Statewide video network to link all South Dakota schools

South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow has announced the second phase of a multimillion-dollar partnership with U.S. West that will link South Dakota students and teachers through a new statewide intranet.

U.S. West plans to install videoconferencing and data transfer technology over the next several months that will be available to all of the state’s school districts at a sharp discount, Janklow said.

He said the company would offer South Dakota schools access to more than $17 million worth of data networking and video equipment. Among others, Gateway, VTEL, Cisco, and 3Com reportedly are providing the deeply discounted equipment for the project.

The project eventually will connect all K-12 public schools as part of a statewide data and video intranet to be called the Digital Dakota Network. Through it, schools can share classes with each other or connect to other resources across the nation or the world.

Districts choosing to participate can get high-speed T1 connections to the internet and real-time, broadcast-quality video, he said.

The installation of videoconferencing technology represents the next phase of Janklow’s project to wire all state schools for technology. When complete, the network will give students in small, rural school districts the same opportunities as those attending bigger schools, the governor said.

“An interesting component [to the project] is the initial wiring of the schools,” explained Bob Mercer, Gov. Janklow’s press secretary. “South Dakota used crews of low-security prison inmates to wire the schools” and upgrade all electrical circuits. With free labor, public schools have had virtually no expenses throughout the implementation of this program, Mercer said.

“It’s putting [technology] to use with human beings that’s going to make a difference for the future,” Janklow said. “Every student, no matter where they are in South Dakota, will have access to the best learning opportunities in the world right in their own schools.”

The technology is easy for teachers to use, said Brian Tagney, area director for VTEL Corp., a manufacturer of videoconferencing systems. Teachers can write on a “whiteboard” with a marker, and the image is transmitted on a screen that students in classrooms across the state can see almost instantly.

Documents and other information in a teacher’s notes can be transferred as well, he said.

Setting up the intranet will be a combined effort between the State Bureau of Information and Telecommunications and the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs. The Digital Dakota Network will use asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) switching centers in telecommunications centers throughout the state to transport voice, video, and data at about 275 times the speed of the fastest dial-up modem, Janklow said.

The network also will make it easier for schools to share specialty classes, such as foreign languages, or let a teacher leading a class in American Indian history tap into resources from one of the state’s Indian reservations, he added.

The goal is to have the data-networking infrastructure in place by the end of February and the videoconferencing component done by next fall.

Larry Toll, a U.S. West vice president, said the contribution was part of the company’s commitment to its customers.

“This is the kind of technology that will make South Dakota one community, educationally,” he said.

The state also plans to expand its training program for teachers to help them learn ways to make the new technology work in a classroom setting, Janklow said. The courses will be offered at three new sites this summer—Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and Rapid City—so more teachers can participate.

Teacher training is one of Janklow’s top priorities, according to press secretary Bob Mercer: “The governor’s Technology for Teaching and Learning Academy has already trained about 20 percent of South Dakota’s teachers during the four-week summer sessions, and that number is expanding to 30 percent this summer.”

Every South Dakota teacher attending the summer institute receives a stipend of $1,000 to be used toward technology in his or her classroom. Last year, network administrators who attended received brand-new network servers for their schools, Mercer said.

The payoff for the program, according to Mercer: Through networked schools, South Dakota students can have access to any information in the world and go anywhere in the world to work, despite their remote locale.

“Location is not an issue when traveling at the speed of light,” he said.

South Dakota web site

Gov. Janklow’s web site


Grant Awards

$18.1 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Education

For the state’s new Safe Schools grant program, more than $18 million to nearly 400 Pennsylvania school districts, charter schools, intermediate units, and vocational-technical schools. School districts will be able to use the money to obtain security technology, hire security personnel, develop violence-response plans, provide staff training, purchase instructional materials, institute school identification programs, address risks to reduce incidents of problem behaviors among students, and establish alternative education programs. Gov. Tom Ridge signed the program into law last spring. The program is a $22 million line item in the 1999-2000 state budget.

(717) 783-6788

$13 million from Schools of the 21st Century

For school improvement grants, $13 million to three clusters of schools within the Detroit Public School System. The clusters, made up of 16 schools, each received grants totaling $3 million to $4.5 million during a three-and-a-half year period to implement their school improvement plans. Each cluster has adopted “best practice” whole-school reform models, developed strategies to engage parents and external partners in the school reform process, and integrated its plans into the three goals of the Schools of the 21st Century Initiative: (1) Personalizing the relationship between students and teachers; (2) Enhancing the relationship between school staff and community members, especially parents; and (3) Redefining the relationship between local schools and the district administration. Common themes on the winning grant applications included the provision of state-of-the-art technology, parental and community involvement, extracurricular developmental programs, and implementation of a range of teaching styles to reach diverse learners. Schools of the 21st Century was formed in response to a $20 million grant from the Annenburg Foundation in 1996. With public and private sector matches totaling $40 million, the $60 million five-year initiative is intended to dramatically improve the Detroit Public Schools system.

