Schools check fingerprints via web

School districts in Ohio are among the first to use a new electronic system that could drastically reduce the amount of time they have to wait for background checks on prospective employees.

Called WebCheck, the process takes a system that now requires up to a month and reduces the wait to 48 hours. That could prevent people with criminal backgrounds from ever setting foot in a setting with children, said Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery. “Imagine the heartaches that can be avoided by keeping those criminals out of schools,” she said.

WebCheck is a program that uses the internet to electronically transfer fingerprints and other data from Ohio school districts to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI).

The program began at five pilot sites in June. Twelve school districts and other organizations—including nursing homes and child care centers—are using WebCheck, and more than 100 others are setting up accounts to be online by the end of the year.

To use the system, employers need a Windows-based computer and must purchase an electronic fingerprint scanner, a magnetic strip reader for processing applicants’ driver’s licenses, and the WebCheck software.

It then takes the employer about five minutes to process an applicant with WebCheck and 48 hours for the Ohio BCI to use the fingerprints to search for a criminal history.

Fingerprint data are encrypted at the client and BCI sites, and the program is password-protected. In the event of a hit, the bureau informs the requesting agency, then sends the record by certified mail. No criminal histories travel over the internet.

By contrast, using ink pads and paper to record fingerprints and mailing them to BCI can take weeks, especially if the fingerprints are incomplete and must be returned for a second try, said Ted Almay, superintendent of the agency.

The WebCheck equipment and software costs about $2,500, state officials said. The price for the background check remains $15.

Quicker turnaround

Beginning in 1993, Ohio passed a series of laws requiring background checks for people applying to work in a number of occupations, including jobs involving children and the elderly.

People convicted of certain crimes, including murder, kidnapping, sexual battery, and robbery, are automatically disqualified from working with children in Ohio.

The number of background checks the state conducts grew from 51,948 in 1992 to almost 450,000 last year. State officials said the WebCheck system, which is capable of processing up to 5,000 transactions per day, will greatly reduce the BCI’s workload.

The state’s school districts stand to benefit as well. Reduced turnaround times give districts the ability to hire prospective employees more quickly—an ability that looms large as schools scramble to fill teaching posts created by swelling enrollments.

Ohio’s Dublin City Schools were one of the five sites that tested the system this summer. Superintendent Steve Anderson said the district processed 200 applicants much faster than in previous years.

“Everyone who walks up to the scanner to poke their right thumb down does so with a little bit of hesitation,” Anderson said. “In the past, they’d get fingerprinted and it’d be weeks and sometimes months before we’d get the information back.”

So far, no applicant has had a criminal background, Anderson said.

Searching for a person’s criminal background over the internet by name is possible in some states, but Ohio is the first to use an internet-based fingerprint system, said Mike Rathwell of Cogent Systems Inc., the South Pasadena, Calif., firm that designed WebCheck.

Fingerprints are more accurate than names when doing background checks, he added.

School districts outside of Ohio theoretically could use the WebCheck software to do background checks in their own states, Rathwell said, provided the states have their own back-end systems and fingerprint databases.


Feds fund teacher training grants

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has awarded $135 million in grants to train 400,000 new teachers in the use of technology in the classroom. The grants were announced just days before a new report from Market Data Retrieval (MDR) pointed to a lack of teacher training as the key factor hindering use of technology in K-12 classrooms.

The grants will build strong partnerships involving more than 1,350 entities, including universities, K-12 school districts, nonprofit organizations, and high-tech companies, to ensure that tomorrow’s teachers will be as comfortable with a computer as they are with a chalkboard when they enter the classroom.

“Training new teachers is particularly important, because schools will need to hire 2.2 million new teachers over the next five years,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who announced the grants Aug. 25. “Teachers tell us they do not feel very well-prepared for the challenges of the modern classroom. These grants will help teachers get the preparation they need to successfully integrate technology into their lesson plans at a time when it will be increasingly important.”

Research shows that classroom technology has little effect on student achievement unless teachers are technologically proficient, Riley said. That fact was underscored by the MDR report, released Aug. 30.

The “New Teachers and Technology” report is based on a survey of new and experienced K-12 teachers and shows that less than 40 percent feel “very well-prepared” or “well-prepared” to use computers in the classroom.

The report also suggests that teacher colleges are not doing their part in educating future teachers in integrating technology into the classroom. Though an estimated 40 percent of teachers will retire or leave the profession by 2004, only slightly more than one-third of new teachers polled said their college experience left them “very well-prepared” or “well-prepared” to use technology in the classroom, and 62 percent said that only one or two of their college courses included instruction on how to use technology to teach.

Few school districts or accrediting organizations require technology proficiency, the report also said. The majority of new teachers recalled that technology proficiency was not required for them to become certified (67 percent) or to get their first teaching position (83 percent).

Time for a change

The new ED grants aim to change all that. Many of the grants focus on the needs of low-income communities and rural areas, and a number of the projects involve historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic institutions, and tribal colleges.

Examples of the grants include:

• Mentoring for new teachers in six inner-city schools in Los Angeles.

• Reform of the teacher education at four Georgia colleges and universities to include a new emphasis on technology-enhanced, standards-based curricula.

• A new initiative in Maryland to base teacher certification, in part, on a demonstrated ability to use technology, as opposed to credit-hours or coursework.

• A project led by Vanderbilt University in Tennessee to develop web-based resources to help integrate technology into teacher education programs.

The grants leverage an additional $195 million in private-sector funds, for a total investment of $330 million in new teacher training, ED said.

Most of the projects involve partnerships between teacher colleges and K-12 districts, pairing prospective teachers with classroom veterans who are comfortable using technology in their teaching.

California Lutheran University, for example, will receive more than $1 million during the next three years to give teachers-in-training access to three county magnet schools that have incorporated technology into their classroom instruction.

Cal Lutheran students will observe lessons being delivered over the internet, spend time in classrooms during multimedia instruction, and talk to teachers about how they use technological advances to bolster teaching and learning.

“Technology is probably one of the most dynamic areas in education today . . . [but] we are not using it the best we can,” said Paul Gathercoal, director of the educational technology master’s degree program at Cal Lutheran. “That’s often due to not knowing how to use it well. With this grant, we’re going to prepare everyone . . . to use technology well and wisely.”


The time bombs of UCITA

Anytime 300 lawyers agree something is a good idea, you’d better bar the door and hide the silver. But as our front-page story reports, that’s exactly what has happened.

The 300-or-so attorneys of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws have labored mightily and given birth to UCITA, the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act. This “model legislation” would bring order and regularity, those lawyers say, to the wild frontier of software and internet-access licensing.

Although many maverick citizens of cyberspace might be skeptical, uniformity probably is preferable to chaos. Historically, though, promises of order in exchange for autonomy have proven dangerously seductive. They’ve been the lure that despots dangle just before they snatch your liberty. All Mussolini wanted from the Italians, after all, was just a little more control so he could hasten those tardy trains.

All right. All right. Given even the worst interpretation, UCITA is a far cry from fascism. But what summons up the distant echo of those jackboots—at least in my mind—is UCITA’s so-called “self-help” provisions. These might better be called “help yourself” provisions. They would give software publishers and internet-access providers the right to insinuate their agents into your computers.

In the case of a conflict between you and a software publisher, the publisher, under UCITA, would have the right to exercise access to your computer and disable the disputed programs. Publishers would get to install “back doors” and “time bombs” that would reside in the software on your computers, and the publishers would be able to activate these hidden lodgers to remedy alleged licensing violations.

I don’t know about you, but “back doors” and “time bombs” aren’t something I care to have poised inside my laptop or coiled within my server.

UCITA advocates, you may be sure, point to several specific safeguards in the model legislation. Under the proposed law, publishers would be expected to meet those requirements before crippling your computers.

UCITA backers assure us the publishers would never abuse these electronic prerogatives. But in an imperfect world, I don’t much like relying on assurances. The FBI assured Janet Reno about what it did or didn’t do at Waco, Texas. My service agreement with a computer maker assures me I’ll get my machine back in a maximum of four days if it goes in for repair. At one month and counting, I’m beginning to wonder what those assurances were worth.

The “self-help” provisions, say UCITA fans, merely set up a situation akin to laws that allow banks to repossess automobiles from deadbeats. Upon reflection, though, I wonder about that analogy, too.

I certainly hope our car-loan laws don’t give dealers the right to break into my garage if they think I’ve violated my auto lease. I’m pretty sure our laws don’t allow the loan company to install a repo man inside my trunk who can jump out if I miss a payment and slash my tires.

And then there’s the consenting-adult argument. UCITA wouldn’t give software publishers any rights you haven’t agreed to. Maybe so.

Trouble is, clicking the “I agree” box is a little different than signing your name 56 times in triplicate at a lawyer’s office during a property settlement. Both acts might have the same force under law. And for the 300 lawyers who cooked up UCITA, the two acts might be legally identical. But just between you and me, I confess I’ve sometimes clicked “I agree” without even reading the legalese, much less consulting legal counsel.

With that lackadaisical approach, the UCITA lawyers probably would tell me, I’ll get just what I deserve. Well, I say we don’t deserve to be put in that position. And until they eliminate the “help yourself” provisions of this model legislation, I say we don’t deserve UCITA, either.

But what do you say? Let me know at our web site:


Beware of geeks bearing gifts

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. That’s what I’ve always been told, anyway. I can remember my mother being furious with me one Christmas for telling my aunt exactly what I thought about a hideous pair of pants she gave me.

“Next time, you don’t have to like them. Just look happy and say ‘thank you,'” she fumed. “What if she asks me if I like them?” I protested. “Lie.”

Rules of etiquette like this might make for a pleasant Christmas dinner, but they don’t necessarily apply when it comes to corporate gifts of computer technology. While many companies have been very generous in donating equipment to growing IT departments in schools, not all of these donations are to a school’s advantage. Many of them, in fact, will end up costing more than they are worth.

Our school has been the beneficiary of many corporate technology donations in the past several years. These donations have ranged from extraordinarily helpful to benign to incredibly expensive pains in the neck.

The most helpful donations have come from companies with which we have a long-standing relationship. These companies give us equipment because they want to make an impact on our school, not because they want to reduce inventory or are looking for a tax write-off.

In a relationship like this, I’m able to work closely with the company’s IT department to get machines that meet a minimum hardware standard, and I can call their help desk for tech support when I need it. The company often arranges for the delivery of the machines and helps me find vendors for older parts that need upgrading. Thanks to partners like these, we were able to deploy two mobile laptop labs this year.

A second category of technology donation is what I call the front-door drop. While these donations generally don’t help very much, they generally don’t hurt, either.

Every so often, someone calls me from the front office to say that “some guy came and dropped off a computer for you.” I usually groan and find a couple of kids to retrieve whatever Commodore 64, TRS 80, or Apple IIe was left at my doorstep. If I’m in a good mood, I’ll get a kid out of detention and tell him he can go home as soon as he installs Auto-CAD on it, but usually I’ll just give it away to a student who likes to tinker with things.

I know this gift came from some alumnus who just bought a new computer and thought he’d really be helping his alma mater, so I don’t get too upset about it. It’s no skin off my nose and it really is a nice thing for the kid who likes to tinker. Besides, every once in a while, you come across a machine or component you can use.

There is a third type of donation, however, that is not so painless. These are donations that end up costing me time and money with very little in return. The biggest problem with donations like these is that IT managers sometimes don’t have any choice but to take my mother’s advice by smiling and saying, “Thank you.”

