Computer take-home program gives kids more time to learn: Partnership between Dell and Jostens makes it easy for schools to set up a take-home program

A program launched this month by Dell Computer and Jostens Learning aims to make computer take-home programs easier for schools. The program, called Take Home Connection, pairs Dell Latitude laptop computers with Jostens Tomorrow’s Promise curriculum software to give students a convenient take-home solution.

The program’s special attraction, the companies said, is the assistance it provides to school technology managers. Support and services are built in to help get a computer take-home program off the ground, including a step-by-step guide for schools on establishing and managing such a program, professional development for teachers, a home guide for parents and students, and curriculum supplements tailored by grade and subject.

“This is really a comprehensive program,” said Jostens representative Karen Bowman. “We’re not just handing you computers and saying, ‘Here, send these home with your students.'”

According to the two companies, Take Home Connection offers a complete and flexible solution for schools looking to extend learning hours beyond the final bell.

“In today’s fast-paced society, it has become increasingly important to give children and their families tools for promoting at-home learning and the opportunity for academic success,” said Terry Crane, president of Jostens Learning. “Students are able to extend their learning day, teachers gain additional tools for individualized instruction, and families can better support their children’s learning.”

Software is available in one of six preconfigured bundles and can be customized further to meet a school’s or district’s specific needs. With a selection of 30 CD-ROMs, the program offers grade-level reading, math, language arts, spelling, science, and algebra curricula.

To qualify for the program, a minimum of 25 Latitude laptops must be bought or leased. Each machine sells for $2,160 per unit and has a Pentium II processor, CD-ROM player, mouse, and carrying case. Additional peripherals, such as modems, are available as well.

The laptops are backed by a three-year on-site warranty in most states.

“Dell’s Latitude notebook, coupled with Jostens Learning curriculum software, gives parents, students, and schools an innovative way to extend student learning beyond the classroom,” said Bill Rodrigues, vice president and general manager for Dell’s K-12 education segment.

The software bundles cost from $10,500 to $26,000 for up to 50 students. Included in this price are the school and home guides, one year of toll-free phone support for schools, one day of professional development training for teachers, and four additional days of professional development, during which teachers learn how to prepare parents for the program.

“We’re trying to make the implementation and training as complete as possible so that everybody–the students, parents, and teachers–gets the most out of this program,” Bowman said.

The venture builds on the companies’ existing relationship. Jostens has been an active member in the Dell Education Alliance, a consortium of hardware and software manufacturers committed to providing computing solutions tailored for the education market and for individual school districts.

Dell Computer

Jostens Learning


New report gauges technology progress in urban schools

Urban school districts are having a tough time when it comes to integrating technology into their classrooms and training teachers how to use it, according to a new report published by the Education Writers Association (EWA) of Washington.

The report, “Barriers and Breakthroughs: Technology in Urban Schools,” examines school systems in four large midwestern cities–Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee–and finds potholes on the road to technology integration in these cities.

“The same factors that make any urban school reform difficult–limited resources, low expectations, overwhelming poverty, entrenched bureaucracies, political infighting, sheer size–can slow the technology revolution to a crawl,” the report states.

Size alone can lead directly to a district’s overall technology deficiencies, according to the report.

Chicago Public Schools have 589 schools and 430,208 students; Detroit Public Schools have 264 schools and 177,057 students; Milwaukee Public Schools have 154 schools and 99,495 students; and Cleveland Public Schools have 118 schools and 77,000 students.

The enormity of these districts often makes a centralized effort difficult, whether it’s in securing funds, training teachers, or providing support for repairing and maintaining computers and equipment.

Yet the lack of centralization can result in a lack of equity–even within a single district. According to the report, some facilities have hundreds of computers, while others say they have few or none.

For example, the report cites a 1997 Detroit study that found some schools in the district had a computer in every classroom, while others didn’t have a fax machine or TV set, much less a computer.

In Cleveland, elementary schools have a student-to-computer ratio of 8 to 1, thanks in large part to a statewide initiative to put computers in every classroom in grades K-4. But in Cleveland middle and high schools, the ratios are miserable: one per 1,140 students at the middle school level and one for every 209 students at the high school level.

Chicago, by choice, has moved toward less centralization and more neighborhood control. The resulting autonomy, however, has proven to have both advantages and drawbacks.

“While this arrangement has led to tremendous innovation in some schools,” the report says, “its effect on a school’s ability to incorporate technology into instruction has been mixed.”

In Chicago, schools are left largely to fend for themselves when it comes to securing resources for technology, and EWA reporters noted that if schools don’t have an especially tech-savvy principal or skilled grant writer on staff, they are less likely to have successful technology initiatives.

On the flip side is Milwaukee, which is credited in the EWA report for its district-wide technology vision–though some say its plan might be overambitious and some funding issues have yet to be resolved.

In Milwaukee, gains have been made in teacher training since a $2.25-million training center was completed last fall. Milwaukee also is working toward putting a student-records management system in place to track attendance records, grades, and other data across the district.

Internet access

According to the report, urban districts have another large obstacle to contend with when it comes to technology integration: aging buildings.

Take Chicago, where nearly half of all schools in the district are more than 50 years old–and 9 percent top the century mark. Wiring Chicago schools for the future could be a multimillion-dollar project, just for building infrastructure improvements, the district has estimated.

All four of the districts cited in the report are hoping eRate funds will help. Cleveland, which received $28 million in the first year of the eRate, plans to use the money to install T1 lines for every school in the district, a major step for a district with virtually no access to the internet.

As of last fall, just two of the district’s 118 schools had access to the web and less than one percent of its classrooms were online.

