Virtually all educational functions are on the crest of being transformed by emerging technologies. Separating the best products from those that do not meet their promise continues to be difficult. As a first step toward making that determination, the authors suggest considering technologies by the roles they will play in education; then competing products can be compared fairly, or complementary products can be obtained simultaneously.
With this strategy in mind, the authors consider four uses of the internet to deliver essential school functions and compare two products or services available today to meet these needs:
• Instructional materials. Obviously, the web is becoming a major conduit for the delivery of instructional materials. Two web sites in particular, SAS Institute (http://www.sasinschool.com) and Riverdeep Interactive Learning (http://www.riverdeep.net) offer cutting-edge use of the web to deliver quality information. The SAS site takes typical topics (e.g., social sciences) and uses the web’s multimedia and graphical capabilities to offer detailed lessons on aspects of each topic (e.g., Italian Renaissance). Riverdeep’s site focuses on the core subjects: math, science, and English. It allows students to work at their own pace, while coaching teachers about how to help those students who are struggling.
• Communications. Until recently, in-school electronic communication meant eMail. While eMail was a great advance in enabling administrators to communicate with teachers, teachers to communicate with colleagues, and teachers to contact students and parents, the next generation of web programs offers vastly more services. Centricity (http://www.centricity.net) provides eMail, voice mail, fax services, and more. It can be adapted easily for tracking matters as disparate as school spending, classroom attendance, and subject-specific discussion groups. IBM Learning Village (http://www.ibm.com) is another up-and-coming communications program. Teachers can prepare their lessons online and share them with students, complete with built-in web links. Administrators can coordinate tasks and share databases through the system, too.
• Professional development. Everyone agrees that this has been the lost stepchild of the technology revolution. Teacher Universe (http://www.teacheruniverse.com) and ACTV (http://www.actv.com) are two of the programs now on the market that are seeking to solve this problem. Teacher Universe offers an extensive array of online tech-training courses, self-paced exams, and some supplemental on-site training. ACTV allows school districts to develop courses tailored to their needs. These can be highly interactive if a school district has access to teleconferencing equipment.
• Administration. PowerSchool (http://www.powerschool.com) and Epylon (http://www.epylon.com) allow schools and districts to consider outsourcing administrative tasks. PowerSchool can provide scheduling, grade reporting, parent notification, and many other services. Epylon is an online purchasing system that also tracks spending levels and delivery of the goods.