Researcher aims to diagnose and cure ADHD through virtual reality

Virtual reality might one day be the preferred method of diagnosing and rehabilitating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among students, according to a researcher from the University of Southern California (USC) who is investigating the use of virtual reality therapy in a number of clinical applications.

From diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease to distracting burn victims’ pain during treatment to curing phobias, virtual reality might have a future in psychology, said Albert Rizzo, assistant research professor at USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center. It might even help children with ADHD, he said.

For this ADHD diagnosis, a child sits at a physical desk wearing a head-mounted virtual display. When the child looks down, he sees himself sitting at a computer-generated desk in a computer-generated classroom.

Similar to video games, the classroom image—which appears in 3D—is complete with desks, a chalkboard, a doorway, and a window that overlooks a playground and the street.

A virtual teacher conducts basic lessons at the front of the class. Standing by the blackboard, she says to the class, “This is a cat,” and a picture appears. The child has to agree or disagree.

“We have your basic listen, look, respond test,” Rizzo said.

This virtual classroom also has typical auditory and visual distractions—such as a paper airplane flying across the room, coughing noises, someone entering the room, or a car driving by the window—that the tester can control and measure.

“The child is suppose to be focused on the board, but if one of these distractions happens, then [the students] are looking out the window and lost in their own world,” Rizzo explained.

Generally, tests for ADHD involve behavior observation or questionnaires with no direct control over the stimuli, he said. Because virtual reality technology is immersive, interactive, and computer-generated, the tester can control the environment completely.

“Like an aircraft simulator, this virtual environment helps assess real environments,” Rizzo said. “We can systematically deliver auditory or cognitive challenges through the device while the child has to sit and experience the systematic distractions.”

The technology also can distinguish between video and audio distractions.

“It’s a psychologist’s dream to be able to systematically record reaction to controlled stimuli in an automated environment,” Rizzo said.

So far, he has tested this procedure on 11 kids, with no typical virtual-reality side effects like claustrophobia or nausea.

“We’ve shown that it is usable. The next stage is to show if it is useful. That’s where we are now,” Rizzo said. He plans to begin initial trials to test group performance in this environment.

“I can’t say how this will pan out over the long run,” Rizzo said. “But, logically and rationally, [virtual reality environments] will be better at testing and assessing.”

Not everyone agrees, however.

“The only problem I have with this test is that it is a ‘here and now’ test,” said Dr. Larry B. Silver, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center.

He is concerned this test will show that the subject is temporarily auditorily distractive and impulsive, and it will ignore the chronic and pervasive components of the disorder.

According to Silver, the signs of ADHD—inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity—show before age six. “ADHD is something you’re born with, so it’s always been there,” he said.

Although ADHD is diagnosed and treated by physicians, teachers often recognize it and notify parents. Since ADHD is chronic and pervasive, doctors try to identify the pervasiveness of the symptoms by piecing together the observations made by teachers, coaches, and parents throughout the child’s life.

Others say Rizzo’s approach is impractical because virtual reality equipment still is so expensive.

“There’s a lot of glitz here and very little substance,” said Chris Dede, the Timothy Worth professor of learning technology at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “This is something that can be done much more cheaply than using virtual reality.

“I’m not an expert about ADHD, but I know a little bit about it,” Dede said. “I can think of cheaper ways to control distractions than using virtual reality.”

Dede said virtual reality technology would better serve education by demonstrating intangible concepts such as force and gravity—things that cheaper technology isn’t successful at showing.

Whether approached via virtual reality or more traditional means, ADHD continues to be a problem in schools, because of its significant impact on kids’ ability to learn.

“ADHD kids are overly sensitive in taking in that kind of stimuli, and they just don’t pay attention,” said Ann Koranbelt, executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association. “In schools, that’s where the problem is.”

ADHD students get up to sharpen pencils or go to the bathroom, talk, and look out the window, she said.

Rizzo is hopeful that, in a few years, his research in diagnosing ADHD using virtual reality will be more affordable, accessible, accurate, and helpful.

“We can now use this technology for more than just entertainment,” he said.

Rizzo published a paper about his research, called “The Virtual Classroom: A Virtual Reality Environment For the Assessment and Rehabilitation of Attention Deficits,” in CyberPsychology and Behavior, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal that explores the impact of the internet, multimedia, and virtual reality technology on behavior and society.


USC’s Integrated Media Systems Center

Georgetown University Medical Center

Learning Disabilities Association

CyberPsychology and Behavior


To improve instruction, schools and colleges must cooperate more

High school science teachers returning to the college lab. College professors getting tips on training math teachers from the teachers themselves. School districts and universities sharing science equipment.

More of that kind of cooperation between higher education and K-12 schools would enhance science, math, and technology instruction for America’s schoolchildren, according to a report issued Aug. 16 in Washington, D.C., by the National Research Council.

The report, titled “Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for the New Millennium,” comes amid mounting pressure to improve education by stiffening requirements for teachers and giving students high-stakes exams.

The report’s authors said science, math, and technology education should be seamless, from kindergarten to graduate school.

“The education system must bridge the traditional divide between K-12 and postsecondary educators and collaborate in a way that mirrors athletic teams,” said Herbert Brunkhorst, the panel’s co-chairman and a head of science, math, and technology education at California State University at San Bernardino.

The 15-member panel consisted mainly of university educators and public school officials. The $300,000 study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

The panel’s chief recommendations:

  • Educate teachers of science, math, and technology throughout their careers.

  • Raise the status of teachers through rewards, incentives, and expectations.

  • Hold colleges and universities more accountable for educating teachers.

  • Involve more scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in local and national efforts at teacher education.

The panel cited an existing partnership between Kansas State University (KSU) and a trio of school districts. In the alliance, teachers and college faculty members work together on curriculum, teacher training, and research.

KSU’s College of Education has helped establish “professional development schools” in 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, and one high school. Each professional development school has identified at least one KSU faculty member to work with the building’s principal to coordinate professional development activities.

Teachers, administrators, and KSU faculty all serve as co-planners, teachers, and evaluators of methods courses and field experiences.

