DVD’s day is dawning on the school field

K-12 decision makers generally have taken a wait-and-see attitude about digital video discs (DVD), the technology expected to replace CD-ROM. But a decision by the nation’s leading education software company might hasten the day when schools begin the wholesale transition to the new format.

The Learning Company (TLC) unveiled a clutch of new software titles at May’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Atlanta, and three of the most popular titles now are on DVDs. DVD is a relatively new technology with a huge storage capacity and high-quality video output. Industry insiders are saying that TLC’s lead in developing DVD software for the education market could push DVD technology into mainstream acceptance.

“It’s just a matter of time before others follow suit,” said David Obelcz, a software solutions technologist for Compaq Computer.

The DVD-ROM titles that TLC is debuting in Atlanta are “The Complete National Geographic: 109 Years of National Geographic Magazine,” “Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia 1999,” and “The Oregon Trail, 3rd Edition.

DVD defined

DVD stands for “digital video disc” or “digital versatile disc,” depending on whom you ask. It’s a new type of CD-ROM that holds anywhere from 4.7 gigabytes (GB) of memory to 17 GB–up to 26 times the data contained on a single CD.

Toshiba pioneered the DVD standard two years ago to replace laser discs in the consumer entertainment industry. DVD uses a video compression standard called MPEG-2 to compress video data. A full-length feature film (up to 133 minutes) can fit onto a single-sided disc. MPEG-2 allows for full-screen, high-resolution video of superior quality.

DVD drives have begun to appear in many desktop and portable models from each of the major computer vendors as an optional upgrade from CD-ROM, and some manufacturers even offer it as the standard drive in their higher-end models. But until now, the hardware has been well ahead of the software in terms of development.

Obelcz calls this the “rubber band effect.” “Generally, there’s a two-year period with any new technology before the applications can catch up to it,” Obelcz said. “We’re about a year into that period with DVD.”

The vast majority of DVD software titles are still movies or other entertainment-oriented titles. “Right now, no one has a good sense of what exactly can be done with DVD,” said David Nichols, manager of mobile and consumer options for IBM.

Clearly, though, DVD’s huge storage capacity is an advantage over CD-ROM. TLC’s “The Complete National Geographic,” for example, fits every article of every issue of National Geographic Magazine from 1888 through 1997 onto four DVDs.

But software developers also are starting to realize the enormous potential for creating multimedia applications for schools with DVD. In addition to TLC’s titles, Community Network Systems (CNS) is releasing a multimedia version of the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia on DVD.

“DVD holds incredible potential for the education market,” said Matthew Barlow, CNS’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “The amount of storage available on DVD and the quality of its video means that any reference-based product can have a much richer multimedia capability–which also means it can demonstrate concepts more effectively.”

DVD forecast

So, should you invest in a DVD-drive if you’re buying new computers for your schools? Probably–especially if you want to protect your investment from obsolescence in a few years.

International Data Corporation (IDC) and other industry trackers are predicting that DVDs will replace CD-ROMs as the industry standard by the year 2000–much as CD-ROMs have replaced floppy disks. “There’s a real critical mass coming, and it’s happening very soon,” predicts Obelcz.

You can expect to pay a few hundred dollars extra for a DVD drive as an installed option. Apple Computer, for example, offers DVD-drive upgrades in its desktop machines for $130 and in its PowerBook notebook computers for $200, but you have to buy a special MPEG-2 decoder card if you want to watch MPEG-2 encoded video. Elecede Technologies (E4) just released a Mac DVD playback card that will ship June 30 and retail for about $250.

Many vendors include their own MPEG-2 decoder cards when you buy a DVD-enabled computer. Gateway offers DVD drives on its computers for around $200 with a decoder card included. Dell just started shipping its Inspiron line of notebooks with DVD drives and decoder cards for an extra $299, and DVD drives will be an option on its Latitude line this fall. Dell’s Dimension line of desktops have included DVD drives as an option for a few months.

The fact that few software applications exist yet on DVD is still a consideration. But one advantage of buying computers with DVD drives is that they’re backwards-compatible with CD-ROMs, meaning your DVD drive can still read and play CD-ROMs. A caveat: If you’re going to buy a DVD-enabled machine, make sure it has a “phase 2” DVD drive (the phase 1 drives cannot read discs that have been digitally remastered on CD-R drives).

Todd Nelson, portables manager for Dell’s education division, warns that it might still be a year before you see a wide range of education titles on DVD. But Nelson sees one potential application for DVD right now in foreign language classes–DVD movie discs can be programmed in up to eight different languages, complete with subtitles.

“You wouldn’t even have to buy DVD drives for every machine–you could buy a portable computer with a DVD drive and use it like a VCR,” Nelson said.

Obelcz admits the short-term value of DVD for education is still elusive–but it was for CD-ROMs, too, he says. “Schools are caught in an endless balancing act,” Obelcz pointed out. “On the one hand, they don’t want the technology they buy to be obsolete, but on the other hand, they’re often constrained by tight budgets. I’d say it’s worth at least considering a DVD drive as an investment in the future.”


The Learning Company

Compaq Computer

Toshiba http://www.toshiba.com

Community Network Systems

International Data Corporation

Apple Computer


Dell Computer


Ohio school district takes on Lucent Technologies: Company denies wrongdoing, promises to fulfill contract

The superintendent of a 3,500-student Ohio school district is charging Lucent Technologies with abandoning work it has been paid nearly $1 million to do in favor of drumming up more school business. At least five other school districts in the state have voiced similar complaints about the communications equipment giant, the school chief said.

Superintendent James Crawford, head of the Whitehall (Ohio) City School District near Columbus, told eSchool News he also is displeased with the company’s handling of a personnel matter. Shortly after the school district’s technology director signed a “scope of work” contract with Lucent without the superintendent’s knowledge, Crawford said, the company received “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from the district and later hired that same technology director as a Lucent account executive.

A company spokesman said Lucent would not give Whitehall’s former technology director permission to speak with eSchool News, but Lucent denied any wrongdoing and insisted it was “moving heaven and earth” in an effort to fulfill its contract obligations to the Whitehall schools.

