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
http://www.state.id.us

Micron
http://www.micron.com

Compaq
http://www.compaq.com

Gateway
http://www.gateway.com

Dell
http://www.dell.com

IBM
http://www.ibm.com

Apple
http://www.apple.com

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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
http://www.apple.com/education/store

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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
http://www.pasadena.k12.ca.us/

The California School Boards Association
http://www.csba.org/

William Floyd School District
http://www.wfsd.k12.ny.us

Houston Independent School District
http://www.houston.isd.tenet.edu

Allen Independent School District
http://aisd.2.allen.k12.tx.us

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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
http://www.sun.com/edu/java/free

Digital Chisel
http://www.digitalchisel.com/

Technology-In-Learning
http://www.til.org

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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.

IntraSchool

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.”

HomeRooms

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
http://www.scantron.com

Brighter Paths
http://www.brighterpaths.com

Intranet Communications Corp.
http://www.intranetcommunications.com

Garden Grove Unified School District
http://www.ggusd.k12.ca.us/schooldistrict

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Computers & Peripherals, and eSN Special Report

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to buy computers and peripherals for your schools, now’s your chance.

Competition among manufacturers is ferocious, and it is likely only to get fiercer. Result: a golden opportunity to knock down those computer-to-student ratios.

Why is competition so intense right now? Economic problems in Asian markets have derailed many overseas sales. That slowdown hit computer makers just as domestic business and consumer computer purchases were taking a breather. To compensate, manufacturers are turning to education.

“With Apple slipping and the market growing, we’re starting to see a lot more companies targeting education,” says James Staten, the computer industry analyst at the Dataquest market research firm in Stamford, Conn.

To stand out in an already-busy field, players are offering tempting deals.

For example, San Jose, Calif.-based Acer, the world’s third largest computer manufacturer, began to focus on education only late last year. Now it is attacking the market with a range of aggressively priced desktops, workstations, and laptops. (Acer bought Texas Instrument’s mobile computing operations in 1997.)

Toward the end of this year, says Keith Cullum, Acer’s director of education marketing, the company will launch a portable computer priced around $700 and designed specifically for classrooms.

While Acer was organizing its attack, other companies were busy selling. Dataquest reports that Compaq, Gateway, and Micron all increased education sales by the same 83 percent last year.

“Incredible growth rates like this show these companies are concentrating on education,” says Staten.

Even “Big Blue,” which lost its early domination of the non-Apple segment of the market, is paying more attention.

“For a long time it seemed IBM had forgotten about the education market,” says Mary Buchfuehrer, the director of management information systems for Johnston County schools in Smithfield, N.C. But Johnston County placed a large order with IBM, who saw its education sales jump by 24 percent last year.

And of course, Apple is far from dead. Although its education sales have been declining, it still accounted for 27 percent of shipments to the education market last year, giving it twice the market share of runner-up Compaq, according to Dataquest.

Dataquest’s Staten sees signs Apple is recovering: “Last quarter [1997] and first quarter this year, sales leveled off and even showed a little increase, although it’s too soon to say they are growing again.”

Shop around

Table 1 indicates an important fact about the way schools and school districts have been buying computers: They shop all over the place. Only three companies–Apple, Compaq, and Dell–manage a market-share of more than 10 percent.

“A lot of schools buy from local resellers who make computers for them,” Staten said. “They may even buy from former teachers or IT [information technology] managers or companies that designed software for the schools and build their PCs, too.”

With so much choice, buyers must have a clear idea of what they need. The key is to know what software you’re going to run, because the software determines what computer power you need. The problem is that a computer usually lives for from three to five years, but in schools it might be around for another decade. No one knows what software will be used over that period.

Because upgrading is expensive, when labor costs are included, it generally is cheaper in the long run to buy more computing capacity than you think you’ll need. This is especially true now, when it is easier to get money to buy computers than to maintain them.

The idea is to consider not just purchase price but total cost of ownership (TCO)–what the computer is going to cost over its life. The Gartner Group estimates that in the corporate world, hardware and software represent only 32 percent of TCO. Technical support, upgrades, upkeep, administration, and training quickly inflate your costs, so it makes sense to buy a computer that minimizes total costs.