Chicago and Detroit have similar plans to install T1 lines at most, if not all, of their schools. What remains unknown is whether the districts will be able to afford to wire all their classrooms to a network.

Other notable findings

All four districts have student poverty levels of 75 percent to 85 percent, as measured by the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. And while federal and state programs aimed at high-poverty schools have helped, they haven’t completely solved the inequities between rich and cash-strapped districts.

The districts not only have poor student-to-computer ratios–all four are below the national average–but they are also plagued by the fact that as many as half the computers in the districts are outdated and incapable of supporting sophisticated software or internet access.

High teacher turnover rates in urban districts make technology training and, subsequently, classroom integration difficult. For these districts, it’s a Catch-22. They spend the time and money to train teachers in technology, only to see teachers leave for higher-paying jobs in the suburbs.

Though large urban districts are sometimes more likely than others to have resources such as teacher trainers on the payroll, such staffing often is stretched too thin to be effective. Cleveland Public Schools, for example, has committed to providing 60 hours of technology training to every elementary school teacher in the next three years, but the district has just eight full-time trainers dedicated to the initiative. Chicago has 28,000 teachers, but only 26 teacher trainers.

Bright spots

For all the problems urban districts face, the report does cite examples of specific schools in all four districts that are using technology to make a difference.

The Dewey Learning Center for Urban Education in Detroit, for example, is considered a shining star in a neighborhood better known for its drugs and prostitution than for school reform, according to EWA.

Less than a decade ago, the only technology to speak of at Dewey was a decades-old Title 1 reading lab. But in just a few years, the pre-K-8 school has managed an impressive turnaround.

Now, technology is part of the everyday learning environment for students and teachers, EWA reports.

In sum, the EWA study finds reason to hope the technology revolution will lift up urban education, but there is not much hard evidence that it has done so yet.

Chicago Public Schools

Cleveland Municipal School District

Detroit Public Schools

Milwaukee Public Schools

Education Writers Association


HyperTV makes live interactive learning a breeze

Students at five Nebraska school districts recently became the first to experience a live learning event on eSchool Online, ACTV Inc.’s educational application of its unique HyperTV technology.

The technology–which brings together video, sound, web content, and chat capabilities on a single web browser screen–has been around for a few years, but ACTV said the Nebraska event marked the first time the application had been used to facilitate a live event.

The eSchool Online network software–which is not affiliated with eSchool News–creates a virtual learning environment that seamlessly integrates and synchronizes video-based programming with web content and chat functionality for a “vastly improved interactive TV-internet experience,” the company said.

In Nebraska, eSchool Online is being integrated into the art education curriculums of several districts. During a live April event called ConferNet ’99, the application was used to synchronize live video, streamed audio, and web images from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art in Washington.

Students posted their own art projects and participated in live interactive chat discussions with other students, teachers, and experts at the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Neb.; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Lincoln, Neb.; and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney.

“This event is a demonstration of how HyperTV can create new communities that bridge traditional boundaries in pursuit of a positive goal,” said William C. Samuels, ACTV chairman and chief executive officer. “HyperTV offers a powerful, patented environment for marrying internet content and traditional video programming in a way that has real benefits for programmers and end-users alike.”

ConferNet ’99 was sponsored by ACTV, Apple Computer Inc., Cox Communications, and the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The event is part of a long-term project called the Community Discovered, which was initiated by Westside Community Schools in Omaha along with a consortium of seven other districts, several museums, the Getty Education Institute for the Arts, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The project, a five-year initiative that aims to link technology and the arts with other subjects in grades K-12, is funded through a Technology Innovation Challenge Grant from ED.

“The attention span in the classroom (during ConferNet) was unbelievable,” said Ronald Abdouch, director of Community Discovered. “The students were really excited to share information with people outside their classroom.”

Beyond the live internet conference, Community Discovered is using eSchool Online to develop curriculum units for art education courses.


The patented Java-based proprietary software suite running the eSchool Online application offers a distributed, network-based model that can be customized, updated, and linked to local, state, and national curriculum standards.

HyperTV can run in a Windows-based or Macintosh environment and supports live or recorded video from analog and digital sources. Video can be brought in from a variety of sources, including TV tuner card, web stream, videoconferencing plug-in, satellite delivery to a local area network, video stored on a hard drive, and video accessed from a CD-ROM or television.

ACTV works with school instructors and district curriculum specialists to produce the online content. Educators can have as much or as little input into the process as they’d like. For one curriculum unit in Nebraska, for example, teachers selected a video, then let ACTV curriculum experts find appropriate web pages and perform the technical task of integrating the two media.

However, all these steps could be completed by the instructor with little or no formal training. ACTV provides content creation software that even the hardly tech-savvy Abdouch said is as easy to follow as the company claims it to be.

Once video programming and corresponding web pages have been integrated, students are ready to log onto eSchool Online.

The video stream appears in a frame at the top left of the screen, while web pages simultaneously appear in a separate frame along the bottom half of the screen.

During a recorded program, a chat frame at the top right of the browser allows teachers to program questions, instructions, or assignments. The instructor can assign specific times that web sites and questions would appear during the video presentation. The web sites and questions are sent automatically to the desktop of each student at the appropriate time.

For a live event, the chat frame can be used to conduct interactive discussions among students, teachers, and others who are online.

Pricing for eSchool Online is hard to peg, because costs are largely dependent on the size and scope of the application. Variables can include the number of schools and students involved and the number of curriculum units desired.

In addition to the Nebraska project, schools in Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia are using eSchool Online to integrate web content with educational video programming.

In Massachusetts, for example, the product is being used to deliver reading, writing, and professional development programming to students, parents, and teachers in underprivileged areas.


Community Discovered Project

Westside Community Schools