Officials in Whitehall dispute that. After waiting one year and spending nearly $1 million, they claim, their five-school district is not much closer to its goal of a high-speed, fiber-optic wide area network (WAN) than it was when it started. Instead, they say, the district bought itself a sluggish, partial network, sustained $140,000 in expenses that should have been unnecessary, and was faced with the need to recruit a new technology director.

The company at the center of this controversy evolved from what was once known as Bell Laboratories. Lucent Technologies is now a $99 billion spin-off of AT&T. AT&T is best known as a long distance telephone service provider, but Lucent Technologies now is an independently traded New Jersey company that specializes in the sale and installation of internet and networking hardware. Its chief rival in the school field and elsewhere is Cisco Systems, a much smaller California firm.

Lucent Technologies made news in the business pages several weeks ago when its market value exceeded that of AT&T for the first time. AT&T has a market value pegged at approximately $96 billion.

But all of Lucent’s financial success doesn’t soothe school officials in Whitehall. They’re saying the firm abandoned construction of the schools’ $1.9 million network nearly four months ago. That was in January, when Don Moore, Whitehall’s former technology director, left the district to work as an account executive for Lucent.

“Back burner”

Moore was overseeing Lucent’s installation of the WAN, Whitehall officials said, and was supposed to have completed the network by last August. But the technology director and Lucent left the district with an incomplete, inoperable network, according to school leaders. Work on the WAN has ground to a complete halt since Moore’s departure, said Joyce Hinds, Whitehall’s curriculum director.

Students at Whitehall have some internet access now, but only because of last-minute efforts by the district.

Lucent counters school district charges with the contention that Whitehall schools haven’t obtained the necessary city permits to enable Lucent technicians to complete their work.

Whitehall says it was Lucent’s responsibility to obtain the permits and that the company is ignoring the needs of the district in favor of garnering more school contracts in Ohio, where the state’s SchoolNet program provides almost $100 million in funds to install video, data, and voice networks to all classrooms in the state.

“[Lucent was] too busy going around the state getting more contracts, and they just put us on the back burner,” said Supt. Crawford.

Crawford says he’s not the only school executive unhappy with Lucent. After putting out a query on an internet listserve, Crawford says he heard from officials in five other Ohio school districts, all with complaints about Lucent.

One is Rick Berdine, formerly of the Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, City School District. Berdine said his former district was able to work out its contract disputes with Lucent, but only after “a drawn-out process that took some aggravation.”

Berdine also echoed what Crawford said about feeling the school district was being “put on the back burner” while Lucent rushed to secure bigger, multimillion-dollar contracts around the state.

But neglect wasn’t always what Whitehall got from Lucent, Crawford said. According to Crawford, George Raaber, a Lucent account executive who works with the district, told the superintendent that Lucent would make the Whitehall school system the “flagship district” of central Ohio.

Whitehall officials are equally miffed about what happened with the technology director. The district’s school attorney reportedly is looking into possible employment contract violations, said Crawford.

The former technology director was unavailable for comment, but Lucent denies any wrongdoing. “We have done nothing illegal or unethical,” said Larry Kearney, regional public relations manager for Lucent. He described Moore’s departure from Whitehall as “abrupt.”

Where’s the WAN?

Lucent agreed to build a WAN that would connect the central office and all five schools in the Whitehall district. The WAN was supposed to give students immediate, dedicated access to the internet by August of 1997, Hinds said.

In addition, Whitehall wanted an updated telephone system and internet access for up to eight computers per classroom. Whitehall, a 35 percent low-income school district, plans to spend $3 million on its technology plan over the next five years.

But months after the project was supposed to have been completed, students still didn’t have access to the internet, and school district officials began putting pressure on the technology director to get Lucent to speed up construction.

In November of 1997, according to Crawford, Technology Director Moore signed a “scope of work” form without the superintendent’s knowledge. It was a few weeks later, in December, Crawford said, that “hundreds of thousands of dollars” were paid out to Lucent.

Moore left Whitehall in January of 1998. A week later his employment as a Lucent account executive was announced.

After Moore’s departure, Crawford was shocked to discover the state of the WAN, he said. Classrooms were inadequately wired for any kind of networking, he said, and in one building–Whitehall’s high school–cheaper copper wires had been installed where fiber optic should have been.

The superintendent said Moore and a Lucent employee had told him the network was near completion.

“They both pulled the wool over our eyes and led us to believe everything was OK when it really wasn’t,” said Crawford. “They breached an awful lot of trust with our community–I don’t think we could recommend them.”

Crawford said he hasn’t able to learn at exactly what point Moore applied for the Lucent job. Neither could Crawford find out, he said, who at Lucent interviewed Moore, who hired him, or when Lucent officials knew Moore would be leaving Whitehall.

After discovering this winter how far its classrooms were from internet connectivity, the district had to scramble to provide some networking capability–such as eMail–to students before the school year ended.

One school official estimates that more than $140,000 had to be spent on last-minute purchases and staff overtime to try to provide some technology programming to students as planned.

“We’ve lost quite a bit of money–quite a bit,” said the official.

In dispute

Regarding the disputed responsibility for obtaining city permits, the district maintains that a Lucent account executive promised to get the permits on March 20, but Lucent denies it.

Discussing the matter with eSchool News, Kearney, the Lucent spokesman, said permits were necessary only for cabling that extends beyond the school district’s property. He didn’t explain why cables couldn’t be installed on school property. Nor did he explain why Lucent, before project progress halted, was able to install a fiber-optic connection between Whitehall’s central administrative office and the high school.

In any case, according to Ryan Fletcher, the school district’s network administrator, that headquarters-to-high school hookup still is running at only half the speed Lucent originally promised. Lucent technologists have been back to troubleshoot, Fletcher acknowledged, but he says they haven’t been able to figure out why the connection isn’t working at full speed.

“It just doesn’t seem like anything’s getting fixed,” Fletcher said. “The equipment just isn’t operating.”

“Not significant”

The district began petitioning Lucent in January to come back and finish the network. “We have asked them to come back and provide a solution for the rest of the computers,” Hinds said. “We’ve asked them to work on the speed of the network, and we’ve asked for fiber optic for the WAN.

“We were not significant to them,” summed Hinds.

Whitehall already has paid Lucent $905,000, school officials say–about half the total cost of the project. In addition, to help the schools connect to the internet on their own, the school district used $92,720 of SchoolNet funding. SchoolNet is Ohio’s program to help schools connect to the internet.