Manageability

One aspect of TCO is the ability to manage a networked computer remotely, via the network, rather than having someone, often a high-priced technician, actually visit each machine. With a computer that can be managed remotely–a “manageable computer,” in technical jargon–a network administrator can download software, repair glitches, and reconfigure a machine from one central workstation. Much of this work can be done automatically during dead time–perhaps at night–when the computer is not in use.

The administrator can easily keep track of the hardware, the configuration, and the software installed on each machine on the network. This saves time and money when maintenance must be scheduled, when an upgrade is needed or when a teacher wants to know if a program will run on a specific machine. And should a desperate teacher call with a software problem, the administrator can see exactly what’s on the teacher’s screen and can probably solve the problem.

A manageable computer also can save time and money by automatically advising the network administrator of impending problems. For instance, some manageable computers can anticipate when a hard drive is running out of space or is about to crash. When hardware does fail, the network administrator can usually diagnose the problem remotely.

“The administrator can dispatch a technician, not to see what’s wrong, but with a replacement part to make the repair without having to make two or three trips,” says John Abrams, product marketing manager for Dell Computer’s Optiplex systems software.

“By implementing appropriate management technology, you can do a lot more with a lot fewer resources,” adds George Warren, education marketing manager at Dell Computer. (For more on computer “manageability,” see page 00.)

Serviceability

Another aspect controlling TCO is serviceability. Most models of top-tier manufacturers are designed to facilitate hardware upgrades and repairs. For instance, the cover of the IBM 300PL has easy-lift tabs for quick access to the guts of the machine. The CD-ROM and hard drives sit in a cage that flips up and out of the way, and the motherboard slides out of its socket without the need to remove cables or adapter cards.

“When you have to send someone out for a repair or an upgrade, you want them to be able to do the job quickly,” says Warren.

Check the design of any computer you plan to buy to be sure it allows for easy service. Serviceability need not cost more, but you must shop wisely, says Scott Garren, president of Boston-based educational technology consultants Garren Shay Associates.

Specs for tomorrow

A third way to cut TCO is to buy more computing power than you think you’ll need, because upgrades are expensive when the cost of labor is included.

“Don’t buy last year’s processor or hard drive hoping for a price break,” advises Bill Cawthon, systems marketing manager at Amera Computer Inc., a small computer manufacturer in Houston that specializes in the education market. “You should move to the middle instead of the low end. You do no favors for either your students or the taxpayers by buying old technology. You’ll just be going back to the well sooner.”

Cawthon recommends a Pentium II or one of the new AMD K6 processors, because Intel has stopped making plain old Pentium chips. To stretch technology dollars, he suggests Intel’s new Celeron processor, which is a stripped-down, low-cost Pentium II that has plenty of power and will be easy to upgrade if that becomes necessary.

Mark Kelly, director for education at Gateway, advises not to go below a 233-MHz processor.

For memory, 32 Mg of RAM is the practical minimum for multimedia; 64 Mg, even 128 Mg, will probably pay off in the long run. “I wouldn’t consider anything less than 32 Mg,” says Johnston County schools’ Buchfuehrer.

If the computer will stand alone, a 4.3 Gb hard drive is probably the minimum. For a networked machine, you’ll likely get away with 2.1 Gb.

“One thing you can count on with software is that it will require more and more resources, perhaps not a new processor or architecture, but definitely more RAM and more hard drive,” says Cawthon.

Therefore, you probably should buy a multimedia computer even if you don’t need the capacity now. This advice seems to have been broadly accepted. “We rarely sell a system without multimedia,” says Dell’s Warren.

On the other hand, don’t go for full-motion video capability unless you are going to use it now. The technology is immature and changing too quickly.

Computers bought today for stand-alone use probably should have a fast modem. “You don’t know which computer you are going to want to use for internet access,” says Gateway’s Kelly.

Stand-alone computers should be network-ready, because the use of networks is growing so quickly. Dell provides optional integrated network cards for $75 per machine.

You’ll probably kick yourself if you buy a computer that doesn’t have a Universal Serial Bus Connector. These so-called USB ports, which are used to connect newer peripherals, are available now on more expensive computers and are likely to become standard soon, according to technology consultant Garren. Apple’s new education-targeted iMac uses USB ports for all peripherals.

