New ‘smart cards’ have gotten even smarter

A New York school district is piloting the latest generation of “smart card” technology to document a number of student and staff member activities, including internet access, taking attendance, permitting entry into the school, buying lunch in the cafeteria, and signing out books.

The technology “incorporates many things into one tool,” said Roberta A. Gerold, superintendent of Miller Place School District. “We can collapse so many tasks into one system.”

District officials hope the smart-card system, developed by the ScholarChip Co., will help them keep track of where students are and what they are doing, easing the workload of staff members so they can focus on teaching.

In May, the district issued a ScholarChip card—a credit card-like device with an embedded computer chip—to every person, including teachers, custodians, administrative staff, cafeteria helpers, bus drivers, the superintendent, and nearly 3,000 students. Each ScholarChip card shows the owner’s photo, name, school, district, an identification number, a bar code, and a gold-colored computer chip.

“We are going to use them initially to allow access to the internet,” Gerold said.

The district also installed a smart-card reader at each computer. Now, when students or staff members use a computer, they must insert their card into the reader and type in their personal identification number (PIN).

“It’s kind of like an ATM card—you input the card, and then you input your PIN,” Gerold said. With the ScholarChip card, the district will know who is using a computer and when.

On the internet, a user can only access sites that have been permitted by the school and “set” on each person’s account. ScholarChip has eight different categories consisting of millions of blocked IP addresses that are updated every day, and schools can choose which categories to block. ScholarChip has contracted with another company to review the sites personally. Teachers can control their students’ access to certain web sites or the internet simply by modifying the settings in the students’ accounts.

Gerold was so impressed with the internet filtering feature of ScholarChip’s smart card that she said the district would have gotten involved with the pilot if the card only controlled internet access.

“The smart card also disguises a student’s identity on the internet,” she added.

She explained that the card creates a “mock identity” for each student, so web sites can’t track a student’s identity. “It was wonderful for us that no one could attach themselves or a cookie to a student,” Gerold said. Students “come back as clean as they went out.” As students go out on the internet, they are given a one-time identity, which on the internet appears as a long string of digits, said Maged Atiya, chief technical officer for the ScholarChip Co.

“We essentially prevent tracking by predators, or marketers, or what have you,” Atiya said. “And the school, of course, gets detailed reports of how much time was spent and what was accessed.”

The ScholarChip card also acts like a thin-client system, meaning that a user’s work is saved on a central server and can be accessed by inserting a card and PIN. It also remembers internet bookmarks and eMail addresses, so every person’s internet experience is more personalized.

“Eventually, we will use it like a debit card for our cafeteria,” Gerold said. Students who are on the free- and reduced-price lunch program no longer will be singled out, she said, because all students will pay for cafeteria food using their ScholarChip cards.

“High-school kids tend to be embarrassed by free- and reduced-price lunch programs, so they don’t sign-up for them,” Gerold said. The system also will save time on end-of-year reports that require a tally of the number of free- and reduced-priced lunches served, she added.

Parents will be able to add money to their child’s account for food, and they’ll have different options for customizing how this money is spent. For example, if a parent doesn’t want her child to have a lot of sugar, she could set up the account so it cannot be used in the school’s vending machines.

Gerold said the district also plans to monitor attendance using the cards on a period-by-period basis. Students would swipe their cards each time they entered a classroom. Substitute teachers and visitors also would be issued a temporary card.

After school, students could use their cards to enter the building, letting school officials know exactly who is entering and leaving and when. “Of course, kids could bring other kids with them, so it’s not a strong security piece, but it’s stronger than what we have right now,” Gerold said.

The ScholarChip cards will be used in the library as well, she said. The cards not only would be used to sign out books, they’d also be used to perform searches on the school’s computer system. School officials could even keep track of what students searched for and when, if they wanted.

Bus drivers will scan the students’ cards before they get on and off the bus. A swipe of a card could notify a driver instantly that a student was suspended from school and denied transportation privileges.

In addition, the district hopes to use the card to help students develop the habit of voting by getting the students to vote regularly on key issues, such as the school mascot and what’s for lunch.

“The neat thing about being a pilot is that a good idea can become a reality,” Gerold said.

As an incentive for keeping track of their ScholarChip cards, students are charged a fee for losing them. If a student forgets his card, he’s issued a temporary card that is only activated for that day.

For the ScholarChip system to function as the Miller Place School District envisions, officials will need a card reader at every computer, a bar-code reader in the cafeteria and library, and a proximity reader at the entrances.

For those concerned about the amount of information district officials potentially could collect about students, Atiya said, “It’s well within their privilege.

“I’m not concerned with the fact that the school knows where a student is, that’s what they’re suppose to know.”

Links:

Miller Place School District
http://www.millerplace.k12.ny.us

ScholarChip Co.
http://www.ScholarChip.com

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‘Virtual job fair’ aims to solve teaching crisis

A savvy California superintendent has turned to the internet to help solve the growing problem of teacher shortages—a situation that has started to threaten education reform in that state, among others.

In Los Angeles County alone, almost 17,000 substitute teachers without actual accreditation are teaching with so-called “emergency credentials,” said Donald Ingwerson, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). In an effort to alleviate the growing problem, Ingwerson is using the internet to hold a “virtual job fair” and attract high-quality teachers from across the country.

“There just aren’t enough teachers out there—people don’t want to take the time off to do the student teaching,” said Stacy York, LACOE’s assistant technology specialist. Part of the California requirement for teachers is a year of non-paid student teaching.

“Right now, we need 4,000 teachers [for Los Angeles County] at all grade levels,” she said. “Schools are getting a lot of long-term substitutes and ending up without full-time teachers.”

To fix the growing problem, LACOE’s teacher recruitment center—which represents 60 school districts in the Los Angeles area—applied for and received a $1.4 million grant from the governor’s office. Five other recruitment centers in the state also received similar grants.

According to Bill Bermudez, assistant director of LACOE’s teacher recruitment center, the grant money went to two major recruitment initiatives, both making innovative use of the internet and teleconferencing technologies.

“A while back, our communications people had seen a virtual fair that had to do with finding lost children. It had nothing to do with teacher recruitment, but it seemed like a good idea,” said York. Recruiting center officials decided to duplicate the online fair as a way to recruit teachers from across the country.

“We are going to have a virtual job fair with a live television broadcast, videoconferencing, and internet streaming,” said Bermudez.

The program will allow school administrators from LACOE’s 60 districts to get online and speak with potential teaching candidates logged on at the same time from anywhere in the country. Users can simply log on to a computer with the assigned URL to view presentations from school administrators about job openings. They can eMail any questions or call into the live television broadcasts being aired on several local TV stations.

The first job fair will be held live on the internet on May 16 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

“As far as we know, this is the first time in the United States that schools have held something like this,” said Bermudez. “This has all been made possible by our governor—he’s funded the teacher recruitment centers—and our superintendent, Mr. Ingwerson, who said to explore all avenues and make this happen.”

Already in place is the second portion of the recruiting center’s plan to attract educators from other states to California.

Through state grant money and strategic partnerships with organizations such as Office Depot, Helpcity.com, and Bank America, LACOE has been able to send recruiters, armed with the latest technologies, out to other states’ teacher colleges to conduct on-site interviews with potential educators.

Bermudez and LACOE have reached out to potential teachers using an innovative device created by Aqcess Technologies. The company bills its Qbe tablet as a “slim, portable alternative to the traditional desktop.”

Powered by a 400 MHz Pentium II processor, the lightweight tablet, about the size of a legal pad, supports a Microsoft Windows 98 operating system. It also features a 13.3-inch display with touch-screen navigation that users can navigate naturally, with the simple touch of a finger or the Qbe stylus pen.

The Qbe even allows recruiters to take still photos or video clips of potential teachers, using a digital video camera mounted on top of the device. Aqcess Technologies loaned six tablets to the county indefinitely.

“We have had so much response when we go to the job fairs and take [the Qbe tablet],” said York. LACOE has five different recruiters who go to the universities and set up a booth with the tablets.

