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High School Goes 'Paperless' in Classrooms

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Empire High School website

A high school in Arizona is continuing with its computer-only experiment, citing great feedback from students, teachers, and parents.

Empire High School, in Vail, Ariz., has 340 students. At the start of classes on July 22, 2005, every student who came to the first day of class was assigned an iBook (a laptop made by Apple Computer). No textbooks were issued, and the school has no plans to issue any books.

It's a brand new with a brand new concept, and it has a waiting list. The school was designed to have students and teachers interact digitally. It is part of a continuing trend that began in the past few years, with pilot school across the nation offering laptops to students on a trial basis as part of their learning process. Two years ago, the number of school participating in programs like those was 600; this year, it has more than doubled.

But Empire is the first high school to take that idea to a logical extreme.

So far, the response has been good. Students like being able to use computers to do in-class research. Teachers like the flexibility of networking to keep track of grades and papers and to offer homework assignments. Most importantly, much of traditional curricula is available in electronic form now.

Many book publishers are offering textbooks in digital forms (pdf of other formats), which students can download from school networks and read on their own personal laptops.

One primary benefit of offering homework assignments online is that teachers can include links to primary sources. For instance, a high school lesson famous Supreme Court cases can include links to the digital opinions in those cases, enabling students to read for themselves what the Justices had to say about momentous issues. Such is also the case for literature teachers studying famous written works.

Another benefit of having students use computers as their primary form of learning in classrooms is the natural opportunity to teach those students how to use word processing programs, spreadsheet programs, and web browsers.

These laptops include safeguards, of course, to protect the school against hacking and to make sure that students do not surf to "unwanted" chat rooms or websites. The school also uses a web-based program to ensure that students don't take the easy way out and plagiarize.

Empire High School isn't entirely paperless, of course. It has a library, with hundreds of books in it. Students are often assigned to do research in the library, to maintain their book-researching skills.

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