“Underestimated requirements often lead to premature replacement or costly upgrades,” sums Amera’s Cawthon.

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An In-Depth Look at Digital Cameras

Digital cameras are going through a major technology upgrade-and they’re beginning to catch on in schools.

“We’re starting to see increased sales,” says Tom Veselenak, product development manager at Scantron Quality Computers, a national software/hardware reseller specializing in education in St. Clare Shores, Mich. “The price range for a good digital camera has come down to between $500 and $800. That’s a good range for schools. They don’t have to go before a board to get approval.”

A digital camera stores images digitally rather than recording them on film. Once a picture has been taken, it can be downloaded to a computer, manipulated with a graphics program and printed. Unlike film photographs, which have an almost infinite resolution, digital photos are limited by the amount of memory in the camera, the optical resolution of the digitizing mechanism, and, by the resolution of the final output device–your printer.

Even the best digital cameras connected to the best printers cannot produce film-quality photos. But it may be an inexpensive, easy way to add dimension to your school web site or to get your students excited about exploring multimedia technology.

The new generation of digital cameras offers higher resolution, so image quality can rival traditional film/print photos in sizes to 4 x 6 inches, although to get there, special paper and ink in a photo printer are needed.

That’s a big change from the previous generation of digital cameras, whose limited resolution produced grainy images only suitable for web sites and small pictures in yearbooks.

“We’re finally getting to the point where we can print a real photo that’s indistinguishable from a picture from a photo processor,” says Allison Rapp, future product manager at Hewlett Packard.

Megapixel technology

Resolution is measured in pixels, which are light-sensitive picture elements. These elements are in a chip that replaces film in a traditional camera. The more pixels, the better the image. The number of pixels is indicated by a measure such as 1152 x 872 pixels, which means the camera records images on a chip that has 1,004,544 pixels (1152 x 872).

A million pixels-a “megapixel”-is the standard of digital cameras’ new generation. That’s more than three times the resolution of the previous generation, which offers resolution of 640 x 480, or approximately 300,000 pixels. Between these generations are the 500,000- and 800,000-pixel cameras.

Among early entries in the megapixel market was Hewlett Packard, which launched its C20 (1152 x 872) in February for a list price of $699. The C20 comes with a fixed focal-length lens. Rival Kodak’s competitive DC210 (1,152 x 864) has a 2x zoom and costs about $719.

Olympus and Fuji have pushed resolution further-to 1280 x 1024, or 1.3 million pixels. Fuji’s MX-700 costs about $689 with a 2x electronic zoom, while Olympus’s D600L costs around $1,267 with a 3x optical zoom. Vivitar has gone to 1920 x 1600, or 3 million pixels with its V- 3100D, which sells for about $469, with a fixed focal-length lens.

According to the most recent data from the Intelect/ASW market research firm, which is part of NPD Group in Port Washington, NY, Kodak and Olympus had megapixel cameras among the 12 most popular models sold to retail consumers in February 1998. The top-selling digital camera was Sony’s FD7, which offered 640 x 480 resolution.

During 1997, higher resolution cameras outsold their fuzzier competitors. Simultaneously, the average price fell for consumers. In December, only 9 percent of digital cameras sold for $800 or more, down from 33 percent at the beginning of 1997. Cameras in the $600-$699 range accounted for more than 33 percent of December’s sales, according to Intelect/ASW.

“People want higher resolution cameras but don’t want to pay the higher bucks for them. That’s the story of digital cameras in a nutshell,” says Intelect/ASW Senior Executive Neil Portnoy.

Quality or cost?

If you’re going to buy a digital camera, first determine the use you’ll make of it. In some cases, such as producing images for an internet web site or a yearbook, 640 x 480 resolution is ample. It gives VGA-quality images, which is what the internet can reproduce. And when printed, it can produce a picture-quality image up to 2 x 3 inches.

You should also consider who’s going to be using the camera. A good entry-level camera for students is a 640 x 480, said Jim Malcolm, Sony’s electronic photography marketing manager. If you’re trying to put cameras in the hands of lots of students, it’s a solid, cost-effective way to go.

But for teacher use, where images become a teaching tool, resolution should be higher, according to Malcolm.