If they meet a candidate who is interested in relocating to California, they can immediately contact the district and either meet right then or set up a time later on that day, depending on whether that district has a videoconferencing lab of its own.

“The administrators are really excited to do the interviews online—and since you can see the interviewees, it is more personal and it saves money on flying them out here,” said York.

Such cost-savings are a major benefit to using the Qbe tablets for recruiting, officials say. Besides the savings in airfare, using the internet saves on long-distance phone charges and keeps districts from sending their own staff out to do recruiting.

“In the past, all 60 school districts have had to send out their own recruiters, and now we are recruiting for 60 districts,” said York. “We’ve spent $40,000 going to these fairs. So imagine if each district had to do this instead of us. That’s $40,000 each.”

Administrators have been enthusiastic about the job fair and the Qbe tablets, officials say, and out of 20 interviews, five new teachers have accepted positions so far. The other 15 are still negotiating for the next school year.

“We want to make a difference in kids’ lives by finding the best candidates out there and bringing them in here,” said Bermudez.

According to a September 2000 Clinton administration estimate, rising student enrollments and an increasing number of teachers retiring in the United States has created the need to hire 2.2 million new teachers in the next 10 years.

Over that time, California will need more than 250,000 new teachers, according to figures from the House Committee on Education and the Work Force.

Links:

Los Angeles County Office of Education
http://www.lacoe.edu

Aqcess Technologies
http://www.qbenet.com

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NCES: 98 percent of schools have internet access

The percentage of public schools wired to the internet has increased to 98 percent—up from 95 percent last year—according to statistics released May 9, but education groups say more work still needs to be done.

Since 1994, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has surveyed approximately 1,000 public schools each year to find out how many are connected to the internet, so the U.S. Department of Education can measure the progress of our investment in technology.

According to the report, entitled “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994 – 2000,” in the fall of 2000, 98 percent of public schools in United States had access to the internet, up from 35 percent in 1994.

The percentage of classrooms wired to the internet also has increased dramatically. In 2000, 77 percent of classrooms offered internet access, compared to 64 percent last year and three percent in 1994.

Unlike previous years, there were virtually no differences in access to the internet by school characteristics—such poverty level and metropolitan status—in 1999 or 2000, the report said.

For example in 1997, there was a gap of 24 points between the percentage of the wealthiest schools (86 percent) and poorest schools (62 percent) connected to the internet. In 2000, that gap was only 5 percentage points.

The overall ratio of students to instructional computers reached five to one last fall, better than six to one in 1999. Similarly, the ratio of students to instructional computers with internet access improved. It was nine to one in 1999 and seven to one in 2000.

Despite these advances, education advocates say the battle is not over yet.

“It’s great news and not so great news. We made tremendous strides in the highest-poverty schools, but we’re still not there yet,” said Norris Dickard, senior associate at the Benton Foundation. “There’s enough in this report to show that the job is not done yet.”

In the poorest schools, the ratio of students to internet-connected computers improved from 17 to 1 in 1999 to 9 to 1 in 2000. However, nine students to one computer is still higher than the national average of seven to one.

“We can’t assume we have won the war and declared victory,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking. “Certainly there are schools, classrooms, and teachers that don’t have 21st-century tools.”

Since the survey began, NCES has added new questions to the survey, such as the types of internet connections used, when access is permitted, and whether schools have acceptable-use policies.

According to the report, schools are opting for faster, dedicated internet connections. In 1996, three-quarters of internet-connected schools used dial-up connections, and by 2000, only 11 percent of schools used dial-up.

“Compared to the corporate environment, schools still lag behind in broadband internet access,” Krueger said.

In 2000, 54 percent of schools said their internet-connected computers were available for students to use after school hours. Of the 54 percent of schools making the internet available to students outside of regular school hours, 98 percent made it available after school, 84 percent before school, and 16 percent on weekends, the report said.

Of the 98 percent of internet-connected schools, more than 95 percent had acceptable-use policies. Of those schools with policies, 94 percent said the staff or teachers monitor student internet access, 74 percent used blocking or filtering software, 64 percent had honor codes, and 28 percent used their intranet. Considering the high number of schools reported to be using filters, it made Krueger wonder about the necessity of the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

“Congress in [its] wisdom last December thought schools needed the use of internet filtering mandated,” Krueger said. “It seems [lawmakers] did not consult reality—the actual statistics of what is happening today.”

