Software companies that specialize in interactive curriculum systems (ICS) are taking on one of educators’ biggest problems: How to integrate into the classroom the exploding resources of computer-based educational technology, including the internet, along with more traditional teaching tools, such as textbooks.

In February, Jostens Learning Corp., a leading ICS company, launched “Vital Tools,” a program that helps educators find the educational software, internet sites, textbooks, and other educational materials that meet their needs. Computer Curriculum Corp. and SkillsBank Corp. will unwrap similar products soon.

“Vital Tools” is based on neural networking, a type of artificial intelligence that can automatically “read” and interrelate instructional material, frameworks, standards, and objectives. This, according to Jostens Learning, saves the many tedious hours previously needed to type in material and enter thousands of codes and categories. “Vital Tools” is sold separately from the company’s ICS.

The software is internet-based, which means the data can be updated easily, and subscribers don’t have to install it on their system.

A teacher who wants to construct a reading lesson that uses dinosaurs to teach second graders to identify a main idea can feed that information into “Vital Tools.” The teacher can also specify national, state, and/or district standards the lesson is to cover. “Vital Tools” will search its database of resources, which includes Jostens Learning’s courseware, instructional software written by others, textbooks, internet web sites, standardized test objectives, and state frameworks. Then it will rank the resources it finds according to how well they meet the teacher’s needs.

Like Jostens, CCC has designed its product for use on a wide area network that will support several schools in a district. “It will allow teachers to share information and leverage the knowledge that exists within a district,” says CCC’s Rosen, who declined to reveal details of the system.

For “Vital Tools,” Jostens charges a school a one-time fee of approximately $6,000 plus an annual subscription of between $275 and $750 for each password.

SkillsBank will offer a less extensive and presumably less costly approach. Rather than construct and maintain a data base with many educational resources, SkillsBank is developing its “manager” so it will identify third-party educational software that can be used with its own instructional material. A teacher looking for material to teach multiplication of fractions will be directed to the appropriate lessons within SkillsBank and to other relevant software, such as The Learning Company’s “Math Rabbit,” McDaniels explains. The teacher will not have to figure out where and how to fit “Math Rabbit” into the lesson. SkillsBank’s “manager” will do that.

American Education Corp.

http://www.amered.com

Computer Curriculum Corp.

http://www.cccnet.com

Ed’s Oasis

http://www.edsoasis.org

Jostens Learning Corp.

http://www.jlc.com

L’Ouverture Computer Technology Magnet School

http://www.louverture.com

New Century Education Corp.

http://www.ncecorp.com<

SkillsBank Corp.

http://www.skillsbank.com

TRO Learning Inc.

http://www.tro.com

U.K. National Council for Education Technology

http://www.ncet.org.uk/