Lucent’s Kearney said his company is “moving heaven and earth to get the system in.” Lucent Technologies expects the Whitehall project will be completed this August, Kearney told eSchool News. If that deadline is met, it would bring the project to a close exactly one year after the date school officials say it was promised.

Lucent Technologies


Internet2 promises relief for electronic congestion

A kind of electronic arteriosclerosis has increasingly been dragging internet transmissions down to a crawl. But in mid-April, scientists, corporate executives, and government leaders came together in Washington, D.C., to announce they’ve found a cure. It’s called Internet2.

Educators and others who not so long ago got goose bumps the first time they linked into a web site half way ’round the world have felt the rush become an ooze. As speed limits on the “information superhighway” came down to the molasses level, frustration quickened. School technology champions who easily could envision wondrous educational uses for the world wide web–projects often involving multimedia–have sometimes been frustrated to discover such uses are just a little out of reach.

It’s not that the desired projects are technically unfeasible. It’s just that the current internet infrastructure isn’t entirely up to speed. The problem is itself a measure of technology’s pervasive hold.

The current internet–now being referred to among Internet2 aficionados as the “global internet”–is no longer capable of doing what educators and others want it to.

“We’ve seen instruction in multimedia applications and what that can do to enhance student learning,” said Bill Graves, chairman of the Internet2 Applications Task Force. “But the moment we try to put that up on the network, the network is simply not up to it.”

On April 14, Vice President Al Gore announced the federal government is investing $50 million in research projects aimed at creating a next-generation internet that will lead to speedier network applications–first for universities and then for K-12 schools.

As part of the Internet2 project, Gore unveiled a lightning-fast network backbone connecting universities across the country. The backbone, called Abilene, is the work of the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID). It uses the Qwest national fiber optic network and technologies developed by such companies as Cisco, Nortel, and IBM.

Internet2 is the work of universities supported with $500 million in private investments. It eventually will fold into the current “global internet.”

The Internet2 project, started in 1996 with funds from corporations such as 3Com and MCI Communications, includes more than 100 universities. Recently, IBM committed more than $3.5 million in support for Internet2.

Right now only university researchers are using the speedier network. Most elementary and secondary will never really use Internet2 directly, but K-12 educators will be able to start using Internet2-like services in two to three years, experts say. (A few K-12 schools and libraries might be able to start sooner on a trial basis.)

Although it’s still a couple of years away, the super-fast network will change the way K-12 schools use the internet in classrooms. In addition to speedier downloads and web surfing, Internet2 will reduce the kind of networking frustration that can often prevent teachers from fully incorporating the internet into their curriculum, said Greg Marks, associate director of Merit Network, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization that provides connectivity to educational institutions, libraries, governments, and businesses. It is one of the affiliate members of Internet2.

Network arteriosclerosis

“The internet doesn’t support the kind of applications universities want to do, which is what everyone will want to do in a few years,” said Greg Wood, communications director for Internet2/UCAID.

Accessing and working with massive databases such as NASA’s images of Mars, for example, would require moving billions of bits of data per second. An activity like this would take hours or even days today–and that’s if there were no other demands on the network.

Three basic problems plague today’s internet: First, it wasn’t designed for heavy work such as simultaneous sound and video transmissions. Second, the system doesn’t prioritize tasks. It’s inefficient. Third, today’s global internet is becoming clogged and glutted by the sheer volume of its users.

These shortcomings lead to high teacher frustration, said the Merit Network’s Marks. “Today I could put up something on RealVideo–it would stutter and stop for a few minutes or we would lose the connection entirely. ”

Next generation internet

Internet2 is designed to solve the problem of “network arteriosclerosis” in new ways. First, Internet2 will allow users to work at higher speeds. Downloading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, will take just seconds.

With increased bandwidth, activities such as simultaneous, reliable transmissions of pictures and sounds will become possible. TV-quality audio and video “streaming” require more bandwidth than the global internet can provide now.

But with Internet2, the kind of live, real-time collaboration that’s instrumental for activities such as remote teacher training finally can happen, said Marks. Faster, more-reliable networking will reduce the frustrations teachers have today with today’s clumsy “video conferencing.”

Further, the network will be designed to work more efficiently, handling data in smarter, more effective ways.

One way Internet2 will be different: It will be able to prioritize tasks, Wood said. The existing internet now assigns tasks on a “first come, first served” basis. A task is any request you make of the internet–sending a piece of eMail, for example, or downloading a file.

Because all tasks are treated the same, activities that require more bandwidth– video conferencing, for example–run poorly.

With Internet2, a video conferencing session would get a higher bandwidth priority than, say, a request for a web page. The higher priority would enable the video conferencing session to work properly.

Here are some of the other high-bandwidth applications being developed for Internet2:

  • Distributed, on-demand education. That means students (and teachers) can engage in collaborative learning through multimedia courseware (desktop-to-desktop video conferencing) that’s stored and used over the internet;
  • Collaborative research, which allows researchers worldwide to share large amounts of data with predictable responsiveness without interruptions or slow-downs;
  • Digital libraries, large archives of multimedia files that can be accessed and transferred quickly and with high quality;
  • “Tele-immersion,” which significantly changes what’s possible with distance learning by allowing individuals at different locations to interact in a single virtual environment and to communicate and relate to one another in real time.
  • Yet another network-building project, also supported by Qwest, was announced last week. The Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California’s CalREN-2, as the network is called, will become active in June to link more than a dozen private and public universities, including the University of California, Stanford, and the California Institute of Technology.

    Trickle-down technology

    The Internet2 project is closely related to President Clinton’s Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative. The NGI is federally funded, and different applications are being developed.

    All these network projects will develop new technologies that will trickle down to the global internet. Also sure to benefit from the technological advances will be the private networks–local area networks and wide-area networks–connecting computers in your schools.

