Digital libraries are a college trend ripe for K-12

K-12 library media specialists should take note of a developing trend: Several college and university libraries have begun to trade their books for laptop computers that students can check out and use within the library for their research.

The most recent example is Pennsylvania State University, which tore the shelves out of its undergraduate library last summer, rewired the whole place, and turned it into the university’s first digital library. Now, students can come 24 hours a day, sign out one of 50 laptop computers, and plug in at a relatively private desk.

“The books are gone, the newspapers are gone, the journals are gone. And yet they aren’t really gone at all. They’re just available in a new format,” Provost John A. Brighton said as Penn State formally introduced the new library Feb. 10. “We invested in this library because we believe it will improve learning.”

A few hours later, junior Christine Williams sat before one of the computers studying for an 8:30 p.m. test in business administration.

She owns a laptop of her own, but it’s too slow. So she checked out a university laptop–with a fast Pentium II processor–and logged onto the university network. There, she could page through the slides her professor used during class lectures. It’s a far cry from laboring in a busy 200-terminal computer lab.

“No. 1, it’s more private. It’s comfortable. You have space to work with,” said Ms. Williams, 21, of Philadelphia. “And it’s convenient.”

Comfort factor

Aside from the absence of books, what’s different about Penn State’s new undergraduate library–one of several libraries on campus–is its comfort factor: Students can sit in a cubicle and study, rather than juggling papers and books at a regular computer terminal.

Students can still do all the usual things–go online, search dozens of electronic databases for journal and newspaper articles, browse an electronic encyclopedia, compose papers or spreadsheets. But they can’t take the laptops out of the library.

The machines in Penn State’s new library are equipped with Microsoft’s Office 97 suite of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and students are allowed to download plug-ins from the internet. When the laptops are checked back in, their hard drives are erased and the software is reinstalled for security purposes.

For its part, the library benefits by getting more study space. Instead of having a room full of computers or encyclopedias, the library has a room full of desks where students can either study or use a mobile computer. Students looking to check out books, meanwhile, can choose from eight other campus libraries.

Penn State is following the lead of other universities. Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis has a digital library, and Mansfield University of Pennsylvania launched its laid-back laptop library in 1996.

Penn State University

Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis

Mansfield University


GW survey: School tech leaders are a savvy bunch

Educators have been taking a hit in the press lately about their level of comfort with technology. But a recent survey of eSchool News readers–the leaders most likely to purchase or manage technology in their schools–suggests they are very familiar with its use.

Led by Prof. Jane McDonald of the Department of Educational Leadership at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the study revealed that 83 percent of readers felt “very comfortable” with a computer, and 77 percent felt “very comfortable” with the internet. Less than one percent felt “uncomfortable” with either technology.

School district technology coordinators (27 percent), information technology directors (17 percent), and building-level technology directors (18 percent) made up the bulk of responses. Superintendents (6 percent), assistant superintendents (9 percent), library and media specialists (11 percent), and principals (2 percent) also responded.

Though it’s often said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, familiarity with technology clearly isn’t limited to a younger generation of educators. More than 55 percent of readers said they’ve spent 21 years or more in education.

Nor is technology strictly the province of men. Despite fears of a “technology gender gap” in our schools, no significant difference existed between the genders of respondents–51 percent were male, 49 percent female.

The study revealed that technology directors and coordinators wield the most responsibility for school district technology purchases: When asked to cite the single person most responsible for school technology purchases, 66 percent of respondents indicated technology directors. Superintendents were next at 12 percent, followed by assistant superintendents at 10 percent and principals at 7 percent.

The buying power of eSchool News readers is impressive as well: 66 percent of readers make the final purchasing decisions, while 72 percent recommend what brands to buy and 67 percent recommend expenditures.

While survey respondents were knowledgeable about technology, their knowledge for the most part didn’t come from formal schooling. Only 28 percent said they had a degree in technology, while 78 percent said they had learned through “on the job” training and 52 percent through independent study.

Reader interests

Despite the many administrative applications of technology, student learning remains the primary focus of school technology decision makers: According to the survey, desktop computers and curriculum software drew the most interest among readers.

Every survey respondent indicated some level of interest in desktop computers, and 98 percent expressed interest in curriculum software. Seventy-two percent of respondents indicated “great interest” in desktop computers, while 65 percent expressed “great interest” in curriculum software.

Somewhat surprisingly–and maybe indicative of a trend–laptop computers were the third-most popular items of interest. Ninety-seven percent of readers expressed interest in laptops, and 58 percent indicated “great interest” in laptops.

Network file servers and internet access also proved popular among readers. Ninety-five percent of readers expressed interest–and 65 percent expressed “great interest”–in internet access. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they use the internet at least 5 hours per week, and 68 percent use it mostly at school.

