El Paso’s savvy Pat Sullivan has bandwith to burn

At a recent eRate seminar in Colorado, Pat Sullivan fell to comparing her district’s internet-access speed with a contingent of colleagues from Silicon Valley. Sullivan, executive technology director from El Paso, Texas, let it slip that her schools have cable access to the internet.

“They were salivating at the mouth,” laughed Sullivan.

She has a right to be gleeful. The scorching speeds her school district achieves on those cable lines clock in at somewhere between 4 and 10 megs per second. That’s about 100 times faster than a residential telephone line.

And it’s not costing her a dime.

The El Paso Independent School District, together with two other El Paso school systems, are the first in TexasÐand only the seventh in the nationÐto receive free cable access from Time Warner’s Road Runner service. The El Paso Independent School District is the largest system in the city, with nearly 70,000 students in 83 buildings.

If industry watchers are right, cable could become the standard in accessing the internet for schools. More classrooms are wired for cable than for telephones, according to a recent study by Cable in the Classroom. To attract city contracts, cable vendors such as Time Warner are offering free cable internet access to public schools. Sullivan heard about the offer and began working to make it happen in El Paso.

El Paso was ready for cabled internet service because it had been chosen for another Time Warner project five years earlier. Extensive fiber optic cabling was laid around the city, Sullivan said, but the project for video on-demand bombed.

Residential cable internet service began in October in select homes. (Not surprisingly, Sullivan’s house was one of those beta sites.) Schools started using the service in January.

Four of El Paso’s high schoolsÐ El Paso High, Burges High, Irvin High, and Coronado HighÐaccess the internet on 25 workstations they were given free by Time Warner. Each of the other 77 schools is being supplied with five free workstations. Over the next three years, Sullivan expects to tether the rest of her schools to the cable network.

Sullivan says El Paso has suffered some setbacks as a result of the NAFTA Treaty and is struggling to retrain its workers for a high tech workplace.

“Our technology plan works in concert with city and county efforts in this regard,” she says. The district is beginning a Cisco Academy that will certify interested students in networking hardware and configurationsÐjobs skills that are in great demand in El Paso, according to Sullivan.

Sullivan, who was preparing her district’s eRate application when she spoke with eSchool News, says machines and modems are now her greatest need. There aren’t even computers in all of her classrooms.

But those she has are flying.

“It’s lightning fast. Just click and bam, everything is there,” Sullivan says. “It just makes it all happen.”

Up & running

Sullivan took the technology helm at El Paso Independent School District in July of 1997. Before that, she was director of technology at Socorro Independent School District, a smaller district, also in El Paso. A district re-organization had lumped together two departments that had been operating independently, and Sullivan was given jurisdiction over both the purchase and classroom use of technology.

Since then Sullivan has worked to get a strategic plan for technology written, reviewed, and approved. She helped persuade the school board to commit the resources necessary to install cable in every classroom for access to eMail and the web via a Wide Area Network.

This is the first year of Sullivan’s plan, and the district already has begun building the district hub and has an eMail server ready for all employees and students. The cable access allows wired schools to have video-conferencing as well. In the fall, high school students will be able to take postsecondary classes through the use of the two-way video technology.

To support the infrastructure, Sullivan says, a large staff-development session will be held for teachers over the summer. “The biggest challenges involve seeing that the teachers and students realize the full potential of what is being offered to them,” Sullivan says. She emphasizes that technical implementation as well as the staff development must progress together. “Support groups for all need to be ongoing.”<

Meep meep

Sullivan loves to cite the fact that, with cable, the entire text of Moby Dick can be downloaded in about four seconds.

Those speeds will slow down somewhat as the rest of El Paso plugs its computers into the cable. Data bandwidth is shared by users in individual homes, so performance varies depending on how many customers are actively using the system at any given time. But Road Runner guarantees a “worst-case” bandwidth exceeding that of ISDN service, and that worst case assumes continuous, maximal usage by every user in a neighborhood, simultaneously.

Other Road Runner sites are in San Diego, Calif.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; Oahu, Hawaii; Portland, Maine; Albany, Binghamton, Corning, Elmira, Norwich, Troy, and Saratoga, N.Y.; Akron, Canton, Columbus, and Youngstown, Ohio; and Memphis, Tenn.