In another example, about 25 New York City schoolteachers work beside Columbia University scientists every summer to hone their science skills.

“It will be of increasing importance that K-12 teachers understand what is going on in research science,” said Robbie McClintock, who directs the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia’s Teachers College. “And research scientists need to be aware that students can make use of the tools that they’re developing.”

The National Education Association is working with 14 universities to improve teacher training, said Dennis Van Roekel, a former math teacher and now secretary-treasurer of the 2.5 million-member teachers union.

“It’s happening, but not nearly as quickly or universally as it needs to be,” Van Roekel said. “What we have are bonfires of new professional development, and what we need is a brush fire.”

The National Research Council report will be given to an Education Department task force created last year to look at math and science education in K-12 schools and recruitment, training, and retention of good teachers. Led by former senator and astronaut John Glenn, the National Commission on Math and Science Teaching in the 21st Century was slated to offer its recommendations Oct. 3.


National Research Council

National Science Foundation

National Education Association


High-tech cheaters keep educators on their toes

The capability for high-tech learning in schools across the country has created a potentially ugly side effect: the capability for high-tech cheating. The latest threats to academic integrity, according to some educators: graphing calculators and portable electronic devices such as cell phones, pagers, and Palm Pilots.

Students who once had to cheat by answer-copying, muffled whispers, and crib sheets now can use their calculators to recall stored formulas and their pagers and cell phones to send text messages containing answers to their classmates. Personal digital assistants, such as the Palm Pilot, can even be used to send short-range messages from student to student via an infrared beam.

Is electronic cheating a problem?

“I’m not sure how widespread [cheating using electronic devices] is,” said Jerry Wheeler, executive director for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and a former educator.

“We know that students can put a formula into a calculator and pull it up, but when I was teaching, I often wrote my tests so that doing that was OK. I even let [students] bring cheat sheets to many tests. Tests that are so susceptible to cheating are probably asking too many recall questions,” he explained.

Educators at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Ariz., require the use of graphing calculators in some classes. “Graphing calculators are allowed in our math and science classes. In fact, they are supplied in class. The only time kids can’t use them is on their standardized tests. We try and teach kids to use them properly,” said Assistant Superintendent Brenda Mayberry.

National figures show that cheating is on the rise, and the threat to academic integrity is all too real, according to Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University and the founding president of the Center for Academic Integrity, headquartered at Duke University.

“Too often, kids’ governing ethos is that if it is digitally possible, it is OK to do,” said Rick Bauer, chief information officer at the Hill School in Pennsylvania.

McCabe, one of the nation’s top researchers in school cheating, has seen a surge in cheating over the past five years, and he believes the main culprit is increased pressure for kids to perform academically.

“My research reveals a significant number of students who feel they are disadvantaged by not cheating. They feel they have no choice, at least in the sense that they feel opportunities would be taken away from them by students who do cheat,” he said.

According to a November 1999 survey by U.S. News and World Report, 72 percent of high school students said they have cheated before or know others who have cheated. And a study conducted by Who’s Who Among American High School Students revealed that 80 percent of high-achieving high school students admit to cheating at least once.

According to Carolyn Kleiner and Mary Lord in U.S. News, “What’s changed, experts maintain, is the scope of the problem: the technology that opens new avenues to cheat, students’ boldness in using it, and the erosion of conscience at every level of education.”

But is technology directly to blame for the increase in cheating? Most educators seem to think not.

“I don’t think that electronic technology has caused a huge surge in cheating,” McCabe said.

Wheeler agreed: “These figures should be a wake-up call to educators. I don’t think this is a problem with technology, but a problem with integrity. I think technology is in danger of being blamed for something that is much more fundamental.”

“I think we have seen a substitution of technologies. Where one time, students would grab a paper out of the cheat file at their fraternity or use a friend’s old paper, those same students now find it easier and more convenient to use technology,” said McCabe, whose Center for Academic Integrity found that three-quarters of college students admit to cheating at least once.

“If you are going to cheat, you are going to cheat,” said Doug Picker, a spokesman for Symbol Technologies. Symbol provides schools and businesses with handheld devices, called Pocket PCs, which run on the Palm operating system.

Picker said the Pocket PC makes it possible for students to communicate wirelessly with one another over short distances using an infrared port. But he believes it is just as hard to cheat using a personal digital assistant as it is to cheat in a more traditional manner.

“To cheat with these devices, you would have to have a conspiracy,” he said, explaining that a student wishing to cheat would have to align the infrared port on his or her device with that of another student, simultaneously press the button that sends information, and work out a code for transmitting answers, all without the teacher noticing.

“Technology is just another way to cheat in a cute and cool way,” Picker said. “It is usual for a new technology to create skeptics. This is not going to make a nation of cheaters out of us.”

Preventative measures

There are steps that teachers can take to help ensure that students aren’t using Palms, pagers, cell phones, or calculators to cheat in class. Generally, schools have polices against cheating that can be applied to technology as well, explained Wheeler.

“The teachers must be very clear about expectations and eliminate all ambiguity about what is cheating,” he said.

“I would say that most schools have a policy about cheating, but few cover in meaningful detail what they are actually prohibiting. An overly detailed code of conduct is not helpful, but I think schools need more than just a sentence in the school policy,” said McCabe.

“It is just something else teachers need to be aware of when giving tests,” said Symbol’s Picker.

According to Mayberry, students are not supposed to bring pagers, cell phones, or other handheld devices to Mountain Pointe at all.

“Our rule at first was to confiscate anything we saw, but they are just so prevalent. I mean, even our teachers and administrators have cell phones. So now we say [these devices] just can’t be seen or heard in class, or we will confiscate them,” she said.

Consequences for those caught cheating at Mountain Point High are severe, Mayberry said. “Our school has a policy on cheating in general, not specifically using electronics. Any student caught cheating gets an automatic zero on the assignment, or they might fail the class, if they cheat on something like a final exam,” she explained.

“I’m a firm believer that you should encourage integrity rather than police dishonesty,” McCabe said. “I’m a believer in taking a more positive approach.”

