Computer project helping integrate wireless technology into WNC classrooms

CULLOWHEE – Elementary school students in Western North Carolina are swapping e-mails with students in Japan while working on Japanese haiku poetry, while student teachers from Western Carolina University get hands-on experience with some of the latest wireless computer technology.

That’s just a couple of the outcomes of the Apple iBook Project, a federal grant program involving Western Carolina’s College of Education and Allied Professions, the Apple Computer Corp. and four regional elementary schools.

The technology partnership is now entering its third year. Local schools involved are Fairview Elementary in Jackson County, Isaac Dickson Elementary in Buncombe County and East Swain Elementary and West Swain Elementary in Swain County.

A U.S. Department of Education technology grant of $258,000 provides funding for the project. The three-year grant, “Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology,” is a collaborative effort between Western, Appalachian State University, Warren Wilson College and the University of North Carolina at Asheville. The grant’s primary purpose at all four campuses is to facilitate the integration of educational technology into teacher preparation and to provide teacher education students, university faculty and cooperating public school teachers with professional development opportunities with educational technology.

The project integrates wireless iBook laptop computers into the internship experience by providing teacher education students, who are interning at one of the project elementary schools, with wireless iBook computers. Each participating school benefits by the installation and technical support of a wireless Internet network.

Interns and cooperating teachers learn how to set up and maintain hardware and the wireless network; explore technology teaching strategies in support of student learning; and utilize additional instructional technology resources available through WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions to expand the use of wireless technology.

“The iBook has been a great instructional and organizational tool,” said Amanda Corbett, an eighth-grade language arts intern at Fairview Elementary School. “It is great to take the laptop to a student’s desk where we can conference. It is also nice to have when students have a question that I can’t answer. If we can’t find a satisfactory answer to a question, we’ll look it up on the Internet.

“Recently, we were reading a book about Boston in the Revolutionary War. When we were curious about a specific place, we looked for a map on the Internet. The portability of the iBook is ideal for teachers because it allows more time and opportunity to integrate more technology into the classroom. I can work on a presentation for a lesson at home and then bring it to school on the iBook,” Corbett said.

Some of the goals of the project include improving electronic communication between cooperating teachers, university supervising faculty, and teacher education interns; enhancing public school students’ learning experiences by providing them supervised access to the latest computer technology and a wireless Internet connection in the classroom; increasing the technical competency of interns by using technology to support the teaching/learning process; assisting interns with development of their technology portfolios (a state licensure requirement); and providing cooperating teachers and interns with opportunities to collaborate and share ideas on wireless technology integration into the curriculum.

In addition to haiku poetry writing activity involving Japanese students, other highlights of the first two years of the project have included publication of the students’ stories and legends, and impressionistic writing projects (viewing art from museums and simultaneously creating stories with word processing.) Interns also accessed Internet-based resources for lesson plans, assignments, questions, quizzes and other curriculum development needs.

“The iBook project is one more initiative by Western’s College of Education and Allied Professions to ensure that our teacher education candidates are well-versed in how technology can be effectively applied to student learning, while simultaneously providing a quality service to the public schools,” said Michael Dougherty, dean of the college.

For more information about the Apple iBook Project at WCU, contact the College of Education and Allied professions technology grants office at (828) 227-7111, or access the project online at: