Library Automation Giants Join Forces

Challenging Beliefs About How to Bring Technology to Schools

abstracted from “Integrating Technology into Education” by Jim Surratt and Eliot Levinson

Converge Magazine online edition, January 2000

http://www.convergemag.com/Publications/CN VGJan00/ TechFromTheTop/TechTop.shtm

The authors challenge two common beliefs about how technology can be successfully integrated into the K-12 environment.

The first belief they cite is, “Integration of technology should be done on a school-by-school basis because site-based management is a necessary condition for school-based change.” They suggest that thinking about technology in this type of a site-based manner may not be efficient if technology is better suited for the district level. For example, district-wide curriculum matters should not be addressed on the school level, and neither should network infrastructure.

The authors suggest two approaches, which they label “best-teacher” and “early-adopter,” as alternatives. Asking the “best” teachers to create a district-wide curriculum that will work for reaching students of a particular subject will often work better than have an individual teacher or school create the curriculum. The “early-adopter” approach encourages teachers to take the training to become proficient technology users and educators. This method reaches the most motivated teachers and turns them into leaders, rather that forcing material on teachers who are not prepared or motivated to learn.

The second common belief that the authors challenge is “The principal is the key to technology integration in a school.” The problem with relying on the principal as the technology leader is that if he/she is not interested in or capable of being that leader, then programs will flounder. School districts must ensure that technology support comes from headquarters, and that it is offered both to schools as a whole and also to individual teachers, if they want to see its successful integration.

School System Improves Efficiency of Network with Cache Technology

abstracted from “CacheFlow Internet Caching Appliances Help San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Office Control WAN Costs and Improve Internet Response Time”

CacheFlow Inc. web site, February 2000

http://www.cacheflow.com

The San Bernardino County (Calif.) School District says that “caching” technology installed on its wide area network (WAN) computer system has substantially improved the speed of both its internal communications and connections to the internet, by helping the district more efficiently use the bandwidth of its network.

The WAN is used for administering both payroll and finances for K-12 schools and five community college districts in San Bernardino County and also serves as the hub for the county’s schools to access the internet. Requests for internet content from every school funnel into the network. Before the new technology was installed, about 95 percent of the WAN link was occupied with internet requests, often delaying the downloading of educational web content for students and teachers.

CacheFlow Inc., a provider of network efficiency solutions, created a caching system that stores within the WAN the internet content most often requested by the network’s 20,000 users, and it monitors the source of those pages for content changes. This uses the existing bandwidth more efficiently because most of the requests for content never leave the county’s network.

“The CacheFlow appliances are satisfying almost 60 percent of our requests for internet content. As a result, web traffic now accounts for only about half of our total WAN bandwidth,” said Jeremy Powell, telecommunications infrastructure specialist for the school system. “The CacheFlow solution has enabled us to accomplish our immediate goals—flattening the peaks in WAN costs and improving performance for students and faculty.” Sagebrush Corp. and Winnebago Software Co. merged on Jan. 14 to become what the companies call the largest firm dedicated to the market for K-12 information solutions—a category that includes library automation systems, quality-bound books, cataloging services, internet solutions, and other educational resources.

“By pooling Sagebrush and Winnebago talent, we will accelerate the pace of innovation in our industry, including new ideas for exploiting the internet,” promised Jay Stead, president and CEO of the combined firm. “Stepped-up innovation will allow our customers to deliver educational services more broadly, effectively, and conveniently than ever before.

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Creating Multimedia Assignments that Help Students

The author begins his article with an anecdote that should serve to remind teachers about the challenges of using today’s electronics in the classroom. “How often have you sat down at the computer with a spare 20 minutes to search the web for a lesson plan or supplemental material, only to find yourself still sitting there an hour later?” the author asks. “We all know how technology, which is supposed to be a time saver, can be a time eater. Our students face the same problem.”

Multimedia projects may take students into unfamiliar territory, and it is a teacher’s role to provide guidance to make that experience as positive as possible. This begins by making sure that students understand the objectives of technology-based assignments. Having students think about those objectives before starting the project—even having them help determine the objectives—is a lesson in and of itself.