Often, IT managers are pressured to accept corporate gifts. Sometimes political issues come into play and schools are concerned about insulting benefactors who might donate other things down the road. When bond issues for new equipment come before school boards, technology managers might even be called in to explain why they turned down donated equipment.

By reducing technical issues to dollars and cents, however, IT managers should be able to explain to even the most frugal of school boards why some corporate donations just aren’t worth the effort.

Let’s take a hypothetical company that wants to donate 150 machines to the local high school. The company is upgrading its workstations and has decided that giving the machines away will reduce inventory, generate a tax write-off, and be a nice way to help the children in the community. The machines have 486/66 processors with 8 MB of RAM and 250-MB hard drives.

If all the school wants to do is set up DOS and Win 3.x on these machines, they would work just fine. However, this would mean supporting different operating systems and explaining to students about a million times why the document they created in Word 97 won’t open on these machines. And does anyone remember what a pain it was to support both TCP/IP and IPX under DOS?

In order to make these machines even marginally useful, they will need at least 8 more megabytes of RAM and at least a 500-MB hard drive. This will let the school present uniform applications and procedures to its users. Additionally, each machine will need a network card and software. Software licenses are not transferable and NICs become obsolete much more slowly than PCs, so each computer had its hard drive erased and its NIC removed before it left the company’s IT department.

If we do the math now, the financial situation begins to speak for itself:

Network card: $35

8 MB RAM: $50

500-MB HD: $100

Windows 95: $50(MOLP-B pricing)

MS Office: $41(MOLP-B pricing)

When all is said and done, each of these “free” machines ends up costing the school about $275. That’s more than $40,000 for 150 machines.

Our equation doesn’t take into consideration the cost or time it will take to rent a U-Haul to pick up these machines. The manufacturer’s tech support may or may not be of help, as the machines probably are out of warranty, and we won’t even think about what will happen to these systems at midnight on Dec. 31.

Depending on what a school’s needs are, that $40,000 could supply anywhere from 20 to 50 brand new machines that will work great right out of the box. This would be more than adequate to outfit a new computer lab or to deploy in a few classrooms. With new CPUs, a school can truly save money by using donated monitors instead of buying new ones. Monitors, like NICs, become obsolete much more slowly than PCs.

I don’t want to suggest that companies are always acting out of selfish interests when they make donations. These donations often are the ideas of well-meaning managers and principals who don’t fully understand the technical issues involved. Sometimes they are worth a school’s while and sometimes not. In any case, it’s the job of the school IT manager to evaluate costs and challenges in accepting a donation to determine whether a gift is actually worth getting.


Projectors & Presentation Equipment:

Data projectors and bright presentation machines—they’re the overhead projectors of the 21st century classroom, projecting an image from the teacher’s computer and dazzling the students with a colorful display of educational material.

Virtually all teachers are wowed when they see the technology in action at technology fairs and training facilities, but few actually possess the projectors for their own classrooms.

The reason why is obvious; decent quality portable projectors are still in the four to five thousand dollar range. Yet prices are beginning to fall rapidly, and more and more projectors are headed for classrooms. Technology grants also are helping teachers obtain these versatile devices.

Data projectors, which shine an image onto a screen or wall, are the most desirable presentation equipment for teachers. Yet, because they are so expensive, other technologies have emerged to bridge the gap for less affluent schools.

In-line data converters, like Averkey and ProPresenter Plus, are low cost-devices (less than $300) which convert a computer signal into a television signal. These work well for large graphics, but smaller text doesn’t project well onto the poorer pixel resolution of standard televisions.

Presentation monitors

Presentation monitors, large-screen computer terminals that may also have television tuners, have been extremely popular in the past three years. The release of the Gateway Destination line with large-screen monitors and Pentium workstations was seen as a low-cost solution—under $3000—to get a computer and a projection system in one unit. When prices for fast PC computers fell below $1000 last year, some schools bought just the Gateway monitors for less than $1300 and used their own computers to power them.

High school teacher Stan Treanor of Merkel, Texas, has used a large-screen Gateway monitor in his classroom for the past two years. He reports the resolution is great for displaying graphical concepts in his physics and computer science classes: “Flow charts and graphs display well, even to students in the back row.” But Treanor admits that a data projector would be superior for his teaching methods, and this is a common refrain heard among users of large-screen monitors.

I also used a 34-inch NetTV monitor in a small training lab this summer and found it was pretty unreadable for regular text sizes beyond eight feet from the screen.

These big-screen monitors also can be pretty hefty. NetTV’s largest unit is a 38-inch device with 36 viewable inches and weighs 200 pounds (the one I used is the company’s most popular unit, and it logs in at a slightly less staggering 156 pounds). A really strong cart is needed ($550 for a PTC-111 Luxor cart with 8-inch pneumatic wheels), as well as two strong people to lift it onto the cart. You won’t be hauling this unit across the playground to the gym to show The Lion King on a regular basis.

On the bleeding edge of large-screen presentation devices are plasma monitors, which start around $6000 and zoom up to more than $15,000 for a large wall unit. Gateway’s web site sells the Mitsubishi 40-inch plasma monitor for $6099, and even at that price it is frequently out of stock. NEC also has some outstanding plasma monitors, including the high-resolution PlasmaSync 5000W model with 50 inches of viewing area.

Another high-end product is the TFT (Thin Film Transistor) monitor. Sony Corp. sells several models, from a sub-$2000, 36-inch model up to a $9,000 50-inch TFT monitor (which is 24 inches deep and weighs 106 pounds). Only the schools with generous philanthropists or grants will be able to see that 50-inch wunderkind in action.

Data projectors

In the highly competitive data projection market, prices have fallen rapidly in the past several years and they continue to be in flux. There are only about a dozen producers of internal parts for data projectors, and from those few suppliers, more than 120 companies vie for your business. It’s become such a feeding frenzy that many vendors rarely publish price lists, as prices are constantly changing.

Units that were $11,000 three years ago are now selling for half that price, and prices are still headed downward. For data projectors to vigorously penetrate the massive untapped market of the 21st century classroom, though, prices would have to fall below the $1,000 range for a 1,000 lumen projector. If manufacturers can continue to bring down their production costs significantly, there is reason to believe that prices for data projectors could approach those of VCRs in the next few years. How quickly, though, I can’t say.

The new trend in data projectors is toward lightweight portables, called ultraportables. These typically weigh less than 10 pounds and may even weigh less than the average laptop. InFocus has a new ultraportable named the Dragonfly which weighs 4.8 pounds, and the world’s lightest projector, Compaq’s MP1600 Projector, is a tad lighter at 4.2 pounds. But there’s a price to pay for such a small package: these units commonly cost more than heavier ones and have inferior features.

For a traveling presenter who needs to keep his projector safe on a plane trip by carrying it in a Targus Universal case along with a laptop, the ultraportable may be a great projector. But if your projector will be on a cart with wheels or mounted on a ceiling, then a heavier unit would be much more cost effective.

Typically, the small breed of projectors is powered by DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology. DLP is a technology developed by Texas Instruments that involves the use of mirrors (DMDs, or Digital Micromirror Devices).

Critics of DLP projectors say the color hues are slightly worse than a comparably priced LCD projector. Some of that color disparity is noticeable when you compare projectors, but with higher lumen DLP ultraportables like the 7.4 pound InFocus 435z (1,000 lumens and true XGA resolution), the output is exceptionally crisp and clear even in well-lit classrooms.

At a street price of less than $5,000, the InFocus 435z is hot—so hot, in fact, that it is currently one of the most back-ordered units on the market, with a wait of up to two months for delivery. Vendors in Texas report a supply problem originating from Texas Instruments. The DMD chips are being requested by manufacturers faster than TI can make the chips.

Interactive electronic whiteboards

This fast-growing segment of the data projection market uses a freestanding or wall-mounted whiteboard in conjunction with a projector device (DLP or LCD) to provide enhanced interactive capabilities to the presenter and students. Commonly called SMART boards, after the equipment produced by Smart Technologies Inc, the units utilize a touch-sensitive screen to enable a user to click on the computer menus or write with their fingers digitally.

Mary Bell, a public school librarian in Conroe, Texas, uses an interactive electronic whiteboard in her library regularly. She had this to say on how the device benefits her teaching efforts: “I used it today to demonstrate our online library catalog to our new sixth graders. As with previous ‘first’ uses of the board with classes, it was a big success. I used it almost daily last year with ongoing success.”

As part of her doctoral studies at Baylor University, Bell conducted a study of the whiteboard as a teaching tool last winter. The study is online at Mary_Bell/doccumentss/surveymain.htm.

In her survey of 30 educators who use whiteboards in their classrooms, Bell concluded that, among its users, the whiteboard was favored for presentations over more traditional devices such as overhead projectors, chalkboards, or TVs. In addition, respondents indicated a high degree of positive response from students.

However, some educators who took part in the survey also reported logistical problems with wires, positioning of the boards and other equipment, or moving equipment from one location to another. Some participants who liked the equipment also said they weren’t satisfied that they’d received enough training from the suppliers or from their own institutions.

From her study, Bell made the following recommendations:

1.Training should be considered a high priority. Users should be confident and comfortable with the equipment after initial training, and ongoing discussion with tips and ideas for use would be productive.

2.Colleagues should plan ahead and work together to minimize problems related to the sharing and relocation of equipment.

3. Students should be included in lessons as participants at the board, at the computer, or at both locations in order to fully realize the interactive potential of the boards and in order to gain maximum student response and enthusiasm.

One of the biggest obstacles for widespread integration of whiteboard technology is the expense. The devices come in several flavors: free-standing rear projector models; front projector models; and wall-mounted models with rear projection. The prices range from about $2,000 for a 47-inch model (without projector), up to $13,000 for a complete six-foot rear projected unit.

Smart Technologies founded a grant program in 1997 in partnership with the dealers that sell their products. The program helps schools cut into the expense of the technology with a 25 percent discount on the price of SMART boards. Full details are available at the grant program’s web site:

The recommended brightness for a data projector to shine on the boards is at least 300 to 600 lumens, although a brighter projector will achieve superior performance in a well-lit classroom.

Final observations

Picking the right presentation equipment requires a lot of careful research and pre-planning. Know your operating environment (room lighting conditions, user skill level, positioning of the unit, travel considerations, level of maintenance expected, computer system requirements) beforehand. Factor in the variables of brightness (by far the most common factor mentioned by data projector customers), quality, price, vendor reputation, weight, bulb life, and bulb degradation.

For well-lighted rooms, a 900 to 1,000 lumen projector is fast becoming the minimum standard for mid-priced, portable data projectors in late 1999. By next spring, the 1,250 to 1,400 lumen projectors should assume that role. Try to buy the brightest projector you can for your money, while considering other factors as well.


Virginia’s Chris Sieger strives to make Alexandria great

In 1995, the Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia launched a bold technology initiative to ensure that its students would have the skills needed for the 21st century. In keeping with Virginia’s new statewide school technology initiative, every public school classroom in Alexandria needed to be connected to the internet.

But Chris Sieger, the school district’s director of information technology services, viewed internet access as just one element in an integrated system.

“The [state] established minimum technology standards,” Sieger said. “We expanded that directive by creating a technology plan for our school district that addressed administrative routines and teacher training, in addition to computers in the classroom. We wanted to make our students, teachers, and support staff more productive.”

The scope of the district’s initiative is extensive. In the classrooms, students and teachers will use dual-platform computers, graphing calculators, and digital video cameras for distance learning and TV production. Every classroom is equipped with telephones and voice mail to connect teachers and students to parents and the community. School libraries have been automated to provide students with CD-ROM and worldwide research capabilities.