El Paso Independent School District


Road Runner



SLC’s eRate contingency: For the first time, Fishman reveals how feds would handle possible eRate funding shortfall

ORLANDO, Fla. — If eRate funding can’t cover all those who apply, schools most in need will go to the head of the queue, said Ira Fishman, head of the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC) that administers the eRate program. Fishman spelled out his eRate funding hierarchy during the Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC) here on March 7.

Fishman’s explanation was the first indication of what would happen if eRate requests exceed available funds.

The schools “most in need” are also those slated to get the largest payments ‹reimbursement for up to 90 percent of their covered technology expenses.

Because large urban districts have filed for the biggest amounts in total discounts, audience members protested, the $625 million being collected for the first half of 1998 could quickly disappear.

New York City alone, for example, has applied for $200 million in eRate discounts, according to one FETC attendee who questioned Fishman.

Joe Salvati, who is preparing the application for New York City schools, wouldn’t say exactly how much the consortium is going in for, but acknowledged that the figure is in the quarter billion ballpark‹although it “could be substantially less,” he told eSchool News.

The four-day FETC conference drew some 16,500 people from coast to coast to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, according to FETC organizers. The K-20 educators came to learn about education technology and browse a huge exhibit hall full of products and services.

Topic A on the agendas of most convention-goers was the eRate. Fishman spoke to that issue during a panel discussion with Linda Roberts, the director of the Department of Education’s Office of School Technology, and two local officials.

The SLC has come under close scrutiny lately by lawmakers seeking to introduce legislation that would limit the eRate. One strategy taken by legislators was to question the legitimacy of the SLC, which administers the eRate. Fishman declined to comment on the ruling, issued in February by the congressional General Accounting Office.

Fishman was responding to audience concerns about recent bills introduced to restrict funds to schools and libraries for internet access. Several audience members raised questions about the availability of funds.

Acknowledging that the agency had received over 21,000 applications in the six weeks since the application window opened, he said requests ranged from “very, very small” to “large numbers [from] large systems.”

Applicants are vying for the $625 million collected from telecommunications companies. One audience member‹who later described preparing his school’s eRate application as “sheer hell”‹made this point: If the $625 million were to be evenly distributed only among those applicants who already have applied, each would receive only $30,000.

That’s when Fishman revealed for the first time that, in the event of a short fall in eRate funding, the discounts won’t be distributed evenly but on the basis of student economic status.

Fishman added that the agency is optimistic the eRate program will survive, despite recent actions on the part of lawmakers to derail the program.

“Doing anything new in Washington is hard,” Fishman explained. But “even those in Congress who raise questions [about the eRate] are very careful to say, `We support this program.'” Legislator’s questions are about how best to distribute funds, Fishman said, not whether to do so.

“At the end of the day whether this program survives will depend on whether it works in schools and libraries,” Fishman said. As part of the evaluation of the eRate program, Fishman said, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to retain an academic institution to determine the program’s impact on students.

This means schools that receive eRate funding in 1998 should be prepared to document in 1999 the positive ways they used the money.


ISPs target AOL price hike with cheaper access rates

The decision by America Online (AOL) to raise its monthly rates from $19.95 to $21.95, beginning with its April billing cycle, had many analysts predicting other internet service providers (ISPs) would soon follow suit. Instead, some service providers are choosing to lower their rates, in hopes of snatching some of AOL’s customers‹and perhaps your schools. Some 21 percent of the nation’s schools use AOL for internet connections.

AOL’s move could be good news for schools, according to Kate Delhagen, senior analyst with Forrester Research. “I expect we’ll see a flurry of competition now,” said Delhagen. “We’ll look back on this as a turning point when some of the local [telecommunications companies] got serious about getting consumers online.”

Several companies are looking to lure unhappy AOL customers. U.S. Internet, a Minnesota-based ISP that boasts tens of thousands of customers, has launched a program called “1-888-LEAVE-AOL.” EarthLink Network Inc., is countering with a “Get Out of AOL Free” campaign.

As the nation’s largest internet access provider, AOL was already a target for marketing campaigns by the competition. But the online service giant alienated many of its customers by raising rates while its empire continued to grow.

AOL claims its price increase is necessary to keep pace with the rising costs of its members’ usage. “Our expanding members have told us‹and their usage demonstrates‹that they want us to continue to provide AOL on an unlimited basis,” chief executive officer Steve Case said in a statement. “The price changes…will help AOL continue to make the necessary investments to provide the best possible online experience.”

