Youths develop Lecture Library

Invention automatically posts class notes on Web

`Looking for the next Bill Gates'

Program fosters students' entrepreneurial skills

Howard County

April 21, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

When Shannon Parker has a suggestion to improve Lecture Library, an electronic chalkboard that automatically updates the notes on the class Web site as she scribbles on a digital pad, she goes straight to the CEO of ClassTech Inc. - right after his calculus class.

The 10 Glenelg Country School students, all boys, who created the Lecture Library are part of the TechEntre program that gives high school students a taste of entrepreneurship with the help of the county's NeoTech technology business incubator.

Now NeoTech has awarded the students a $3,000 grant to keep the Lecture Library and ClassTech going.

Richard W. Story, executive director of Howard County's Economic Development Authority, which runs NeoTech, said the goal of the TechEntre program is to nurture young entrepreneurs in hopes of building a strong business base in Howard County.

"Our assumption is that entrepreneurs are born," Story said. "We're looking for the next Bill Gates in the school system. We're hoping to get [students] started on the right foot, and hoping that both feet land in Howard County."

The TechEntre program is a two-year endeavor designed to draw groups of students from area high schools. In the program's inaugural session, the Glenelg students joined teams from Atholton, River Hill and Long Reach high schools in fall 2001 to spend a year batting around ideas, developing a business plan, and taking courses in presentation skills and marketing. The last year of the program is spent working part time at the incubator to develop a prototype, refine the business plan and take more courses in running a successful business.

Along the way, the students are helped by business advisers, and they get free legal advice and opportunities to meet financiers. The students will graduate from the program next month.

The Glenelg students started their company with the idea of cataloging class sessions on video. But when a slew of issues concerning students' and teachers' privacy and digital storage threw that plan for a loop, the boys settled on keeping teachers' notes instead.

Chief Executive Officer Jason Church, who will graduate from Glenelg this year, went to work on a program that would allow the images captured on a digital pad to be automatically saved to the school's Web site. A digital pad is a sensitive surface that converts impressions drawn on it with a stylus into digital images that can be shown on a monitor or, in the case of a classroom, displayed by a projector.

The group's goal was to help students, Church said, and teachers by not having to turn their backs to write on the chalkboard.

"The main thing teachers comment on is you get to face the class. You can have a small tablet and carry it in your hand."

At Glenelg, the projector is standard classroom equipment, and some teachers, such as Parker, had committed to saving notes on the school Web site.

But that process involved using transparency sheets that were prepared before class, and later scanned and uploaded.

But the Lecture Library is more convenient, Parker said, with more advantages than she had expected .

The biggest change the math teacher has noticed is in homework assignments.

"The-dog-ate-my-homework excuses really don't hold anymore," she said. "Now you get the problem [the student had with the homework] as opposed to the excuse. You don't have to go through the defense mechanism, which is really fantastic."

She added that access to the notes helps parents assist their children, and it is a real bonus to students who have missed time from class - Parker said she reviewed three weeks of class work with one student in 45 minutes, using printouts of the class notes.

The program also provides support to students who aren't adept at listening well and taking notes at the same time.

"They have just improved tremendously," Parker said of those students. "They can focus in class and listen. When they get to homework or class, they're really aware of what they need to do. "

Aside from eliminating chalk dust on her clothing, the software, Parker said, also allows her to make precise grids, circles and ellipses - a feature helpful in geometry - and precise class work reviews for tests that make it obvious what the class has spent a lot of time on and what was covered quickly.

With graduation around the corner - Church will be off to the University of Maryland, he said - the Glenelg students say they are considering how to continue the business.

Church said he wants more teachers to use Lecture Library.

He hopes to include new sets of tools to help teachers of other subjects - an archive of maps might help a geography or history teacher.

The students also are investigating ways to run the program from the Web that might make the program faster.

Faculty adviser Marc Schmidt said the next step for the company is to test the product at other schools - a feat that is likely to bring a new set of technological challenges for students to work out.

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