A meaningful code of conduct is the key to controlling cheating, according to Bauer. “Kids at my school know that if they get caught cheating, they will be asked to leave the school. Believe me, that is a pretty effective deterrent,” he said.


National Science Teachers Association

Center for Academic Integrity

Symbol Technologies

Mountain Pointe High School

The Hill School


Private internet bulletin board gets school board members into trouble

Members of the Beaufort County (S.C.) School Board and district Superintendent Herman Gaither have come under fire for using a private internet bulletin board to discuss school district matters. The private electronic forum might constitute a violation of the state’s freedom of information laws, a South Carolina media attorney says.

The issue raises questions about how existing laws meant to ensure the open exchange of public information should be applied to modern technologies such as eMail and the internet.

Gaither said he set up the bulletin board so he could share information with board members on “sensitive or semiprivate information.” Only Gaither and board members had access to the site, which let them read and respond to internal messages.

Jay Bender, the attorney for the South Carolina Press Association, said the state’s Freedom of Information Act prohibits public agencies from using technology to conduct their business in private and that the bulletin board might violate the law.

“It seems to be inconsistent with the law that prohibits using electronic communications to avoid the act,” Bender said. “It looks to me like a meeting, and it looks like a means for the superintendent to avoid the law by discussing public matters out of the public view.”

The law in question is the state open-meeting, or “sunshine,” law. All 50 states have some form of sunshine law ensuring that matters of public interest—such as school board meetings—are open for public inspection.

Gaither and the attorney for the Beaufort County School Board, Ken Childs, said the bulletin board never was used in an illegal manner. Still, Gaither ordered the bulletin board shut down after the Hilton Head Island Packet cited the Freedom of Information Act and asked to see printouts of the messages.

Whether the bulletin board is legal is a gray area in the law, some would argue.

Robb McBurney, a spokesman for South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon, said Condon’s office might rule on the legality of government agencies using private internet bulletin boards, but a public official must first request such a ruling.

“It’s one of those things,” McBurney said. “It’s the changing internet world. The whole world of internet message boards and things like that—it’s revolutionizing society and changing the way government and society operate. It’s an interesting question.”

Other states have had similar controversy involving their sunshine laws and new technologies. In 1998, the Florida attorney general concluded that Florida law allows state-funded agencies to hold electronic meetings, but stipulates that a meeting is only valid if a quorum of board members are physically present. Therefore, teleconferencing of all members of a meeting is not legal, but if one member is absent, he or she can attend a meeting electronically.

Florida also concluded that eMail constitutes a public record, and all eMail exchanges by school district employees must be captured and stored so they can be reproduced upon request.

Virginia’s view of the issue is far stricter. The use of eMail, telephone, or video to conduct meetings at which board members are not physically present is a violation of that state’s law.

“Open-meeting laws vary from state to state,” said attorney and school law expert David Splitt. “For example, in Florida two or more school board members discussing school business constitutes a meeting. In South Carolina, there must be a quorum of board members before the open meeting law applies. It can get very complicated.”

The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act defines a meeting as the convening of a majority of a public body, whether in person or using electronic equipment, to discuss matters it controls.

The form this correspondence takes is irrelevant, according to Splitt. He said the real issue is whether the topics discussed on the bulletin board were topics the public has a right to hear about, under the law.

“I’d say this does not necessarily sound like a violation, but it depends on what they were discussing. The South Carolina open-meeting law applies to certain records regardless of their form, and that includes eMail or bulletin boards. The question here is not what form the records are in, but what the records are actually of,” Splitt said.

Board members contacted by the Island Packet and the Associated Press said they did not think the bulletin board was illegal.

Outgoing School Board Chairman Charles Kresch, who said he was an infrequent user of the forum, said it was never meant to be used to conduct public business in secret.

“It was never designed to be illegal or clandestine,” Kresch said. “It was designed to make us more efficient and more knowledgeable. There’s no reason why we can’t have some things that are sensitive. That can’t be denied. The objective is not to have six-hour meetings, where you don’t have productive [discussion].”

Board member Pam Edwards told the Associated Press that she found the bulletin board useful. As a new member of the school board, Edwards said she often used it to ask other board members for background information on issues.

Edwards said she did not think using the bulletin board constituted an illegal meeting, but she also said she would have no problem giving the public and the media access to messages that were posted.

“My advice to schools is to check your own state law. They are all different,” Splitt said.


Beaufort County School District

South Carolina Press Association

Hilton Head Island Packet


Arizona launches $7.5 million high-tech learning center

Ten-year-old Lauren Kovalcik could be playing a game on her home computer as she stares intently at a video monitor and maneuvers a joystick.

But this is no game.

She’s doing the serious work of operating a remote robot arm located in the greenhouse of her space station. Her job: Use the robot to place a plant’s leaf into a container so its chlorophyll content can be measured.

It’s a lot of responsibility for someone so young, but she said she can handle it. “I have my own computer at home. . . . I like technology,” she said.

Meanwhile, another crew member, 12-year-old Dallas Culp, uses a remote robot arm to take radiation readings from one of the station’s air filters. His job is to make sure the station’s life-sustaining air flow isn’t being contaminated. But he’s already set his eyes on even loftier objective.

“Someday, I’d like to go to a comet or a planet—just to see what it’s like,” he said.

This isn’t a new recruitment effort on the part of NASA. But these youngsters could become the astronauts of the future.

They’re among budding scientists who have been testing a space station simulator at the Challenger Learning Center of Arizona, a $7.5 million education complex in Peoria that will teach children and adults about the marvels of space travel.

The center, which opened July 23, includes a simulated mission control room with an array of video monitors just like the one at Johnson Space Center in Houston. There’s also an Earth-Space Transit Module designed by Honeywell engineers to simulate a space shuttle launch.

To make practical use of the simulators, school classes from around the state will be assigned make-believe space missions, such as a rendezvous with a comet or scouting the moon for a space-colony site.

The center’s concept has proved so popular that Arizona teachers already have booked all of the available weekday mission times for the next school year. And Intel Corp. has agreed to pay the admission of every eighth-grader in the Chandler Unified School District.