    Merit Network



    Cisco Systems




    Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California


    MCI Communications

    Next Generation Internet

    Preparing for Internet2

    To prepare schools now for the new high-speed networking to come, Merit offers the following suggestions:

  • Schools and libraries that are installing new wiring should install the highest quality wiring they can afford. Merit suggests category 5 wiring done by a competent firm. You might only be using the wire at 10 Mbps now, but with Internet2 you’ll want to be able to support speeds in excess of 1,000 Mbps.
  • Install wiring that meets EIA/TIA 568 specifications.
  • Get written test results of any cable installation–that way you can go back to the installer if there’s any trouble.
  • Install conduits or cable trays in such a way that putting in new wiring or replacing old wiring is easy.
  • Don’t use older thick (10Base5) or thin (10Base2) ethernet for new installations. Instead, use TPE (twisted pair ethernet, 10BaseT).
  • Use switched rather than shared ethernet hubs.
  • Install as much fiber between buildings as you can afford; install a mix of single and multi-mode fiber.
  • Buy equipment that can be managed using Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP).
  • tags

    Internet-delivered curriculum is key to Milken’s burgeoning education empire

    Michael Milken, one of America’s shrewdest and most controversial investors, has dubbed education the hot new market for Wall Street. He’s bought into the nation’s leading for-profit schooling firm, and observers say he believes electronic textbooks and internet-delivered courseware are key to turning a profit in school operations.

    Technology is instrumental in marketing proprietary education as well. Using an array of high-tech classroom equipment as a primary inducement for parents to enroll their children, Nobel Education Dynamics Inc. has become the nation’s fastest growing for-profit schooling company. Now, Nobel has sharply increased its high-tech connection. It is drawing on the financial and technological know-how of two of America’s shrewdest investors–erstwhile junk-bond king Michael Milken and Oracle CEO Lawrence Ellison. Oracle is the world’s second largest software company, after Microsoft.

    Expanding Knowledge Universe

    Milken, along with his brother Lowell, and Ellison are owners of Knowledge Universe, a $1 billion technology consulting and high-tech training company that has been rapidly expanding its education segment. Knowledge Universe bought a substantial share of Nobel last January. It also bought Children’s Discovery Centers of America, another for-profit school and child-care company.

    Generating profits in school operations depends at least in part on lowering costs. Recent moves by Milken and his colleagues suggest that one way he believes cost eventually can be cut is by displacing textbooks and other printed material with electronic content distributed via the internet.

    An eye on education

    Milken has had his eye on education for most of this decade. Well known in financial circles in the late ’80s, Milken came to national attention when he was convicted and spent two years in prison in the early ’90s for securities violations. Since then, he has engaged in philanthropic and education initiatives that have restored his reputation in many circles. His activities include publishing a book on his experience battling cancer and establishing the Milken Family Foundation, which reportedly has given $30 million in unrestricted awards to educators.

    The highly regarded newspaper Education Week recently accepted a major grant from the Milken Family Foundation for a special report on school technology. And last year, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) gave Milken an award designating him a “friend of education.”

    A $47 million fine

    In February, Milken agreed to pay $47 million to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charges that he violated a lifetime ban on engaging in the securities business. The SEC ban prohibits him from earning money by acting as a broker or investment adviser. But Milken, whose personal fortune was estimated at about $700 million by Forbes magazine in September, isn’t prevented from making deals and advising managers through companies in which he owns a stake.

    Consequently, his expertise now is available to Nobel’s for-profit education enterprises. Knowledge Universe paid about $8 million for a 16 percent share of Nobel. The Pennsylvania-based company runs private schools, mostly up to grade six.

    Nobel runs about five schools in Nevada, one of many states, according to Nobel Chairman Jack Clegg, that look “very hard” at the profile of company insiders “before they give you a license to operate a school.”

    However, Clegg said, “I understand that Milken’s problems in the past wouldn’t affect Nobel. He’s an investor, not an operator.”

    Skeptics suspect Milken’s interest in education may be part of a campaign to restore his public image. Others say Milken is motivated mainly by the bottom line. “[Education] is better than investing in tobacco or financing Nike to produce sneakers in Korea at exploited wages,” said one analyst. “But it also sounds like a good investment.”

    Hot school market

    Education is becoming a growth industry in its own right, a fact underscored by recent consolidations and mergers among school technology companies. Of the $700 billion spent on schooling and child care each year, $80 billion goes for private, for-profit education, according to Bear Stearns & Co. analyst David Nadel. With the worsening conditions of overcrowded schools, that number will only increase, analysts say.

    “It sounds as if [Milken] thinks there is going to be big money in this field if you can get in at the right time,” said William B. Griffith, chair of the department of philosophy at George Washington University. “He could be right . . . he’s a smart guy,” Griffith added.

    “Fifteen years ago, he was right about [the importance of] the entertainment business,” Thomas Kalinske, president of Knowledge Universe, said of Milken’s ability to target emerging markets. “Now his view is that the educational sector is rapidly growing to be a more important part of the economy.”

    Operating economies

    Just as he created a huge investment market for junk bonds in the ’80s, Milken now could attract investors to proprietary school operations, Griffith said.

    Not everyone sees that as an unalloyed blessing. For-profit education hasn’t worked in the past, its critics say, because the business model tends to ignore what’s best for children in favor of cost efficiencies. For-profit education turns schooling into a “caveat emptor” situation, says Griffith, where no one is accountable and profit margins are more important than education conditions.

    One of the new economies in school operations will be obtaining instructional materials via the internet. And this is precisely where Knowledge Universe is targeting its expansion capital. Milken has shown a high level of interest in online publishing and distance learning. Just last month, Milken made an unsuccessful bid to acquire the education unit of Viacom’s Simon & Schuster publishing house. Milken was quoted as saying he hopes to be a “pioneer” in distance education.

    Milken is not so much interested in publishing, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal . Rather, he is intrigued by the idea of converting textbooks into electronic form to be broadcast digitally via television and the internet. “He has this vision that he can create school courses that can be transmitted around the world,” the Journal article said.

    Milken outbid

    Simon & Schuster’s electronic databases would have been a good place to start. But Milken was out-bid in the purchase by London-based Pearson PLC, which owns Addison Wesley Longman (AWL), one of the world’s leading educational publishers. With the acquisition, AWL became the nation’s largest electronic instructional materials publisher, with annual sales reported to be more than $100 million.


    Nobel Education Dynamics

    Simon & Schuster

    U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission

    Forbes Magazine

    Bear Stearns & Co.

    George Washington University

    National Association of Independent Schools

    Pearson PLC


    Microsoft’s legal battles largely bypass education

    Educators generally could play the role of disinterested observers as the world’s largest software maker wrestled with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over the release of Windows 98.

    At least three major factors accounted for that: First, most schools had never planned to be among the first to switch to the new version of Microsoft’s PC operating system (OS). Second, those with plans to buy new hardware right away were protected by guarantees offered by four of the largest computer manufacturers. And, third, many schools were relying on network operating systems rather than on the Windows 98 system designed for stand-alone PCs.

    At press time, the battle between Microsoft and antitrust forces in Washington, D.C. and many state capitals was raging without an obvious winner. But to protect prospective customers, at least four major hardware manufacturers have announced free upgrades later if schools and others buy new computers while the release of Windows 98 is still under a regulatory cloud.

    The move came as a sought-for agreement began to dissolve between Microsoft and the DOJ. Talks between the two parties broke off over the weekend of May 16 and 17, with each side accusing the other of reneging on previous agreements.

    Meanwhile, computer makers scrambled to protect schools and other customers from the hassles that could be caused by lengthy legal entanglements involving the release of Windows 98.

    At press time, Microsoft said it was reversing a voluntary freeze on shipments of the operating system to computer manufacturers, and the first wholesale deliveries of the upgrade reportedly began Monday, May 18. A weekend delivery moratorium had been meant to give Microsoft lawyers an 11th-hour opportunity to avoid an antitrust action threatened by DOJ and by attorneys general in at least 20 states.

    Windows 98 still was slated for general release to schools and the public at large on June 25.

    ‘Asking Coke to ship Pepsi’

    The operating system (OS) upgrade from Microsoft is supposed to make computing more reliable, speedier, and more internet-friendly than it was with Windows 95. The upgrade is also supposed to come bundled with Internet Explorer, the application Microsoft uses for web browsing. At press time, the DOJ reportedly was demanding that Microsoft install the rival browser from Netscape on the Windows 98 desktop, a demand Microsoft flatly refused. Microsoft said it was akin to asking “Coke to ship three bottles of Pepsi” in every Coke six pack.

    The Explorer-only desktop is the epitome of the problem, according to the DOJ and the state attorneys general. Building only Microsoft-brand applications into its popular Windows platform–reportedly installed on more than 90 percent of computers world wide–constitutes unfair competition, the law-enforcement agencies alleged.

    Such legal disputes have already severely complicated the impending launch of Windows 98. And Microsoft and it allies claim a lengthy delay in the release of the operating-system upgrade would rock the technology world, threaten the U.S. economy, and generally wreak havoc on computer sellers and buyers. The educators who spoke about this with eSchool News were managing to stay calm.

    Schools & Win 98

    Educators could afford to remain unruffled, in part because computer makers quickly came up with the means to shield schools from most of the minor headaches that could be caused by a further delay of the Windows upgrade.

    At least four manufacturers who aggressively sell to schools–IBM, Gateway, Dell, and Compaq–are making sure you won’t be stuck with computers running on an obsolete operating system a month after you buy them.

    They’re all offering free upgrades to Windows 98 for schools and consumers who buy select series between now and when the new operating system will be available.

    Schools that buy IBM Aptiva E-series or select ThinkPad systems at IBM-authorized retailers or from IBM Direct Sales between May 1, 1998, and June 30, 1998, can get free upgrades to Windows 98 when it’s released, said a company news release.

    “IBM wants to make sure that our customers have peace of mind when they buy our systems,” said Brian Connors, vice president, Aptiva Brand, IBM Consumer Division. “Knowing that the computer you buy today will be able to take full advantage of Windows 98 when it is available–and at no cost–should help deliver that peace of mind.”

    Dell is offering a free Windows 98 upgrade to school customers who purchase computers loaded with Windows 95 between April 1 and July 31, 1998, said a Dell representative. Customers must redeem upgrade coupons by October 31, 1998, the company added.

    Schools that buy a new computer running Windows 95 will receive a coupon with their purchase for a free upgrade, said Kathy Anderson of Gateway. Mail in the coupon, and Gateway will send you the upgrade on a CD-ROM and will pick up the shipping and handling costs, Anderson said.

    Compaq had not released details of its plan for helping schools upgrade, but at press time, a representative of the company’s education group said Compaq would be doing so shortly.

    NT next?

    George Warren, K-12 marketing manager for Dell, said he doesn’t think schools will be severely affected by any further delay in the release of Windows 98. It takes from six months to a year after the initial release before the education market jumps into a new operating system, he explained. “Schools didn’t flock to Windows 95, but most everyone switched out by nine months,” Warren estimated. This upgrade won’t be as difficult for schools as, for example, the bigger leap from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, he added.

    Some school technology directors say they’ll bypass Windows 98 entirely, waiting instead for the upgrade to Windows NT, Microsoft’s high-powered operating system that runs workstations and network servers. So far, NT–which reportedly has captured about half of the school server market–has escaped legal scrutiny.

    Analysts are predicting, however, that NT is likely to become the next high-profile target for DOJ antitrust investigations. Microsoft already has announced plans to succeed Windows 98 with NT-based technology.


    U.S. Department of Justice

    IBM K-12 Education

    Dell Computer Co.




    Idaho schools reap technology windfall

    In what may be the largest cash gift to a school system from a private foundation, the Idaho Department of Education has been hit by an $80 million windfall to outfit its schools in state-of-the-art technology.

    The sum represents the largest chunk of a $110 million gift to “energize” Idaho education programs given by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, founded in 1966 by the successful grocery store family.

    Foundation trustees approved the plan at a board meeting on May 21. The remainder of the noncompetitive grant will support student reading skills, pre-school readiness, and teaching standards.

    Classroom technology by far outpaced the other initiatives, nabbing over 70 percent of the funding pot. School officials believe it’s the biggest single-state education grant ever to be awarded. Rich Mincer, bureau chief of the Idaho State Department of Education’s Bureau of Technology Services, said that school officials were stunned by the amount of the grant.<

    “We were saying that $20-30 million would be beneficial” in talks with the foundation, Mincer said. In light of Idaho’s scant student population–about 250,000–“it’s a tremendous gift.”