(313) 871-3515

$4.95 million from the South Carolina Department of Education

For the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund, a federal program that gives money to the states to administer, nearly $5 million to 40 school districts in South Carolina. The grants, some as much as $125,000 per district, were based on high poverty levels and greatest need of technology improvements. Districts that applied for the grants had to show how they planned to use improved technology in classroom learning, Education Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum said. The grants will provide computers for classrooms and connect them to the internet.

(803) 734-8815

$30,000 in wireless phones and service time from AT&T Wireless Services

For its “Wireless for the Community” program in Arizona, 20 digital wireless phones and 600 monthly minutes of complimentary local airtime to 18 nonprofit organizations in the metro Phoenix and Tucson areas for use throughout the year. Tempe Union High School District, for example, received a grant for its Adolescent Pregnancy & Parenting Program.

(602) 224-2888

$7,008 from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation

To the Mad River Local School District in Ohio. Two teachers, Debby Root and Marianne Patton, secured the grant money for implementing two computer programs from Advantage Learning Systems (STAR Reading and Accelerated Reader), which attempt to improve reading achievement and incorporate more visual learning into teaching speech and language skills. The programs allow teachers to test students and create easy-to-retrieve databases on each student’s reading level, then measure students’ reading comprehension on assigned books using short computerized tests, so they can assess whether student are reading the books to their capacity. The purpose of The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, located in Cleveland, is to “foster the development of young people to the maximum possible extent through improving the quality of education in secular elementary and secondary schools in Ohio.” The foundation is “eager to explore new frontiers in Ohio public schools and to promote more effective teaching in those schools.”

(216) 589-5700


Grant Deadlines


Inspired Teacher Scholarships for Visual Learning

This 2-year-old program, sponsored by Inspiration Software Inc., offers scholarships to educators who champion visual learning and the meaningful use of technology in the classroom. Ten awards in the amount of $500 each will be awarded to K-12 teachers in support of ongoing professional development in educational technology. The program hopes to give teachers the money they need to receive higher-level technology training to bring back to their classrooms from workshops, conferences, or technology institutes. All award recipients will be notified by March 31.

Deadline: Feb. 15

(800) 877-4292


Technology Opportunities Program

This year, about $13 million will be awarded through this program from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Formerly known as TIIAP, the Technology Opportunities Program is a highly competitive program that awards matching grants for innovative projects using advanced telecommunications and information technology, and is especially interested in projects developed by smaller, locally based organizations that represent technologically underserved communities across the United States. The average award is $350,000 and lasts two or three years. For more information, contact Stephen J. Downs, Director, or eMail

Deadline: March 16

(202) 482-2048

Excellence in Teaching Cabinet Awards

Sponsored by Curriculum Associates, the Excellence in Teaching Cabinet Award is in its third year and is seeking proposals that demonstrate a desire to make classrooms better learning environments through the use of innovative tools, including technology. Projects should last from three months to one year. The three K-8 teachers who win this award will receive cash grants of $1,000, plus $500 in materials from Curriculum Associates. Winning teachers will also serve on the Excellence in Teaching Cabinet. Winners will be notified by May 31, and projects must be implemented in the 2000-2001 school year.

Deadline: March 15

(800) 225-0248

21st Century Community Learning Centers

This U.S. Department of Education program is open to rural and inner-city public schools and consortia to help them plan, implement, or expand after-hours in-school projects that benefit the educational, social, cultural, and recreational needs of the community. Approximately $185 million is available during this round of grants, which are expected to support about 2,000 new centers. The average award is expected to be $375,000 for a grant to support three centers, or $125,000 for a grant to support a single center. Funds can be used to purchase technology, since technology-based learning is among the list of supported activities. For further information, contact Amanda Clyburn or Carol J. Mitchell at (202) 219-2180.

Deadline: March 20



Scholastic’s Ms. Frizzle Award 2000

Scholastic Inc., a global publisher and media company targeting children, has announced the third year of the Ms. Frizzle Award, presented by Microsoft Corp. The program honors proposals from elementary school teachers (K-6) who present creative science education projects that inspire imagination and inquiry-based learning for the new millennium. Eligible teachers must submit a proposal for a project that encourages kids to learn science through hands-on discovery and problem solving. The application must include a description of the classroom environment, a letter of recommendation from a principal or school official, a budget, a timeline, and an implementation plan for the project. Grand-prize winners receive $2,000 cash, $2,000 in educational software from Microsoft, and $2,000 in Scholastic books and educational materials.

Deadline: April 10

(212) 343-6570


Teaching with Technology Grants

Compaq’s Teaching with Technology program provides educators with national recognition for their work, the opportunity to share best practices with other teachers, and a chance to win Compaq products for their schools. The grant program is open to all K-12 educators and 52 winners—one from each state as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Defense Department schools—will be selected based on their innovative, effective, and replicable use of technology in the classroom. Winners receive a Compaq desktop PC for their school and get to vie for nine Best of Region spots and three National Model spots. Regional winners receive a Compaq server for their school as well as the desktop PC, and national winners receive a server and PC, as well as an all-expense-paid trip to the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Atlanta from June 26 to 28. Applications, as well as rules and regulations, can be downloaded from the program’s web site.

Deadline: March 15

(800) 88-TEACH

Building Effective Roadmaps for the Information Superhighway

To promote effective internet research skills and media literacy in K-12 education, N2H2 Inc. has introduced a Curriculum Contest in conjunction with the nonprofit Computer Learning Foundation. The contest requires entrants to submit an original curriculum for teaching students internet research and literacy skills, such as how to organize a search for information, how to use internet search tools, how to narrow a search, and how to assess the quality of the information found. Entries should include lesson plans, handouts for students, worksheets, and other information that would enable teachers to replicate the curriculum in their own classrooms. They will be judged on originality, quality of the pedagogy and written communication, and potential effectiveness. N2H2 will award 12 grand prizes of Windows-compatible computers, 12 second prizes of CD-ROM recorders, and 12 third prizes of $100 software gift certificates to winners.

Deadline: April 1

(800) 971-2622


Microsoft names new CEO, vows to fight breakup:

In the wake of management maneuvers at the world’s largest software company, a spokesman told eSchool News the appointment of Steve Ballmer as new CEO of Microsoft would have no adverse impact on the School Interoperability Framework and said the reorganization, in fact, would enhance the company’s ability to serve K-12 education.

Educators from coast to coast were keeping a close eye on moves at Microsoft, because an increasing percentage of school computers use Windows operating systems and because the company has played a leading role in an interoperability initiative designed to ensure the compatibility of all major categories of school management software.

On Jan. 13, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates promoted Ballmer, his longtime friend and company president, to chief executive officer of the software giant that Gates co-founded.

Gates, who stepped aside as chief executive, will remain chairman and will also take over the newly created position of “chief software architect.”

Though Gates has focused more of his efforts on his vision for Microsoft and the computer industry in recent months, the Microsoft announcement did not necessarily mean he is giving up any power in the company he co-founded in 1975 with Paul Allen.

Some observers speculated that the move was intended to position Microsoft to weather a potential breakup of the company proposed informally by the U.S. Justice Department just days before the announcement. As sketched out by Justice Department sources, the plan would break Microsoft into three separate companies.

Ballmer wasted no time in describing his position on the company’s federal antitrust woes.

“I think it would be absolutely reckless and irresponsible for anyone to try to break up this company,” Ballmer said at the news conference announcing his appointment. “I think it would be unprecedented, and I think it would be the single greatest disservice that anybody could do to consumers in this country.”

Microsoft is being sued by the Justice Department and 19 state attorneys general for alleged antitrust violations, such as squeezing Netscape Communications Corp. out of the web software market and forcing such companies as America Online Inc. and IBM to use its software instead of its competitors’.

In its defense, Microsoft has said that the industry is constantly evolving, and that its past actions did not damage its competitors. On Jan. 13, Ballmer and Gates pointed to the proposed merger of America Online and Time Warner Inc. as evidence that competitors were thriving.

With Gates remaining as chairman and taking on the role of “chief software architect,” the company hopes to create a new software platform that uses the internet to deliver personal data to any device, wherever the user happens to be.

Microsoft’s sudden emphasis on this new generation of software—which would be delivered across high-speed internet connections—gives some credence to its arguments during its government antitrust trial that it will face unprecedented competition.

Gates offered an alternative explanation for the management move. He took the action, he said, so he can return “to what I love most—focusing on technologies for the future,” he said. Over the past year and a half, Gates has turned over much of the day-to-day operations of Microsoft to Ballmer.

Microsoft has made Gates the wealthiest private individual in the world, with a fortune estimated at more than $80 billion. Meanwhile, his company has become the dominant force in the software industry, with its Windows operating systems on more than 90 percent of personal computers.

Gates said he planned to dedicate all of his time to fashioning and promoting the “next generation” of Microsoft’s flagship product operating system. At press time, the latest version, Windows 2000 for business computers, was being readied for release.

Gates said he especially wants to develop software services that will be hosted on the internet and made part of future versions of Windows.

Microsoft is working to make its popular software, especially its Office suite of business programs, available over the internet, in addition to the traditional way of loading it onto individual personal computers.

Gates described the move as “a personal decision, one I have discussed with Steve and our board of directors for some time.

“Steve’s promotion will allow me to dedicate myself full time to my passion—building great software and strategizing on the future and nurturing and collaborating with the core team helping Steve run the company.”

Ballmer will retain his title of president. He also was set to take a seat on Microsoft’s board of directors, effective Jan. 27.

“I’m certainly honored and very, very excited about the opportunity,” Ballmer said.

David Wu, a financial analyst at ABN Amro in San Francisco, said there are few differences between Ballmer and Gates.

“Other than the fact that Steve Ballmer is less rich than Bill Gates, those two are Siamese twins,” Wu said.

Ballmer, 43, was appointed president of Microsoft in July 1998, giving him direct responsibility for improving the performance of all of the company’s divisions, as well as customer satisfaction. The son of Swiss immigrants, Ballmer grew up in Detroit, where his father worked for Ford Motor Co.

He was brought into the company in 1980, by Gates, whom he met and became friends with when both attended Harvard University in the 1970s. Ballmer was Gates’ best man when he married Melinda French in 1994.

After Gates hired Ballmer, the two reportedly had some rocky times. One anecdote says that in the spring of 1985, as Microsoft’s deadline to produce Windows slipped further and further behind, Gates called Ballmer into his office and threatened to fire him if Windows wasn’t on the shelves by the end of the year (although few people believe Gates, with a notoriously bad temper, was ever serious about firing Ballmer).

Windows was ready by November.

Along with Ballmer’s promotion, Gates announced that Microsoft would develop the Next Generation Windows Services, which will power new products and services over the internet. Microsoft wants to use the internet to transmit data to any device, including computers, cell phones, handheld computers, home electronics—and gear that has not yet been invented.

The new internet-based Windows services will be developed over the next two or three years, with developers getting the first detailed view of Microsoft’s strategy this spring, Gates said.

Microsoft Corp.

U.S. Justice Department


Telecommuting sleight of hand

In the old street scam of “find the pea,” the crooked magician hides a pea or other small object under one of three walnut shells or other hemispherical covers. The object, of course, is for the victims to guess the location of the pea after the shells have been shuffled. It is impossible to guess correctly, because the pea has been hidden elsewhere during the shuffle.

Using similar sleight of hand, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (an arm of the U.S. Department of Labor) issued a letter in November 1999 defining employers’ responsibilities for the health and safety of employees who work from home. A month later, after the press and media published alarming news stories, OSHA withdrew the letter. The obnoxious “pea” simply disappeared! Or did it?

The letter was written in response to an inquiry from CSC Credit Services in Texas. It was a standard OSHA reply to a request for information. The first question asked by CSC Credit was, “What is the employer’s obligation within the home work environment?”

OSHA’s answer should send a chill up the spine of every employer who seeks the benefits of allowing workers to spend all or part of their paid hours working at home. The existing OSHA interpretation of the law is: “The Occupational Safety and Health Act applies to work performed by an employee in any workplace within the United States, including a workplace located in the employee’s home.”

But, I hear you object, the letter was withdrawn! True. But the letter was not a proposed rulemaking notice or other prospective policy-making statement. It was clearly labeled an “interpretation” of current OSHA policy.

In other words, the letter was whisked off the table, but the policy remains hidden in OSHA’s back pocket. The broadly worded policy stated that an employer is responsible for “ensuring safe and healthful working conditions for the employee” for “any home-based assignments.”

While it is unlikely that OSHA is going to start inspecting the alcoves where teachers prepare and grade homework assignments, the genie is already out of the bottle. Unless OSHA issues an affirmative ruling that the law does not apply, lawyers representing employees who are injured or become disabled at home when performing work assignments are going to use the “hidden pea” to seek recompense for their clients.

The most obvious potential exposure for school districts would arise under an application of the evolving OSHA standards on working with computers. Already a concern throughout the information technology industry, OSHA’s increasing interest in ergonomics has already produced OSHA publication 3092, “Working Safely with Video Display Terminals.”

The potential for legal exposure for employers who allow telecommuting or performance of regular work assignments at home goes way beyond OSHA. Although OSHA does not have jurisdiction over workers’ compensation or the applicability of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the OSHA letter specifically mentioned these laws and indicated that other federal and state agencies may have rules that cover at-home assignments as well.

Put yourself inside the head of a lawyer who is seeking new ways to afford everything from a new Lexus to college tuition payments. The visions of legal fees are too tempting to drop the issue just because OSHA reacts to some bad publicity by withdrawing its interpretation letter.

Before you push the panic button and halt all telecommuting and at-home work assignments, keep in mind that OSHA can, and hopefully will, clarify its policy in a future rulemaking proceeding. At the same time, it is an area of potential legal exposure that you cannot afford to ignore much longer.

The computer is becoming a fixture in every workplace, including public schools. Working from or at home is one of the great advantages of the portability of information and work products made possible by computers. The phantom OSHA policy may seem like a harmless hidden pea for now. But like the soft-skinned princess in the fairy tale, if we sit on it long enough, it is sure to make its presence felt.


One clear voice is essential for effective communications

If you’ve ever found yourself trying to zip to a school for an event or meeting while juggling a cell phone in your ear, a stick shift in one hand and your pager beeping incessantly in the other, then you understand what marketing gurus call “communications clutter.”

In our over-communicated world, getting our messages across is becoming increasingly difficult. And while the web, cable television, and other forms of the “new” media are powerful, they also face stiff competition for our time and attention.

That’s why speaking with one clear voice is so essential. If you want your messages to get through, let alone stick, they have to be simple, direct, consistent, and clear.

Called “integrated marketing communications,” the goal is to make sure that all of your communications channels say the same things in the same way and with the same look.

Simple to understand, yet difficult to do in education’s turf-oriented and logo-laden world, integrated communications make sense from both a strategic and operational standpoint.

Why? Repetition counts when it comes to communication. Direct mail marketers, for example, know that to create awareness for a new product or special offer, they’re going to have to get it in front of their target audience at least 8 to 12 times.

Contrast that with our propensity in education to send a memo out once—or post something on the web with no additional advertising or support.

Then we add to the confusion by bombarding people with a variety of images, logos, and messages from individual schools, departments, the central office, and the Board of Education—none of which bear any kind of resemblance to each other.

And we wonder why people aren’t flocking to our school open houses or special events? Or why public education is fighting for its life right now in the court of public opinion?

If we want to change our image, integrated communications is a good place to start. Simply stated, the goal is to have every piece of paper, eMail, fax, web page, and television ad share a consistent look, tone, message, and feel.

To get started in this new approach, spend the next week collecting home page printouts, videos, cable TV programs, fax cover sheets, eMail messages, seminar handouts, business cards, envelopes, fliers, newsletters, and brochures from your district and/or schools.

Do they look like family, or like the United Nations? Is everyone using the same logo, artwork, photos, slogan, and key messages? If you put it all together in one folder, does it present a streamlined, professional image?

If your school or district is like most across the country, you probably have a virtual cacophony of communications clutter.

While it may seem like an impossible task, communicating with one clear voice is possible. Rochester City Schools, for example, does an excellent job.

How? By using its long-standing print publication, Students First, as the anchor for all of its other communications channels, including an appealing web site and an innovative, weekly “magazine-style” show produced for cable television.

Acting as Rochester’s communications super glue, Students First highlights outstanding students and teachers, while showcasing school programs, district initiatives, and classroom successes.

Whether you click on the web, scan the newsletter, or watch it on TV, the stories, images, and messages are the same.

“We don’t want to hit people with a thousand different messages, so we keep it consistent so people can digest what we’re trying to say better,” explains Tom Petrinio, communications director. “We use repetition in the different mediums to increase awareness of those messages and to bring them home to our target audiences more effectively.”

By using different channels of communication to tell the same story, the district is able to maximize its message and reach more people without doubling or tripling staff work or time.

“We’ve received a lot of positive comments on the feature stories and informational stories we have in Students First, so we wanted to broaden the audience and make it more accessible to more people by going online,” Petrinio says.

In addition to Students First, an idea worth copying, Rochester’s web site has a bunch of nifty features, including an extremely useful Directory of Information, Parenting Tips, an up-to-date news section, employment information, and district calendar.

“It’s important to integrate all of your communications for clarity of message,” says Petrinio, noting that the district hopes to debut a webcast of the Student First television show within the next two months.

“I think having a central person who is directly responsible for the content of each vehicle is crucial, so you don’t get that scattered approach with messages coming at people from different directions.”

Rochester City Schools

The Image Group


Students reject board’s tough web publishing options

Students at Maize High School in Kansas have chosen to reject four options presented to them by the school board regarding the publishing of student names and photos in the school’s online newspaper.

Many students do not like the district’s policy, which prohibits their full names or identifiable photographs from being published online. Students claim the policy inhibits their free press rights and affects the newspaper’s credibility.

School officials, meanwhile, say they are trying to protect students from internet stalkers, harassment, or other cybercrimes.

Tony Wedel, online editor of the student newspaper Express, commented, “We had a safety situation in our school which dampened our spirits a bit. There was a threat of someone shooting up the school, and someone had written ‘Maize is next’ on a chalkboard, so they had to conduct a bunch of searches [a few days] before we went to the school board.”

Wedel suggested that these events may have influenced the board’s decision not to allow full names to be published online.

The school board issued four options after students argued at a November board meeting that the district’s first-names-only web policy compromised the credibility of their online reporting.

The board wanted to come up with a short-term solution, said board member Jeff Longwell, as well as look at the issue more in-depth.

He said the board could not ignore the hundreds of parents who do not want their children’s names or photographs on the internet. At the same time, members wanted to give the journalism students as much freedom as possible, he said.

Similar policies nationwide are setting up battles between students’ free press rights and administrators’ responsibilities to protect students.

According to the school board, the Maize High School Express could have:

• Posted to the district intranet, an in-house web network, with no restrictions.

• Posted to the district web page if all student names and photos were checked against a list of students whose parents had said they did not want their child’s name or photo online, and removed from coverage where required. The Express was last posted online last spring.

• Set up passwords, which would have been maintained by the journalism students, for access to the Express online.

• Not posted the Express online.

“We decided that for various reasons, those options would not suit us, so we’ve decide to hold off [on publishing the Express online] for the rest of the year,” Wedel said.

About a third of the high school population, or 488 students, could not have their full names published online under the district’s current policy, editor Kris Hinson said.

Prior to the board’s decision, journalism students went through an issue of Express, marking every name that appeared on the list. It affected at least one item on every page, he said.

“This could be a problem with coverage,” Hinson said, “and leave huge holes in the paper. Entire stories would have to be changed or just omitted.”

The password and intranet options would have offered access only to those who already had access to the printed version, he added.

“It’s a limited audience; not everyone could see it,” Hinson said. “We don’t increase our readership.”

Wedel said he and his classmates came up with a different option that appealed to them. The students could have a link from the district’s web site to the Express, which would be on a different, independent server. The district then would not be liable, he said.

School board officials had no comment on the students’ proposal.

“I’m not satisfied with the decision, but I am happy with where we’re at,” Wedel said. “Things can always change next year.”

Maize School District


‘Beaming’ students won’t make teachers smile:

The age-old art of passing notes in class has gone high-tech, as students with handheld computers are foregoing pencil and paper to swap information surreptitiously via infrared beams.

The phenomenon, known as “beaming,” is catching on for its novelty and convenience. Standing or sitting just a few feet apart, people with portable devices like 3Com’s Palm Computing series or Handspring’s Visor can send notes, memos, business cards, and even software with a touch of a button.

“It’s kind of the geek handshake,” said Steve Kan, a management consultant in Los Angeles. When members of Kan’s family get together with their Palm computers, he said, “we swap information all the time.”

It is just one more way that technology is making it easier for people to exchange information quickly, without a lot of conversation or writing. Technology tools also make it easier for people to share very specific information, said Scott Chadwick, assistant professor of organizational communication at Iowa State University.

“People intentionally select and edit what they are going to communicate,” Chadwick said. “Beaming is a perfect example of that.”

Exchanging business cards is perhaps the most common use of this technology because the “beamed” information can automatically be stored in the computers’ address book. But the ease of beaming and the growing sales of handheld computing devices are making it popular beyond the professional realm.

At retailer Banana Republic’s flagship store in New York City, shoppers toting their handheld computers can get a map and directory of the store beamed to them by a concierge at the front desk.

“Technology is a part of everyone’s life,” said Cindy Capobianco, a company representative. “We wanted to recognize that and make it part of the shopping experience as well.”

A new television ad for Palm Computing shows its romantic possibilities: A woman on a train locks eyes with a man on another train the next track over. Just as they are about to speed off in opposite directions, she pulls out her computer and beams her number to him.

Naturally, students too are getting into the act. Chris Johnson, an information technology administrator in Western Australia, began beaming more than five years ago. Back then, he used an Apple Newton Messagepad to surreptitiously pass doodle-type notes in class.

“It has risen to the level of an information appliance,” said Jeff Bowman, a physician executive at St. Vincent Hospitals and Health Systems in Indianapolis. In the past few years, he has seen the popularity of the handheld computers burgeon among his colleagues, so that the staff at the center now shares meeting notes and other information.

Students and consumers are taking greater advantage of beaming as more friends and coworkers pick up their own devices, said John Cook, director of consumer products for Palm Computing.

Worldwide sales of handheld computers were expected to exceed $5.7 million in 1999, a 47 percent increase over 1998, according to the research firm Dataquest. Sales are expected to reach $21 million in 2003.

The technology’s applications are growing. For example, some owners of handheld devices also have infrared beaming equipment on their standard laptops or personal computers. That makes it possible for them to synchronize information between their machines.

Interactive games, where participants beam their moves back and forth to each other, are becoming another well-loved feature—much to the dismay of some teachers, who have seen their students play games from across the room instead of paying attention in class.

As beaming becomes more widespread, it is beginning to alter the way people interact. Cook cited the popularity of beaming in Japan, where trading business cards often is part of a cordial greeting. Now, users of handheld devices are “beaming and bowing.”

So, will handwritten notes soon become history? And will technology such as beaming become a substitute for real conversation? No one knows.

“I do counsel people to be careful, especially when it comes to communication,” said Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Palm Computing

Handspring Inc.


Training and education aren’t the same thing

By the time the third faculty member left my office, I was ready to crawl into a hole. Grades had been mailed the night before, and teachers who were checking grades on the computer began to report discrepancies between the grades they submitted and the grades that were now in the system.

My response was immediate panic. Had a student hacked our network? Had a faculty member allowed a student to see his password? Would I have to tell the entire faculty that all grades and comments needed to be re-submitted? How do you explain to all those parents that their son’s grades are not accurate, or that he didn’t really make the honor roll this term? What about seniors who had to send these grades to colleges? These and other questions kept me busy for most of the day and kept me awake most of that night.

Upon closer inspection, however, the problem was not as bad as it originally appeared. There were only a handful of teachers who reported discrepancies, and we were able to fix them without much difficulty. The security of the network had not been compromised, and while there were some minor technical problems during grade input, those problems did not impact the accuracy of the grades.

Rather, the discrepancies were the result of input errors that came from a combination of poor understanding of our electronic gradebook program and a user interface that is somewhat misleading.

For instance, the gradebook program we use allows teachers to customize their own grading system. Some teachers did not change the default grade cutoffs in all of their classes, and so students were assigned letter grades that didn’t correspond to the teacher’s numeric average.

In other cases, due to the way averaged columns were displayed, faculty members had made manual changes to grades in the column for final grades, thinking they were changing semester grades.

As I began to realize the cause of the problem, my first reaction was one of relief—followed by frustration: “Whew! It’s not my fault. The problem isn’t in the program or the network. It’s in the users. We just need to get a new faculty. That’ll fix it! We need a faculty that can follow the directions that I type up and explain to them in workshop after workshop.” It felt a lot better to be able to shift the blame to someone else.

The more I thought about why I was frustrated, though, the less sense it made. If only one or two people had a problem, it would be easier to dismiss it as their own fault, but problems were reported by about 10 percent of the teachers. These are educated people. All of them have at least four years of college, and some have their Ph.D.’s They are entrusted with the daily shaping of young minds, and they all do a pretty good job of it.

Additionally, some of the teachers who had problems with their grades are among the most active computer users on the faculty. So if the problem wasn’t the system, and it wasn’t the faculty, then what was the real cause of the problem?

Logic lead me to think that this was a training problem, but we’ve had numerous workshops in the use of this program, ranging from full faculty workshops at grade input time to individual training sessions throughout the term when faculty were having trouble. How many workshops can you really have?

Eventually, however, I realized that the problem stemmed from the quality and type of training, not the quantity of it.

In order to spark motivation, we have employed “just-in-time” training. For us, this means having a workshop on how to use the various features of the grade input program as teachers need to use them.

For example, we taught teachers how to set up rosters and seating charts before the first day of school. We taught them how to add assignments during the first week of school, and in the week that first-term grades were due, we taught them how to adjust and submit their grades to be printed on report cards.

The philosophy behind this was that faculty members’ needs to get their job done would drive their motivation to learn the skills being taught in the workshop. The fact that they were working on “real” projects would better engage their attention and make them more active participants in the workshop.

This type of training is very effective when you are trying to teach very discrete skills. However, something was missing from our training which, I believe, led to the difficulties we experienced this quarter.

