With technology solutions that might be broadly described as “eLearning for schools,” technology companies large and small are marshaling to address core educational issues—from professional development to the formation of strategic partnerships to the electronic management of classroom resources.

What became clear at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) Technology + Learning Conference, Oct. 25 to 28, is how similar most of the proposed solutions are, especially those in development at the largest corporations.

The likely result: bitter corporate competition leading to conflicting claims and confusion, followed by the emergence of a handful of surviving systems that will transform and vastly improve the delivery of instruction. Look for the first formal announcements right after the New Year.

That was what key technology companies were telling eSchool News at the NSBA conference. It’s not likely that was the message received by most of the school board members and others attending the meeting.

In an effort to make investments in school technology more successful, school board members from across the country gathered in Denver to learn and share ideas about how to use technology to increase student achievement. They heard from such dignitaries as John P. Morgridge, Cisco chairman and chief executive officer.

To succeed in technology, you need leadership, Morgridge said. “You need someone at the top who embraces this and says it’s important, and we’re going to do this.”

Because so many schools have made tremendous progress getting computers into schools and connecting them to the internet, professional development and training are the major challenges facing school boards, according to Anne Bryant, executive director of NSBA.

In an online survey that NSBA conducted, she said, 76 percent of respondents thought their district’s teachers were not adequately prepared to use technology in the classroom, and 93 percent of educators felt minimum technology-skill standards should be implemented for all teachers.

Reluctance, unavailable training, and lack of money were the major reasons cited to explain why teachers are not prepared. More than 300 teachers, school technology staff, and school board members responded to the survey, Bryant said.

Many cash-strapped school districts see corporate sponsorship and advertising as an economical way of providing top-notch educational technology tools for their students. But is advertising or a strong corporate presence in schools permissible?

Half the educators who responded to the online survey said it is acceptable for school districts to use technology products that contain advertisements in the classroom. However, 67 percent said school districts should not use their web sites to sell products to the community.

“In the best of all worlds, school districts and public schools shouldn’t have to go to outside sources,” Bryant said. “They should be adequately funded, but we don’t have that.”

Most important, she said, school districts should ask if the advertising interrupts the school’s teaching and learning climate. When the answer is “yes,” the board shouldn’t agree to accept it.

In an effort to increase parent and community involvement in school board decisions, the National School Boards Foundation and the AOL Foundation are building local virtual communities for five school districts in a new pilot program called “Xchange: Strengthening Schools Through Board Discussions.”

Each of the five Xchange web sites—for districts in Kansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Iowa—will feature eMail, electronic newsletters, polls, and online discussion forums so local citizens can communicate conveniently with their school boards.

“Every shred of evidence tells us that the No. 1 predictor of improved student learning is increased parental involvement,” said AOL Chairman and CEO Steve Case. “This new two-year partnership will help all of us learn how to use the internet to help parents, teachers, and school boards better communicate.”

“When a community gets involved in a school district, that school system gets better,” said Jude Theriot of Calcasien, La. “It is incumbent upon us to take advantage of that.”

Theriot said the Xchange web site will give her school board an opportunity to find out what the community really wants and to let stakeholders know what the board is doing about it.

“The board is really looking at this as a way to augment our community dialogue,” said Maggie Schmidt of Pittsburgh. “One of the things we hope to do is put the budget on the web page and give community members a way to make comments.”

Throughout the exhibit hall, the buzz was all about the electronic management of learning resources. Company after company described plans to launch systems that would help teachers create lesson plans, correlate lessons and multimedia resources to state learning standards, aggregate the instructional resources from across the internet, manage deployment of these resources through the school system networks to the individual desktops, assess student progress, and report test results to teachers, administrators, and appropriate agencies.