“If you will need to look at detail, quality becomes important,” he said.

In choosing a camera, resolution is not the only consideration. It’s not even the only determinant of image quality, which also depends on factors such as the signal-to-noise ratio, how well the chip records light and color, and how images are stored.

“Cameras with the same resolution from different manufacturers give images of different quality,” says Malcolm. He suggests looking at sample images before buying.

Beyond image quality, the range of features available is enormous. Most cameras come with built-in flash. Some have zoom lenses. Others come with fast and/or slow shutter speeds. The features you want depend, of course, on the uses you plan. But Malcolm advises that every classroom camera should have one feature in common: the ability to transfer images to a computer quickly and easily.

Some digital cameras transfer images via a cable hookup. Others store images on a medium that can be removed from the camera and transferred to the computer.

“It is important to keep the camera out in the classroom. If it is hooked by a cable to a computer, you are limited by the length of the cable, and during the download process, the camera is out of use,” says Malcolm.

Sony’s FD7 and FD5 use common floppy disks, which makes transfer easy. However, a floppy’s storage capacity is insufficient for megapixel resolution.

Some cameras, such as HP’s C20, use higher-capacity compact flash cards. Some compact flash cards fit the PC card slot that is common on laptops and that can be installed on desktops. Others require the purchase and installation of card readers if the transfer is to be made without hooking the camera up to the computer.

A final warning. Digital cameras give immediacy, which makes photography much more useful as a teaching device than film-based images, but don’t plan to print photo-quality images and save money over film processing. Good-quality images require special ink and paper. HP calculates the specialized ink and paper needed to print a high-quality 4 x 6 image costs 68 cents. Standard inkjet printers can be used, but photo-quality prints require a good photo printer that costs about $400.

Mail-in film processing runs about 25 cents a print, postage included. On the other hand, you might only want one print. With film processing, you pay for the whole roll.–K.F.

THE TOP-5 SELLING DIGITAL CAMERAS

Resolution Average Retail Price

  • Sony MVC-FD7, 640×480, $683
  • Kodak DC210, 1152×864, $851
  • Sony MVCFD5, 640×480, $499
  • Kodak DC120, 1280×960, $758
  • Olympus D600L, 1280×1024, $1267 Sources: Intelect/ASW, eSchool News. Ranking and prices for retail sales, February 1998.
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    Paying now or paying later

    The role of manageability in cutting the total cost of owning a computer is widely accepted among corporate buyers. But it’s not well-known in education circles, where administrators are loath to spend money on computer maintenance. As educators get smarter about networking, however, that’s changing.

    “Concern about manageability is gaining a foothold in education,” says Phil Atwood, IBM’s manager for PC strategy and marketing programs in the North American education industry unit.

    Manageability is a combination of hardware and software. To be manageable, a computer’s hardware must be designed so it can be managed remotely. Essential is what the industry calls “Wake Up on LAN” (Local Area Network), which means that when the computer is turned off, the network administrator can power it up from a remote location and work on it. “Wake Up on LAN” requires a specially designed network card, motherboard, and power supply.

    Also, says John Abrams, product marketing manager for Dell Computer’s Optiplex systems software, management features must be built into a computer’s BIOS. And special components might be needed. For instance, if you want the computer to warn network administrators before its hard drive crashes, you must have a SMART drive. SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology.

    Using IBM/Intel “Alert on LAN” technology, manageable computers can warn administrators when a student is inappropriately changing settings or when the hardware is being tampered with, which helps avoid unnecessary downtime and theft.

    The technology can also advise when disk space is low, allowing the problem to be resolved before kids find they can’t save their work. And it can alert you when your hard drive is about to crash. Software is also available that will automatically back up local drives to the more-secure network server.

    Most computers from top-tier manufacturers are manageable, although at higher cost than their cheapest models. If you’re buying from a smaller manufacturer, be sure the hardware will do what you want. Abrams says that to be manageable, a computer should meet DMI (Desktop Management Interface) 2.0 standards.

    “Most major vendors are on the DMI bandwagon,” says Abrams. “Buying systems that are standards-based allows you to use the management software of your choice.”

