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Technology leap for local school

Over the coming weeks Gort Community School will become one of the most technologically advanced second-level schools in the country.
The school was selected as one of 78 schools nationwide to take part in a pilot project run by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in June and while the school has received some of the equipment due to it under the programme, in the coming weeks it will be further upgraded.
Under the project, 100 Mbps of broadband will be delivered to the school and a wireless Local Area Network installed, meaning there will be access to the Internet in any location in the school and pupils can learn and collaborate online simultaneously.
Under the scheme, the school was allocated funding for 31 laptops and 25 digital projectors, an investment of approximately €50,000.
The investment means that soon almost every classroom in Gort Community School will be equipped with a fixed digital projector and the school will also have a mobile computer suite that can be used in any classroom.
According to Barbara Slattery, the school’s information technology coordinator, the equipment and the network improvement represent a major step forward for teaching in the school.
“It is really more like what the children are used to. We are now catching up to the stage they are at where the majority of things are on computer or are Internet-based.
“This is just a pilot project and hopefully it will be rolled out to other schools in a few years’ time but it means now that most classrooms will have a projector connected to a PC or laptop so teachers can go online during classes and display the information to their class.
“For example, the Spanish teacher can go on the Internet and the whole class can watch the news on one of the Spanish channels via the projector. Geography teachers can use this technology to go onto Google Earth and zoom into the places they are teaching about. Across the spectrum of subjects there are a lot of new syllabi, where teachers receive DVDs or CDs, and now the teachers will be able to implement that new teaching method involving information and communication technology,” Ms Slattery explained.
While the school currently has a cabled Local Area Network, under the project it will receive a wireless LAN. To date, this has meant that any teacher can access their files or folders on the network using a PC in the school.
However, once the new system is implemented, teachers can bring in a laptop and access the files on the LAN without being tied to one place.
“As part of the project, the school will receive a laptop trolley where laptops can be slotted in and moved easily from one place to another. This functions like a mobile computer suite. The trolley can be booked and then be wheeled into any classroom and each child will be given a laptop. They will have access to the LAN without having to be in a room with cabled network connections. Effectively, it gives the school a third computer suite,” Ms Slattery said. 
“The teachers are delighted about these new developments because before you had to book a computer suite and move the class there to show them something online. Now, if something suddenly comes up in class, teachers can access the LAN using their laptops and project the material for the whole class to see,” she continued.
As well as being the school’s IT coordinator, Ms Slattery also teaches art. This is another subject she feels benefits from this kind of technology.
“If we are discussing a painter and another painter comes up during the discussion, I can instantly show the class the work of the other painter or information about them or even go onto the Louvre’s website and take the students on a virtual tour,” she explained.
The projector is also likely to be hugely beneficial to the music technology pupils in the school, who use a music notation software application called Finale Print Music. The software can be used instead of pen and paper to notate music in the same way Microsoft Word is often used to write a letter, clicking notes in place with a mouse and printing professional scores.
This software also allows pupils to compose and arrange music the way they want it to sound, which can then be transposed to any key and for any instrument. Through this technology students can also play a MIDI keyboard with a metronome and watch their music appear on screen in real time. The projectors will mean the pupils’ work is projected clearly for their classmates to read.
Launching the programme in June, Communications Minister Eamon Ryan TD said, “We are laying one of the foundation stones of Ireland’s new knowledge society. Providing our schools with high-speed wireless connectivity opens up a whole new world of learning for our children.
“We are taking online learning out of the confines of the computer room. In classrooms and corridors, students and teachers will potentially be able to carry out interactive chemistry experiments and access demonstrations and exhibitions from all over the world.”
Gort Community School applied to become part of the pilot programme and schools were selected against various criteria including geographical location and an adequate mix of schools to ensure broad social inclusion.
The speeds available are similar to those that are being offered to high-end national and multinational companies that operate in Ireland. They allow for the quick upload and download of material, instant connection to websites and the increased and varied use of online applications.
Meanwhile, the school received further good news this week when it was announced that it is to get three new classrooms and changing rooms after funding for the project was approved by the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe earlier this week.
The department’s building unit has yet to outline the amount of funding available from the project.
“We all know how important it is to have good facilities for our young students and these new classrooms will certainly help in that regard. 
“I’m sure everyone in Gort will join me in welcoming this news, as it will obviously be of benefit to the community at large, in the longer term,” said Fianna Fáil Galway East TD Noel Treacy.

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