    “This commitment from the Albertson Foundation means that Idaho teachers will be on the leading edge to improving academic performance by using state-of-the-art technology,” said Anne C. Fox, Idaho superintendent of public instruction. “An important part of this initiative is strong accountability using our expanded testing program to monitor whether students’ skills are improving.”

    The gift exceeds the $50 million that the government has pumped into technology for Idaho schools in the past four years in state, local, and federal moneys. With these funds, schools have been able to develop technology plans and begin preliminary purchases of equipment.

    Mincer said that many districts in the state have been anxiously awaiting eRate funds to propel the statewide technology plan, set in place in 1994. While the state was well on its way to providing internet service for every classroom, Mincer said, more was spent on retrofitting Idaho’s aging school buildings than originally planned. That meant scaling back on spending for new machines.

    But the new plan will ensure that every teacher in the state gets a brand-new multimedia computer, Mincer said. The Idaho Council for Technology in Learning, a state agency that will help administer the grant, is devising a plan that would shift older computers to areas where state-of-the-art technology capabilities isn’t as important as it is in the classroom.

    The technology spending will include:

    • More than $28 million in one-time noncompetitive grants to school districts for computer equipment and educational technology for teachers.

    • More than $11 million during the next three years to support teacher training in the use of technology and how to apply technology to better teach students.

    • More than $23 million during the next three years to support innovative and enhanced approaches to teaching with technology.

    • More than $18 million to help equip professional technical academies.

    One-time, noncompetitive grants totaling $28 million will be distributed in cooperation with the Idaho Council for Technology in Learning for the 1998-99 school year. Funds will also pay for three staff members for the council to help administer the program and provide technical support.

    The council is a 15-member board made up of Superintendent of Public Instruction Fox, four state legislators and representatives of various state agencies, public schools and libraries. Six regional technology advisers from public colleges, universities, and vocational technical education also work to support the council.

    The Albertson legacy

    The foundation’s mission is to foster improvement of education in Idaho–a mission that makes it unique, said Susan Gray, assistant editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

    Few, if any, privately-held foundations focus exclusively on supporting public education projects throughout a single state. Technology philanthropy, Gray pointed out, tends to come from corporate foundations with a vested interest, such as IBM’s Reinventing Education program or AT&T’s Learning Network.

    The Annenberg Foundation may come close, Gray said, but its scope is national. In the past few years the Annenberg has awarded nearly $500 million to schools in 11 states. A private, local foundation like the Albertson is a real boon to Idaho education, Gray said. “They have a lot of influence. It’s a good cause.”

    The foundation was established in 1966 by the late grocery store magnate Joe Albertson and his widow Kathryn. But it wasn’t until Mrs. Albertson transferred her shares of the company’s stock–a cache of $700 million–that the foundation began to seek out education projects to fund.

    Almost overnight, it became one of the 30 largest foundations in the United States. It may be the only one of its size limited primarily to one area of giving–education.

    With such a focused giving priority, the foundation has the potential to turn Idaho into a national leader for innovative programs to improve schools, said Robert Barr, dean of Boise State’s College of Education.

    One of the initiatives was the Idaho Management for Change (IMC), led by school reform guru Willard Daggett. An appearance by Daggett in Boise led to grants for 34 school districts and individual schools which will enable them to work with consultants from Daggett’s International Center for Leadership in Education. Their goal is to bring schools and communities together to shape curriculum.

    “The foundation is clearly looking to make systemic changes in our schools–it’s about restructuring. And they have the resources to make a huge impact,” says William Parrett, director of Boise State University’s Center for School Improvement.

    Ringing off the hook

    The Albertson foundation money isn’t slated until the next school year, and school and foundation officials have not yet chosen vendors for the equipment purchases, said Mincer. But they’re already lining up: “My phone is ringing off the hook.”

    Mincer said that the team will be looking at makers of computer desktop systems, projection devices, television sets, DVD, and some emerging technology like play stations. Idaho’s primary vendor in the past has been nearby Micron, based in Boise.

    Because Micron is locally owned and a major employer in the state, along with Hewlett-Packard, “they have a pretty good leg up” on competition, Mincer said.

    But, he added, the state will still consider bids from Compaq, Gateway, Dell, and IBM. Apple is not a big seller in the state, according to Mincer.

    Idaho State Department of Education








    Apple answers school skeptics with a blazing new machine aimed straight at education

    The rebirth of Apple Computer continued in May as the company unveiled an innovative new machine, opened an online store for schools, and sought to reassure the faithful about its new Mac OS X (short for operating system 10).

    At $1,299, the new computer–called iMac to emphasize its internet networking capabilities–finally makes Apple a player in the low-cost market, the fastest-growing K-12 segment and a market from which Apple had been noticeably absent.

    John Santoro, public relations manager for Apple’s education division, said the price of the new iMac–which is scheduled to be available by mid-August–should appeal to schools.

    “At $1,299, you’re getting the future of the internet at G3 speeds,” Santoro said. “You can’t touch that [price] with a [similarly-configured] PC.”

    The new machine will come with 32 megabytes of memory (expandable to 128 MB), a four-gigabyte hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, 33 Kbps modem, stereo “surround sound,” and built-in Ethernet networking.

    More significantly, it runs on a powerful 233-MHz G3 microprocessor. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who unveiled the iMac at a May 6 press conference, gleefully presided over a demonstration in which iMac ran demanding multimedia applications faster than a high-end personal computer with a 400-Mhz Pentium II chip from Intel Corp.

    Jobs called the machine “a totally new take on what a computer should be.” The iMac encloses monitor, G3 processor, and hard drive in a translucent teal-and-white case to create a sleek machine with a futuristic feel, he said.

    So, what’s the catch? It lacks an internal floppy-disk drive and cannot be upgraded except to add more memory.

    Santoro conceded that the lack of a floppy drive might be an issue for some schools–but the nature of computing also has changed, he noted. Two-thirds of all school computers now operate on a network, according to Santoro. Programs can be run from CD-ROMs, and student work can be saved to a central server.

    The very idea of the iMac, in fact, is to streamline network computing and web access. Apple, on its web site, touts the machine’s “one-button online access.”

