New digital learning lab gives students high-tech media tools

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published February 15, 2015

 From left, Harper Woods High School students Jomari Fox, Jerome Harris, Trenton Hudson and Craig Chandler work in the district’s new digital lab.

From left, Harper Woods High School students Jomari Fox, Jerome Harris, Trenton Hudson and Craig Chandler work in the district’s new digital lab.

Photo by Roy Feldman

HARPER WOODS — With a great deal of excitement among students, staff and administrators, Harper Woods Schools is launching its new digital media lab, which should help students bring their imaginations to life.

This new laboratory is one of many initiatives in the district to put technology into the hands of students. Other initiatives have included one laptop or tablet computer for every student from kindergarten through the 12th grade and plans for “power plants” that use alternative energy to put real-world data in the students’ lessons in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

“Harper Woods Schools is working to position itself as a statewide leader in providing its students with a 21st-century learning environment,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said in an email.

“The digital media lab is our latest investment,” he said. “It is intended to provide our students with state-of-the-art learning opportunities in the multifaceted areas of media, be it website design, graphic arts, animation, etc. It will include a variety of media production capabilities in voice, visual and physical formats, including the ability to produce 3-D outcomes using our 3-D printer.”

The new lab, which doesn’t have an official name yet but which  they are informally calling the multimedia digital instruction lab, was paid for through School Improvement Grant funds. While the technology for the lab was purchased in multiple parts, the total cost of the lab was about $150,000, Director of Academic Accountability David Rabbideau said.

“It’s a very sizeable investment,” he said.

This project was launched as part of a partnership with Wayne County Community College. Students in dual enrollment courses could benefit from the hands-on technology lab at the high school and then get exposure to the tools at the college level, Rabbideau said.

The lab includes 32 iMac computers with 27-inch screens.

“They are fully loaded down with all the latest software,” Rabbideau said.

They have graphic software, 3-D animation software, and video-and film-editing software among many other programs.

Students can take a project drawn freehand, computerize it and print out a 3-D, completed object using the 3-D printer in the lab.

Rabbideau said he believed one of the first things they tested on the printer over the summer was a Batman figurine.

“They can create objects and then actually create them in 3-D,” he said.

The lab is a fully functioning broadcast news set with green-screen capabilities, teleprompters and more.

“We’ve got the anchor desk complete with our mascot on it,” Rabbideau said.

“We have a plethora of cameras,” he said. “We have high-end cameras.”

They have cameras with harnesses that allow mobility while still keeping the camera steady.

While the district has just recently gotten the lab up and ready for use, they already have teachers lining up to use it for their students’ projects.

Harper Woods Schools Instructional Technology Specialists Andy Hopkins and Silas Williams have been working hard on this lab and are training teachers to use the technology. 

“(They) have hundreds of ideas,” Rabbideau said of the possibilities for the lab’s use. 

“Students, staff — they’re all pretty excited,” he said.

Senior Marcus McCrear said he likes that the lab is spacious, and he also likes the computers and software available.

“The entire setup and the vibe is nice,” he said. 

Senior Tierra Adams agreed.
“We have a better opportunity for making multimedia projects, and the programs are more up to date,” Adams said. “We get a better chance of learning new things in the class.  The more space makes for a better learning environment.”

One of the ideas is to get students in the elementary schools exposed to the technology so they can see what they can look forward to as secondary school students. Students who are part of the technology clubs at Beacon and Tyrone elementary schools can continue their hands-on uses of technology through their high school careers.

The district is planning a ribbon-cutting as part of a technology open house for the community in March.