schools surf Web
Interactive technology toBy Crystal Kua
cut costs and increase fun
will be tested by schools
Hawaii public school teachers, students and parents will test new educational technology designed to help schools gain access to the world without the expense and complexity of a personal computer.
In "Hawaii First," the Ohana Foundation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in downtown Honolulu, will equip each public school with at least one videocassette recorder-looking box that plays digital video discs and connects to a television. A cordless keyboard, remote control "wand" and educational material comes with it.
"The biggest expense of computers is the monitor and we all know that most homes have TVs; most schools have TVs," said Alan Pollock, Ohana Foundation marketing director.
"The thinking now is that if we make it interactive, children will get more involved -- kids are used to playing video games or used to the television as a medium -- and that they'll embrace this and will make education fun."
Ohana Foundation was created by Annie Chan, a Hawaii-born engineer and businesswoman. She and her husband, Fred, are principals in ESS Technology Inc., a Silicon Valley company that makes multimedia chips.
The box will play DVDs, which are like compact discs but have the capacity to hold more information. The students will also be able to go directly to an Internet Web site that relates to a particular subject, as well as browse the Internet.
For example, a DVD with information on ocean waves will connect to the Web site of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Ohana Foundation approached the Department of Education six months ago about having Hawaii schools test and evaluate the technology before it markets the box nationwide, Pollack said.
Ohana Foundation will give more than 700 boxes to the schools and will train teachers on how to use the system and apply it to lessons in the classroom.
The box is made by Vialta.com, a subsidiary of ESS. The foundation will create the DVD educational materials at a production studio being prepared on the 22nd floor of the Alii Place office building.
The foundation also plans to allow five classes in January to take the box home to get parents involved. Email through the cordless keyboard will allow parents and teachers to keep in touch.
"The teacher can email messages to the parents," Pollack said. "Right now, they give a little message; it goes into Timmy's backpack and maybe mom gets it. Well now, parents can talk back and forth with the teacher."
The foundation interviewed 300 teachers and learned that educators wanted a simple system, training and educational materials aligned with state schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu's standards-based education reform.
Training begins in July, and most schools will be trained by October.