Educators also seem to be aware–and concerned–of the seedier side of the internet, if the study is any indication: Fully 91 percent of respondents expressed some interest in content filters, and 52 percent expressed “great interest” in filters.

Emerging technologies also sparked interest among readers. More than 87 percent of respondents expressed interest in fiber optics, 82 percent showed interest in wireless technologies, and 62 percent in satellite broadcasting and receiving.

One application of technology that sharply divided readers was surveillance. While 48 percent of respondents expressed interest in surveillance and 39 percent said use of surveillance devices has increased in their schools, 40 percent said they were concerned with how surveillance poses a threat to civil liberties or privacy.

eRate discounts and connectivity

While readers are overwhelmingly (93 percent) familiar with the eRate–the controversial federal program that gives telecommunications discounts to schools and libraries–they are somewhat less sure about applying. Only 76 percent said they applied in 1998, and 74 percent said they planned to apply in 1999.

The survey was taken before last year’s discounts were issued, which could explain why more than one-quarter of respondents harbored doubts about the program. Skepticism of the eRate ran high last fall as funding was first cut back, then delayed through a series of congressionally-mandated audits.

According to the survey, requests for discounts on plain old telephone service (POTS) were most common (72 percent) among readers who applied for the eRate last year. Requests for T1 or T3 lines were next, at 53 percent, then frame relay at 21 percent and dial-up access at 19 percent.

Source: George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development


High school students provide online tax help

Honor students at Granby High School in Norfolk, Va., are helping area residents prepare and electronically file federal and state tax returns.

Under a pilot program of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), eight Granby students have been trained to be volunteer tax preparers. The pilot is part of the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance/Tax Counseling for the Elderly (VITA/TCE) program, which provides free tax help to communities across the country.

The Granby office is the first in its area to be staffed entirely with high school students and is also the only one to be dedicated exclusively to filing returns electronically.

The Granby students typically deal with people who earn less than $20,000 annually and who are filing returns using 1040EZ, 1040A, or 1040 forms–normally the least likely forms to cause major headaches when being prepared.

“It gets [the students] comfortable with taxes,” said local IRS tax education specialist Patsy Carroll. “It’s a part of life.”

Local IRS officials last September approached Granby business teacher Michael Lynch to see if she was interested in training students to be volunteers. Lynch has been teaching basic tax preparation to high school students for several years. She solicited the all-honor student crew from the school’s International Baccalaureate program and advanced accounting classes.

After several hours of training, the students completed a mock return online. Once Lynch and accounting teacher Janet Yankes were satisfied the students had mastered the material and the computer program, the Granby Tax Center was officially open for business.

The students file tax returns every Tuesday between 3 and 6 p.m. in the school’s career center. They will continue to do so until April 13.

So far, about three dozen residents have taken advantage of the free service.

Phyllis Robertson, a part-time cashier and student, heard about the service and figured she could get good, friendly tax help from the students. She first met Lynch and Yankes, who determined that Robertson qualified for the service.

Robertson then sat down at a computer terminal with student volunteer Chawanta Williams, who guided her through CNET’s TurboTax online filing program.

The company donated the program to help moderate and low-income taxpayers.


Secret service tracks: high-tech teen forgers

The Secret Service is on the trail of teen-age counterfeiters making bogus bills at home and on school computers.

In the past 18 months, the Secret Service has investigated 12 counterfeit scams, seven of which involved juveniles, the Providence Journal reported March 8.

The cases involve teens from at least 10 Rhode Island school districts and three just over the border in Massachusetts.

In March, two Mansfield, Mass. teen-agers were taken into custody for allegedly making $665 in $5 and $20 bills on a home computer.

“When we respond to an allegation of a counterfeit note, we don’t know whether it’s an organized criminal group with possible drug involvement or a kid with a computer,” said John Enright, supervisory agent in charge of the Providence Secret Service Bureau.

Last April, two students allegedly tried to pass a pair of bogus $20 bills at the Coventry High School cafeteria. In September, a New Jersey man and a Providence youth were arrested after they allegedly tried to buy a cup of coffee with a fake $50 bill in Johnston.

In November, the North Providence police broke up a counterfeit ring where $4,000 in fake bills was circulated. Two people were charged, one a juvenile. In December, Pawtucket police broke up a counterfeit ring where two teens and three men were charged.

Police in Central Falls recently were called by a shop keeper who accused a teen-age girl of attempting to pass a counterfeit bill. Agents tracked down the source and confiscated two computer systems from two homes. Five juveniles are being charged in that case.

