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Learning Without Limits

Launching kids into the wireless world.

Helping Michigan students get unplugged but still wired is the ambitious goal of Detroit-based Learning Without Limits. The organization awards grants to cover wireless projects for students and staff of public schools. Deborah White, communications manager, talks about wireless, class participation, and making family finances a nonissue.

How did the idea for the program come about?

Learning Without Limits is a program to improve student achievement by providing Michigan’s students with access to 21st-century learning tools. The vision is to one day achieve one-to-one access–a wireless computing learning device–for every student in Michigan.

What kind of projects came in from the school districts applying for grants?

The projects varied greatly. For instance, in mostly rural Berrien County, the school district and a consortium of county schools proposed to provide all seventh graders in each of the participating schools with wireless handheld computers. Since the students will be able to take their handheld computers home, parents will become more involved in the education of their child and be able to communicate with the school in a more efficient manner.

In Flint, Mich., wireless computers will be provided to 12 fourth-grade classes and four seventh-grade classes so that they may participate in online projects with students around the world and other integrated activities. Teachers will participate in various professional development activities to increase technical skill levels and improve technology integration methods. Parents will be offered training before computers are allowed home.

Labs will also be available for parents and students to use the computers after school. The goal is to extend the project throughout the two districts and the other member districts of the Genesee County Urban Student Achievement Coalition, which will be observing the project as it develops.

Why was wireless computing chosen specifically for funding, as opposed to just general computing?

The number one reason is access. High-speed wireless computers and Internet connections provide access from remote areas, as well as from areas where wiring is prohibitive because of building construction, layout, or asbestos issues in the schools. When a school environment is wireless, students are able to use computing devices anywhere within range of the wireless hub or access point to connect to the Internet and school’s networks. Wireless local area networks make adding computing power to any classroom simple. Also, wireless is now more cost-effective and more secure than in the past.

What do you consider to be the long-range goals of the grant program?

The 15 sites now participating represent the first in many steps to bring wireless technology computing to all Michigan students. Originally, the goal was to achieve one-to-one computing by 2004. With the shift in the economy, the goal may have to stretch farther into the future, but with the cooperation of local, state and federal entities, we believe this can be achieved.

What do you think will be some of the effects of the program for school districts?

One of the more obvious effects is the equity a program like this creates. Now, the computing technology is evenly distributed across a classroom, grade or even a school district, regardless of individual family finances. It also creates more equitable access to resources once only obtainable at the library, which was often inaccessible to rural students with limited transportation. An indirect benefit comes from the degree of collaboration the projects involve, from the local community to the technology vendors. This type of collaboration invites consensus, which creates support for other innovative programs, and momentum for fundraising and new learning opportunities for students and staff alike.

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