A second important step at the outset of a multimedia project is for the student (or, more likely, team members) to break down the project into specific tasks. This will help ensure full participation by all team members and minimize missteps.

A third key is for students to consider the way(s) in which they will present their findings to their peers. The type of presentation will have a large impact on the ways in which information must be obtained, analyzed, and saved. In addition, deciding about presentation early in the process ensures fewer false steps. Students should be reminded that because the project is multimedia, they should consider ways of presenting information besides lectures.

Finally, the author says that teachers should encourage students to adjust their plans as details emerge. While planning ahead is important, it should not act as a straitjacket on collaborative projects that are, by their very nature, likely to evolve.

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Distance Learning Can Open New Doors at Urban Schools

Urban schools can use computer technology to create successful distance learning programs that serve the needs of teachers, students, and collaborative partners, according to these two Columbia University Teachers College professors.

Creating successful programs starts by identifying the educational goals of the institution and the needs of its students. At urban schools, which often have limited resources, the importance of coordinating policy, procedure, and programming before starting the distance learning program cannot be overstated. This front-end effort will help to identify the program’s need (whether perceived or real), and this need will spur many of the stakeholders to participate. Having a leader, a driving force behind the program, usually is critical to surmounting the many initial hurdles towards inception.

Administrators or teachers who want to create a distance learning program should ask themselves some hard questions at the start, say experts. Among the questions are: What is the budget? How will students and educators be evaluated? Can partners (academic, business, or government) be involved? What type of telecommunications media will be used (internet is the slowest, but the least costly)? Who will solve the technical problems that inevitably occur? Can we create compelling, quality content or tailor existing programs to our students’ needs?

Once underway, the program cannot be undermined by pulling back on promised resources for equipment or staffing. Nor can students be told that they will receive different degrees or credits for completing the same coursework. Designating a person to work on marketing the program to the participating institution(s) and partners, as well as to the outside world, is important in maintaining momentum and enthusiasm.

When these programs are well-designed and well-implemented, research indicates that students participate more actively in their education and they learn better. But while improved education may be the most obvious target goal, the authors point out that a New York State Distance Learning Consortium study (http://www.nysdlc.org/whiteppr.shtml) found many other benefits, too:

• Reduced prejudice on the part of students from diverse backgrounds who are suddenly working together;

• At-risk, special education and English language learners can participate in class to a degree not usually achievable in a traditional classroom;

• The Hawthorne Effect—i.e., performance and conduct exceed expectations.

For information about distance learning projects that are considered successful, the authors recommend contacting the TEAMS Project in Los Angeles, designed for K-8 students (http://TEAMS.lacoe.edu), and the Learning Cafe, which provides at-risk youth in Brooklyn, N.Y., with a chance to take high school and college-level courses over the internet.

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Multilingual Computer Programs Help Build Multicultural Learning Experiences

Multilingual web- and computer-based services are easing the job of educators who work with children (and parents) with limited English speaking skills. With approximately half of the U.S. population expected to be Hispanics, non-Hispanic blacks, Asians, and Native Americans by 2050, schools must continue to improve their ability to work with linguistically diverse communities.

Translation services are the most common resource used today. Transparent Language has a program, called Free Translation, that provides text and web page translation from English to Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. It also translates from Spanish, French, and German to English.

Alta Vista’s Babelfish program can translate entire web pages or inputted text. Both of these services are free.

However, in some sense, you get what you pay for. Neither Babelfish nor Free Translation will translate more than about six paragraphs of text per translation, making longer projects time-consuming and cumbersome. And, as would be expected, the translations do not capture subtle linguistic matters, but really serve as general translations.

For students working to translate on their own, Babylon.com has created a very good instantaneous dictionary that translates English to Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Hebrew, Portuguese, or Dutch. This program, downloadable free, offers the attractive ability to work on the web, eMail, and also offline with word processing programs, spreadsheets, etc.

In addition to translation services, multilingual programs also offer some less-obvious benefits. For example, several programs can translate important parental forms—such as school registration or free-lunch program information—into other languages. Or web-based search engines can search in more than a dozen languages, aiding in student research about other cultures.