“We always look for opportunities to expose students to math and science, especially in a creative learning environment,” said Cheryl Rawdon, Intel’s manager of community grant programs in Chandler. “This appears to be a great opportunity to do that.”

The experience may not inspire every youngster to become an astronaut, but it “might motivate them to think about a career in science, and that ties into our future work force,” she said.

Some corporations don’t think it’s just for kids. Arizona Public Service, for example, plans to send its managers to the center to hone their skills in teamwork and problem solving.

The project was developed under the auspices of the Challenger Learning Center for Space and Science Education in Alexandria, Va., a nonprofit organization founded by relatives of the Challenger space shuttle astronauts killed in the 1986 explosion. Its purpose is to memorialize the astronauts by creating a network of education centers that encourage youngsters to pursue careers in science and technology.

The Arizona center is one of the most elaborate of the 43 Challenger centers developed so far, thanks to donations from local companies, executive director Sandi Hicks said. Among the sponsors are Cox Communications, Knight Transportation, Swift Transportation, Honeywell International, Southwest Airlines, and Del Webb Corp.

One of the main features is a three-story rotunda decorated with a 360-degree wall mural by space artist Robert McCall of Paradise Valley, Ariz.

Other attractions include a model of an Iridium satellite donated by Motorola, a Mars Pathfinder exhibit where youngsters can navigate a motorized robot through rugged Martian terrain, and a Rooftop Star-gazing Platform equipped with telescopes for night viewing of planets and stars. There’s even a gift shop for those who want a memento of their visit.

But the simulators are the heart of the learning experience, which is designed for fifth- through eighth-graders.

Students arriving for their space trek first enter a theater and orientation room, where they watch a six-minute video about the center and what they can expect. Then they ride in a glass elevator up the inside of the rotunda—like astronauts being lifted to the top of a gantry tower next to their rocket—to a briefing room, where they learn more about the mission and their individual jobs.

Half the class members are assigned to the control room, where they manage the mission from the “ground.” The others are seated inside the Earth-Space Transit Module to “blast off” in a realistic launch sequence that takes them to their Earth-orbiting space station. Stereo speakers provide realistic sound and vibration effects, and students look through a viewport to see the Earth as it appears from space.

Next, they enter the space station through an air lock and perform their assigned duties, such as communicating with the control room, navigating the craft, testing hazardous material, conducting medical experiments, and operating life-support systems. Students perform experiments such as measuring the density of meteorites and identifying gases by analyzing their light spectrum.

Midway through the mission, an “emergency” is introduced into the exercise that requires the crew to evacuate the space station. Then they trade places with the team in mission control—a scenario that allows all participants to spend part of their time in “space.”

“This is a wonderful, valuable experience,” said Tamara Swindler, who is organizing a visit by a group of home-school students. She said she’s impressed with the real science that’s taught: “It’s not just a ride at Disneyland.”


Challenger Learning Center of Arizona


Trends, tips, and techniques mark School Technology Leadership Conference

School technology leaders assembled in San Diego August 10-11 to discuss vision and development for their districts at the National School Technology Leadership Conference. More than 200 educators, vendors, and school technologists put aside their regular summer vacation plans for two days of sun, networking, and professional development.

John Clement, a senior researcher at the Educational Statistics Service Institute, kicked off the conference Aug. 10. In his keynote speech, Clement spoke about new trends in educational technology and presented some solutions for school leaders seeking better ways to integrate technology.

Clement cited encouraging statistics about the increasing prevalence of technology in education. For example, he said, research demonstrates a five-year increase in schools connected to the internet, from 35 percent in 1994 to 95 percent in 1999.

Despite these encouraging figures, Clement cited another study revealing that only one-third of all teachers felt “well-prepared” or “very well-prepared” to use technology in their classrooms. Clement lauded schools for their efforts to bring hardware and connectivity to their students, but acknowledged there is still work to be done.

“Global connectivity is here,” he said. “It’s our challenge to help students and teachers master this creation space.”

During the breakout sessions, attendees were enlightened on a variety of topics within two tracks, “Leadership and Vision” or “Development and Technical Integration.”

Among the highlights, Eliot Levinson of Brennan-Levinson Enterprise spoke about schools that have developed winning technology plans in his session, “Proven Models to Help You Integrate Technology.”

Levinson cited the Poway (Calif.) School District as a great model of site-based management. In Poway, the management information systems group reports directly to Superintendent Bob Reeves, who is directly involved in the implementation and use of technology in his district’s schools.

In the “Emerging School Technologies” session, the four presenters discussed various cutting-edge developments of interest to school leaders. Particularly timely was a discussion of file-sharing programs such as Napster and Gnutella by Palisade Systems’ David Clark.

Clark outlined three basic problems with allowing students to access such programs. He warned educators that these types of programs will keep kids from staying on task, can eat up bandwidth as kids try to download music and video files, and can create liability for schools if students download copyright-protected material, hate information, or pornography.

Symbol Technologies’ Stefanie Snyder also talked about the future of electronic books, or eBooks, in schools.

“Textbooks are obsolete and frightfully expensive. Also, I’m here to tell you that textbook research can destroy a whole class period. That time is just a killer, and I want kids to get to the meat of what they are doing,” she said. “eBooks are here, and they will be used.”

Patrick Hartley, of Evergreen (Wash.) School District, discussed the intricacies of ensuring that school networks are secure in his breakout session. He also discussed the highly publicized network breach his district endured.

“It was real baptism by fire,” he said. The discussion led educators through the basics of important security measures such as passwords, firewalls, and acceptable-use policies.

“A security policy is a balanced document that takes a high-level view of the type of service you want to bring to users on your network,” he explained.

Rob Quinn, an expert in recruiting for Pricewaterhouse Coopers, addressed the topic “Recruiting and Retaining High Quality School Technology Personnel.” He offered tips for how schools facing financial constraints can find the very best technologists on the market.

“By far, the highest driver of retention is quality of supervision. In fact, employees say they expect quality leadership,” he said.

The August 11 keynote speaker was Dale Mann, professor of education at Columbia University Teacher’s College and president of Interactive Inc, a company that specializes in measuring the impact of technology on education.