U.S. Secret Service


14-year-old girl becomes youngest Intel science winner

The technology gender gap may be widening, but you wouldn’t know it from the 58th Annual Intel Science Talent Search, where a 14-year-old female student topped a winning list that included some of the country’s most tech-savvy high school students.

Science Service and Intel Corp. held an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. last month to announce the winners of the contest, which had until last year been sponsored by Westinghouse Electric Co. This year’s ceremony recognized its youngest ever first-place recipient.

Taking top honors was 14-year-old Natalia Toro of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo., who will receive a $50,000 scholarship for her winning physics project. In addition to being the youngest winner in the 58 years of the award, Toro also became the second female student in the last 6 years to receive top honors.

The second-place finalist was David Moore, an 18-year-old senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. Moore will receive a $40,000 scholarship for his physics-oriented project. Moore serves as the network/system administrator at his high school.

Coming in third was another high school tech-whiz, 17-year-old Keith Winstein, a senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora. Winstein won a $30,000 scholarship for a computer science project titled, “Lexical Steganography Through Adaptive Modulation of the Word Choice Hash.” His research focused on steganography, or techniques for embedding information in computerized data without making any perceptible change to the original material.

Winstein is the co-founder of the IMSA Advanced Computer Association and is a member of the American Computer Science League. He plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) next fall.

“These students represent the brightest young scientists in the country,” said Intel President and CEO Craig Barrett. “Our challenge and goal for the Intel Science Talent Search is to reward and recognize students who excel and achieve, to support teachers who go the extra mile to excite and involve their students, and to help parents stay involved in their children’s education.”

Students from all over the world submit research projects each year to the talent search. The top 300 entries this year were selected as semifinalists in January. Semifinalists earn recommendations for college acceptance and financial aid from Intel and Science Service.

The semifinalists were then pared down to a group of 40 finalists, who vied for a total of $330,000 in scholarship money. Finalists were judged on their individual research reports for their research ability, scientific originality, and creative thinking. All Intel Science Talent Search finalists were reviewed and judged by top scientists from a variety of disciplines.

The judges’ panel was led by chair J. Richard Gott, professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. Gott placed second in the talent search in 1965.

“The Intel Science Talent Search is about finding better ways to do things, continuously asking why and, in the process, moving out the frontiers of knowledge,” remarked Dudley Herschbach, chairman of the board of Science Service and a Nobel laureate in chemistry. “Within these 40 young scientists lies the next great inventions and scientific achievements that will influence us in the 21st century.”

Promising future

Indeed, participation in the Science Talent Search has often served as a precursor to impressive accomplishments in the field of science.

Statistics show that some 95 percent of all finalists in the history of the contest have gone on to pursue a branch of science as their major field of study, while more than 70 percent have earned doctorate degrees.

Five former finalists have won Nobel Prizes and two have earned Fields Medals, the highest honor for achievements in mathematics. Other honors include Sloan Research Fellowships and MacArthur Foundation Fellowships. Many finalists have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering.

Intel assumed sponsorship of the contest in 1998 after years of its being known as the Westinghouse Award. Intel said it is working closely with Science Service–the administrator of the contest since its inception–to increase the number of high school students and teachers involved and to increase public awareness of the program.

Intel said it also wants to infuse computer and internet technology into the program as it moves into the 21st century.

Intel Corp.

Science Service


Students alter report card with help of a scanner: Schools looking for ways to stop technology-smart kids from changing dumb grades

He can’t pass math or English, but a Bonanza, Nev., High School sophomore has mastered the art of using technology to alter his report card. Or so he hoped.

The boy’s mother, J. Fite–their full names are being withheld–couldn’t believe her son’s miraculous turnaround. His grade card showed that her son had pulled in straight A’s for the semester–after posting three D’s in the previous term.

The student may have had a better chance of getting away with the scam, had he not decided to be so ambitious. With a simple check of his official transcripts, Fite discovered that her son had, with the help of a computer scanner, turned his three F’s into A’s.

More checking revealed that those D’s from the previous semester had been F’s, too.

“Parents need to know this [is happening],” said Fite. “My guess is that there’s some kid out there with a computer scanner making a small fortune.”

According to Clark County School District officials, the grade changing scam is a high-tech evolution from the days when students used erasers or White Out to alter report cards.

Now it’s the computer scanner that’s making the job that much easier, while also producing very real looking fakes.

“Eventually the deception will come out,” said Bonanza High School Principal Sue DeFrancesco. “Changing the report card doesn’t change the grade on the mainframe. That’s important.”

But that wasn’t the case two years ago, when a Florida student did gain access to the St. Lucie County school district’s computer system.