“We can’t just do it now and say that’s it,” Dickard said of wiring schools and classrooms. Technology changes so much that it’s necessary to make constant investments in technology to keep up with the rest of the world, he said.

“There are other challenges that need to be done other than just getting the computers in the classroom,” Dickard said, citing professional development and integrating technology into the classroom.

Links:

Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994 – 2000
http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001071

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

Benton Foundation
http://www.benton.org

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Rutgers study confirms that web makes cheating easier

A new study from Rutgers University confirms what many educators have feared: The internet makes cheating easier. More than half of the 4,500 students from the 25 high schools participating in the study say they use the internet to plagiarize. But it appears the internet is merely the means not the primary motivation for those students who copy text from the web and pass it off as their own. Most of the cheaters said they would have plagiarized anyway.

Although 2,430 students (54 percent) said they plagiarized from the internet, only 270 of them plagiarized from the internet alone, meaning just 6 percent of the students plagiarized for the first time because of the web.

“The internet has not yet created that many new plagiarizers,” said Rutgers Faculty of Management Professor Donald McCabe. But for 48 percent of students who already were in the habit of plagiarizing, the internet has become a tool that simplifies verbatim copying.

“It’s so easy, and the students who were doing it before are just doing it in a more serious way—taking larger amounts of text,” McCabe said.

McCabe’s survey also found that three-quarters (74 percent) of the students said they had engaged in one or more instances of serious cheating on a test or examination. Almost three-quarters (72 percent) admitted to plagiarizing on written assignments and submitting work done by someone else.

“Most of these students were halfway through high school. They should understand what is original research and what should be cited,” he said. “There are [still] some misconceptions about what must be cited.”

McCabe, who is a national authority on academic integrity, recommends that schools encourage students not to cheat.

“They need to make a policy and share it with their students,” McCabe said. “You have to clarify your expectations.”

Barbara Stein, senior policy analyst for the National Education Association, said she wondered whether these students knew they were plagiarizing. She believes there should be more education in schools about copyright issues, especially because of how easy it is to copy and paste text from the internet.

“It was unethical then, and it’s unethical now. It’s just easier now,” Stein said. “There may be an even greater need to educate students about what is ethical in this day and age.”

She added, “Some schools probably do do this when they introduce the internet, but students need to understand their rights and responsibilities on the internet.”

Elliott Levine, a spokesman for AbleSoft Inc. and a former Long Island school administrator, said the best way to help students avoid plagiarism and cheating is for teachers to keep track of students’ work as it evolves and be leery of static reports that just magically appear at the due date.

“Throughout time, that’s really been a tried and true way for a teacher to keep tabs on the progress of a child,” Levine said. As students complete an assignment, teachers should ask them to submit their outline, their research, and rough drafts along the way.

“When students go through that long of a process, first, they’re learning good habits, and second, it’s not that easy to plagiarize,” Levine said. It’s also a good way to teach students time-management skills, he said.

Before the advent of the internet, “When a student had a term paper to do, the teacher knew the student only had a few resources to turn to,” Levine said. “The internet is a good research tool, but unfortunately it’s so simple to cut and paste a whole document virtually.”

Tools like AbleSoft’s rSchool Detective let teachers compare student work to documents on the internet to help them detect potential instances of plagiarism.

“Even the software itself can’t be an end-all product,” Levine said. “It’s just one of the tools and strategies a teacher can use to monitor the kids’ progress.”

He believes teachers should start informing students about copyright issues and plagiarism in middle school.

“Middle school is where you start seeing the larger assignments and less contact with the teacher, because [students] begin going from period to period,” Levine said. “Unfortunately, taking short cuts for this age group is all too convenient.”