Mann cited West Virginia as an example of a state that recognized the need for technology and implemented it in a radical statewide program, with great results.

Mann’s research estimated that 11 percent of the academic growth for fifth-grade basic skills in West Virginia could be attributed directly to instructional technology. In a six-year longitudinal study, Mann and his company saw a state that ranks 40th in the nation in terms of per capita income skyrocket to 11th in the county for children’s achievement since the start of a comprehensive statewide technology plan.

Quoting a recent study, Mann said, “Worldwide, the best predictor of student achievement is a computer at home. That figure is based on 43 countries.”

He summarized the need for technology in schools as simply: “Kids have changed. They can multi-task. We have to adjust to that.”

The conference was sponsored by eSchool News, with special support from, a leading provider of online, business-to-business education procurement tools., which is not affiliated with eSchool News, allows schools to save time and money by integrating available technology such as the internet and various workflow tools into the procurement process. Attendees were able to view the product at its corporate exhibit and speak with representatives from both and Gateway. Gateway, the other conference sponsor, is committed to bringing cutting edge technologies to education.


School Technology Leadership Conference



New Hampshire candidate wants web cameras in classrooms

Imagine a teacher giving a history lesson to sixth-graders as a camera pans the room. On a computer screen miles away, parents watch to see if their kids are paying attention.

“This [will be] a common thing in education. It’s going to happen sooner or later,” said New Hampshire gubernatorial hopeful Jeff Howard, a Republican.

Howard wants to put cameras in New Hampshire classrooms to allow parents to monitor their children via the internet. He hasn’t analyzed the cost statewide, though he has contacted corporations that might be willing to sponsor the program on a pilot basis in certain schools.

For the past few years, some day-care centers and private schools around the country—including ones in Tennessee, Texas, California, Connecticut, and Ohio—have been using web-based cameras to let parents watch their children. Howard’s plan is among the first suggested for public K-12 schools, however.

His opponents in the New Hampshire governor’s race are uneasy about the proposal.

“It smacks of Big Brother,” said Republican hopeful Fred Bramante. “If there were issues regarding discipline, this may be necessary, but I think having 25 or 30 parents watch what’s going on is asking for some problems.”

Republican hopeful Gordon Humphrey said he proposed an idea similar to Howard’s during a television debate in Derry earlier this year. He said he changed his mind during the drive home.

“It occurred to me that there is really no security on the internet,” Humphrey said. “If hackers can break into the Pentagon, there’s no real security.”

New York-based ParentWatch, which has installed the camera and computer equipment in 110 child-care centers in more than 30 states, gives parents user identification codes and passwords to keep unauthorized people out of the system.

Many companies also charge membership fees to parents, relieving schools and states of the cost of the technology.

“Our system is pretty much for peace of mind,” said Joel Gantcher, senior director of business development at ParentWatch. “Privacy and security issues are all considered.”

He noted that his system has only been sold to day-care centers, not public schools.

“I think it’s a little different in the child-care space,” Gantcher said. “Children four and under aren’t really aware of the cameras.”

Howard’s opponents in the New Hampshire governor’s race argue that cameras in the classroom would be too costly and would be an invasion of student and teacher privacy.

“There are two problems with Jeff’s idea,” said Judy Reardon, a spokeswoman for incumbent Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat. “One is that the parents whom he is trying to reach are the parents least likely to have home computers. Secondly, the governor thinks it could be counterproductive.”

Reardon said that “if the purpose is to help with school discipline, having cameras in the classroom is just as likely to cause kids to act up as it would be to engage parents to discipline their children.”

State Sen. Mark Fernald, D-Sharon, who also is running for governor, said the plan won’t be cheap and won’t make parents feel closer to their children’s education.

“I’m not sure anybody really wants to throw our classrooms into a video fishbowl,” Fernald said.

Besides expressing privacy concerns, Connie McKenna, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), thought the idea of spending money to install cameras in classrooms was ironic, since so many schools need more money just to pay for day-to-day operations.

“The parents will probably see leaky pipes, classrooms without air conditioning in June, teachers teaching without textbooks,” McKenna said. “Maybe if people could see what bad condition schools are in, it might help.”

The AFT recommends that parents who want to know what is going on in their children’s schools volunteer, since being there is the best way to see what is happening and to develop a relationship with teachers.

Howard, for his part, is standing by his proposal. He said he is encouraged by the debate that has been raised.

“If there is a will to have a program like this in place, there is funding available,” he said. “I believe this program can be funded through private donations on a pilot basis.”

There are many questions that still need to be answered, he said. But he noted that internet access to the classroom would be no different than allowing parents to come in and visit their kids.

“By the time this program is viable … technology and cost issues are going to be so different than they are today,” he said. “What I want to do is get the debate started.”


Jeff Howard for Governor

Fred Bramante for Governor


Gov. Jeanne Shaheen

State Sen. Mark Fernald

American Federation of Teachers


Feds, companies team up to bring internet to students’ homes

For years, educators have known that students who don’t have access to computers at home remain at a disadvantage. Now, lawmakers and communications companies plan to bring the web into the homes of hundreds of fourth-grade schoolchildren using one of the most ubiquitous household devices available—the television.

Through the program, called WISH TV, students don’t need to own a personal computer in their home. Instead, companies will provide them with free digital set-top boxes for one year that will enable them to receive web services on standard televisions, plus the two-way cable connection needed to access the internet.

The companies hope the program, announced with lawmakers on Capitol Hill July 18, will expand to more homes each year, eventually reaching thousands of students.

“The significance of WISH TV is the low cost. For a nominal fee, every student in America can be hooked up to the internet at school and at home,” said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., who heads the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee.

“We used to think the digital divide could only be bridged by a computer at each desk, but with WISH TV, they only need a television and cable access. It costs less than $10 per month,” Johnson added.

About a dozen schools and several hundred fourth-grade students will become the first benefactors this fall. WorldGate Communications, a provider of TV-based interactive services, is spearheading the effort with support from Tauzin.

Tauzin said that when he first saw a demonstration of accessing the web via a television set last year, “I thought, ‘Eureka!’ This is what we are looking for.”