Then-15-year-old Jason Shawn Westerman penetrated the district’s computer system from a terminal in the Fort Pierce Westwood High School library, in the process showing district officials just how easy it was to gain access to grades, attendance reports, and addresses of students.

Westerman said the scam was supposed to be a joke, but officials believe that if the information found its way into the wrong hands, the so-called joke could have wound up being much more serious.

Nevada school district officials said their investigation has been limited in scope because the student won’t reveal who actually altered his report card. And even though teachers and administrators are aware of the potential problem, officials say it’s the parents who have the best chance of catching the culprits.

“If this is a worst-case scenario and there’s a ring of children falsifying report cards, it isn’t going to do much except delay the pain until their parents find out,” DeFrancesco said.

Elsewhere in the district, Clark County High School Principal Wayne Tanaka said he reported last year a case similar to the one at Bonanza.

Again, parents discovered that the report card handed over was one that had been scanned and altered on a friend’s home computer.

Leonard Paul, assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Clark County School District, said report card altering is punishable under the district’s disciplinary rules for falsifying documents, which call for at least a required parent conference.

The maximum punishment is suspension or referral to an “opportunity school.” Individual principals make the call and are supposed to consider the student’s disciplinary history.

“The parents in our case punished the student far worse than I could,” said Tanaka. “The father looked at his son and tore up a pair of $120 rock concert tickets he’d gotten him as a reward. He said, ‘Son, you’ve broken my heart,’ and he walked out of the room.”

Paul said he doesn’t think grade altering scams are all that common. “And the bottom line is that the report card isn’t the legal record,” he said. “What’s recorded in the teacher’s grade book is.”

However, that isn’t to say that the district will not reexamine its report card system, though any changes would depend on available funding.

“I’d be lying to you if I said we didn’t have kids who are smart enough to scan a grade report,” said Chaparall High School Principal Bob Chesto. “If parents suspect something, it’s probably true. You want to trust your kids, but with the technology we have, well, these kids are smart.”

Clark County School District

St. Lucie County Schools


eSN Special Report: Managing schools with technology

The proliferation of new technologies to handle front and back office functions is the same for education as it has been for every other industry, with one major exception: School districts have a dizzying number of simultaneous functions to manage.

Hundreds of technology vendors tout thousands of software applications–all promising to lower a district’s administrative costs and boost its efficiency.

With limited resources, so many functions to address, and so many vendors to choose from, school technology decision makers definitely have their work cut out for them.

As schools increasingly rely on technology to manage day-to-day tasks such as payroll, inventory, transportation, lunch room management, class scheduling, record keeping, grade reporting, student enrollment, and curriculum management, probably the greatest challenge lies in developing a system where the various software functions can communicate with one another.

Daniel Aggen, vice president and general manager of education technology consultant inc., agrees. When it comes to software incompatibility in schools, Aggen has seen just about everything.

There was the school district administrative building in which various departments were actively using three very different and incompatible word processors, for example. “So even inter-office memos had to be delivered in paper form,” Aggen recalled.

A more common incompatibility problem occurs when offices and classrooms are operating on different equipment, he said.

“In many school districts, the administration will be existing in a PC world, while teachers are using Macintosh in the classrooms,” Aggen said. “It’s almost like they’ve created two separate worlds.”

When a client needs multiple systems to handle various office functions, Aggen said his firm always looks for systems that are compatible. Unfortunately, he conceded, many districts are restricted by tight budgets and tend to go with the vendor that pitches the lowest price, regardless of whether that vendor’s software is compatible with other systems being used by the district.

Still, many options exist for school districts to make decisions with compatibility in mind–decisions that at the very least will ensure that related functions are run on like systems.

For example, this summer the Homer, Ill., Public School District will implement a new student administrative system from Specialized Data Systems Inc. (SDS), along with a $20,000 transportation application program called VersaTrans from Creighton Manning of Delmar, N.Y. District business manager John Lavelle said the attendance functions of SDS will be integrated with VersaTrans to create the district’s transportation routing schedule.

The SDS administrative software is also compatible with the district’s Jackson Software-provided GradeQuick reporting system, Lavelle said. The end result is that administrators will only have to enter a student’s information once to maintain multiple functions such as demographics, grade reporting, and busing.

Complete solutions

School districts looking to avoid the messy complications of incompatible software systems now have another ally: Several companies are beginning to offer “turnkey” solutions that combine several school management functions into a single package or family of products.

For example, HTE Education Solutions (formerly Phoenix Systems) of Lake Mary, Fla., says it can provide a complete administrative solution for school districts. HTE provides fully integrated applications for general accounting, human resources, payroll, and comprehensive student management. All applications run in a Microsoft NT environment and allow for complete integration with Microsoft Office programs.