Telecos could ultimately have the advantage in the pricing war, because they can offer bundling deals for their customers that other ISPs cannot. MCI long distance customers, for example, can have unlimited internet access for $14.95 per month.

America Online


U.S. Inernet Leave AOL


EarthLink Network





Virtual high school is nothing but net

A publicly funded virtual high school is now operating in the central region of Florida. It may soon offer students in Orange and Alachua counties an opportunity to earn diplomas without setting foot in a classroom. All their instruction would come via the internet.

Numerous schools have started programs that let students take courses over the internet. But most of these programs are intended to supplement a student’s in-class learning, not replace it.

With the blessing of Florida Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, The Florida High School (TFHS) aims to become a fully accredited, online public high school able to confer diplomas. It will be the first such institution in FloridaÐperhaps in the country.

Current technology makes such a program entirely feasible, but is it desirable?

Absolutely, says Julie Young, TFHS’ principal for curriculum and instruction. The benefits for students who are motivated to succeed, she said, could be enormous.

“Any time, any place, any path, any pace”

“Research shows that many kids drop out of school just because they’re bored,” Young said. “In an online format, students can learn at their own pace. Our motto is, ‘Any time, any place, any path, any pace.'”

Not only can students learn and progress as quickly as their abilities will allow, said Young; they also can receive more individual instruction if they need it. Because teachers are free to spend additional time with students on concepts they are having trouble understanding, students aren’t left behind to struggle on their own in the wake of the material.

Carol Mitchell, who teaches the math portion of the school’s SAT prep class, agreed. “In a traditional school, I felt like I could never spend enough time with the kids who needed help. Here, I can provide a lot of one-on-one coaching.”

Young noted that many students simply don’t thrive in the structure of a traditional school setting. “I feel we’re meeting the needs of many students who aren’t being reached,” she said.

Luke Levesque, a junior at Winter Park High School, cited distractions by other students as the reason he decided to take his computer programming class online at TFHS. “I’m a lot more comfortable at home,” he said.

Young outlined several other cases in which distance learning offers an advantage: students who are supporting their families and would otherwise have to drop out of school; child professionalsÐmusicians, actors, athletesÐwho are often out on the road; children of divorced families, who must shuffle back and forth between two homes; and children of parents who travel for a living.

“Every day, I get a phone call that presents a new scenario,” said Young.

Though in its first year, TFHS actually dates back to the summer of 1996, when three teachers and a technology coordinator in Orange County began putting classes on the web. Around the same time, Alachua County officials were writing a request for a distance-learning grant.

That Florida state endowment, a $200,000 “Break the Mold” grant, provided the initial funding to cover the program’s administrative costs. At the suggestion of state officials, Alachua and Orange counties collaborated on the project, then called “Web School,” and the program was offered as a seventh period class for students of the two counties during the 1996-97 school year.

Now, 170 students from six school districts are enrolled in TFHS courses, such as algebra, American government, economics, and web design. Though students currently must attend classes at a geographical school as well, TFHS expects to add enough classes to offer a complete high school education to its students within three years.

Fuel for controversy?

TFHS officials are seeking full-time equivalency funding from the state to make this happen. But the idea of a fully online public school makes some people uneasy.

One question often posed to school officials is whether the absence of socialization or extra-curricular opportunities would inhibit students’ personal growth.

“Home schoolers have been dealing with these kinds of issues for years,” said Young. She pointed to a variety of opportunities for students to socialize and interact with their peers, such as community centers, clubs, organizations, and sporting leagues.

Also, Young said, all courses at TFHS require communication with other students as part of the curriculum. Students often are required to work in teams or collaborate on projects via eMail, and they discuss class material online. Many courses also require students to interview members of the community and report on what they’ve learned.

Another question Young frequently fields is how the integrity of student work is monitored online. Final evaluations for all classesÐwhether in the form of an exam, a speech, an explanation of a portfolio, or participation in a labÐare held in person, she said. Students must provide proof of their identity, and the evaluations determine whether students have done the work themselves or not.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the program is how to replace the benefits of daily, in-person interaction with teachersÐand how to keep kids on task without direct supervision. Although the school’s teachers spend a great deal of time emphasizing course requirements, communicating what is expected of their students, and maintaining contact with students by phone or eMail, Young admitted the lack of face-to-face interaction could be a problem for some students.

“We do our best to prepare students for the type of experience they’ll be embarking on, and to make sure they understand what it will require,” said Young. “But not every student is ready to assume that kind of responsibility. That’s going to be a constant challenge for us.”

Funding still a hurdle

TFHS could certainly help Florida’s overcrowding problemÐa crisis facing tens of thousands of schools nationwide. President Clinton has proposed $20 billion in zero-interest bonds over the next two years to build new schools and provide relief for overcrowded classrooms. Online schools such as TFHS would help stem the problem as well.

But first, the school must get the full-time equivalency funding it is seeking. The problem is one of logistics more than politics. “No one knows how to fund an organization that does not have seat time and attendance,” said Young.

While surprisingly few voters have questioned the wisdom of funneling education dollars into an online high school, Young said some school employees have expressed concern about losing part of their own funding to TFHS.

“We need to find or develop a funding model that is a win-win situation for all parties involved,” said Young.

The Florida High School



eSN Special Report: ‘Interactive Curriculum Systems’ Replace ILS

If you think the instructional computer programs we used to refer to as “integrated learning systems” are big, rigid, and focused only on repetitive practice ‹ what critics call “drill and kill” ‹ take another look. Software companies are selling automated curriculum services in smaller, less-costly packages, adding more sophisticated instructional design, and giving teachers more control. Some are even integrating the internet into their systems.

For all their development, integrated learning systems‹or “interactive curriculum systems (ICS),” as they now might more accurately be called ‹still do what they were designed to do back in the late 1970s. By integrating many hours of instructional material, assessment tools, and a “manager,” they:

  1. Assess a student’s weaknesses and strengths.

  2. Create individualized instruction by selecting from their integrated lessons and exercises the material the system deems best suited to a student’s needs.

  3. Manage instruction so the student is led through the material in small, sequential steps. When a step is mastered, the “manager” introduces the next step. If a step isn’t mastered, the manager reteaches the material.

  4. Create detailed student performance reports, allowing a teacher to spot problems easily and intervene.

“The real value of the program is its ability to individualize instruction,” says Anne Vietmeyer, technology coordinator at the Gunston Elementary School in Lorton, Va.. Gunston has been using Computer Curriculum Corp.’s “SuccessMaker” system since 1994.

“Each student can work at their own level. With a very large range of ability levels in a single classroom, the program becomes a tool to meet the many individual needs in the classroom,” says Vietmeyer.

Computer Curriculum Corp. (CCC) and Jostens Learning Corp.(JLC) are the largest providers of interactive curriculum systems. When sales of their regular courseware are added to their ICS revenues, they rank as the country’s largest creators of K-12 educational software. Each holds about 18 percent of the K-12 market, with sales exceeding $100 million a year, according to sources in the industry.

The other K-12 ICS providers are TRO Learning, Inc., which in the school market focuses on grades 7-12, SkillsBank Corp.(grades 3-12), American Education Corp.(grades 1-12), and New Century Education Corp. (K-10).

From the beginning, automated curriculum services were controversial.

Critics complained their drill-and-practice instructional design was ill-suited to modern education with its emphasis on learning through experience and creativity and on students’ abilities to work cooperatively, synthesize, and communicate.

Critics also complained the systems were inflexible. The computer pretty well determined the instructional program. If it didn’t teach to the standards the school was accountable for, tough. If the teacher wanted to integrate software from another company into a lesson, or even just modify a lesson, there was little choice. And if the system didn’t suit a child’s learning style, too bad.

Plus, the systems were big and expensive. Their market was largely limited to Title 1 schools that could use federal money to buy them and that needed their reports to meet Washington’s hunger for paperwork.

“Clients wanted the ‘manager’ to be more open and flexible,” said JLC President Terry Crane. “They wanted assessment to be aligned with the assessment they are being held accountable for. Curriculum needed to be more tutorial and less drill and practice. They wanted more problem solving and more writing activities. And they wanted systems to be less costly. That’s the way all of our new products are being developed.”

Jostens is not alone. All ICS companies are responding. One of the most important developments has been the increase in flexibility. ICS managers now give teachers greater control, and most allow users to include third-party software in their lessons. American Education’s “A+dvanced Learning System” permits teachers to rewrite lessons completely, even to the extent of editing video and sound.

Another big improvement is the addition of instructional designs that go far beyond drill and practice. All ICS companies have added sound, graphics, and video for aural and visual learners. For K-4, for instance, CCC has just launched “Math Corner,” which includes many of the popular “manipulatives”‹at least graphical renderings of them‹that kids can move around on the screen.

To help students learn by doing, ICS companies have introduced problem-solving exercises and activities such as writing exercises, science simulations, and the creation of multimedia reports. To support these activities, they have added tools, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, graphing tool, and project planner.

For example, American Education’s “MediaWeaver” and CCC’s new “Reading Adventures Primary,” which teach reading and process writing, include a word processor. In May, TRO will launch “Mathematics Problem Solving,” the first of a series of releases that will add problem-solving throughout its curriculum.

In a typical TRO exercise, students prepare greenhouse lilies for a spring sale by managing temperature and moisture.

“The student uses an array of on-screen tools‹a flow chart, a graphing engine, a calendar, thermostat, and temperature charts,” says John Super, TRO’s head of marketing.

Ann Henson, Jostens Learning’s vice president for sales operations, says, “We not only want to teach content. We also want students to use tools to solve problems and to communicate. That’s what they’ll be doing in the real world.”

Another development in instructional design is the inclusion of theme-based instruction. JLC’s courseware includes thematic units. Moreover, Jostens breaks lessons into parts, so teachers can create themes from pieces of different lessons.

“Our system breaks the curriculum down to activity levels,” says Henson. “A lesson on fractions may include 10 activities. The teacher can reorder the sequence of activities. She can also delete and add activities. And if she finds a cool third-party ‘edutainment’ package that helps kids add fractions, she can insert it wherever she wants.”

In February the company launched “Vital Tools,” which can search all the instructional resources available to a teacher to find material for use in constructing units.

“A teacher who wants to build a unique thematic unit‹on money, say‹will want to be able to read about money, do math about money, and study the history of money. We have given teachers the ability to pull apart Jostens curriculum and use it in ways we haven’t thought of. But it could take a lot of time to construct a thematic unit. Vital Tools takes care of searching for you,” says Henson.

Introduction of new instructional designs creates a need for new assessment techniques. But computers do poorly at grading many recently added learning strategies, such as writing exercises and the use of manipulatives.

CCC and American Education are among the first ICS providers that have begun to address the issue. For each student, they create a “portfolio,” which is a folder where work done on the computer is stored for review and grading by the teacher.

Another area of development is in the use of the internet. TRO is delivering lessons of its “PLATO” ICS over the net, with more than 1,000 hours of instruction available, the company says. Jostens Learning is pilot testing internet delivery of its lessons.

American Education, CCC, and Jostens all have products that work with their interactive curriculum systems to bring internet web sites into their lessons. Earlier this year, SkillsBank launched a module that teaches internet skills and that can take students to a SkillsBank web site to practice.

While ICS companies have been adding to their systems, they’ve also been breaking them up and selling pieces at lower prices. A complete version of CCC’s SuccessMaker K-8 costs approximately $2,000 for every computer licensed to use it. A school that wants to use SuccessMaker on 25 networked computers will pay something around $50,000. The price rises to hundreds of thousands of dollars when SuccessMaker is installed on a district network serving several schools. And there are ongoing licensing and maintenance fees.

TRO Learning has a $300,000 contract to install its “PLATO” ICS throughout Illinois’ U-46 school district.

To bring prices down, CCC in 1997 introduced “ClassPacks”‹one subject for one grade (for example, a course in grade-three reading, complete with assessment and management tools).

Jostens also has introduced modules, offering its flagship ICS, “Tomorrow’s Promise,” by grade and subject. A new stand-alone version of Tomorrow’s Promise (grade one spelling) costs $99.95 for use on one computer. Language arts for one grade costs $279.95. Algebra for grades 7-12 costs $1,049.95.

SkillsBank also sells modules, although its systems never were as comprehensive, or as expensive, as the others. Rather than offering their comprehensive curriculum, SkillsBank sees itself as a supplement that teachers can use to teach basic skill. So SkillsBank’s system includes fewer hours of instruction.

A full, networked SkillsBank installation covering grades 9- 12 runs $6,000-$7,000. Stand-alone modules that include assessment and management tools cost as little as $149.

TRO and American Education systems traditionally have been sold in modules, and New Century President Dennis Tarzian says his company will follow soon.


CAI can’t tell the half of it

Ask 10 people what computer-assisted instruction (CAI) means, and you will get 10 different answers. Many models exist, but few are consistent in the minds of users, reviewers, or educators. Because of this, many software producers, instructional leaders, and technologists now speak of the multimedia classroom, which incorporates integrated student educational packages, teacher presentation software, recordkeeping materials, and internet access.

There are four terms used to describe what happens when you put computers in a classroom:

€ Computer-based education (CBE) or computer-based instruction (CBI) are very broad-based terms, which simply refer to any and all computer use in education;

€ Computer-assisted instruction (CAI) refers to software-driven curriculum;

€ Computer-managed instruction (CMI) can refer to either a data management system used by teachers or a system for tracking and evaluating student performance;

€ Computer-enriched instruction (CEI) includes computer generation of data, execution of student programs, and general enrichment activities.

Similiarly, there are four basic types of computer-assisted instruction software: drills, tutorials, games, and simulations.

1. Drills: Tune of a different drummer

Computer-assisted instruction has traditionally been thought to offer students infinitely patient opportunities for practice, practice, and more practice. This drill option gives teachers the chance to follow-up direct instruction with a variety of practice levels. Software designed to achieve this includes numerous levels and options, a variety of student response choices, and reinforcement, all of which give either sufficient repetition or sufficiently increasing levels of difficulty to achieve mastery.

Ferdi Serim, District Computer Coordinator for Princeton Regional Schools and author, compares this to a musician’s need to practice scales and rudiments. In music, this type of practice provides the structure and experience that become the basis for spontaneity and creativity. Serim suggests that the best methods for using computer-assisted instruction in an appropriate context are yet to be developed.

2. Tutorials: Your horn or mine?

As a teaching tool, the computer can occasionally eliminate the need for direct instruction. Some teachers are horrified by that thought, but most are grateful for the tutorial features incorporated into many software programs. Both teachers and students benefit from this because it facilitates using a new program in a short period of time.

When the program itself is the tutorial, software designed with evaluation options for students to proceed at different paces and levels can add animation and music to what is essentially a sequential process. Built-in reviews and easily accessible content, along with the ability to move forward and backward within the program make well-written tutorial software easy to use.

3. Games: Name that tune

Game software has inherent appeal for students, but raises the eyebrows of some teachers and parents. It offers built-in competition: Did you reach your goal faster, with more accumulated points or rewards, or both? Like drill and practice, game software reinforces both skill development and speed. Competition adds excitement, but also introduces the possibility of defeat. Games are frequently used with previously taught skills requiring quick reactions, such as math facts. But students for years have also enjoyed games requiring more thinking and decision-making, such as “Oregon Trail” and “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?”

4. Simulations: is it real or is it . . . .?

Some sophisticated software places students in artificial environments with changing sets of circumstances, a reflection of real life experiences. This type of program offers the opportunity for logical thinking and careful problem-solving, along with the potential for regrouping when mistakes are made. In higher education, pilots and nurses benefit from these options during training, while younger students may use simulation software to gain experience in resolving community issues in many different ways.

Studies show that when CAI is used as a supplement to traditional, teacher-directed instruction, there can be many benefits. By using word processing programs, students write longer, use a greater variety of words and sentence structures, and gain a more accurate grasp of grammar, usage, and spelling. They tend to revise more and can show a better understanding of the writing process. They also tend to have better attitudes toward writing. Studies show that, in general, students not only learn better and faster when receiving CAI, they also retain what they have learned better and have better rates of time-on-task. This is especially true among lower-achieving students and economically disadvantaged students. CAI also offers more options for studens with handicaps.

Evaluating CAI software

Evaluation must follow implementation, whether it’s traditional curriculum, computer-assisted packages, or some combination. Susan Marks, director of the User Services Team of the Office of Global Access Technology of the Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools, says that because “software is a tool and not an end,” it is important to look at desired student outcomes of a curriculum, unit, or lesson beforechoosing to use computers. The focus should be on integrating the technology with the instructional program. Marks also says it is important to look at the needs and interests of the community while designing and determining the technology options for students.

Her school system is carefully evaluating the effectiveness of its total global access technology program. Here are some of the measures Marks uses:

€ curricular demands for technology use

€ teacher use of instructional strategies

€ growth in quality of student work

€ information resources available to students

€ availability of networked computers to students outside class

€ graduates’ report on relevancy of skills

€ active learning and computer use or non use.

A big question for educators is what criteria should be used in evaluating the software that drives all computer-assisted instruction.

Terrie Gray has developed extremely thorough evaluation criteria for online instructional resources, which she has posted at Ed’s Oasis web site. There are 30 criteria listed there, but she describes the first eight as the most significant, because they deal with what students can do on a web site. Although online experiences are different from educational software packages, her criteria stress interactivity, communication, student contributions, and support for a variety of student projects, all of which are important in software packages as well.

Computer instruction, no matter how sophisticated it has become, is still no substitute for a talented, dedicated teacher. But CAI now has an established role in education, and educators are learning how to use it and evaluate it to ensure that it succeeds in amplifying, enriching, and extending the benefits of effective human instruction.

Here is a list of software evaluation criteria developed by researchers:

  1. Is the material clear and inviting?

  2. Is there sufficient repetition of concepts with options for more or less repetition as needed?

  3. Is there built-in positive reinforcement for students?

  4. Is the software sufficiently interactive?

  5. Is it logical, coherent, and sequential?

  6. Is the content presented and developed with sufficient depth of understanding for the age and grade level(s)?

  7. Does the student receive sufficient feedback to revise incorrect answers?

  8. Is there room for individual differences?

  9. Does the student find the program motivating?

  10. Finally, how effective is computer-assisted instruction in addressing the curricular topic under consideration?

L’Ouverture broadens CAI

The L’Ouverture Computer Technology Magnet school in Wichita, Kan., named in 1912 for a Haitian military leader, represents the wave of the future when it comes to technology assisted instruction, especially with respect to computers and video.

Even so, Principal Howard Pitler is quick to stipulate that, “Computers are not magic. They don’t teach kids.” What they are, he says, is a tool that allows teachers to enrich, enhance, and remediate.

Computer-assisted instruction is an integral part of the education of every L’Ouverture student. Because L’Ouverture is a magnet school with a high percentage of gifted and talented students, the teachers offer numerous enrichment experiences and field trips. The student body is approximately 45 percent minority, with a similar percentage of students receiving free and reduced meals.

All L’Ouverture students leave fifth grade with the capability and experience of doing multimedia presentations, participating in TV productions, and demonstrating keyboarding skills. To make sure they also leave with skills in math and language arts, the school is using the programs offered by Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC) to maintain and monitor progress.

Pitler reports that every child spends a half hour every day on the computer, which keeps records so carefully and reports progress so effectively that grades have become obsolete.

The principal is helping his students create and construct a virtual reality CD of an art museum. He’s also helping his teachers steer their students through skill rotations and regular regrouping. This ensures they can punctuate and calculate as well as work with a computer, he says.

Pitler knows all of the 380 students attending L’Ouverture’s K-5 program. He’d like to have them for three more years, through eighth grade.

L’Ouverture uses CCC’s “Math Investigations,” “Reading Investigations” and “Science Discovery,” which are designed to teach critical thinking, writing, and other complex skills through exploration and problem-based learning.

“Criterion-referenced test scores have improved every year,” says Pitler.

But he does not attribute all the gains to these programs alone. “We changed our whole instructional design when we brought in computers (200 computers for 375 children). We can’t say our performance is due to one factor.”

The secret, Pitler sugggests, is the total package.

“We’ve found that computers are most effective in improving student achievement when the role of the teacher is transformed,” he says. “We incorporate cooperative learning, outcomes education, television broadcast, and computers in a total package. All teachers in the program believe in the vision. No one piece on its own would be as effective as the total package.”


ICS brings curriculum to life

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.


Computer Curriculum Corp.


Ed’s Oasis


Jostens Learning Corp.


L’Ouverture Computer Technology Magnet School


New Century Education Corp.


SkillsBank Corp.


TRO Learning Inc.


U.K. National Council for Education Technology



Properly employed, ICS works

Interactive curriculum systems (ICS) have shown that when well-used, they raise students’ standardized test scores. But they have yet to show they consistently improve performance in areas beyond the scope of standardized tests, such as writing ability and real-world problem-solving.

One of the best studies of how well ICS does with basic skills comes from the United Kingdom’s National Council for Educational Technology. It focused on whether interactive curriculum systems could improve pupils’ numeracy and literacy skills‹the stuff of standardized tests.

The evaluation looked at eight British schools using Computer Curriculum Corp.’s SuccessMaker. The study concludes that for numeracy, pupils using SuccessMaker achieved significantly higher results than the control groups. For reading, the findings are less clear: Some SuccessMaker students did better and some did worse than control groups.

The study also finds improved student attitudes and self-esteem. Teachers appreciate being freed of mechanical aspects of teaching. It concludes, “The role of the teachers was found to be crucial in achieving learning gains in literacy.”

Students do best when they use the program regularly, have sufficient time on the computer, and are well-supervised. Teacher training is essential.

Similar gains have been seen when an ICS is used effectively in U.S. schools. At Gunston Elementary in Lorton, Va., the Iowa survey showed sixth-graders who used SuccessMaker math for one school year gained in grade level a little more than a year and a half. Fifth-graders gained almost 1.6 years, and fourth-graders gained just over one year.

Similar successes come from schools using systems by Jostens Learning, TRO, SkillsBank, American Education, and New Century.

But not all schools are success stories. Some complain of technical problems, delays, and poor service. Some are disappointed with students’ performance. ICS companies say poor performance is due to systems being poorly implemented or used ineffectively.

ICS companies now are expanding their courseware to teach critical thinking and other more complex skills. Evidence is insufficient to assess their effectiveness in attaining these objectives. At this point, anecdotes are all we have to go on. But indications are that interactive curriculum systems may be successful at this level, too.


Software pirates in your schools could make you walk the plank

It is estimated that violations of computer software copyrights cost software publishers $2.8 billion a year in the U.S. and $15.2 billion worldwide. As could be expected software publishers have become increasingly aggressive in their attempts to enforce their rights.

What you can’t do

The copyright protection on software is fairly clear ‹ you can’t use what you haven’t paid for. (Shareware, free ware, and public domain software, as the names indicate, are exceptions to this ‹ because owners exert limited or no copyright authority.)

Typically, a software license sets out the rights and limitations for the use of software. Generally, the limitation is to the program and one backup copy. Licenses can also be purchased for multiple copies or for use by the entire organization. Most major software publishers allow you to purchase software licenses according to your specific needs.

The copyright statute (17 U.S.C. 101 et seq.) prohibits

€ duplicating software for profit,

€ making multiple copies for use by different users within an organization,

€ giving an unauthorized copy to another individual, and

€ commercial renting, leasing, or lending of software without express written permission

You may make one backup copy of software for your own use. No other copies may be made without specific authorization from the copyright owner. The law does provide an exception for nonprofit educational institutions. It allows for the “transfer of possession of a lawfully made copy of a computer program by a nonprofit educational institution to another nonprofit educational institution or to faculty, staff, or students.” This exception allows the complete transfer of the program ‹ it does not give educational institutions authority to make additional copies of software.

What can happen if you do

If found in violation of copyright laws, an organization or individual can be prosecuted criminally or found liable for damages in a civil action. Criminal penalties for copyright infringement include fines up to $250,000, jail terms of up to five years, or both. In addition, the copyright owner can pursue the violator in a civil action and get an injunction, actual damages (lost profits), statutory damages (up to $100,000 per infringement), and costs and attorneys’ fees.

What you should do

To protect the school district from possible liability, you can implement a number of procedures and policies:

€ Make employees and students aware of their responsibilities and restrictions when using software. Many people are unaware of the restrictions and thus pirate software inadvertently. Draft a memo explaining these restrictions and send it out ‹ or cover the restrictions during any computer inservice training.

€ Consider asking employees and students to sign a software code of ethics, setting out the rules and regulations for software use.

€ Consider, as some districts have done, enacting policies prohibiting students and employees from downloading or uploading copyrighted software.

€ Conduct an internal audit to make sure there are enough licenses to cover the programs the district runs. You can purchase software commercially to run an audit, contract with an audit service provider, or conduct it manually yourself. Audits should be conducted regularly. Any illegal software discovered during the audit should be deleted.

€ Consider purchasing a network metering package if you run programs off a shared server. This restricts the number of simultaneous users according to the number of licenses purchased.

€ Most importantly, make someone in the district accountable. A software manager should monitor software used and keep a good inventory of licenses.

The Software Publishers Association has dedicated a portion of its web site to the copyright his issue. It provides information that can help you come into and stay in compliance with software copyright laws. The site offers a “Sample Software Policy and Procedures,” including a suggested auditing policy and a software code of ethics.

Software Publishers Association<