of the Gateway Destination system itself, but also areas such as using eMail, incorporating the internet into classroom instruction, and evaluating where students should be in terms of technology.

A computer for every teacher

A new district, the Madison City school system consists of one high school, two middle schools, and three elementary schools. A fourth elementary school is slated to open in the fall. The district has a total enrollment of 5,600 students and certified teaching staff of about 350.

The district currently has a 19-1 student to computer ratio and a 5-1 teacher to computer ratio, though none of its computers are of the multimedia variety. Introducing the Gateways will drastically improve those figures. Now every teacher will have a computer, while students will enjoy a 9-1 ratio.

Of course, improving its numbers to this degree hasn’t come cheaply. According to district finance director Mike Weaver, the school system will spend around $830,000 to buy the computer equipment. Wiring every classroom, plus some other costs related to the district’s technology initiatives–including the purchase of servers and network hardware–will bring the total price tag to about $1.5 million.

The district is also in the process of upgrading its T-1 lines and routers and is purchasing printers and overhead projection presentation systems.

Almost all of the funding for the project is coming from a city bond issue, though the district was awarded a $48,750 Goals 2000 grant, a federal flow-through program administered by the state Department of Education.

While the ability to use computers for classroom instruction was a key goal for Madison City schools, the district additionally wanted to begin tracking attendance and grading on its new systems. Beginning in the fall, the district will use Mobile, Ala.-based Software Technology Inc.’s SSTS/Win 2000 software for attendance and grading. The district will also use the system for state reporting, Rains said.

City of Madison School District

http://www.madisoncity.k12.al.us

Gateway

http://www.gateway.com/destination

Software Technology Inc.

http://www.ssts.com