Oklahoma education officials on Jan. 22 announced a pilot program to create a sophisticated “virtual network” of courses and services available via the internet to schools, libraries, and homes throughout the state.

The Virtual Internet School in Oklahoma Network (VISION) program, expected to launch before the end of March, will include an online curriculum that will offer algebra and other math courses for students in the fourth and seventh grades at nine pilot schools. If the program is successful, other subjects would be made available statewide.

“One of our greatest difficulties in Oklahoma is having equal access to education,” State Superintendent Sandy Garrett said during a presentation to administrators, legislators, and corporate partners. “From the smallest, most remote schools to the urban, inner-city schools, this [project] will ensure equal opportunity.”

But Garrett said VISION encompasses far more than just distance learning. “What we’re really talking about is a total managed learning system,” she said.

The project will contain a relational database that tracks all aspects of learning, from student records to human resources information. It also will include an eBusiness component that tracks costs and expenditures and allows for online purchasing and accounting.

The pilot program is expected to be implemented within 18 months, said Garrett.

Legislators approved the program last year. Since then, state education officials have been working with administrators, teachers, and corporate partners to figure out how to implement the program.

Corporate partners include Intel Corp., JES & Co., Microsoft, Dell Computer, SAP, and Ignite!, an Austin, Texas-based company run by Neil Bush, a younger brother of President George W. Bush.

Dell is providing servers for the project, while Intel is providing support for the servers and some hardware. Garrett said SAP will be the primary software provider.

Oklahoma City’s Western Heights is one of the nine school districts involved in the pilot. Western Heights Superintendent Joe Kitchens said the program’s online curriculum will include high-quality video streaming, along with two-way videoconferencing and traditional text and graphics. The online courses could be offered as stand-alone lessons or as a supplement to classroom instruction.

“It reaches the students when, where, and how they need to be reached. Some students are visual learners. Some are auditory learners. This can play to their strengths,” Kitchens said.

To take advantage of the technology, schools will need a T-1 or DS-3 (45-megabit) connection. Many Oklahoma schools already have the necessary degree of connectivity thanks to the state’s Onenet project, initiated in 1993 to upgrade the state’s technology capabilities.

The nine pilot districts and eight other districts also have formed a cooperative in hopes of qualifying for $20 million in eRate discounts to make additional infrastructure improvements next year.

The project’s eBusiness component would enable districts to integrate academics with management in a way not previously possible, Garrett said. It would help schools better manage their money, through the use of student and management data to identify which academic programs work best and most efficiently.

Such a system also would allow districts to submit their financial data to the state Education Department electronically.

Chief state school officers from Kansas, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maine, Virginia, New Mexico, Arizona, and California were invited to a technical briefing at the Oklahoma State Capitol to hear the details of the project. The school leaders were chosen for participation because their states have similar or related projects.

Links

Oklahoma State Department of Education
http://sde.state.ok.us

Western Heights School District
http://www.westernheights.k12.ok.us