“This is putting kids who can’t afford computers on the internet with their schools and their teachers using their old analog TV sets,” Tauzin said in an interview.

He and others are hopeful that the program will open new opportunities for educating young adults and their families.

“The idea of putting a PC in the local library was better than nothing, but it was far short of bringing the internet into every household in America,” said Hal Krisbergh, chairman and chief executive officer of WorldGate.

Companies such as Scientific-Atlanta and Motorola together are donating thousands of set-top boxes that can be used on TVs in homes and schools.

“This is the right thing to do,” said Scientific-Atlanta’s vice president of marketing, Perry Tanner. The company, a pioneer in interactive TV, has deployed 2 million set-top boxes. Cable companies are just beginning to offer such services.

Cable operators participating in the launch are giving free connections, and WorldGate providers are donating the internet service.

Once the year is up, however, families probably will have to pay to continue their internet service from WorldGate and for a cable subscription if they don’t have one.

Meanwhile, educators from several universities, including Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux, La., are developing web-based curriculum for participating schools to use with children at home.

One sample lesson plan prompts students to collect weather data on high and low temperatures online, which are then plotted on a computer graph.

Janice Stuhlmann Hinson, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Louisiana State University, said the program helps train teachers to use the tool to bolster their curriculum.

“We want the technology to enhance the lesson plans,” Hinson said.

According to Tauzin’s office, schools where students will get the service this fall include Belle Rose Primary in Belle Rose, La.; West Ascension Elementary in Donaldsonville, La.; Madison Community Unit 12 in Madison, Ill.; Beach Grove, Newman, and Moffitt Heights elementary schools in Massillon, Ohio; Arlington and Raymer elementary schools in Toledo, Ohio; and Oakville Elementary School in St. Louis.



Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.


Schools turn to web to prepare students for high-stakes testing

With the increased emphasis on standardized testing and accountability in public education, many companies and school districts are turning to the web to find innovative ways to help students, teachers, and parents prepare for and understand state achievement tests.

“It’s a real explosion. Firms who have previously done other kinds of media are now aggressively marketing online products,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

According to the Center for Fair and Open Testing, “America’s public schools administer more than 100 million standardized exams each year, including IQ, achievement, screening, and readiness tests.”

Sharon Miller, general manager of, Kaplan’s online offering, believes the industry has answered a call from consumers for online coaching. “The online test prep industry is booming because of increased internet access and … time issues. Students’ lives have changed so dramatically, and they just don’t have enough time in the day to prepare for entrance exams. This way, they have 24-7 access to test prep,” she said.

“The tests are a reality and also part of our economy now,” said Edmundo Gonzalez, director of marketing at TestU, an online coaching firm that launched August 1. “The need to certify knowledge is becoming more prevalent.”

Schaeffer has other ideas about why online test prep sites are popping up all over. “Often, people doing the web coaching are entrepreneurs. The low barrier for entry cost on the web allows new players to enter the market as fast as states can come up with new tests,” he asserted.

Schaeffer has seen both vertical and horizontal entry into the online coaching market, with big test preparation companies such as the Princeton Review and Kaplan announcing online components and brand-new, web-only start-ups like TestU vying for a piece of the market share as well.

“The theme is synergism. The big boys want products in every modality,” he said. “For example, the Princeton Review has—in addition to their centers—books, the web, and CD-ROMs. The theory seems to be that once someone enters your business through a low-cost means like the web, the company can then walk them up to more expensive programs.”

According to Bill Zuberbuhler, chief executive officer of Scholastic Testing Systems, “Scholastic believes in hands-on, classroom-based test prep, but also advocates the use of the internet as a means of support for traditional test coaching. We advocate the ‘clicks and mortar’ system.

“The internet just makes test prep easier,” he said. For instance, “in a district with a wide area network connecting five high schools, the assistant superintendent can go online and look at all five schools individually, and then again as a district.”

Ethicality a question mark

But with the boom in online test prep sites come ethical questions about test coaching as an industry, some would argue.

“In the last six years, there’s been a heightening of accountability. States are using tests to determine if a student is promoted or detained. And, often, a school is determined successful if its teachers receive recognition for high test scores,” said Steve Kutno, vice president of education policy and strategy at the Princeton Review’s online offering,

It’s factors like these that make test-prep sites a legitimate market, he said.

But some education officials worry that increased emphasis on testing may create an environment ripe for cheating and unethical behavior.

“There has been an explosion of questionable ethical behavior surrounding standardized testing recently. The education profession, like any other profession, has people of all kinds of ethical standards,” Schaeffer said.

Besides the threat of out-and-out cheating by teachers and students, Schaeffer fears the so-called “gray area” that remains undefined in testing ethics. One such issue is known as “parallel-form preparation.” This is where students go over old tests and are tipped off to both form and content through such preparation. In California, for instance, one year’s test was 80 percent the same as the year before. Politicians often argue for this as a cost-savings measure, Schaeffer said.

“When faced with this type of situation, even totally ethical teachers notice what is on these tests and can subconsciously gear their teaching toward that test. It is not ethical or unethical. It just is,” he said.

Many educators fear that “teaching to the test”—the practice of gearing instruction specifically to the questions that appear in a state exam—dilutes the curriculum and undermines the quality of education.

Kutno believes online test preparation helps to alleviate teaching to the test by offering students a way to prepare for the all-important state tests in a way that is separate from the regular curriculum. “We hope that by providing online development for testing, it will leave teachers with the time to focus on broader topics,” he said.

But does online coaching merely present students with a different set of biases to overcome? What about students who don’t have access to computers and the internet?

“Certainly, coaching brings up digital divide issues. It reinforces the pre-existing biases for students who can afford coaching with access issues. It does not level the playing field by any means,” said Schaeffer.

Not so, proponents of test prep sites argue. Most companies offering online test preparation believe the internet has the power to help more students, not fewer, receive the test coaching they need to be competitive.

“Democratization of education is key,” said TestU’s Gonzalez. “Before this, test prep was reserved for the ‘haves.’ This way, we can bring test prep to everyone with access to a computer.” Most students now have access to a computer either through school or through a community-based technology center, he said.