    “Spending more on hardware can reduce overall cost of ownership through system management features on newer computers,” says technology consultant Scott Garren, president of Garren Shay Associates. “It is usually relatively easy to convince the district to spend money on hardware for computers, but it is difficult to add adequate headcount for technical support. So it makes sense to look for ways to spend capital allocations to limit the amount of technical support you will need.”

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    Computer Lingo Revealed

    10BaseT: One of several Ethernet adaptations. “T” refers to cable comprising a twisted pair of copper wires up to about 300 feet in length. The network operates at 10 Mbps using baseband transmission (i.e. the “base” in 10BaseT), which means a wire carries one signal, or channel, at a time.

    10/100: Refers to the speed of a network or a network card that can operate at 10 Mbps or 100 Mbps.

    Alert on LAN: IBM/Intel technology for networked computers that triggers an alert when someone opens the computer’s chassis or unplugs it from the power source or the network. It also warns of problems such as high temperatures and low voltage.

    Bandwidth: Information-carrying capacity. Bandwidth applies to network wiring as well as system buses and monitors. It is most accurately measured in cycles per second, or hertz (Hz), but bits or bytes per second also are used.

    BIOS: Basic Input/Output System. The BIOS tells the computer how to run a program and manages how information is retrieved from a hard drive or what happens when a key is pressed on the keyboard, etc.

    Byte: A unit of storage (memory) capable of holding one character. In most modern computers, a byte equals 8 bits, which are the smallest units of data in computing and have a value of either 0 or 1.

    Cache: A cache stores information for quick access.

    DMI: Desktop Management Interface. A program (technically an applications program interface) that enables software to collect information about a computer. Essential to remote manageability. DMI 2.0 is pretty well established as the industry-wide standard.

    DVD-ROM: DVD stands for “digital video disc” or “digital versatile disc,” depending on whom you ask. (ROM is “read-only memory.”) DVD is a new type of CD-ROM that holds up 17 Gb of data-up to 26 times the data contained on a single CD. Educational software is just beginning to appear on DVD. To use this software, you need a DVD drive, which can also read CD-ROMs.

    Gb: Gigabyte. 1,073,741,824 bytes, but commonly thought of as 1 billion bytes.

    Graphics Accelerator: A graphics accelerator speeds a computer’s ability to display graphics, which is essential if the computer is to run multimedia programs. An important determinant of capacity is the amount of memory. These days 2 Mb is common and 4 Mb is higher end.

    Kb: Kilobyte. 1,024 bytes.

    LAN: Local Area Network. A short-distance network used to link a group of computers together. LANs are typically limited to one building and distances of less than 1,500 feet.

    Level 2 (L2) Cache: Secondary cache. L2 cache lies between the processor and the main memory (RAM). It’s faster than RAM, but slower than the primary cache. These days L2 cache typically is 256K or 512K in size. (The Pentium Pro has built-in L2 cache.)

    Mbps: Megabytes per second

    MMX: Multimedia Extensions. In late 1996 Intel introduced the Pentium MMX, an enhanced version of its Pentium processor designed to handle sound, video, and graphics chores. This capability is built into more recent processors, such as the Pentium II.

    Motherboard: The printed circuit board that electronically connects the parts of a computer. In a desktop, it is the “floor” of the computer. In a tower, it’s along one of the vertical sides.

    Network: Two or more computers linked together, usually by wires, so they can share information.

    Network Card: Also Network Interface Card (NIC). A device that allows a computer to communicate with a network.

    Peripheral: An external device attached to the computer, such as a printer or monitor or digital camera.

    Primary Cache: Level 1 cache. L1 cache is very fast memory built into the processor. The processor stores frequently used data in L1 cache for quick access.

    RAM: Officially, Random Access Memory-plain vanilla memory, which is the work area of a computer. Programs and data are called up from permanent storage, usually a hard drive, and operate in RAM.

    Remote manageability: The ability to manage a networked computer remotely, over the network, without physically touching the computer.

    SMART: Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology. An open standard for developing disk drives and software that automatically monitors a disk drive and reports potential problems–ideally, in time to prevent a crash.

    Universal Serial Bus: A new type of computer port (those receptors into which you plug your printer cord, etc.) that is replacing serial and parallel ports as the way to connect peripherals to a computer. It has one standardized plug and allows you to connect peripherals without having to reconfigure the computer or worry about add-in cards, DIP switches, or IRQs.