The focus of our just-in-time training was the accomplishment of a specific goal by following a series of specific instructions. This way, faculty members mastered a specific and essential task without being overloaded with information and confused.

Although they were able to perform these various tasks, not all faculty members were able to see how these different tasks related to each other. For some teachers, the transfer of skills from one task to a new one was more difficult.

Our training also failed to provide users with a general overview of how the program works. While some teachers could perform certain tasks very well, they had difficulty solving unexpected problems or adjusting to situations beyond those to which they had been exposed.

In short, we were training our users, rather than educating them.

Training is a perfectly acceptable solution for users who perform basic and repetitive functions on their computers. These users may never need to respond to situations outside the scope of their training.

Many users, however, require more than training. They require education. They require practice in the type of thinking required to perform complex tasks on a computer, like maintaining a gradebook, which are highly customizable and likely to present situations and problems that are unique to each user.

While the fundamental principles of our training program are sound, I plan to add more activities next year which will require the transfer of skills from different areas of the program. It is important that users have a more general understanding of how the program works.

Additionally, I plan to add activities which present problems requiring the user to look up answers in the manual or help file. While I would like the main focus of the training to be on “real” projects, I plan to add some simulated problems and evaluate the learner’s response to these problems.

Telling isn’t the same as teaching, and training isn’t the same as educating. Those of us who design and run workshops need to take our cues from our teachers in the classroom and model workshops that reflect a slightly more constructivist approach to learning, rather than the memorization of how to perform certain tasks.

Even the most avid of computer users would benefit from a greater overall understanding of a particular program or system and how to respond to unique and unexpected problems. Not only will this type of training help to avoid problems like we experienced this quarter, but it will lead to a more independent, productive, and creative end user.


Educators team up with NASA scientists to involve students in real space research

Science students at Pottsville High School in Arkansas have been chosen, along with students in 19 other schools nationally, to participate in a new computer network involving the International Space Station.

The program—called the Tele-science Resource Kit, or TReK for short—was designed by NASA engineers to allow scientists from around the world to access experimental data collected on board the space station.

Researchers who have been approved to fly experiments aboard the space station will be able to monitor their projects via the internet without actually being in space or at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Voice communication with the astronauts also will be possible.

NASA is using the 20 public schools as test sites for voice-over-IP, video, and data experiments. The schools will be able to receive information from real experiments as it is generated.

Pottsville High School became involved when teacher Ed Roberts attended an internship at the Marshall Space Flight Center last summer.

“NASA was looking to set up [its] test network to verify reliability in the TReK system,” Roberts said. “Since education is a high priority for NASA, it became apparent to the researchers developing TReK that the help they needed could be furnished by teachers attending the summer institute.

“All we had to do was agree to become a NASA research site, an exciting way for our schools to integrate space technology in our classrooms,” he said.

The TReK testing will continue for about six months, at which time the system will become operational and Pottsville High School will be given the opportunity to participate in research being conducted by NASA scientists.

“I feel very lucky to be given the opportunity to bring this type of cutting-edge technology to our students,” Roberts added.

The idea behind TReK is to make it easy for science teams working in their own laboratories on Earth to receive information from and transmit commands to their experiments aboard the Space Station, 220 miles in space.

“TReK is a user-friendly, PC-based system,” said Michelle Schneider, who leads the team of NASA engineers who developed TReK at the Marshall Space Flight Center. “PC advancements—processing power, memory, and networking capabilities—enable PCs to support this system.”

TReK uses off-the-shelf computer hardware and software, which makes it cost-effective for users. “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if what we needed was already out there,” said Schneider. “We provide users with TReK, the noncommercial software, and a list of suggested hardware—basically, any PC—and software that is readily available.”

NASA provided all equipment free. The equipment already is in the schools, connected to the NASA network, and initial tests are underway.

One of the first voice tests planned at Pottsville High School will be to conduct an interview. Roberts’ students will be able to ask questions to an astronaut at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The students already have held data tests with the other schools, as well as with NASA scientists in Alabama.

TReK works by receiving and relaying information to the main computer system in the Science Operations Center at the Marshall Center. Science teams will specify what information they want to obtain from their experiments and in what intervals.

Once the experiment is underway, the main computer system in the Operations Center retrieves the requested information and routes it to the TReK system. TReK processes and displays the information for the science teams. In turn, science teams can send information through TReK to the main computer system, which relays it to the experiment.

“TReK is not just another NASA-sponsored educational program,” Roberts said. “It is an actual space research initiative utilizing the latest in internet capabilities to conduct space-related research and activities aboard the International Space Station.”

Pottsville School District

Marshall Space Flight Center