Our readers’ top ed-tech picks for 2012

TAP-it (SmartEd Services)

TAP-it is an ADA-compliant, touch-sensitive, interactive learning station designed specifically for students with disabilities. Its motorized adjustments provide easy accommodations for students using wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility devices, and its platform is counter-balanced, so that even if a student leans his or her full body weight against it, the system will not tip over. Its locking wheels allow users to roll the system from room to room, so it can be used where needed.

“TAP-it is a unique, portable [workstation] that uses the power of hydraulics to bring a 42-inch … interactive LCD panel to the exact height or angle needed by each student,” said Kathy Bastow, quality assurance coordinator for the Barber National Institute. “This flexibility makes the TAP-it much more accessible and functional for students with disabilities than wall-mounted [interactive whiteboards]. …  Since the integration of the TAP-it into their classroom, our students with significant disabilities are attending longer and are motivated to persist at more challenging lessons.”

TurningPoint (Turning Technologies)

TurningPoint is a student response system that integrates with Microsoft PowerPoint and allows students to participate in presentations or lectures by submitting responses to interactive questions using a special keypad (“clicker”) or other handheld device or computer.

“We are using the TurningPoint student response system … throughout our district from grades K-8 in all subject areas. Teachers use [the system] to engage students in learning and monitor progress or introduce a topic,” said Jodi Obenstine, director of technology services for the Liberty Elementary School District in Arizona. “One of our sixth-grade math teachers at Rainbow Valley Elementary reported over 40 percent of [her] students [met] the highest level of achievement that can be earned on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Success. She was able to help her students achieve these results by implementing a five-question-a-day technique and adjusting her instruction to meet the needs of her students, based on the information received via the student response systems. We plan to implement these strategies much more deeply during the 2011-12 school year.”


Developed by Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, WatchKnowLearn is a free online collection of educational videos for students ages 3 to 18. The site includes more than 20,000 videos across 3,000 categories on subjects such as math, science, and history. It also features software, developed by Sanger, that allows wiki-style collaboration among users. “Think of it as YouTube meets Wikipedia, filtering out everything but high-quality educational videos,” Sanger said.

Stacey Allen uses the site in teaching first grade for the DeSoto County Schools in Mississippi. “There are endless videos that were, until now, unavailable for me to use in my classroom, because our school system blocked their use,” she said. “WatchKnowLearn not only approves them, but filters them to make sure they are appropriate for my students and indexes them so that I can find what I need. Above all, I can contribute to the site myself. I can help give suggestions for videos … and I can even edit the index to make it more teacher-friendly. I love this resource.”

Web Help Desk (MacsDesign Studio)

Web Help Desk is an online help-desk solution for delivering IT support, managing assets, tracking software performance, and more. Users say it has saved them time and improved their IT efficiency.

“The two major things that Web Help Desk has improved for us are communication and organization,” said Ben Bollard, technology systems manager for Iowa’s Pella Community School District. “We implemented this tool at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year as a way to organize and track all of our technology requests. Before we implemented the [software], a staff member would call or eMail [the technology team] and hope they got to the request. Many times, eMails would get buried in an inbox and go unnoticed. This created an atmosphere where students and staff felt like their technology issues were not important.”

Bollard said Web Help Desk “now provides immediate feedback … to let [users] know that their issue is on our radar. This system also provides us with ways to assign the issues to appropriate personnel, as well as prioritize them to get the most important issues addressed first.” He said the software has been so successful that “the maintenance department has started using the same application” to track and communicate its work around the district as well.

Wyse Xenith (Wyse Technology)

This “zero client” technology differs from thin clients by not having any software installed on the device at all. Instead, it’s a small piece of hardware that connects the user to the network and his or her virtual desktop. Because it’s truly stateless, the Wyse Xenith is extremely secure and easy to maintain, its maker says.

“As network administrator for a school district that has more than 11,500 students spread out across 17 schools, having a computer infrastructure that is easy to maintain and sustainable is key,” said Steve Bradley of the Rocklin Unified School District in California. “We use Wyse Xenith zero clients instead of PCs because they don’t have hard drives that will inevitably fail. Before installing the Xenith zero clients in our labs and classrooms, I typically paid about $1,500 for a full-featured desktop computer. The Xenith zero clients cost less than $400, will last us longer than PCs, and provide our students and teachers with the enterprise-caliber performance they need. As we continue to update our computer infrastructure across the district, we will be turning to Wyse Xenith to replace our PCs.”

eSchool News Staff

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