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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 07:32 GMT 08:32 UK
US school swaps books for bytes
Image of US teenagers with their school laptops
Pupils keep music on the iBooks so take care of it
A school in Arizona, US, has thrown out its paper-based text books and is relying solely on laptops and digital material to teach its pupils.

Empire High School is one of a band of schools which is taking computer technology out of the classroom and into students' bags.

Calvin Baker, chief superintendent of the Vail School district, told BBC World Service programme Go Digital that it has not signalled the total demise of text books.

"There are no text books other than a couple on the shelf for teachers to use as resource," he explains.

"We still have a library - we are not anti-books. We have a library and we encourage students to use it, but the primary delivery of instruction materials is being done through the laptops."

The school joins many other educational institutions which are embracing technologies, such as iPods and laptops, and trusting students to use them appropriately.

Money routing

Providing all the pupils with Apple iBooks did not dent the school's budget as much as might be expected. But part of that is down to the school having been newly built.

The money that was budgeted to buy text books, which was about $500 a student, was spent instead on the laptops.

"Our laptops cost is about $800 per pupil. Our net cost is probably $100 to $200 more than if we had used text books," he says.

By giving all the students a laptop computer, the school has done away with computer laboratories too.

[Music's] a very valuable part of their life, and that is where their collection is, and so they take pretty good care of it [the laptop] just because it is something that is personally important to them
Calvin Baker, Vale School district

The response from the teachers and the pupils alike has been very positive, according to Mr Baker. "Every class is a little bit different," he explains.

"Some classes are relying primarily on a service, where you need a password to get to it. Some classes' teachers are using electronic text books as a resource - not as a primary tool but as a resource and then a lot of our classes are relying very heavily on simply free material that is available on the internet."

One of the big advantages to this approach, he says, is that teachers have a lot more opportunity to choose material that is particularly relevant to that subject.

"When you are using or selecting a text book, it is an all or nothing package. The beauty of the internet is that it allows teachers for every unit to go out and pick the material that they believe is absolutely relevant for that particular topic."

Risky business?

But providing every student with their own valuable bit of kit such as a laptop might be seen as risky by some. Mr Baker thinks that by allowing the pupils to keep their music on the machines has meant they see the technology in a different way.

"That's a very valuable part of their life, and that is where their collection is, and so they take pretty good care of it just because it is something that is personally important to them."

The school also ensures there are no hi-tech excuses for not doing homework. "The dog ate it" used to be the Monday morning cry. But, with a laptop as a textbook, there are a host of other excuses they could employ, such as "the hard drive crashed".

"That's a hard one to use because everything is backed up continually on our server at school," explains Mr Baker.

"But we have found that the laptops have not changed their basic human nature, so yes, students still figure out ways to come up with excuses for not having their homework in."

Last year, a leading UK charity, Citizens Online, called on the UK government to provide laptop computers for every UK schoolchild by 2010.

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