HTE’s Student Administration System handles everything from registration, attendance, and scheduling to grade reporting and transcripts. It stores and maintains a wide range of data–including student parking information, health background, activities, locker assignment, transportation, homeroom assignment, and student profile. It can also integrate bar code scanner systems for attendance and grade reporting.

HTE also provides a suite of products that integrate back office functions. The company’s General Accounting System allows for access to multiple users and includes a variety of functions, such as general ledger, accounts payable and receivable, budget development, purchasing, invoicing, vendor history, Form 1099 generation, integrated reporting, requisitions, check reconciliation, and state reporting. The system also features a secure environment and the ability to conform to either accrual, modified accrual, or cash accounting standards.

For staffing needs, HTE’s Human Resources application features online processing and management of employee records. It stores both current and historical data to compile complete reports based on demographics, academic and professional credentials, compensation and benefits, or attendance and assignments. The human resources system can also store a digital photo along with an employee’s records.

For online processing of staff compensation, you can add a payroll application capable of handling direct deposit, retirement fund contributions, multiple pay schedules, and unlimited deductions.

The Bloomfield, Conn., School District uses HTE’s software to manage its 2,650 students and operate its five schools. Since each of the district’s buildings is networked, data can be shared online among its various departments. Payroll can be linked to staff attendence over the network, for example, saving a great deal of time and paperwork.

The system “has made life easier because we have just one point of contact,” said Jean Gilmore, the district’s business manager. Using one vendor also assures the district that its systems will be interoperable, Gilmore added.

Student tracking and reporting

Educational Technologies Software & Services Inc. (ETSS) of Raleigh, N.C., recently unveiled a student information system of note that combines the federal reporting and test-analysis components of one popular ETSS product, Advantage, with the student management functions of another, Success. Known as Advantage 5.0, the hybrid offers educators a comprehensive approach to student management.

Launched in 1986 as a teacher recruitment and training company, ETSS later delved into curriculum and administrative software. Advantage was soon created to help school districts deal with federally-mandated Title I and migrant education reporting requirements, while Success was geared toward managing troubled students.

A combination of the two, Advantage 5.0 is Y2K-compliant and offers fully integrated student data, analysis, grading, and scheduling capabilities for complete school-by-school analysis.

The application is an “open system” that uses a standard Microsoft interface, meaning users will work with Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel, and Access. Another feature, called “Quick Queries,” allows for “point-and-click” analysis of student information, meaning school districts can concentrate on getting the information they need and spend less time training personnel on query protocols.

To help schools comply with state-mandated reports, Advantage 5.0 is customizable and allows all minimum standard requirements to be entered into the system’s achievement table, ETSS said. The system can hold historical data and can produce a wide range of graphical charts and reports.

As for compatibility with other systems, ETSS says it has relationships with other vendors to address those concerns. For instance, if a school district wants to completely integrate a database to manage student information and staffing needs, ETSS said it can establish a link to SAP’s K-12 Human Resource System. Similar links can be built to bring food service functions and transportation scheduling online as well, the company said.

Schools Interoperability Framework

But even if a district has the budget to be selective and carefully chooses software packages that create minimal or no incompatibilities within its own operations, there’s no way to avoid the problems that come with installing a replacement system or sharing data between two or more school systems.

For example, what happens when a school or district decides to change to a completely new system, such as converting to a new database? Riverton High School in Wyoming is in the midst of doing just that, according to computer teacher Sarah Giard, who said the conversion has been anything but easy.

“Some of the student data did not transfer over, so the information is being reentered for over 1,200 students in our high school,” Giard said, adding that the conversion has also disrupted data uploads from the district’s middle schools.

And the issues only increase when school systems try to communicate with each another.

“Common formats would greatly facilitate the essential task of integrating information on students transferring into a district,” said Charles Rosengard, manager of information systems and technology for Kern, Calif., High School District.

Rosengard should know. Last fall, when Kern enrolled 7,500 freshmen from more than 20 different K-8 school districts, student data from these districts were forwarded in a wide range of formats.

Problems such as these are the main catalyst behind the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF), a Microsoft-led initiative that aims to establish the standard that has thus far been lacking in the K-12 technology industry (see cover story, page 1).

The initiative had the support of 18 other companies as of late February, when Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates announced the framework at the AASA conference in New Orleans.

According to Manish Sharma, Microsoft’s representative to the SIF working group, corporate interest in the initiative picked up just after the Gates announcement. Missing notables such as Apple and Oracle are said to be considering whether to participate.

Sharma said the specification will be posted on the SIF web site and can be used by any vendor that wants to comply with the framework. That’s when vendors and administrators will find out if SIF will truly become a standard for the educational technology industry.