Multilingual programs also can help students in one country “meet” online students from other countries—such as European Schoolnet has been doing for European teachers for several years. A fledgling program that does involve U.S. teachers directly is called the International Education and Resource Network (I*EARN). This program, which operates in 29 languages, tries to engage students in cultural exchange through projects, stories, and games.

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Maximizing the Benefits of Online Writing Laboratories

Online writing laboratories (OWLs) cannot replace the individualized attention of traditional writing labs, but they can supplement teachers’ efforts and open new avenues of communication between teacher and student.

Because so much of work on computers is writing-based, computers can be an ideal medium for providing students with some of the basics of effective writing: grammar rules, writing tips, and research guidelines. Students who work in OWLs become more comfortable using computers in ways that will be required of them in college.

From a teacher’s point of view, computer programs that can correct misspellings and poor grammar can give the teacher more time to discuss issues of content and style. Suggestions and compliments can easily be typed directly into the text of a student’s essay and returned electronically so that the student can implement changes. However, the writing tutor should make sure to also include some one-on-one time with the student, as written comments can be interpreted quite differently than comments and responses made in person.

Innovative teachers are using OWLs to create interdisciplinary courses, too, in which essays are created after online research. Posting those projects online—especially if they were created using software that allows for attractive graphics—gives students an additional boost.

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Elementary School Teacher Brings Classroom to Orchard—and Orchard to Classroom

While using technology in the classroom may be one educational goal, teachers also strive to link classroom activities with “real-world” concerns. One very successful program that takes students outside the classroom and online to extend their learning has been developed by Larry Alexander, fifth-grade teacher at Tonasket Elementary in Tonasket, Wash.

Beginning in 1998 with a $16,000 grant from the Washington Education Association, Alexander’s students have planted and managed a one-acre apple orchard and used the internet to research a wide range of issues that farmers face—biology, mathematics, economics, and more. The project has its share of hands-on activities based in the activities of the many apple orchards that still exist in the area (an estimated 60 percent of Tonasket residents make their living in the apple industry). But Alexander also uses the internet to bring his students closer to orchard owners in the area and to research the history, science, and business of apples.

As the trees grow, so does the project itself. A grant from a software consortium this year will enable Alexander to bring much of his project online through regular updates and study curriculum. He plans units in orchard planning, business and marketing, cells, tree growth, soil, weather, organic orcharding, electricity and magnetism, environment, natural resources, pollution and other topics. Students in urban and suburban schools will be encouraged to participate.

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Kaplan Educational Centers Expand Far Beyond SAT Preparation Courses

Kaplan Educational Centers, owned by the Washington Post Co., is one of the most recognized names in education. Known mostly for its college preparation courses, Kaplan has in the past six years moved far beyond its traditional “cram” classes to create courses for younger children that rely heavily on computer technology.

In 1996, Kaplan’s then 31-year-old president, Jonathan Grayer, purchased Score Learning Corp., one of the leaders in offering math and reading tutorials to grade-school children. There are now 100 Score centers across the country, most located conveniently in shopping malls.

Score is now also available online at http://www.escore.com. The online tutorial is designed to supplement a parent’s activities with children by giving a parent ideas about how to extend a lesson. Grayer is sensitive to the criticism that these tutorials are increasing the intensity of already-competitive parents. “We’re not out there stoking the competitive fires of parents,” he told Forbes. “We’re trying to offer parents who want it the choice to help their kids do better rather than just feeling frustrated.”

Grayer now has his sights set on moving Kaplan aggressively into professional development courses by riding the wave generated by the education standards movement. The new Kaplan Learning Services division has developed teacher training courses, and it already has signed up several California school districts.

Meanwhile, Forbes reports that Kaplan has erased the gap between it and its major rival, Princeton Review, in the SAT-prep market by ending franchising arrangements at Kaplan education centers. By investing in hiring and training Kaplan employees, the company has much greater control over the content of its test prep courses and the quality of the teachers leading each course.