In 1993, prior to the district’s technology initiative, many classrooms had no computers and there were no internet connections. Today, the school system has one of the best-equipped networks in the nation. Alexandria schools have more than 5,000 available ports and are capable of supporting thousands more. Every classroom has computers and internet access.

Implementing the plan

Sieger sought help in implementing his initiative from a systems reseller with expertise in internet and enterprise network management technology. Software Productivity Strategists Inc., of Rockville, Md., recommended Hewlett-Packard’s enterprise network management and internet management software applications, combined with eMail and calendar scheduling applications from Netscape Communications Corp.

Each school is wired with fiber optics that tie into local and wide area networks. An ATM network backbone supports voice, video, and data communications. At the district office, HP’s flexible servers power the school system’s varied applications. A separate server houses some of the district’s financial systems, as well as legacy applications that are still in transition, and servers at each school building run file and print functions and a distributed student information application.

“When you combine HP’s competitive server pricing with its top reliability (the company) is unbeatable,” Sieger said.

He added that, due to its scope, the district’s technology initiative is being implemented over five years and is still a work-in-progress.

Initially, the reseller set up the hardware, installed the software, and conducted introductory tutorials so the Alexandria school staff could use the system and get a feel for its capabilities. Then the company worked with the school system to identify and prioritize the district’s requirements and determine how to configure the applications to meet those objectives.

During the first phase of implementation, Alexandria transitioned to its new eMail and calendar scheduling systems. The school board was the first entity to use it. Eventually, the entire school system will use this software.

At the next stage, implementation of the wide area network and student information software allowed teachers to enter lesson plans so that all district teachers could leverage one another’s work. Attendance is being taken online via the network to reduce administrative overhead.

“In the coming months, we will facilitate teachers’ individual student focus by providing them with online intranet access to the appropriate curriculum level for a specific student, based on data from the student’s information file,” Sieger said.

“Teachers will also have immediate access to test data banks and learning resources, which will allow them to customize lesson plans for optimal learning,” he said. “The intranet also will become the vehicle for many staff development programs.”

Setting the pace

The impact of the district’s technology initiative is already being felt. Today, teachers use their laptop computers for eMail, research, and demonstrations via large screen TV monitors. The Alexandria school system provides at least one resource teacher in every school for one-on-one mentoring.

Students and teachers, meanwhile, are becoming adept at computer technology and applications. Keyboarding, once a high school subject, is now mastered by many students in elementary grades. Workshops also provide parents with computer training, so they can work with their children at home.

The scope and size of the district’s initiative has attracted national recognition. Staff and students have made presentations before the Virginia State School Board Association’s annual conference, the state’s Educational Media Association, and the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.

Employers, meanwhile, are beginning to recognize Alexandria—a city of 120,000 people just south of Washington D.C.—as an ideal place to locate or relocate their businesses, because of the school system’s cutting-edge technology.

“Children who entered kindergarten in the first year of the technology initiative will graduate from high school in 2008, fully ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” Sieger said. “Our school system is at the forefront of our state’s educational technology, and we are proud to set the pace for technology in education.”


Cognitive Concept’s Earobics

Students with reading problems may benefit from new software developed by Cognitive Concepts Inc. of Evanston, Ill.

Called “Earobics” because of the way it exercises the ear-brain connection, the software teaches children reading skills through a set of highly-structured games. Children need only spend 20 minutes a day three times a week to show dramatic gains in reading skills, according to Cognitive Concepts.

Research has shown that training a child’s ear is the most significant factor in teaching that child reading, spelling, and language skills, the company said. Cognitive Concepts believes that the most critical skill in learning how to read is “phonological awareness,” which is the ability to identify, think about, and manipulate the combinations of sounds that make up our language.

Researchers were challenged to create a software package that would be fun and interesting for kids, but not visually distracting or noisy. The result is a software program that has won several awards, including the EdPress Distinguished Achievement Award for Outstanding Curricular Pre-School Software and the Technology and Learning Award of Excellence.

Earobics Step 1 is for kids ages 4-7, and Earobics Step 2 is for ages 7-10. An adolescent and adult version of this software will be released this fall. The software costs $299 for a classroom package and $59 for individual PCs and Macs.

(888) 328-8199

Question Mark’s Perception Secure Browser

Question Mark Corp. has introduced what the company calls the first web browser ideal for delivering secure, high-value content like tests and exams over the internet.

In its Perception Secure Browser (PSB), all menus, icons, control keys, and the “right-click” options have been removed. The browser links to a specific URL and limits navigation from within the web page displayed.

PBS was developed to enhance internet security in high-stakes environments. The browser stops users from printing out or copying the information into another application to pass on to other students. It also prevents users from accessing other URLs while taking a test.

With this technology, teachers can deliver quizzes and exams online without having to save questions to a disk. The software also protects users from inadvertently disrupting the assessment process by disabling the refresh or reload buttons on the computer.

PBS runs on Windows 95, 98, or NT, and pricing is structured according to the number of users.

(800) 863-3950

Ace Software’s ADM-2000 Administrative Software

Ace Software, of Grove City, Ohio, has released an updated version of its popular administrative software package. The new version of ADM-2000 features a new fee system and enhancements to the student scheduling module.

The new fee system allows fees to be automatically added when a student enrolls or adds a class. Fees are canceled automatically when a student drops a class or withdraws. The new module also allows fees to be traced from building to building to follow students districtwide as they move from school to school.

The newly enhanced schedule builder supplies administrators with nearly complete schedules in a matter of minutes, using student requests to calculate how many sections are needed and then creating class schedules for the entire building. A company spokesman reported that, for the average school system, the software can schedule 1,500 students in less than two minutes with only 40 to 50 conflicts.

In addition to these features, the software tracks attendance, demographics, grading, discipline codes, medical needs, graduation planning, and academic history.

Pricing varies depending on the level of connectivity desired and the existing hardware, but the company estimates that, on average, the software costs from 25 to 50 cents per student per month.

(800) 837-2692

Lexia Learning Systems’ Quick Reading Test

Lexia Learning Systems, of Lincoln, Mass., recently introduced the Lexia Quick Reading Test (QRT), a reading skills assessment program for grades K-12.

The new program includes 12 tests to help teachers assess students’ reading capabilities, identify specific weaknesses, and recommend areas for improvement. The software also lets teachers group students of the same ability together in order to give them more specialized training, according to a company spokesman.

Lexia’s president and CEO, Jonathan Bower, added that, “in 5-8 minutes, a test can provide the teacher with information to decide exactly what to teach each student. The teacher can also determine practice needs, because QRT reports whether a student is fluent with each skill or merely has a general sense of the skill without the ability to apply [it] consistently and correctly.”

During the short test, the teacher and student sit together at the computer and the teacher presses one of two keys to indicate that the student has answered the question either correctly or incorrectly. The software then analyzes the responses in terms of their accuracy and speed.

The test is meant to measure a student’s ability to decode words into their proper sounds. The program analyzes the answers and puts the results into three reports: one individual report for each student, one graphic and tabular report for the whole class, and a long term comparison report that shows the change in skills over a year or longer.

Currently, schools can expect to pay an introductory rate of $248, or $550 for a five-workstation pack. The standard price will be $349 for a single license or $750 for five.

(800) 435-3942

Edmark’s Travel the World with Timmy! Deluxe

Edmark Corp., of Redmond, Wash., has released the latest software program in the company’s world travel series for kids. Pre-kindergarten to second grade students can now join Timmy, their virtual tour guide, on a trip through Russia, France, Argentina, Japan, and Kenya.

The program allows younger children to experience multicultural diversity through a virtual tour of the five countries, during which they learn how the locals live, speak, sing, dress, and play. Kids are able to sing along with native songs, play problem-solving games, compose stories, and make things through native arts and crafts.

Researchers believe early exposure to foreign languages will later aid in the acquisition of languages, according to Edmark. The program caters to readers and non-readers alike and reinforces certain language, writing, counting, and problem-solving skills, the company said. Students hear and see numbers that correspond to quantities of items in Swahili, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, or French, for example, and they learn the natural rhythms of these languages while singing native songs.

Kids can also use virtual paint brushes and art tools to create art in its native forms. Thinking skills are further encouraged through interactive games.

Travel the World with Timmy! Deluxe is available on CD-ROM for Windows and Macintosh computers for $59. Edmark also offers school versions complete with teacher’s manuals, reproducible activity sheets, and lesson plans.

(800) 691-2985



Five (not-so) easy pieces of technology integration

A few years ago, a colleague and I presented a session titled, “The Five (Not-So) Easy Pieces of Technology Integration” at an educational technology conference. Though technologies have changed, our district’s use of this simple framework continues to guide our technology integration efforts today.

Technology integration sounds so simple. Yet it can be especially difficult to get a handle on, due to rapidly changing high-tech tools. Why does it have to be so daunting? Why are so many schools and teachers struggling to integrate technology? It all seems so complex that we just aren’t sure where to start. The logical place to start, though, would be with a meaningful definition of “technology integration.”

It is not simply a matter of use. Keyboarding and other computer-based applications, such as word processing, can prepare students for integrated use of technology, but they are not integration themselves. Integrated learning systems (I’m still trying to figure out what’s integrated about these systems) are not technology integration, either.

Integration occurs when a teacher or learner selects a technology and uses it effectively to achieve a desired outcome. The focus is on the teaching and learning process and the outcome. There may not always be one right tool, and there may be multiple ways to use any given tool.

Teaching and learning thus become the focal points of our integration framework. Curriculum is like a tapestry that contains the traditional strands of math, language arts, and science, among others. These content strands are woven with critical life-long skills we call “learner goals.” Each student is expected to be an effective problem-solver, communicator, information accessor, team member, and responsible citizen.

Where traditional, content-oriented structures fail, these learner goals provide us with a framework that allows us to more easily see how technology fits into instruction and learning. As we develop content curricula, a technology integration specialist works as a member of the committees to ensure that integration is considered throughout the process.

Infrastructure is the second piece of our integration framework. Because computers and networks are visible signs of technology, they too often get the emphasis. Other parts of the infrastructure—electrical and mechanical systems, support, and maintenance—are equally as important. These latter pieces often get short shrift in district budgets. That’s unfortunate, because they have a direct and ongoing impact on technology integration.

Keeping the technology supported and maintained is a never-ending struggle. Technology plans that rely solely on students to support a multimillion-dollar investment are shortsighted. Increasingly complex technology requires a well-trained, well-compensated technical support staff.

Staff development is the third component of a sound integration framework. Too often, it focuses only on basic skills. Staff development should help teachers learn to use technology in authentic learning experiences. Practical skills, such as word processing and keeping grades, can be effective hooks, but they are not high-level uses of technology.

Staff development efforts should be targeted to a variety of skill levels and interests. Survey teachers to determine what they need and want. Most important, staff development efforts must be sustained. Even in a district with little or no growth, it will take years to ensure that all teachers meaningfully integrate technology into their administrative and instructional activities.

A fourth component of our technology integration efforts is an “information power”-based library media program (American Library Association, 1998). Such a program relies on teacher-librarians, in collaboration with classroom teachers, to ensure that students can use technology as effective seekers and users of information.

Collaboration, or teamwork, is the fifth essential element for technology integration. No one department or individual makes technology integration happen. It takes an organization-wide, systematic effort to ensure integration. Teachers, administrators, board members, technical staff, students, parents, and community members must work together.

By using this five-part framework, can you expect your own technology integration efforts to become simpler? Probably not. But, by breaking down your integration efforts into five (not-so) easy pieces, you will have a manageable framework for integrating technology into all phases of teaching and learning.