    USB port: Universal Serial Bus Connector

    Wake on LAN: Technology developed by IBM and Intel that allows a networked computer to be turned on remotely, over the network, when the computer’s power switch is off. The technology is used widely throughout the computer industry, which generally calls it “Wake Up on LAN.”

    WAN: Wide Area Network. A system of LANs connected by telephone lines or radio waves. A WAN can cover several buildings, a state, or the entire globe.

    Source:

    This translation of common computer lingo is based in part on the BigYellow glossary

    (http://bigyellow.pcwebopedia.com)

    and the CNET glossary

    (http://www.cnet.com/Resources/Info/Glossary/Terms/ram.html)

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    Computers and Peripherals Product Guide

    Product Guide

    Asanté Technologies Inc., 821 Fox Lane, San Jose, CA, 95131, 800-662-9686

    http://www.asante.com

    ActivMedia, Inc. Conval H.S. Applied Technology Center Business,

    Inc., 182 Hancock Road, Peterborough, NH 03458; 603-924-9100

    http://www.mobilerobots.com

    Amera Computer, Inc., 10301 Harwin Dr., Houston, TX 77036; 713-988-1688

    http://www.amerapc.com

    Apple Computer, Inc., 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014; 408-974-8508

    http://www.education.apple.com

    Audience Response Systems, Inc., 2148 North Cullen Avenue, Evansville, IN,

    47715; 812-479-750

    http://www.audienceresponse.com

    CompUSA, Inc., 2480 Fairview Avenue North, Roseville MN, 55113; 612-635-4029

    http://www.compusa.com

    Compaq Computer Corp., 20555 State Hwy 249, Mailstop 580307, Houston, TX

    77070; 281-514-1359

    http://www.compaq.com/education/

    Computer City, 300 W. 3rd St., Suite 1500, Fort Worth, TX 76102; 800-843-2489

    http://www.computercity.com

    Dell Computer Corp., 2300 Greenlawn Boulevard, Round Rock, TX 78664;

    512-728-1210

    http://www.dell.com/edu.htm

    Gateway 2000, 610 Gateway Drive, N. Sioux City, SD 57049; 800-846-2419

    http://www.gw2k.com

    Government Computer Sales, Inc., 710 NW Juniper Street, Suite 100, Issaquah, WA 98027; 800-869-7159

    http://www.govsales.com Heathkit Educational Systems, 455 Riverview Drive, Benton Harbor, MI 49022;

    800-253-0570

    http://www.heathkit.com

    Hewlett-Packard Co., 1911 Pagemill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303

    800-839-6850 ext. 4043

    http://www.hp.com/go/hped

    Hitachi America, Ltd., 2000 Sierra Point Parkway, Brisbane, CA 94005; 800-654-7013

    http://www.hitachi.com

    IBM Corp., 4111 Northside Parkway, Atlanta, GA 30327; 800-IBM-4YOU

    http://www.solutions.ibm.com/k12

    MediaForm, Inc., 400 Eagleview Blvd., Exton, PA 19341; 610-458-9200

    http://www.mediaform.com

    NetSchools Corp., 100 Galleria Parkway, Suite 1340, Atlanta, GA 30339; 770-226-5000

    http://www.netschools.net

    Pace, Inc., 9893 Brewers Court, Laurel Court, MD 20707; 301-490-9860

    http://www.paceusa.com

    Pantex Computers, Inc., 10301 Harwin Drive, Houston, TX 77036; 713-988-1688

    http://www.pantexcom.com

    Periphonics Corp., 4000 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Bohemia, NY 11716;

    800-733-8182

    http://www.peri.com

    Plastic Card Systems, Inc., 201 Boston Post Rd. West, Suite 407, Marlboro, MA 01752; 800-742-2273

    http://www.plasticard-systems.com

    Scanning Systems, 11413 Valley View Road, Eden Prairie, MN 55344-3617;

    612-941-2585

    http://www.scansys.com/

    Scantron Corp., 1361 Valencia Avenue, Tustin, CA 92780; 714-247-2756

    http://www.scantron.com

    Sequel Technology, 3245 146th Pl. SE,, #300, Bellevue, WA 98007;