“We think of the internet as a great equalizer,” agreed Kaptest’s Miller. “For instance, we don’t have centers in Alaska, but those students can now enroll online. We’re now reaching students we could not reach before.”

And then there’s the issue of whether standardized testing is a good measure of academic performance at all.

“Basically, you are rewarding people for good coaching,” said Schaeffer. “It has been proven that there is no correlation between SAT scores and life performance. The SAT has even been proven gender-biased in several legal battles.

“With the SAT, a verbal score is given on a test in which you do not write or speak a single word, and a lot of K-12 tests are no better. That’s why they are so susceptible to coaching,” he said.

Oddly, even the College Board, the producer of the national SAT exam, has developed a web-based tutorial for the essay question portion of the exam. The EssayPrep online offering was announced despite years of assurance that test prep for the SAT was a waste of time and money.

Does it even work?

Whether they consider standardized testing to be an adequate or appropriate way to measure students achievement, most people would agree there is a significant call for test preparation from educators and parents who want to give students a leg up on increasingly important state and national exams. But the question remains: Do test prep courses really work?

They probably do, at least to an extent, said Schaeffer.

“If coaching does not work, it would be the only human endeavor in which skill does not increase with practice. The familiarization with the tests themselves helps by teaching students about content, format, and pace,” he said.

For example, Schaeffer says students should never read the instructions when taking a timed test. After all, the directions on the SAT have not changed for 20 years, and students don’t get points for reading instructions; they get points for right answers. “Coaching increases familiarity, so students don’t have to take time figuring out what the test is asking them to do,” he said.

Format is also key. For instance, Schaeffer said, scores in Virginia went down when the state changed the format of math problems on its state exams from vertical to horizontal. This shows that familiarity of format is a key factor in test performance.

“Kids tend to fixate on one problem and waste time, so pace is also important—and with practice, a student can get an idea for how fast they have to work,” he said.

Though no exact figures exist for the degree to which students can improve their scores through online coaching, Kaptest’s Miller says her company offers a satisfaction-guaranteed policy to all its online users. If a student does not believe the coaching helped, he or she can take the course over again, minus a small administrative fee, she said.

“But we have not had anyone ask to do that yet,” she added.

In fact, Schaeffer says there have been no scientific studies of students who have taken web-based test prep courses to determine whether the courses actually help raise scores or not. “The only academic studies have been done in the SAT arena,” he said. “Years ago, the studies concluded that good courses can raise SAT scores by 100 points. We have no idea about the rest of it.”

Despite offering its EssayPrep product to help students prepare for the SAT II portion of the national exam, the College Board insists that the benefits of SAT coaching are inconclusive, but the group “strongly recommend[s] that students take challenging academic courses and work hard in them.”

All this adds up to bad news for those who see testing as a way to create a more level playing field for students, at least according to the Center for Fair and Open Testing.

“The explosion of coaching has further undermined the legitimacy of the test-based meritocracy. How can a college admission officer know whether the 1300 on the SAT is from a kid walking in and talking the test cold, or whether they spent $900 on a course?” Schaeffer said.

Lee Betton, manager of the Computer Clubhouse at the Gum Springs Community Center in Alexandria, Va., said the Northern Viriginia Technology Council paid for 13 kids to take Kaplan’s online SAT prep course at the center for $35 each.

“We had 11 who actively participated through the whole process,” Betton said. “Of those, we had four who took the SAT.” The result? “It’s on the low side of successful,” Betton said. “Two kids had clear improvements.

“I think it’s a good idea, and I had a chance to look over the materials and they are excellent, but you have to have motivated kids to do it,” he added. “Maybe it requires a motivational speech at the beginning of each session.”

He also said the quality of the streaming video “is not that good” and that the set-up is a little cumbersome.

Most observers expect to see the online test prep trend continue to grow, at least for a while. “I think we will continue to see expansion, then consolidation, and eventually shakeout,” Schaeffer said.

“We will see lots of gimmicks and very heavy promotion. TestU took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, for example. They are using the eBusiness model, in that they spend money to establish a consumer base and hope they will eventually make money.”

But Kaptest’s Miller does not believe online coaching will replace traditional coaching. “We see traditional test prep and online test prep as two distinct markets. An online student tends to be more self-motivated and aggressive, whereas some students really need classroom motivation and someone there to pat them on the back,” she said.

The players

The College Board
The College Board is a national nonprofit association dedicated to preparing students for college. The association is composed of more than 3,800 schools, colleges, universities, and other educational organizations. Each year, the College Board serves more than three million students and their parents, 22,000 high schools, and 3,500 colleges through major programs and services. Among its best-known programs are the SAT, the PSAT, and the Advanced Placement (AP) program. The College Board recently launched a section on its web site called EssayPrep, which tutors students on the essay portion of the SAT.
(212) 713-8000
Web-based service from the Princeton Review that addresses standard-based educational reforms. A rich resource of materials for teachers and students in grades 3-8, assesses, diagnoses, and provides support for learning.
(877) 8-HOMEROOM, by Kaplan, is a one-stop destination on the web for test prep, college admissions, and school and career information.

Scholastic Testing Systems Scholastic Testing Systems offers students and schools immediate solutions to college entrance test preparation to help raise their SAT, PSAT, and ACT scores.
(800) 233-4728

One of the fastest growing test preparation companies in the country. For almost a decade, it has offered courses for a wide variety of exams, including the EIT, PE, MCAT, DAT, OAT, PCAT, GMAT, GRE, SAT, and PSAT.
(281) 564-7700

Test Professor
Since 1995, Test has provided students, teachers, and parents with the necessary tools to prepare students to be successful on Texas state Math Assessment Exams. Plans for other state exams are forthcoming.
(972) 264-3312 is an online SAT preparation program developed exclusively with students, parents, and educators in mind. Because is entirely online, kids can learn at their pace, on their schedule, and on their terms.