Bob Moore is the director of instructional technology and library media services for the Blue Valley School District in Kansas.


Gateway’s E-1400 computer

This personal computer just released by Gateway is priced at less than $1000 and will be heavily marketed in the education arena, according to a company statement. The E-1400 has the smallest case of any PC yet released by Gateway, and with its low price and ease of use, schools are expected to appreciate its benefits in particular.

The E-1400 has a tool-free design which allows the user to push a button on the side of the case for easy access. It also features industry-leading cable management, a motherboard that slides out without tools, CD-ROM, floppy disk, and easily accessible drive trays.

In addition to its streamlined design, the E-1400 features the latest Intel Celeron 400 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, a 15-inch monitor, and lots of other features. The hardware package is registered as Y2K compliant and includes Microsoft Windows 95 or 98 at a cost of $899. With a 500 MHz Celeron processor, the unit costs $999. An extra $75 on top of that figure will add a Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 operating system.

The E-series line also includes Intel’s LANDesk Client Manager software, Alert On LAN technology (which notifies administrators of system faults), and Wake-Up-On-LAN features, which allow information technology mangers to remotely access the system to distribute software and perform other functions.

(800) 846-4208

GyroPoint’s GyroMouse Presenter

Gyropoint Inc., of Saratoga, Calif., recently unveiled the GyroMouse Presenter, a dual-mouse device that gives educators more freedom when making presentations. Using patented motion-sensing technology that tracks hand movement, the GyroMouse allows presenters to make points “in air,” without a traditional mousepad and flat surface.

The mouse itself is cordless and has a range of 60 feet, so the presenter can gesture and walk around without tripping over a cord or being confined to a small area. The GyroMouse also comes with presentation software that helps the user create special effects, use multimedia, and devise attractive presentations.

The mobile input device automatically switches on when touched and cuts itself off after five minutes of no use. It uses a standard cordless rechargeable battery and can be used for up to eight hours without recharging. The unit comes with a recharger cradle that plugs into a serial or mouse port and does not require additional software drivers. Special features include the ability to draw on the screen, highlight key points, or use one-touch commands to play sound or video clips.

GyroMouse is compatible with DOS, Windows 3.x, 95, 98, and NT. The suggested retail price for the GyroMouse Presenter is $169.

(888) 340-0033

Power On Software’s

DiskLock 4.5

Power On Software, of Minneapolis, has announced the latest version of DiskLock, a Macintosh security system. Over the past ten years, this product—formerly owned by Symantec Corp. and known as Norton DiskLock—has been used by Macintosh users to provide security through file locking and encryption.

DiskLock 4.5 can be used with the latest versions of the Mac OS, including 8.6, and it supports the iMac and the new G3 Blue and White line as well. DiskLock protects valuable and sensitive documents by encrypting them, and users need only point and click to encode documents.

DiskLock is capable of supporting multiple users, each with their own passwords and access levels. Other features include screen-locking, which allows users to instantly blank the screen from any application; an idle-time screen blanker; built-in screen savers; and audit management, which logs invalid attempts to access information.

The suggested retail price of DiskLock is $129.95, and the cost for upgrades to the new DiskLock 4.5 version is $49.95.

(727) 944-5656

Technologic’s InstaGate

Technologic Inc., of Atlanta, has introduced the InstaGate Internet Appliance, a product designed to help schools and libraries meet proposed legislative filtering requirements for eRate recipients. InstaGate is an all-in-one, plug-in-and-go internet solution that provides everything needed to connect to the web. The turnkey appliance includes an eMail server, web server, firewall, and web content filtering, eliminating the need for additional filtering hardware or software.

Technologic’s SiteFilter blocks internet sites and content in more than 27 categories and is automatically updated weekly to keep up with the ever-changing web. The integral web server makes it possible for schools to build their own internet or intranet site for school activities. With a robust firewall, InstaGate lets schools ensure against security and network risks to web site and eMail functions. This comprehensive, 24-hour-a-day protection also features remote management functions.

(800) 615-9911

Martek Veri-A-Code

Martek Global Services, based in Bethesda, Md., has developed Veri-A-Code, a software product designed to address the constant area code changes and splits created by the population and technology explosion.

Until now, updating phone lists has been a time-consuming, and often mistake-prone, manual operation. Veri-A-Code searches your phone number databases, finds the ones that have changed, and updates them automatically. Veri-A-Code, which uses geographical verification to assign proper area codes in a database, is Y2K compliant and maintains a list of future area code changes for the next 100 years. Databases can be updated quarterly through a subscription service.

Veri-A-Code is a multi-platform application that works with SQL Server, Oracle, Access, ASCII Text, Sybase Information, Goldmine, and others. To find out how many area codes might be wrong in your database, Martek is offering a free database analyzer program, which can be downloaded from the Veri-A-Code web site.

(301) 656-3700

International Computers’ TVWebLinks

TVWebLinks, from the Franklin, Wis.-based International Computers, is designed to help students and educators produce interactive and distance learning videos.

With TVWebLinks, web site links can be added to a live or pre-recorded television signal using International Computers’ OneClick software. The encoded signal can then be recorded to videotape or transmitted live to students’ WebTV units (end users can also use a PC with a TV tuner card).

When the students click on the WebTV icon on their television, coursework is immediately retrieved and displayed on the their screens. Class assignments, reference materials, and the entire transcript of the video can be displayed and printed. The system also allows for interactive testing.

The product is 100 percent compatible with CEMA standards and supports both standard composite and S-Video television signals, International Computers said. Other features include true broadcast quality, real-time and post-production capabilities, and online assistance. The complete package includes software, cables, operating manual, and the TVWebLinks external box.