    206-556-4076

    http://www.sequeltech.com

    Tandberg Educational, Inc., Orchard Ridge Corp. Park – Bldg. One, Fields Lane, Brewster, NY 10509; 914-277-3320

    http://www.tandberg-us.com

    Peripherals

    CD Labelcorp, Inc., 3348 Overland Avenue, Suite 100, Los Angeles, CA 90034

    310-287-2001 x804

    http://www.cdlabelcorp.com

    Compu-Gard, Inc., P.O. Box 469, 1432 G.A.R. Hwy., Swansea, MA 02777;

    800-333-6810

    http://www.compu-gard.com

    Epson America, Inc., 20770 Madrona Avenue, Torrance, CA 90503; 310-782-0770

    http://www.epson.com/home.html

    Franklin Learning Resources, One Franklin Plaza, Burlington, NJ 08016;

    609-386-2500

    http://www.franklin.com

    Hewlett-Packard CO., 1911 Pagemill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303

    800-839-6850 ext. 4043

    http://www.hp.com/go/hped

    Iomega Corp., 1821 West Iomega Way, Roy, UT 84067; 801-778-3726

    http://www.iomega.com

    KEYTEC, Inc., 1293 North Plano Road, Richardson, TX 75081; 972-234-8617

    http://www.magictouch.com

    Logitech, Inc., 6505 Kaiser Drive, Fremont, CA 94555; 510-795-8500

    http://www.logitech.com

    National Computer Systems, 4401 West 76th Street, Edina, MN 55435

    http://www.ncs.com

    PAR Technologies, 14605 N. Airport Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85260;

    602-922-0044, ext.109

    http://www.partec.com

    Pairgain Technologies, 14402 Franklin Avenue, Tustin, CA 92780; 714-730-2334

    http://www.pairgain.com

    Pioneer New Media Technologies, 2265 E. 220th Street, Long Beach, CA 90810;

    310-952-2111

    http://www.pioneerusa.com

    Ricoh Corp., Five Dedrick Place, West Caldwell, NJ 07006; 201-882-5846

    http://www.ricoh.com

    Riso, 300 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923; 508-739-3512

    http://www.riso.com

    Secure-It, Inc., 18 Maple Court, E. Longmeadow, MA 01028; 800-451-7592

    http://www.secure-it.com

    Texas Instruments, 7800 Banner Dr., Dallas, TX 75251; 972-917-2935

    http://www.ti.com

    Digital Cameras

    Agfa, Bayer Corp., 100 Challenger Road, Ridgefield Park, NJ 07660;201-440-2500

    http://www.agfa.com

    Casio, Global Products Inc., 2221 Hammond Drive, Schaumburg, IL 60173; 800-633-0633

    http://www.casio.com

    Epson, 20770 Madrona Avenue, Mail Stop C2-02, Torrance, CA 90509-2843; 800-873-7766

    http://www.epson.com

    Fuji, 555 Taxter Road, Elmsford, NY 10523; 800-755-3854

    http://www.fujifilm.com/index2.htm

    Hewlett Packard, 1911 Pagemill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303; 800-839-6850 ext. 4043

    http://www.hp.com/peripherals/main.html>

    Kodak, 343 State Street, Rochester NY 14650; 800-242-2424

    http://www.kodak.com

    Minolta Corporation, 101 Williams Drive, Ramsey, N.J.07446; 201-825-4000

    http://www.minolta.com/mo1/mo14/mo145e.html

    Nikon, 1300 Walt Whitman Rd., Melville, NY 11747; (800) 645-6687

    http://www.nikonusa.com/products/products.taf?epartment=imaging

    Olympus America, 2 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747;

    (516) 844-5000

    http://www.olympusamerica.com/digital/dhome.html

    Ricoh Corp., 475 Lillard Dr., Sparks, Nev. 89434; (702) 352-1600

    http://www.ricohcpg.com

    Sony Electronics, 3300 Zanker Rd., San Jose, Calif., 95134; (800) 352-7669

    http://www.ita.sel.sony.com/products/imaging/

    Toshiba America, 1251 Avenue of the Americas, 41st Floor, New York, NY

    10020; (212) 596-0600

    http://www.toshiba.com/taisisd

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