Though hopeful, some observers–including Aggen–have their doubts. “I just don’t know how you’re going to get all those vendors aboard one boat,” Aggen said.

While not a vendor itself, does have some influence with the software developers it works with, Aggen said, adding that the firm will definitely encourage those vendors to support the new framework. “It would do nothing but benefit our school district partners,” he said.

With Microsoft’s clout behind the effort, SIF promises at least to make more noise than previous efforts such as SPEEDE/ExPRESS. If enough vendors agree to use the specification, the initiative could very well prove to be an important missing link for schools wrestling with incompatible systems. inc.

HTE Education Solutions

Educational Technologies Software & Services Inc.

Harrison School District

DataCard Corp.


eSN Special Report: Bar-coded cards offer security–and much more

One K-12 trend on the rise is the use of bar-coded, magnetic stripe, and “smart chip” student ID cards to streamline a wide range of student management functions, from attendance tracking and library transactions to cafeteria accounting and computer-lab access control.

More and more schools are issuing bar-coded ID cards to students, faculty, staff, and even outsiders such as construction workers and contractors. In many instances, schools are using the same cards to handle multiple functions, though this requires compatibility among administrative software applications.

If you’ve invested in student ID cards for, say, security and attendance purposes, you can use those same cards for grading and discipline tracking, library and cafeteria transactions, busing, facility access, and parental consent internet access. The cards can even be used as prepaid activity passes.

If you’re thinking of implementing an advanced ID system, there are several options to consider. What function or functions do you have in mind for the cards? What budget do you want to tap to implement the system? Do you want to go with traditional film-based cards or the more advanced, digital imaging technology?

Harrison, Colo., School District faced these same questions not long ago as the school system sought a way to handle growth, address school security, and increase its efficiency of operation.

With enrollment at the district’s two high schools growing to approximately 1,200 students each, the student services department wanted to abandon its old, nonfunctional ID card system for one that could keep a better tab on the schools’ expanding populations. The department also wanted a system that could streamline its cafeteria operation and eventually handle library services and a range of other functions.

“We were really looking for one photo ID system to do it all,” said district official Dixie Maez. “We wanted all our information to travel through a single, centralized server made accessible by students and staff carrying their ID cards.”

Maez’s research led her to the digital technology of Denver-based DataCard Corp.

Digital ID cards have many advantages over their traditional film-based counterparts, including more durability, superior resistance to tampering, and a replacement cost that’s about one-fourth that of replacing film-based cards, according to Maez.

DataCard was able to provide the district with a system that could be easily integrated with the district’s various databases and platforms, Maez said. The firm also provides all the equipment a district needs to produce the cards, from software and printers to digital cameras and other accessories.

Using funds from its yearly security budget, the district purchased three complete ID systems from DataCard and began producing cards at the beginning of the 1998-99 school year.

“We batch-printed more than 1,200 photo IDs at each school in just a few days,” recalled Harrison High School assistant principal Rob Ransdell. “[The DataCard] systems offered the reliability and performance we needed to produce such a large number of photo IDs in such a short period of time.”

Initially, the district’s two high schools are using the digital cards as student and staff ID badges. The ID cards have also been integrated with the schools’ food service database, allowing for faster moving lines in the cafeteria as well as improved privacy for students on subsidized meal plans.

The district hopes to integrate the cards for library transactions in the 1999-2000 school year. Further down the road, the district plans to add even more functions, such as attendance, access to school events, busing verification, and internet access.

“With safety and cost issues driving how schools are run, I truly believe that digital photo ID technology is the wave of the future for schools,” Maez remarked. “Fortunately, our district had the foresight to recognize this trend early on, and we’re seeing the benefits already.”


Virtual tour of capitol enlivens Oklahoma civics classes

A new interactive educational tool will enable Oklahoma middle school students to take a virtual tour of the state Capitol and learn how legislation is passed.

“A Capitol Idea: The Oklahoma Learning Machine” is a CD-ROM that provides lessons on how a bill becomes law in Oklahoma, using animation and humor to help students understand how the state legislature works.

The project is a joint effort of the Oklahoma legislature, the state Department of Central Services, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA), and AT&T.

“This educational initiative joins history and art with technology while promoting Oklahoma’s spirit and pride,” said Gov. Frank Keating. “It is exactly the kind of high-tech educational tool we need in our classrooms today to help our young people learn more about Oklahoma history and the work done in the capitol by our legislators.”

The CD-ROM is free to public middle schools in the state as well as public and university libraries.

A total of 10,000 copies were scheduled to be distributed to middle schools by the state’s Department of Education by March 31. The department helped develop the content for the CD-ROM to ensure that it fit in with its curriculum goals.

