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HOBART | Jessica Macias missed a day of school recently due to illness but she didn't miss her social studies class.

Macias, a Hobart Middle School eighth-grader, was able to log into class from home using Google Apps, an online document system that allows people to use it just by logging on, much like the Web-based email services Hotmail and Gmail.

Called cloud computing, data is stored on servers at a remote location rather than in their laptops. It's also interactive, allowing teachers to post homework assignments and other information online for students.

The School City of Hobart is using the latest technology, with each student using a computer in the classroom and classrooms using social media like Facebook and Twitter. Several elementary and secondary teachers in the school district are using Google Apps and social media in their classrooms.

Macias said her teacher, Matt Whiteman, puts the assignment and agenda online and students can view it any time. She said when she logged in to the system, she was able to view the presentation like a slide show.

"I could see the other students using the system," she said. "It's really nice the way it works. I was able to stay current with my class."

Hobart Superintendent Peggy Buffington said Google Apps has provided an interactive platform for students with their peers and teachers to learn in real time with instant feedback.

"Students can challenge one another critically with information and facts the moment it shows up in a presentation they are collaboratively working on with each other," she said. "Besides the academic component, the digital citizenship side of this open source product can be used as a tool to show students how to engage in healthy debate and dialogue using media tools respectfully."

Whiteman said technology is an integral part of life, and students need to be able to use computers and other devices because that's what they will see in college and on their jobs.

"This generation needs to be excited about technology and what it can do," he said.

Whiteman said his students also will design Web pages this year to create an online "portfolio" to document their progress during the year. Students also will blog. Whiteman said he'll post a question for students, requiring them to provide more than a yes or no answer in their blog. The blog will give students an opportunity to "debate" questions and improve their critical thinking skills.

Eighth-graders Madeleine Leonard and Jovanni Olavarria like the ability to use laptops in class. They also have computers at home.

"It makes it easy," Olavarria said. "It's faster and much better to do work this way than having to write everything out."

Whiteman garnered a modicum of local fame last January when his question during the Republican presidential debate in North Carolina was broadcast live on national television. He tweeted a question about whether the candidates believed the federal No Child Left Behind law was a success.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich responded the law was a failure. "I think it has led teachers to be forced into a bureaucratic system of teaching to the test," Gingrich said.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.