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Top Educators See Teachers as Mentors in 21st Century Education

The editors of T.H.E. Journal spoke with leading U.S. educators about how computers and other electronic media are changing education. Here are a few predictions:

• Roger C. Schank, The Institute for the Learning Sciences, Northwestern University. He predicts that school libraries will be the repository for hundreds of specific courses that students can take online. This will shift teachers’ role from being subject-instructors to coaches and mentors. Teachers will tutor and guide students, and they will lead small discussion groups that will help socialize students who are otherwise working independently. Schank also suggests that activities often thought of as peripheral to the academic experience—such as the school newspaper—should in this model be integrated into the curriculum because of the types of learning experiences they provide.

• Dr. Lawrence T. Frase, Executive Director, Research Division of Cognitive and Instructional Science, Educational Testing Service. Change is occurring so rapidly and on so many fronts that adaptation to change must be educators’ guiding force, says Frase. Without adaptation, conflict will inevitably arise and fester in the academic world and elsewhere. Technology can support education, but the digital divide threatens to leave many people behind, he fears.

• Dr. Frank B. Withrow, Director of Development, Able Company. If technology fulfills its promise of improving prosthetic devices, then people with difficulty hearing, seeing, or moving muscles will have unprecedented educational opportunities.

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For-Profit Education Firms Poised to Grow in Next Decade

Internet enthusiasts in the business world have their sites set on education as the next great frontier. Founders of “dot-com” companies are predicting that parent dissatisfaction with many public schools and the increasingly competitive nature of college entrance requirements are pressing parents to seek for-profit companies to provide solutions.

For these entrepreneurs, education (including higher education and job training) presents an extremely lucrative market that they can reach with unprecedented ease through the internet. For example, FamilyEducation Network offers a series of education web sites, slicing into segments the 53 million children in grades K-12. Officials at the company say that they are drawing 2.5 million visitors per month. FamilyEducation Network also works hard to reach the parents of schoolchildren, seeing them as the purchasers of education (and other types of) products and services.

Even for companies looking at the traditional facility-based education, the rush towards charter schools has opened vast opportunities to challenge the present public school structure. Business Week says that venture capitalists are pouring money into startup companies serving the education market, and that it is only a matter of time before some of these companies generate enough attention from parents and children that schools will have to take notice. For-profit pioneer Edison Schools went public in November 1999, and investors strongly support the company’s plan for competing with public schools through technology-intensive education. And Edison faces at least 10 competitors seeking to duplicate its success—and profit.

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Professional Development Online Comes of Age

Online professional development courses for teachers have blossomed in the past few years through the efforts of individual schools, school districts, states, and private companies. Schools are experimenting to find the right mix of traditional in-person professional development, usually concentrated in courses of a week or two, and online courses that may stretch over several months or an entire school year.

The author suggests that in choosing or creating online professional development courses, administrators and teachers must consider issues of course content; pedagogic style; time demands to complete the work; type of internet access, computer hardware, and software needed; and cost.

Teachers who have taken online courses have praised modularized courses that allow for flexibility in taking courses at the time of their choosing. But other students have worried that not taking courses with colleagues from their school will leave them isolated and embarrassed to admit when they are having trouble with new concepts (particularly in technology-related professional development). The best of the courses help reduce the potential for problems by providing opportunities for students to learn by different methods—discussion groups, guided coursework, and projects (again, the latter is most common in tech-ed courses).

There are an incredible number of online professional development course providers, and they range from degree-granting institutions to private companies offering tutorials on their equipment, to sites that host discussion groups and forums on particular topics. While a complete list is almost impossible to provide, the following sites are good starting points:

•What Makes a Successful Online Student?

http://illinois.online.uillinois.edu/model/

Studentprofile.htm

• Peterson’s Study Tips for Successful Distance

Learning

http://www.petersons.com/dlearn/study.html

• American Center for the Study of Distance Learning at

Penn State

http://www.ed.psu.edu/ascde

• Classroom Connect’s Connected University

http://cu.classroom.com

• Macromedia’s Training Cafe

http://www.trainingcafe.com

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