Schools pull their plugs

Several Canadian schools are taking advantage of wireless technology by opting for computer labs on wheels rather than in fixed classrooms.

With so many schools consolidating, causing enrolment numbers to rise, the portable computer lab is a smart idea, said Brian Monette, marketing director for Dell Canada in Toronto.

“Schools don’t have a lot of room for dedicated labs any longer, so portable labs have become more in demand,” Monette said.

Dell’s TrueMobile Wireless Computer Lab storage unit is four feet long and four feet high, and is able to store as many as 24 notebooks. It’s completely powered, so that the notebooks leave the unit fully charged. And because it’s set upon wheels, teachers can easily move it from one classroom to another.

Glen Zederayko, head of school at Toronto’s Kingsway College School, said while space is a luxury, the mobility part of the lab is very attractive for his teachers. It can often be difficult for them to move students around the school to a computer lab and then try to settle them down in a different setting, he said. This way, the lab comes to them instead of the other way around.

“However, there is the option of using the computers in the classrooms, the science lab or even in the hallway if that’s an appropriate venue,” he said, noting that teachers are currently using the portable lab for subjects as varied as French, science, art and math.

Right now the lab at Kingsway College School is shared between 40 students in grades seven and eight. The school is currently using a lab with 20 notebook computers, but will soon be adding 20 more, Zederayko said.

Kingsway College School isn’t alone in its opting for a wireless option. Schools in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Barrie, Ont., are also trying out the lab-on-the-go scenario.

According to Monette, schools are the perfect place to implement wireless technology because they are not always as easy to wire as office buildings.

“Corporations have fairly highly defined conduits, but most schools don’t have the same architecture or infrastructure, so wireless becomes a cost-effective way to get around the challenge of not having conduits to do the hard wiring,” he said.

Zederayko said the presence of the portable lab has become a competitive advantage for his school and for students graduating from it.

“Most children go to independent high schools from here, and many of these schools are adopting a notebook program. It can be a fairly steep learning curve for students who go into that kind of program, but when our students leave here they’ve got more skills and knowledge than is required to fly with [the program]. It’s a real benefit,” he said.

While the technology is geared toward the kindergarten to grade 12 education market, Dell says it can be used by enterprises for training or for use by contractors.