Technology 'expanding the walls of the classroom'

SUWANEE -- Back in 2005, if you walked into a classroom in Gwinnett County Public Schools, you might have seen a single, bulky desktop computer that students and a teacher shared.

Fast forward to 2012, and there's talk of getting a personal computer device in the hands of every student to increase and expand the learning opportunities. It's an initiative called eCLASS.

Tricia Kennedy, executive director of eCLASS transformation, said that back in 2005 "we were probably just getting comfortable with using the Internet and researching and accessing information. A lot of the focus was on informational access."

"We taught students how to gain access to these sources, and now we're moving into a world where not only is information available but every type of network and communication tool is within reach, expanding the walls of the classroom."

The school board voted unanimously in September 2011 to spend $9.5 million on software that will let officials start moving toward a digital classroom.

The money goes toward a contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publishers to work with the district's departments of information management, teaching and learning support and human resources.

Initial funding for the software came from federal Race to the Top grants, but the bulk of it will be paid for with the Education SPLOST, or extension of the 1 cent sales tax.

ECLASS, which stands for Content, Learning, Assessment and Support System, begins officially in August 2012, when five clusters or communities will "pilot" the program.

A digital "cloud" will be used to teach students math, science and foreign language skills.

Over three to five years, the district plans to have every cluster incorporating eCLASS.

It's a far cry from seven years ago, when one desktop computer in the classroom was the height of technology, and educators wheeled in squeaky carts with overhead projectors to demonstrate concepts to their young learners.

"You wouldn't have seen the interactive light boards, the mounted projectors to project from the teacher's computer to the screen," Kennedy said. "Instead of being tethered to a table or to a desk, students will soon be able to move with the teacher and move with other students through new technology."

This story is part of the 2012 annual Progress edition, "Moving Gwinnett Toward One Million." To see the complete online edition, click HERE.