Links:

Prof. Donald L. McCabe
http://rbs.rutgers.edu/mgmt/mccabe.htm

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org

Ablesoft Inc.
http://www.ablesoft-inc.com

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Florida district’s exclusive computer contract could break new ground

A Tampa, Fla., school district has signed an innovative but controversial agreement with Compaq Computer Corp. that will give the district steep discounts on computers. If the agreement proves successful, it could change the way the nation’s major computer manufacturers deal with school systems.

The deal, estimated to be worth more than $50 million, will make Compaq the sole provider of computers and technology services to Hillsborough County Public Schools for a five-year period. It also will allow low-income families to purchase affordable computers for their homes.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time any computer manufacturer has implemented an aggressive educator-parent purchase program, where a percentage of the purchase price will be rebated to the school district,” said Jim Weynand, Compaq’s vice president of government and education markets.

The exclusive agreement will provide the 11th-largest school district in the country with leverage to lower its total cost of ownership through volume discounts. Hillsborough County officials can choose from a variety of Compaq technologies that can be used to build end-to-end solutions—from desktop computers and notebooks to servers and a variety of IT services.

“One of the school board’s priorities is updated and integrated technology. Another is improved internal and external communication. This agreement will help us fulfill both priorities, while greatly enhancing student performance,” said Hillsborough Superintendent Earl Lennard.

According to Director of Technology Earl Whitlock, the contract means Hillsborough will have the lowest pricing on desktops or laptops of any K-12 school system.

“We have a guaranteed percentage rate,” he said. “[Compaq] has established a price point, and that will remain constant. We also have a parent, employee, and student purchase program.” Whitlock explained that Hillsborough will address the digital divide with a one-percent credit for all purchases.

“That money will go into a fund for lower-income students,” he said. The criteria for lower income is still being developed, but it most likely will be for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

“Through the employees’ and parents’ rebate program, the district can earn credits that can be redeemed for additional Compaq products, professional development, and other resources that will help them maximize their technology investment,” said Weynand.

In addition to volume discounts and the rebate program, Hillsborough County educators say they will benefit from Compaq’s strong commitment to education through lower total cost of ownership for technology. They say having one provider will make hardware easier to repair, maintain, and replace.

“In my estimation, the more we standardize the more we can maintain cost,” said Whitlock.

Compaq officials say the deal was structured to bring the most benefit to both the district and the company.

“This [deal] will help us go in and drive the internet culture in one large district—and it gives us a little bit more maneuverability,” said George Warren, director of K-12 marketing for Compaq. “We can go in and test some exciting and emerging products, and it gives us this long-term relationship so that we can see what works and what does not.”

But not all educators are convinced that a long-term deal like this one truly benefits schools or students.

“With the changes in technology happening so quickly, no school using taxpayer funds should sign anything long-term,” said Chris Mahoney, director of technology for Arkansas’ Lake Hamilton School District. “A long-term commitment could stifle progress and leave the schools stuck paying for higher-priced equipment.”

Rick Bauer, chief information officer for the Hill School in Pennsylvania, agreed that “five years in this business is an eternity.

“The last thing schools should do is lock themselves in to exclusive arrangement in the midst of an industry where there are many discontinuities, interruptive technologies that displace incumbents, and other economies of purchasing through state and federal purchasing groups,” said Bauer.

Mahoney and Bauer agreed they would not implement a similarly exclusive relationship in their own districts.

“I don’t know what incentives the company has to keep prices down and what leverage the schools give away by the exclusive arrangement,” said Bauer, “but not knowing those numbers, I would still be concerned.”

Hillsborough’s Whitlock said the district is not worried about the exclusivity of the contract.

“We are going more web-based in terms of the applications we receive,” he said. “For us, we are really gaining value. We plan to provide training and support via the web.” The district has inserted the ability to make changes as it goes into the deal with Compaq, he added.

“We don’t know what it will be like in five years, but we can adjust and change with it,” said Whitlock.

Long-term exclusive deals between school districts and companies may become more prevalent, according to Compaq’s Warren.

“We will absolutely see more of this type of thing in the future,” he said. “For the most part, people are looking for a leader to help them understand all the things that are out there. If it were easy, they’d go out and set it up themselves.”

Whitlock agreed. “I think other school districts will take a serious look at this in the future, and we are paving new territory,” he said. “In terms of how education manages technology enterprise, it’s important that all those things get linked together.”

