Sun Microsystems is betting that schools will one day outsource their technology applications and services to companies over the internet. At this year’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), held in Atlantic City in June, Sun announced an alliance with more than 20 companies to develop portal sites through which schools can subscribe to computer content and services directly over the web, eliminating the need for on-site support.

Under the SchoolTone Alliance Program, which includes companies such as America Online, The Learningstation.com, MediaSeek Technologies, and NetSchools Corp., schools would be able to lease their instructional, administrative, and library services on a per-month or per-use basis instead of buying, hosting, and maintaining such applications themselves.

“The demand for low-cost, simplified access to customized educational content and applications is moving the education industry toward a service-provider model,” said Kim Jones, Sun’s vice president of global education and research. “Sun is enabling this model of outsourced, web-based services using proven technology . . . to ensure schools can take advantage of this model as quickly as possible.”

With service, support, training, upgrades, and other ongoing or hidden costs, school districts face huge challenges when they invest in technology infrastructure, Jones explained. But under Sun’s vision—which takes the company’s slogan, “The network is the computer,” to heart—computer applications would become like gas, phone, electricity, and other utility services. The user would pay a monthly fee for the service and, in return, all peripheral costs and responsibilities would be absorbed by the service provider.

The SchoolTone program is part of a larger Sun-led initiative called WebTone, which aims to make enterprise computing as simple as making a phone call. Just as you can pick up a phone anywhere and instantly get a dial tone, under the WebTone initiative, you’d be able to tap into a portal site from any internet-connected device and get secure access to a fee-based computing service, such as eMail hosting or school recordkeeping.

Such a model would be ideal for schools, Jones said, because it’s easy to use, requires minimal training and zero administration at the school level, and it would free up teachers to teach—not double as systems administrators.

Some companies in the alliance already are using the network computing model to provide applications to schools via the internet. The Learningstation.com, for example, offers schools their choice of productivity tools, such as the Microsoft Office suite, and educational software on a subscription basis. The applications are projected to a school district’s desktop computers, but they run on the company’s servers.

Eventually, the goal of the alliance is to offer a district’s entire computing needs, from instructional to administrative computing, directly through such internet portal sites. Sun’s role in the alliance is that of enabler, Jones said. The company would provide the alliance with scaleable servers to handle the network traffic such a computing model would require.

Other highlights

Sun’s announcement, which illuminates the ever-expanding power of the internet to transform education, was just one of several made at NECC this year.

Sponsored by the National Educational Computing Association, NECC ’99 brought together nearly 8,000 educators, researchers, and computer hardware and software exhibitors to share new and proven techniques for using technology to enrich education.

Here are some other highlights from the conference:

Acer America Corp. introduced new hardware and software products that build on the company’s “Empowered Classroom” vision, a technology-based learning environment that gives educators the ability to offer safe, resource-rich internet content without filtering; publish lessons and class notes directly from the classroom to the web; and broadcast lessons, either live or recorded, via the internet.

Acer’s new products include the TravelMate 330, an ultra-slim notebook computer that weighs only 4 pounds and measures just 1 inch thick, and the Extensa 515-TE, a notebook computer with enhanced multimedia capabilities. Both notebooks come bundled with Microsoft’s Anytime, Anywhere Learning package: Office 2000 for Education, “K-12 Teaching & Learning” software, IBM’s World Book Encyclopedia, “Study Skills” software from Super Tutor Learning Networks, and Computrace security software. The program also features a two-year Acer warranty and 24-hour support from the Acer Scholar Hotline.

Acer also announced that it has joined forces with the Online Internet Institute (OII) to offer educators a wide range of staff development workshops designed to strengthen good teaching and learning through effective uses of technology. OII will market its workshop offerings through Acer’s Education Solutions group.

CompaqComputer Corp. announced the winners of its Teaching with Computer Technology grant program, which recognizes educators for their innovative use of technology in classroom activities. Culminating a three-month competition, the company awarded Deskpro Academic Small Form Factor PCs to 101 winners. Compaq also lowered the price of these units, which include a 400-MHz processor, 32 MB RAM, a 15-inch monitor, a space-saving design, and LearningPaq software, to just $999.

Corel Corp. introduced a special licensing program designed to meet the needs of K-12 schools. Corel’s License for Learning program bundles the company’s software, training, support, and curriculum development under a single price, ranging from $36 to $45 per workstation, depending on the quantities purchased. The program includes academic editions of Corel’s WordPerfect Office 2000, which integrates Dragon’s Naturally Speaking voice recognition technology; CorelDRAW; and Print House Magic. It provides a perpetual license for these applications, as well as technical support and computer-based training media.

Dell Computer Corp. launched its Learning with Latitude program, which expands on Dell’s participation in the Anytime, Anywhere Learning initiative. Learning with Latitude features Dell’s new Latitude CPt notebook computer, which was introduced in May and is priced below $2,000. A component of the program is Dell’s agreement with Lucent Technologies, which gives participants a notebook option that connects wirelessly to a school’s local area network.

Dell also introduced a new PC that doubles as a television. Called the Presentation Station, the device is based on Dell’s high-powered OptiPlex PC and will give schools a large display so that students can see presentations more clearly. The Presentation Station offers a high-resolution monitor spanning either 27 or 31 inches and features integrated DVD and Zip drives, a wireless keyboard and mouse, and pre-installed Office 2000 software. Starting at $2,899, the device also will give school districts a tool to use in community presentations, the company said.