In addition to the virtual tour and step-by-step legislative lesson, the CD-ROM also provides historical information on the state capitol.

“Most students would rather play a video game than read a textbook,” said state Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett. “This CD will hold students’ interest while teaching valuable components of Oklahoma government and history.”

“As we prepare the Capitol to be the focal point of the statehood centennial, it is increasingly important that more of our students and citizens develop a pride in their seat of government and the unity it symbolizes,” added Pam Warren, secretary of administration. “We anticipate the CD will prove its value immediately and be sought after for years to come.”

AT&T funded the project through a foundation grant of $67,000, along with in-kind donations from OETA and Central Services.

Avant Digital Marketing of Edmond, Okla., was responsible for the creative concept and software development. The project, which took about five months to complete, is similar to another AT&T-supported effort in neighboring Texas.

AT&T Corp.

Avant Digital Marketing


Technology vendors up the ante for education at AASA: Gates’ vision of a ‘digital nervous system’ for schools played out in technology-rich exhibit hall

He missed last year’s American Association of School Administrators (AASA) conference because of a federal investigation, but on Feb. 22 Microsoft chairman Bill Gates made time to map the digital future of schools and tell superintendents and other school leaders that the software giant is leading an industry initiative to improve the interoperability of software for schools.

Speaking at this year’s AASA conference, held in New Orleans Feb. 19-22, Gates was on hand mainly to promote Microsoft’s new software interoperability initiative (see cover story, page 1). But along the way he also set forth his concept of a “digital nervous system.”

In this “digital nervous system,” Gates said, any school “ought to be able to call up the data about its basic operation, collaborate about its planning, make it easy to interact with…the students and the parents, and really have better organizational reflexes than it’s possible to have when things are simply done on paper.”

To encourage the growth of this “digital nervous system” in schools, Gates said, administrators should think about six key concerns about how technology is being used at their schools:

1. Student involvement. “How do you get the students to be the ones that often manage and help maintain the systems so that there’s not personnel costs or very little personnel costs in setting [networks] up?” Gates asked.

2. Curriculum integration. “It’s only when you get the interaction with the computer to be rich enough,” Gates said, “that it’s part of learning, not just of testing.”

3. Student data storage and retrieval. “Is it easy to look up and see the trends in terms of attendance and grades? Is it easy to look at your seniors, what colleges are they going to, how does that correlate to the different programs that they’ve gone through?”

4. Office paper elimination. “This is a challenge I make to businesses and schools alike,” Gates said. “At Microsoft we’ve completely eliminated all the paper forms we used to use internally.”

5. Streamlining routine tasks for administrators. “And when it comes to something like placing an order to buy something, can you get all the information about the necessary criteria and how that’s going to be tracked, how it relates to the budget?” Gates asked.

6. Giving teachers and parents greater access to classroom learning and school activities.

Exhibit highlights

Gates’ idea that technology will soon permeate every facet of school life was confirmed on the exhibit floor, which was crowded with curriculum and management software, hardware and network equipment, and computer-based professional development companies.

Here are some highlights from the three days of the conference:

FamilyEducation Network (FEN) began showing off its new set of web tools for schools. FEN provides schools with a low-maintenance solution for establishing (or enhancing) your web sites at no cost. Its new “InterCom WebTools” allow web authors to add to and maintain the web site FEN gives you without having to know HTML or other computer languages. The tools should be available to school users before the end of the academic year.

Teacher Universe announced its premiere at the conference. Teacher Universe offers a range of technology and professional development programs. Its services will include tools to help schools develop technology plans that conform to state, district and school requirements; training for administrators in using productivity tools and technology systems; and hands-on instruction in how to infuse technology into the daily curriculum. Teacher Universe is a Knowledge Universe company.

Brother Corp. announced a pretty nice special show promotion for schools: buy 20 of its GeoBooks (or Super PowerNotes) and receive a free Laser Printer. The GeoBook is a portable laptop that runs on the BrotherWorks operating system. It offers students low-cost access to a word processor, spreadsheet, internet and eMail applications, and more. At $399, $499, and $599, the GeoBooks are some of the most affordable machines available to teach children basic computing skills. You can find more details about the offer on the Brother web site.

The Bedford, Mass.-based Pre-Owned Electronics, which rebuilds and repairs computers to sell at super-cheap prices, said it will offer PowerMacs at $700. The PowerMac can run many education software programs, access the internet through built-in ethernet support, and can be upgraded to a G3 system with an upgrade card. Pre-Owned Electronics also carries service parts for Compaq and Mac equipment-including that long list of service parts Apple recently discontinued.