Bauer remained skeptical. “As the old saying goes, ‘Trust everyone, but cut the cards.'”

Links:

Hillsborough County Public Schools
http://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us

Compaq in K-12 Education
http://www.compaq.com/education/k12

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Virginia district leases 23,000 laptops for students, staff

In what may be the largest deployment yet of laptop computers in schools, thousands of Henrico County, Va., students will have one more book to tote around next year: an Apple iBook portable computer.

As part of a four-year, $18.5 million technology initiative, Henrico school officials are leasing 23,000 laptop computers from Apple Computer Inc. for all middle and high school students and teachers.

“This is mammoth—the single largest sale of portable computers in education ever,” said Apple’s chief executive officer, Steve Jobs.

Henrico Superintendent Mark A. Edwards announced the agreement May 2. Following the announcement, district officials met with teachers at Varina High School to introduce the new technology program and to hand out iBooks.

“The students now are the generation of digital learners. They will have access to a wealth of knowledge,” said Edwards. “This is the direction that everyone will be going in the near future.”

This fall, high school students (grades nine through 12) will receive the 2001 version of Apple’s iBook, and grades seven and eight will have access in 2002. In the third year, all sixth-graders will receive computers. The district has already started handing computers out to high school teachers.

“There will be an option to buy after the four-year lease is up, at a very significant discount, of course,” said district spokeswoman Janet Binns. The laptops will enable students to use approved educational applications, as well as burn music CDs, watch DVD movies, and browse the internet.

Henrico County plans to use the iBooks in conjunction with textbooks. “We have no plans to do away with textbooks,” said Binns. “We are going to merge the two and use a new variety of information sources in our curriculum.”

The district is installing wireless data ports in its buildings, as well as stations where students can charge their laptops at school, though they’ll be responsible for charging them at night.

Students will be encouraged to bring their iBooks home at night, and Apple will provide them with a special after-hours help line.

“We are asking each parent to pay up to $50 per year on insurance on the laptop— which covers loss, theft, and damage,” said Binns.

Carole Givens teaches U.S. History at Varina High School and was one of the first educators to receive an iBook. One benefit of the laptops is the ability to do classroom management tasks from home, she said. Givens also said she believes the iBooks will help attract new teachers to the district.

“It’s going to be incredible to bring so many resources from the internet right to the fingertips of the children,” she said. “For instance, they can pull up [Thomas Paine’s treatise] Common Sense and the Declaration of Independence, and they can compare the documents right there at their desks.”

“It’s that kind of vibrant, engaged type of learning that will enhance the learning process for students,” Edwards said.

Teachers will undergo computer training this summer, and Binns said the staff development component is extensive. It includes three hours of on-site training for each teacher provided by Apple, a full-time technology trainer in every high school, and a full-time tech support person in each school.

The cost of the training and support comes out of the district’s staff development budget and is not part of the $18.5 million.

“There will also be the online Apple learning interchange and a toll-free support number,” Binns said. In addition, the district will provide training opportunities for parents.

Apple unveiled its new iBook laptop the same week it announced the Henrico deal, in a move the company hopes will boost its fading share of the education market.

“Some people have wondered if our commitment to education was as strong as it once was. I can assure you, if anything, it’s stronger,” Jobs said during a briefing with reporters.

Last year, Apple lost its lead to Dell Computer Corp. in overall sales in the education sector, though it ranks first with an 18 percent market share in the portable arena.

The Henrico County deal, which permits “total computer access” for students in the diverse school district, is designed to open up a world of information to children of every socioeconomic background.

“The students I teach are from very diverse backgrounds. Some live in federal projects, and others live in $700,000 homes along the James River,” said Givens. “This is really an equalizer.”

According to Edwards, district officials chose Apple’s iBook because their experience has shown that it costs significantly more to support other platforms. “We also feel that the Apple iBook is the best product available to meet the instructional needs for our 42,000 students,” he said. The district already uses Apple models for 90 percent of its computers.