Gateway introduced its Your:)Ware for Education program, which is designed to offer training, completely customized software and hardware, dedicated support, and a “technology refresh” program to K-12 schools. The program is Gateway’s first to target K-12 schools in particular. It includes a help line for teachers that is staffed during school hours with former classroom teachers, as well as hardware and software training either at the school site or at a local Gateway Country store.

Helius Inc. announced its eRate Bundle, a completely eRate-eligible product and service solution that provides schools with a one-stop shop for satellite-based internet connectivity. The bundle includes a Helius Satellite Router, an all-in-one network appliance with the capacity to connect up to 250 concurrent users to the internet, as well as a mini satellite dish, recurring monthly access charge, and Virtual Technician remote support. According to Dan Broadbent, vice president of marketing at Helius, the company’s Satellite Router includes caching and proxy services, works with any existing network, and provides “plug and play” connectivity almost instantly out of the box.

Jostens Learning Corp. unveiled Compass Virtual Classroom, a web-based solution designed to help schools extend teaching and learning beyond the classroom and into the home. A component of the company’s Tomorrow’s Promise series, Compass Virtual Classroom enables students to explore curriculum topics and teachers to track and manage student progress both at school and from home.

The solution requires the use of the Compass curriculum manager at the school or district level, along with a fixed internet protocol (IP) address dedicated to a Compass data station. At home, teachers and students can install Compass Virtual Classroom on any Windows-based PC with at least a 66-MHz processor, 16 MB RAM, a 30-MB hard drive, Windows 95 or higher, a 2X CD-ROM drive, and a 14.4 data modem.

Jostens also highlighted its Year 2000 Inspection and Update Service, which includes testing and assessment of all school hardware and network operating systems to give customers an overview of their readiness in these areas. In addition to a Y2K status report on each component tested, the company will provide customers with the web site addresses of relevant Y2K-compliant hardware and software manufacturers.

Knowledge Adventure unveiled a custom edition of its open-ended learning system ClassWorks Gold to address Texas state standards. The company plans to roll out custom editions for at least nine other states during the next two years, according to public relations manager Julie Gates. Knowledge Adventure also showed off a new version of Educast, its free web service that delivers customized news and information to educators. New content providers for the service include The New York Times Learning Network, which offers daily lesson plans based on content from the newspaper, and Highwired.Net, an online student newspaper publishing service.

Free filtering

N2H2 Inc. announced an optional new pricing program for its industry-leading Bess filtering solution. School districts that agree to display “K-12 appropriate” sponsor messages on web pages initially will get 50 percent to 70 percent off their monthly filtering service fees, with the possibility of free filtering after one year.

Unlike most other sponsor-driven technology products, such as the ZapMe! Knowledge Network, the Bess filtering solution will deliver sponsors’ messages in a trailer at the bottom of the page, so they will be out of view unless a user scrolls down to the bottom. The Bess Partner Program, as the special discount program is called, is completely optional—so schools that are concerned about advertising can choose not to participate.

Schools that do take part must agree to implement N2H2’s free education-oriented web portal, Searchopolis, at the classroom level. Searchopolis has been expanded to offer new content in addition to a student-appropriate search engine, such as VirtualLocker, an online storage space for students who want to access their homework from any internet-connected computer.

If a certain percentage of a school district’s web traffic occurs through Searchopolis, the district will receive the Bess filtering service without charge in subsequent years, said Jim O’Halloran, N2H2’s vice president of marketing.

WebSense Inc., formerly called NetPartners Internet Solutions Inc., announced it would give away copies of its internet filtering software to schools willing to participate in a two-year study of students’ use of the internet at school. The study, to be conducted by Yankelovich Partners, will compile data files of the sites most frequently requested by students at schools using the WebSense filtering solution. Each month, administrators at participating schools will receive a summary of the web sites visited by (and denied to) their students. Results of the study will be released at the end of the school years in 2000 and 2001 to help policy makers better understand what children are doing online while at school.

WinStar Communications announced the launch of “Training Cafe,” an interactive web-based tool for training teachers about computers and the internet. WinStar teamed with web development specialist Macromedia to create the site, which features 17 modules that teachers can take at their own pace to learn to use the internet as a source of information for lesson planning, in-class activities, or personal growth.

Sun Microsystems

http://www.sun.com

SchoolTone Alliance

http://www.schooltone.com

Acer America Corp.

http://www.acer.com/aac

New York Institute of Technology

http://www.nyit.edu

Compaq Computer Corp.

http://www.compaq.com

Corel Corp.

http://www.corel.com

Dell Computer Corp.

http://www.dell.com

Gateway

http://www.gateway.com

Helius Inc.

http://www.helius.com

Jostens Learning Corp.

http://www.jostenslearning.com

Knowledge Adventure

http://www.KnowledgeAdventure.com

Educast

http://www.educast.com

N2H2 Inc.

http://www.n2h2.com

Searchopolis

http://www.searchopolis.com

WebSense Inc.

http://www.k12.websense.com

WinStar’s Training Cafe

http://www.trainingcafe.com