Makers of administrative tools for the public sector, FreeBalance announced that it is offering free financial management software for schools. School financial managers can download a free, five-user copy of the “FreeBalance Foundation” software, which includes basic fund, budget, and general ledger and expenditure applications. The company says that school board financial managers can use the suite for immediate production purposes or as a low-cost contingency solution to their Year 2000 financial system replacements initiatives. You can find the software on the company’s web site.

The Lightspan Partnership is showing some impressive results with its “Lightspan Adventures” learning curriculum. According to the company, a recent survey showed that 95 percent of teachers who used the curriculum said it improved student performance in math, and 97 percent said it helped students perform better in reading. The curriculum can also be run on an inexpensive Sony Playstation game console-making it accessible for schools or families who can’t afford computers.

DISH Network announced its satellite-based offerings for schools. Its program menu includes the Schoolhouse Network, courses and learning materials developed by K-12 providers such as the L.A. County Office of Education’s TEAMS and ETN projects. Other professional development and interactive learning programs offered by DISH Network include the Jason Project, National Schools Conference Institute, and Foreign Language TV. Contact the company for prices.

Sphere Communications Inc. announced that its ATM-based phone service is now available to schools across the country and qualifies for eRate support. With new technology that allows voice and data to travel over the same line, Sphere is able to offer “Centrex-like” phone capabilities over your high-speed ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) data network for a fraction of the cost of a conventional phone system. “We can now offer phone service in virtually every classroom, with features and functions that boost productivity and ensure greater safety and improved communications with staff and parents,” said John Schmidt, the technology leader of the Schenectady, N.Y., School District.

New Century Education Corporation demonstrated its Integrated Instructional System, a computer-based curriculum designed to align with state and national instructional standards. Teachers can correlate standards to the appropriate lessons offered by New Century on its web site. The curriculum also offers integrated assessment and individualized test preparation tools.

Acer America Corp. introduced its “EduCart,” a hardware system designed to help teachers present interactive lessons to classrooms. The system consists of a PC connected to a projector, video camera, and a document camera. Specially-designed software allows the components to work together to allow teachers to project images from web sites or printed materials and make annotations which can be captured as PowerPoint slides or HTML pages. Any Windows-based application can also be projected and annotated.

Voyager launched its middle school curriculum package, which includes interactive lessons, parent and teacher guides, and optional training sessions for instructors. The curriculum is designed to give students opportunities to learn through real-world contexts, explore future career possibilities, discuss moral and ethical issues, and develop problem-solving skills. Programs include “Pre+Med Code Blue,” “Prelaw Justice for All,” and “American Dream,” where students explore history, government, economics and sociology through the context of the American “melting pot.”

Educational Technologies Software & Services Inc. (ETSS) unveiled a product that combines the federal reporting and test-analysis components of one popular ETSS product with the student-management abilities of another. According to ETSS President Nancy Driscoll, Advantage 5.0 is a Y2K-compliant student information management system offering totally integrated student information, analysis, grading, and scheduling. The software is designed with standards and accountability requirements in mind, offers rapid implementation, and can link to Human Resources and payroll systems. It features on-menu data analysis, special capabilities for case-management for high-risk students, and extensive family and language data, but requires no complicated query protocols.

HTE Education Systems, another provider of software applications for K-12 administrators and business managers, featured its “Student Administration System.” This student-oriented system provides comprehensive tracking and maintenance of student information, said Pam Kelly, a company representative. The package includes registration, attendance, scheduling, grade reporting, and transcripts. The software also supports bar coding and scanning for attendance and grade reporting, and it has the capability to store and print student photos for ID cards, homeroom lists, and rolodex cards. The company’s applications run in a Microsoft Windows NT environment and integrate fully with Microsoft Office applications to provide a complete school administration solution, Kelly said.

SNAP Systems highlighted its WinSNAP software, reportedly the first food-service software product to take full advantage of the emerging hardware and operating systems now dominating the market. The beauty of WinSNAP lies in its design, the company said. The software is written specifically for Windows 95/Windows NT and the 32-bit operating environment. Software modules include menu planning, point-of-sale accounting, communications, reports, edits, production, inventory, purchasing, free and reduced-price meals tracking, a commodity maximizer, utilities, and nutrient analysis. WinSNAP also can be connected to student and financial systems, the company said.

Microsoft Corp.

Schools Interoperability Framework initiative

Acer America Corporation

Brother Corp.

Educational Technologies Software & Service Inc.

DISH Network

FamilyEducation Network


HTE Education Systems

Lightspan Partnership

New Century Education Corporation

Pre-Owned Electronics

SNAP Systems

Sphere Communications Inc.

Teacher Universe