(800) 992-9000


eSchool Partners

Ace Software, of Grove City, Ohio, is a leader in internet-based administrative software. Visit Ace Software’s web site:

(800) 837-2692

See the ad for Ace Software on page 36

Adobe Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., is a leading producer of illustration and design software. Visit Adobe’s web site:

(800) 834-3396

See the ad for Adobe on page 51

Advanced Media, of Wilmington, Mass., is a leader in CD/DVD networking and networked attached storage solutions. Visit Advanced Media’s web site:

(800) 466-0813

See the ad for Advanced Media on page 48

Advantage Learning Systems Inc. of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., is a leading creator of computerized learning information systems. Visit the Advantage Learning Systems web site:

(800) 338-4202

See Advantage Learning System’s ad on page 19

Anchor Audio Inc., based in Torrance, Calif., is a leading manufacturer of portable sound systems. Visit Anchor Audio’s web site:

(800) 323-0092

See the ad for Anchor Audio on page 14

Brodart Co., of Williamsport, Pa., is a leader in library automation and services. Visit Brodart’s web site:

(800) 233-8467

See Brodart’s ad on page 38

Compaq Computer Corp., headquartered in Houston, is a world leader of the PC industry. Visit Compaq’s web site:

(800) 888-3224

See Compaq’s ad on pages 2-3

Cutting Edge, of La Mesa, Calif., is a leader in network server solutions. Visit the Cutting Edge web site:

(800) 257-1666

See the ad for Cutting Edge on page 35

Dell Computer Corp., of Round Rock, Texas, is the world’s leading direct-sales computer company. Visit Dell’s web site:

(800) 822-6078

See Dell’s ad on pages 12-13

FamilyEducation Network, of Boston, is a leader in web site editing tools and templates. Visit the FEN web site:

(800) 558-3382

See the FamilyEducation Network’s ad on the back cover

FNO Press, of Bellingham, Wash., is the publisher of From Now On: The Educational Technology Journal and specializes in books and publications describing leading K-12

technology practices. See the FNO Press web site:

(360) 647-8759

See the ad for FNO Press on page 22

The Gale Group, of Farmington Hills, Mich., is one of the world’s preeminent publishers of academic, educational, and business research materials serving libraries, educational institutions, and businesses in all major international markets. Visit The Gale Group web site:

(800) 877-4253

See the ad for The Gale Group on page 10

GradeNet, of Tulsa, Okla., has one goal: solving the communications problem between schools and families, with the ultimate result of significantly improving the educational performance of students. Visit the GradeNet web site:

(918) 369-1324

See the ad for GradeNet on page 39

Helius Inc., of Orem, Utah, provides innovative solutions for LAN-based networks. Visit the Helius web site:

(888) 764-9020

See the Helius ad on page 50

Hewlett-Packard Co., headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., is a leading provider of computer systems and network servers. Visit the Hewlett-Packard web site:

(800) 839-6850

See the ad for Hewlett-Packard on pages16-17

Highwired.Net, of Cambridge, Mass., is the first and only free online newspaper system for schools. Visit the Highwired.Net web site:

See Highwired.Net’s ad on page 33

Lightspan Partnership, of San Diego, is a leading provider of curriculum-based educational software and internet products. Visit the Lightspan Partnership web site:

(888) 425-5543

See Lightspan’s ad on page 5

N2H2 Inc., of Seattle, delivers a suite of products that makes the internet a safer and more productive place for schools. Visit N2H2’s web site:

(877) 336-2999

See N2H2’s ad on pages 8-9

NCS Inc., of Minneapolis, is one of the nation’s largest single providers of student, curriculum, instructional, and financial management software and services to K-12 schools. Visit NCS’s web site:

(800) 736-4357

See the ad for NCS on page 32

Network Data Services Inc., of Augusta, Ga., is a single source partner for professional IT services, computer systems, network design, installation, and related communication services. Visit the company’s web site:

(706) 650-8015

See the ad for Network Data Services on page 31

NewDeal Inc., headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., is a developer and publisher of advanced system, application, and tool software for personal computers. Visit NewDeal’s web site:

(800) 985-4263

See the ad for NewDeal on page 53, of Norcross, Ga., is a free web-based education system providing a new level of communication between schools, students, teachers, administration, and families. Visit the web site:


See the ad on page 34

ParkerVision, of Jacksonville, Fla., designs, develops, and markets automated video camera control systems and emerging wireless technologies. Visit ParkerVision’s web site:

(800) 532-8034

See ParkerVision’s ad on page 52

Scholastic Inc., headquartered in New York City, is a global children’s publishing and media company in both education and entertainment. Visit the Scholastic web site:

(877) COUNTS-1

See the ad for Scholastic on page 21

School Zone Publishing Co., of Grand Haven, Mich., is a publisher of elementary education products, including workbooks, flash cards, games, maps, posters, and CD-ROMs. Visit School Zone’s web site:

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See the ad for School Zone on page 24

Scientific Learning, of Berkeley, Calif., uses integrated technologies to create training programs for individuals with language and reading problems. Visit Scientific Learning’s web site:

(888) 665-9707

See the ad for Scientific Learning on page 20

SmartStuff Software, of Portland, Ore., is a leading developer and marketer of cross-platform system utilities and productivity tools for institutional users in education, government, and business. Visit SmartStuff’s web site:

(800) 671-3999

See the SmartStuff ad on page 15

Symbol Technologies, of Holtsville, N.Y., specializes in wireless LAN technology for educational computing. Visit Symbol’s web site:

(800) 722-6234

See the ad for Symbol on page 49

Tangent Computer, headquartered in Burlingame, Calif., designs computer systems tailored specifically for education and government applications. Visit Tangent’s web site:


See the ad for Tangent on page 55

ZapMe! Corp., of San Ramon, Calif., delivers safe, meaningful, and entertaining educational content and services to the K-12 community via a global satellite network. Visit the ZapMe! web site:


See the ad for ZapMe! on page 7

Zenith Electronics, of Glenview, Ill., is a leader in plug-in presentation equipment. Visit the Zenith web site:

(888) 393-6484

See the ad for Zenith on page 11