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Matthew Crowley

Las Vegas hospitality school receives two giant computer tablets

8 December 2015

Thanks to a pair of giant tablet computers, the International School of Hospitality's students not only can see the big picture, but also touch, tap and swipe it.

The 10-year-old school at 3614 E. Sunset Road received the 55-inch and 42-inch touch screens in October as a donation from Earth Water Sky, a Las Vegas-based event production and design group.

The 55-inch display, near the school's special events design lab, runs Apple's iOS operating system. The 42-inch, in the lounge, runs Google's Android system. Both feature Web browsers, social media programs, mapping apps and search engines. The tablets arrived at the school after debuting at the Imex America meetings convention at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

Admissions Director Marcus Lam said the displays are perfect for the continuing-education school's 80 or so students, most of whom are 20-somethings. They study in core programs covering conference management and event planning; catering; hospitality leadership and supervision; hospitality human resources; hotel operations; concierge services; and wedding coordination and design.

"Technology is their language," he said. "It's how they learn. And this is technology that's familiar to them and it's interactive."

Student Charise Jensen said the gadgets are familiar and shareable.

"The coolest part of the iTab is that you can use it with more then one person. It responds to multiple touches, so if I'm working in a project with my friend, we can use the tab together," she said. "We all know how to use it already because we have the miniversion in our bags."

Tim Lam, the school's executive director and Marcus Lam's brother, showed how the gadgets, built at Giant iTab's London headquarters, work smoothly. Swipe up or down to scroll. Tap a bottom-screen tab to get Twitter and Facebook. Or Instagram: selfies of smiling, puckering, mugging students flit by in the school's feed.

There are also game apps — "Angry Birds" and "Candy Crush." The 42-inch iTab is in the lounge, Marcus Lam said, where play is OK. However, he said, instructors discourage students from using in-class restroom breaks to chase high scores.

"The whole point of our school is to be practical," Marcus Lam said. "(The Giant iTabs are) a great example of how we want to be at the cutting edge and showcase real practical hands-on learning opportunities by bringing in the latest in event technology.

"Event planning is a really big topic in the school … and these Giant iTabs are the latest in digital engagement technology and we're able to utilize it for educational purposes while helping students interact better on a social level about what they're learning."

Touch a meeting display app's icon and a student-created seating plan appears. A toolbox on the left includes virtual stools, chairs, and other furniture that can be dragged and dropped into the room. Finger swipes can move rows of seats closer to the stage or farther away.

Earth Water Sky owner John Humphries said so far, just six Giant iTabs are in the United States: three in Las Vegas and three in Chicago. The third local gadget stays his company's East Oquendo Road office, available for rental. The daily rate is about $650 for the 42-inch and $850 for the 55-inch.

Humphries said the 42-inch would sell for $8,000 and the 55-inch for $11,000, although Giant iTab isn't planning to mass market them. The British company will roll them out slowly in America, in twos and threes, mostly for rental, and hopes to have 12 in the nation by the end of 2016.

Humphries, who earned a degree in event design and production from the hospitality school, said his company aims to help Las Vegas' hospitality industry prosper. He wanted the students to get the iTabs.

"To me, this is really the marriage of the most cutting-edge hospitality school and students with the latest most cutting-edge interactive live event technology," he said.

Tim Lam said receiving the touch screens was thrilling.

"It was a happy surprise," he said. "First I got excited, then (academic curriculum manager) Sean (McCray) got excited, because he saw so many ways to integrate them into learning.

Humphries said the gadgets are durably built for high use. The 42-inch and its supportive casing, for example, weigh 400 pounds. The 55-inch's setup weighs even more and takes two technicians to move and install. Marcus Lam said the gadgets have been operationally stable, too, working without a crash.

So many swiping fingers might create a streaky mess, but Marcus Lam said the iTabs' screens wipe clean with a spritz of window cleaner. And although the Giant iTabs are novel and fun, there so far haven't been queues to use them, Marcus Lam said.

"Our classes are three hours long," he said. "There's ample time for everyone to get a turn."