    “The floppy was on its way out anyway–all Apple has done is push it over the cliff,” said Jim Polaski, a computer consultant from Oak Park, Ill. Polaski said schools might even appreciate the absence of a floppy drive as a way to simplify the system. The lack of a floppy drive would make it less likely for students to introduce their own programs from home onto the system, for example.

    For schools that still want a floppy drive, Polaski predicted a third-party drive that would attach to the iMac via its universal serial bus port would be available around the time the iMac is released.

    Industry analysts who attended the press conference praised iMac’s features, price, and innovative spirit. Many predicted that schools currently using Macs would appreciate its all-in-one design, and that even people with rival PCs would be intrigued.

    In an effort to shore up eroding support in the education market, Jobs also announced the launch of an online store devoted exclusively to schools.

    The new school store lets educators purchase Apple products built to order from the web. Rival companies Gateway and Dell have been offering similar consumer services for years.

    The online school store received more than $1 million in orders during its first 24 hours, Santoro said, adding: “We expect to keep up that pace in sales.”

    Restoring faith

    Just a few days after he unveiled the iMac, Jobs moved to secure the future of its Macintosh OS.

    On May 11, Jobs announced the next generation of the Mac OS to 4,000 attendees at Apple’s annual conference for software developers. OS X will integrate features of Apple’s Rhapsody technology into the Mac OS and will be available to developers next year.

    That announcement came as a huge relief to software developers, who feared Apple would abandon the Mac OS altogether for another operating system known as Rhapsody, thereby forcing them to rewrite all their programs to run on a new OS.

    “Apple is doing exactly what we and our customers have asked Apple to do: [deliver] the benefits of a modern OS . . . while at the same time protecting the investment we have made,” Ben Waldman, head of the Macintosh unit at Microsoft, told the Associated Press.

    The OS X will inherit Rhapsody’s ability to let users perform multiple tasks at once and protect the computer from crashing, yet programs written for current Macs will need only a little tweaking to take advantage of the new system’s features, company representatives said.

    Programs that aren’t upgraded for the OS X will still run on the new system, only without its enhancements. And programs written for the OS X will run on older Mac versions as well. Apple added that it will continue to support and enhance OS 8, its current Mac operating system.

    That’s good news for schools that already own Macs, said Craig Nansen, technology coordinator for the Minot, N.D., school system.

    “It looks like a good solution for everyone,” Nansen said. “The installed base of Macs will still be supported by improvements to OS 8, while OS X will allow new software to take advantage of the G3 chip.”

    Apple Education Store


    To attract tech-wise teachers, savvy school leaders are turning to the internet

    School leaders know that the classroom is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. In classrooms, great teaching makes great gains in learning possible.

    Faced with looming teacher shortages, spiraling employee search costs, and growing mountains of paperwork, savvy human resource directors are turning to the web to streamline and maximize their recruitment efforts.

    Rather than requiring personal visits, phone contacts, or letters to find out about job openings or to get an application form, districts are now posting this information on their home pages.

    Although content varies, the most effective web pages highlight the district’s or school’s “unique selling proposition”–those facts, features, and information that capture the essence of the organization and appeal most to potential employees.

    It helps to be specific. If you want to recruit only teachers who have a strong commitment to diversity or who are technologically literate, say so. (Of course, tracking on-line applications and eMail inquiries is a good place to start when seeking the technologically literate.)

    Job seekers also appreciate information about professional development opportunities, benefit packages, salary schedules, tuition reimbursement plans, merit-pay policies, curriculum guidelines, general district information, and other “frequently asked questions.”

    This always has been true, but the web makes accessing this information easier and more convenient. Prospective employees can download and print information from your site on an as-needed basis and at their convenience. The benefit to you: savings in mailing costs and staff time.

    Quick and easy-to-fill-out guest books, exit surveys, and eMail links to key people on your staff will add value to your employment section by making it easier for job candidates to contact your organization for more information. These simple techniques can also help you build your own database or mailing list(s) for future public relations contacts.

    A handful of innovative school districts, education service agencies, and universities are taking this idea a step further, creating virtual human resource offices and on-line career centers.

    Some sites to check out:

    The Pasadena Unified School District (California), which includes current job listings and bulletins, on-line applications, plus details about the district’s employment process, mentor teacher program, salary schedules and fringe benefits. The California School Boards Association has a job listings section on its home page and lets you download its application form.

    Houston Independent School District (Texas) posts employment opportunities and adds some neat features, including a new teacher recruitment schedule of the district’s job fairs at state universities and information about substitute teaching and the district’s innovative alternative certification program for teachers.

    The William Floyd School District (N.Y.) lists current job opportunities, contact information and phone numbers.

    The Allen Independent School District (Texas) hosts a human resource section on its homepage. The section posts current job listings and lets prospective employees request a job application on-line.

    REAPing rewards

    Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis Inc. (CSD), for example, has teamed up with area personnel directors and college placement officers to develop the Regional Education Applicant Placement (REAP) program. The program matches teachers with open positions in four counties surrounding St. Louis, Mo.

    Launched in March, this new system enables prospective teachers to fill out an electronic job application and then post it on the REAP web site, instantly putting their certifications, work history, educational philosophy, job preferences, activities, honors, and other key data within easy reach of more than 29 school districts and 500 schools. Candidates can also research current job openings by district, geographic location, subject, or grade level.

    Because REAP is backed by a sophisticated database, human resource directors can use it to screen candidates and conduct customized searches for employees with very specific qualifications–all in a matter of minutes.

    Looking for a sixth grade teacher who is interested in coaching high school wrestling and has successful experience in an urban setting? REAP can quickly and easily scan through the more than 1,500 applications it has on file and identify qualified candidates.

    And, by centralizing applications for the entire region, REAP makes sure that all districts have complete access to the available pool of candidates. REAP also keeps all records on file for three years, in accordance with Missouri school law, streamlining paperwork and filing for participating districts.

    Response to the new system already has been phenomenal, according to CSD’s George Simpson, who developed the system. Every month, Simpson fields more than 400 applications as well as daily calls from educators and groups around the country who are eager to replicate the REAP model.

    “Several districts are so happy with it, they’ve decided to use it exclusively,” says Simpson, CSD’s deputy executive director. “They’re telling candidates that they’ll only look at them if they get on the REAP system.”

    A classic example of how the web is changing the way we do business in education, REAP also demonstrates the power of forging strategic partnerships and alliances.