TestU’s mission is to bring high-quality standardized test preparation to everyone by providing powerful, internet-based tutorial programs that are universally accessible and affordable.
(212) 279-4368

Top Tutors
Tutoring and homework help are available for subjects including basic and higher math, reading, chemistry, language arts, test preparation, and other subjects, as requested, for students in grades 2-12.
(310) 393-6900


SIIA: Anywhere, anytime ‘eLearning’ is transforming education

A new report by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) reveals just how much technology is changing both the process, and the business, of learning.

“Software and the internet have obliterated the confines of the classroom, providing unprecedented access to quality educational resources regardless of the location of the student. The internet has also brought together widespread communities of learners,” the report declares.

Children are benefiting from individually tailored instruction, accessible at school or home, that provides instant feedback through linked diagnostic assessments, SIIA said. Adults—including teachers—are taking advantage of new professional development opportunities online, the report noted.

Furthermore, said the report, education is emerging as a significant contributor to the digital economy. According to market research firm International Data Corp., the market for technology-delivered training and instruction, or eLearning, is expected to grow to $11.4 billion by 2003—more than 10 times its 1998 level.

SIIA’s “Trends Report 2000,” released July 19, identifies “education anytime, anywhere” as one of six key trends that are shaping the digital economy. The other trends, according to SIIA: software as a service, the value of information, customer empowerment, the digitization of business, and the business of policy.

SIIA represents more than 1,000 companies in 33 countries, about 400 of which are involved in education. The report is available free of charge from the group’s web site.

The association called upon the personal experience of dozens of member and non-member companies to gather information. The result, according to SIIA, is “a 12-month preview to how the industry will evolve and how those affected by the digital economy will benefit.”

The “Education Anytime, Anywhere” section outlines the shifts in education that have resulted from the acceptance of new technologies and the prevalence of the internet.

The web enhances learning through four main avenues, SIIA said. First, it gives students unprecedented access to content, opening the door to a wealth of information for research and study. Second, it provides “distributed learning” to users by letting them take classes and contact fellow learners around the world, instantly.

The internet also allows for individualized learning, in which students can choose from a wealth of educational content the materials that best suit their learning styles.

Finally, the web has allowed for improved communication between teachers, parents, and students. It helps parents become more involved with their children’s education, enabling them to chat with teachers via eMail, for instance, check assignments on school web sites, and receive progress reports electronically.

The next ‘killer application’

“Trends Report 2000” also reveals the extent to which education technology is booming. According to John Chambers, chief executive officer of Cisco Systems Inc., education is “the next big killer application on the internet. It’s so big, it’s going to make eMail look like a rounding number.”

The education market accounts for 10 percent of the gross domestic product, the report said. “This large and diverse market, combined with rapidly evolving technology, presents a virtually limitless number of eLearning business models,” SIIA added.

The study shows how educational technology is proliferating with both the business-to-consumer (B2C) model and the business-to-business (B2B) model—where education portals such as and online procurement sites such as Simplexis,, and Epylon are making names for themselves.

Many companies are “taking advantage of the unique opportunity to translate B2B relationships [in education] into B2C customers. Companies that establish relationships with students through their K-12 school environments can build lifelong eLearning and eCommerce customers,” SIIA said.

In some cases, this might involve public-private partnerships between schools and content providers; in others, it might involve direct competition between schools and internet companies.

“Trends Report 2000” further asserted that “the greatest barrier to eLearning may not be technology or resources, but our preconceived social norms and beliefs.”

The report challenged these beliefs by arguing that internet-based learning provides students with social learning opportunities instead of making them more anti-social. For example, “eMail chat rooms and online discussions can provide even the most timid students an opportunity to interface with other students and instructors,” the report said.

Another barrier to eLearning cited by SIIA is the current seat-time model for funding. The report challenges policy makers to come up with new models that fit with today’s educational climate.

“A shift from institution-based to learner-based education requires that many practices and regulations be updated: those based on a seat-time and single-school attendance system must be changed to appropriately determine academic credit, school accreditation, and student financial aid,” the report contended.

The report also mentioned long-term investment in teacher education, protection of children from online predators, and research and development of new eLearning strategies and approaches as major issues to address.

For school decision makers, “the opportunities … to leverage technology today are unprecedented. Schools are really experimenting and turning to cutting-edge technology to improve curriculum and engage parents and students,” said Lauren Hall, SIIA’s executive vice president.

For the first time, Hall said, schools are adopting new technologies at the same time businesses adopt them, or even before.

“We are seeing a lot of crossover between business and education,” she said. As an example, she cited the use of the new Extensible Markup Language (XML) computer protocol in the recently adopted Schools Interoperability Framework, a system—scheduled to become a reality sometime later this year—that is expected to enable different networked applications within a school to share data.

“XML is growing up in the school arena at the same time it’s growing up in business,” Hall said. “That’s never happened until now.”

Even more ed-tech advancements will occur in the next year, SIIA said, because “the perception of education technology will change dramatically in the next 12 months in the eyes of supporters and skeptics alike.”

The digitization of school operational processes will provide more bang for the education buck, software and online content will continue to improve, and the public will begin to see a payoff for the investment being made by schools and governments alike, the report predicted.

Other key trends

According to SIIA, other trends that are shaping the digital economy include:

  • Software as a service. The internet is driving the change toward “software as a service,” removing software from local hard drives and enabling the use of thin clients, pay-per-use models, and real-time fixes and upgrades without user involvement. “The writing is on the wall,” SIIA said, but several variables will determine the rate of change toward software as a service: hosted information must be kept secure, the “need for speed” must be met, and service providers must be able to guarantee access, regardless of the number of users.

  • The value of information. Databases, periodicals, and reference materials are migrating to the internet. But if consumers (and schools) aren’t educated about the value of this information, they will refuse to pay for it, turn to sites that pirate information, or make decisions using less reliable information. Content providers would be forced to pull their information from the internet, harming both schools and consumers in the process, SIIA warned.

  • Customer empowerment. With competitors just a mouse click away, “online vendors have slashed their margins and customer service has become paramount.” Because customers now have an unparalleled number of choices, “online business models that fail to put the customer first are now doomed to failure,” Hall says. Furthermore, as consumers become more educated about privacy policies, “only companies that handle information in transparent and predictable ways will succeed.”


SIIA’s Trends Report 2000