Here’s a rapid review of what was happening around the NSBA exhibit hall:

3Com Corp. emerged as one of several major players rushing to develop what Vice President of Strategic Alliances David J. Katz describes as a “rich-media content delivery system” for schools. A pilot program is just getting under way in California’s Campbell Union School District. The company intends to beta-test the system in January and begin delivering the product to schools a month later. The system will consist of a core set of servers running under Windows 2000 and Windows NT and a series of relay points that will optimize media transmission from the servers to the student desktops.

http://www.3com.com

After AbleSoft Inc. acquired Vantage Point from Word Enterprises of Lancaster, Pa., the company formed a new subsidiary called AbleSoft Systems that will offer a complete classroom, school, and district administrative solution that integrates AbleSoft’s Teacher ToolBox with the Vantage Point software. Soon, AbleSoft Systems hopes to provide a web-enabled application service provider version of the software.

http://www.ablesoft-inc.com

America Online announced new features and functionality for its free online learning service, AOL@School. Each week, AOL@School features a topic of the week that teachers can use to plan a week’s worth of activities, and now those weekly themes will be archived by subject so teachers can access them at any time. Also, teachers and administrators can now access their AOL@School eMail accounts from home, giving them more flexibility in grading, creating lesson plans, and communicating.

http://www.school.aol.com

Apex Learning, a virtual school provider, now offers online schooling for teachers called Online Teacher Development Institutes. As an alternative to workshops that demand on-site attendance, these institutes individualize professional development and make it available through the internet at any time. Teachers can also receive college credit from accredited universities and colleges by taking these courses, which include Designing Classroom Procedures and Routines, Assessing Oral Reading Fluency, and Understanding Criterion-Reference Assessments.

http://www.teacherdev.com

Bigchalk.com, a provider of online educational resources, now offers an online professional development series, called Critical Issues, that focuses on aligning standards with curriculum and assessment, creating online learning environments, and enhancing home-school communication. Bigchalk also offers Classmate Language Arts, a tool that gives teachers the building blocks they need to create thematic, standards-based language arts lessons.

http://www.bigchalk.com

The Arkansas State Board of Education agreed to adopt Science Brainium, an online science program by Brainium Inc., as supplemental instructional material in 801 public elementary and middle schools until 2007.

http://www.brainium.com

Compaq Computer Corp. and Classroom Connect announced a new BonusPoints program, through which customers can earn points by buying products through Compaq Education. Customers can cash the points in for Classroom Connect’s professional development workshops or a subscription to Connected University or the Classroom Connect newsletter.

http://www.compaq.com/k12/ bonuspoints

http://www.classroom.com

Computer Explorers’ new Staff Training for Technology Integration program provides trainers that go into a school and train the school’s staff one-on-one to use the school’s commercially purchased software in the classroom. The trainers reinforce what the school has chosen for its curriculum and software.

http://www.computerexplorers.com

CWK Network Inc. announced plans to develop reality-based curricula, student-directed learning activities, and professional development programs based on CWK Network’s flagship broadcast news program, Connecting with Kids. The programs will meet standards for teaching subjects such as substance abuse prevention, anger management, and school safety.

http://www.connectingwithkids.com

Teachers can now access eHomeRoom, an online community for schools, with their Palm Pilots, since the company just launched a version of its product for the Palm operating system.

http://www.ehomeroom.com

A new web site, called Fotobug, is tapping into the popularity of digital photography for the purpose of school fundraising. The site offers a free and secure space where high school students and their families can view and purchase photographs and related merchandise online. Then, Fotobug donates 20 percent of all purchases to the customer’s school of choice.

http://www.fotobug.com

Hewlett-Packard Co. and NetSchools Corp. have teamed up to offer schools nationwide the eSchool program, a complete, internet-based learning solution. HP will provide every student and teacher at participating schools with a wireless, durable laptop along with support services and training for NetSchools Constellation, a computer-based teaching and learning solution.

http://www.hp.com

http://www.netschools.com

Intel Corp. has expanded its Intel Teach to the Future program to Colorado with a $95,000 grant from the Intel Foundation. The goal of the Colorado program is to train 4,500 of the state’s teachers in the next two years. The Community Colleges of Colorado’s Higher Education Advanced Technology Center received the grant to operate the state’s Intel Teach to the Future program.