    With nearly $100,000 invested in the system thus far, primarily in staff time, REAP would be out of reach for many individual districts.

    But, by pooling resources, sharing ideas, and working together over a two-year period, 29 districts ranging in size from 1,400 to more than 21,000 students have equal access to state-of-the-art technology and can compete more effectively in the educational talent pool.

    Pasadena Unified School District

    The California School Boards Association

    William Floyd School District

    Houston Independent School District

    Allen Independent School District


    Sun Microsystems donates Java tools to schools

    Software tools that make it easy to learn and use Java, the high-level programming language, now will be free for schools, Sun Microsystems Inc. has announced.

    For a trial period, K-12 schools, colleges, and universities can download Java development applications at Sun’s web site free of charge.

    Java was created to run “mini-programs”–or applets–on any kind of computer platform. Java is best-known as a language that helps makers of web sites create pages anyone using a computer can see. The applets are downloaded onto your computer’s hard drive, where they run small programs that do various tasks–animate a graphic, for example, or provide information from a database.

    Sun’s special offer could save a school thousands of dollars, said Graham Lovell, a product marketing manager for the company. Making the software free was intended to “remove another barrier to using ‘industrial strength’ applications,” said Lovell.

    Java isn’t a popular language yet taught in high schools. But as the need increases for platform-neutral programs that can be pulled down from the internet, for example, programs increasingly will be offered in Java, multiplying the need for Java programmers.

    The free programs offered by Sun include Java Studio and Java Workshop, applications that are appropriate for K-12 education, said Lovell, because they make writing software applications easier. For younger students, Lovell said, the Sun web site suggests other software packages that use Java but in very simple ways, such as Pierian Springs’ Digital Chisel.

    Shane McGregor, the director of Denver-based Technology-in-Learning, said that learning Java is important for high school students who are going on to college or careers in technology. Students participating in Technology-in-Learning, a community organization that helps disadvantaged kids gain technical skills, will be able to compete with more affluent students, McGregor said.

    “It’s a needed skill,” he said. “It adds to their repertoire. You can create more interactive web sites with more complex variables.” Java Studio and Java Workshop software, McGregor said, will help students learn the language much more easily. Java is usually written in a text-editing program (such Microsoft Word) and then run through a special compiler. If the program doesn’t work, the programmer has to scan through dozens or even hundreds of lines of code to figure out what went wrong.

    “Studio or Workshop would let you write in a specialized environment that would address issues and make it easier to troubleshoot where errors occur,” McGregor said. “The most difficult thing about writing code is debugging, so the Workshop environment would make it easier” for students and teachers.

    Students who want to design and build web pages will need to know Java, said Karen Needles, a history teacher and technology consultant in Kansas. “Java is a very important software language to know, since it deals with the internet,” she said. “Many middle and high schools are offering Java language classes to students instead of Cobal and Pascal. . .” She said the latter “are outdated languages.”

    Sun’s Site for Free Java

    Digital Chisel



    Here’s help for managing school web sites

    The proliferation of school web sites is a sure sign that educators and students are growing ever-more sophisticated about the internet. But as kids and teachers take an increasing interest in developing and maintaining school web sites, your duty to provide support and control for those sites grows too.

    In response to this phenomenon, the Scantron Corporation and Intranet Communications Corp. have developed an integrated approach to web-site administration designed specifically for schools. Scantron is noted in the K-12 field for its test-scoring machines and forms. But now the company is branching out to include internet-based products and services as well.

    On July 15, Scantron will release two new offerings to help schools make the transition to an online environment: a web publishing software program called IntraSchool and a web hosting service for schools called HomeRooms.


    Designed for schools that already have established a presence on the world wide web, IntraSchool uses a series of web publishing templates to let teachers and administrators create and update web pages quickly and easily.

    Because the templates run in a browser using platform-independent technology, they look exactly the same on a Macintosh or Windows system, Scantron says. With only one or two days of training, teachers familiar with basic Mac or Windows applications can publish web pages consisting of standard backgrounds, links, and local application content.

    One important benefit of IntraSchool, the company explains, is that the product cuts down on the time and money needed to train educators in how to publish their own web pages using Hypertext Mark-Up (HTML) language. Another plus, says Scantron, is that IntraSchool allows teachers to post class information, internet links, and homework assignments on the web in a way that can be centrally controlled and administered.

    Rick Nakano, director of information systems for the Garden Grove Unified School District in Orange County, Calif., says the added control is key. Garden Grove–one of 200 schools in California, Colorado, and Washington to use IntraSchool in a pilot program–employs more than 4,500 staff members and operates 65 schools.

    Without IntraSchool, Nakano said, “a district of our size has little control over the web content that is published. IntraSchool enforces a consistent look and feel to our [district’s] web sites.”

    Alan Trudell, Garden Grove’s public information specialist, is grateful for IntraSchool for another reason–it will help him comply with a new California state law requiringschools with web sites to publish their school accountability report cards online as of July 1.

    “With the boilerplate web page designs available, you don’t have to have a high level of ability to be able to publish information online,” Trudell said. “IntraSchool makes it easy.”


    For schools with limited technical resources and web experience, Scantron also has created a web hosting service to relieve the schools from most of the tasks involved in establishing and maintaining a web site themselves.

    HomeRooms’ services include securing a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) name and Internet Protocol (IP) address, establishing web server links to local and wide area network carriers, configuring and operating network and server equipment, and deploying web content.

    Brighter Paths

    IntraSchool and HomeRooms both will be available nationally from Scantron’s Brighter Paths unit. An IntraSchool software license for five schools carries a suggested retail price of $4,995. For HomeRooms, schools will pay a one-time setup charge plus monthly fees ranging from $60 to $160, depending on the number of schools and the duration of the agreement. Brighter Paths is Scantron’s recently established educational software unit.

    Russell Hertzberg, vice president of marketing for Scantron, told eSchool News his firm’s move into online products for schools is a natural progression. The company’s experience in network servicing has laid the groundwork for an expansion into internet-based educational services, he said.

    “We see our future in web hosting, internet assessment tools, and internet curriculum development,” said Hertzberg.

    Scantron Corporation

    Brighter Paths

    Intranet Communications Corp.

    Garden Grove Unified School District