http://www.intel.com

JonesKnowledge.com, a provider of online learning, will be the exclusive online course delivery platform used by the Florida Online High School, one of the country’s first virtual high schools. This platform comes with an eLibrary and automatic grade recording features.

http://www.jonesknowledge.com

The Learning Network, an initiative from Pearson PLC, announced Learning Pod for Math, an online tool that helps students in grades three to eight prepare for standardized math tests. This tool lets teachers monitor a student’s progress by reviewing the results of practice tests and educational games.

http://www.learningnetwork.com

Limitless Inc., which developed the browser-based school management solution SchoolSpace, has teamed up with Brightpod Inc. to offer wireless access to SchoolSpace so educators easily can enter data, analyze trends, and check attendance from anywhere at any time using wireless technology on their personal digital assistants.

http://www.limitless.net

National Semiconductor Corp. announced the winners of its third annual Internet Innovator Awards, which recognize the effective ways that 15 teachers use the internet in their classrooms. Winning teachers receive $10,000 for their personal use, and their school wins $20,000 to spend on technology. This year, eligibility for the award has increased to permit applications from teachers from every region across the country. Before, only teachers from California, Texas, and Maine were eligible.

http://www.national.com/training

The OptiStreams Broadband Browser, known as the OBBY, by OptiStreams Inc., was designed for safe browsing in the education environment. OptiStreams developed the browser as a result of filtering legislation introduced to Congress. The OBBY browser blocks the eMail capabilities of sites that offer free, anonymous eMail accounts, and the filtering code is buried deep within the browser so students can’t override it, according to the company.

http://www.optistreams.com

Palm Inc. launched the Palm Education Pioneers program, which will provide enough Palm handheld computers for every student and teacher in more than 100 classrooms across the country. According to Palm, the handheld devices offer an affordable, mobile computing experience. Research firm SRI International will examine the effectiveness and overall impact of Palm handheld computers on learning, the company added.

http://www.palm.com

Pearson Education has created CCC NovaNET by combining two recently acquired companies, Computer Curriculum Corp. and NCS NovaNET Learning, both providers of online learning solutions. CCC NovaNET will now provide online curriculum, management, and assessment tools and support services for kindergarten to grade 12 students in a single package.

http://www.investlearning.com

The Princeton Review’s test preparation services, Homeroom.com, will now reach more classrooms, since the Princeton Review has partnered with SchoolNet Inc., a provider of hosted education management solutions via the internet.

http://www.homeroom.com

Scholastic Inc. is developing educational content for students and planning tools for teachers to be used on Palm handheld computers. The content will come from the Scholastic web site, including popular sections such as News Zone, Best Lessons, and Events Calendar.

http://www.scholastic.com

Now that SkillsTutor.com has acquired Teacher Technology Systems of Pinson, Ala., teachers using SkillsTutor will be able to align their instruction with specific state standards. They’ll also be able to assess students’ ability in core subjects found on state tests and provide supplemental classroom instruction with SkillsTutor online tutorials.

http://www.skillstutor.com

Sun Microsystems has teamed up with VIP Tone Inc. through the Sun Education Service Provider program that delivers, installs, and supports bundled school software with pre-loaded and preconfigured Sun Ray appliances and an integrated customized server. VIP Tone will integrate an eLearning portal—complete with web-based content and browser-based tools—on Sun’s thin-client computing platform.

http://www.sun.com

TimeCruiser Computing Corp. has launched SchoolCruiser 2.0, an updated version of its communication tools for customized school web portals that let teachers, students, parents, and administrators get and exchange information about homework, classes, and events online. Teachers can author and save lesson plans and record attendance and grades. Schools can use SchoolCruiser for free by participating in a revenue-sharing program or eliminate advertising at the cost of 40 cents per student per month.

http://www.schoolcrusier.com