In addition to the 23,000 iBooks, the district will use N2H2’s Bess to provide filtered internet access to student’s homes. Binns said the district plans to bring that portion up in the fall with the rest of the program.

“We think this will change teaching and learning as we know it,” said Edwards.

Links:

Henrico County Public Schools
http://www.co.henrico.va.us/schools

Apple for Education
http://www.apple.com/education

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New vendor-neutral networking course is free to schools

Global telecommunications firm Alcatel Inc. has created a cost-free, vendor-neutral course that teaches networking fundamentals to high school students.

Offered at no cost to schools, the course—called Fundamentals of Communications—introduces students to the impact of networking in the workplace; the global direction of voice, video, and data convergence; and the value of information technology in the market place.

“Coming from an education background, I really wanted something that could be for every district—and not having to pay for it was tops on my list,” said Greg Kovich, North American education director for Alcatel and former technology director of the Munster, Ind., school district.

Unlike similar courses offered by Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems—which have enjoyed great success in high schools as the need for high-tech workers continues to increase—Alcatel’s course is vendor-neutral, so students learn broad industry standards rather than a single company’s product.

“If you bought a car and you could only buy gas from the dealer where you bought the car, it kind of limits the potential of that car,” Kovich said.

Fundamentals of Communications “actually developed from a focus group of key customers in education,” he said. After working with various educators, the company decided to leverage its expertise in data and voice networks to create a course for high school students.

“We already had classes set up to train our customers on networking and how to configure [networks],” Kovich said. “We knew that we could leverage our engineering expertise to help educators take their students to the next level.”

Not only would students have an opportunity to learn industry standards in high school, but Alcatel would have the opportunity to increase its brand name by associating its name with something positive. “Even though we’ve had over $6 billion in sales in North America, we are still the best-kept secret,” Kovich said.

After successfully piloting the course in a south Philadelphia high school, Alcatel is ready to expand the program to 20 schools across the country.

Saint Maria Goretti High School For Girls, a Catholic tuition-based school in south Philadelphia, has been offering Alcatel’s Fundamentals of Communications course to 21 students since September.

Mary Ellen Kelly, who teaches the Alcatel program at Saint Maria Goretti, was attracted to Alcatel’s program because it addressed networking, was vendor-neutral, and could be completed in one year.

“We are looking for innovative programs here. We want to encourage women in technology,” said Kelly, who added that the course has boosted her students’ confidence.

Because Alcaltel’s course is free, the school can keep its tuition costs down while offering cutting-edge opportunities to economically disadvantaged students.

Alcatel supplies a textbook binder divided into 39 modules, as well as a supplemental CD-ROM that is narrated and shows diagrams. Kelly said she spends two class periods on each module.

Alcatel’s Fundamentals of Communications is a theoretical class that looks at networking from a simplistic view.

“We take the students though all sorts of communication and let them understand all levels of communication,” Kovich said.

The course content begins by explaining drum beats and smoke signals to teach the point that mankind has always wanted to communicate, Kovich said. By the end of the program, students will understand the implementation and use of telephones, data switching, local area networks, virtual private networks, fibre optics, and other topics.

“When the students come away from the course, they may not be able to configure routers and switches,” Kovich said, but they will understand and be able to communicate intelligently about networks. “We’re not trying to make Alcaltel engineers.”

When students eventually enter the work force, he said, they will be able to “effectively manage their technology staff” and “leverage technology infrastructure to satisfy their business goals.”

Alcatel also provides two guest lecturers during each semester, a field trip to a networking site, two days of training for the course instructor, tips of the day, and optional networking equipment, which Alcatel plans to offer either free or with steep discounts.

“You don’t need networking equipment to do this class,” Kovich said. “But if you would like to go from theory to the hands-on, then you would need some equipment.”

Kelly and her colleague Rosanne Wahelan spent many hours working on lessons, developing teaching strategies, and making suggestions to Alcatel, such as adding more lab activities for students to work on.

“As anyone in education [knows], the first time you teach anything you find there are things you could do better,” Kelly said.

Now that the pilot at Saint Maria Goretti has come full term, the company is trying the program in 20 different schools across the country.

Kovich told eSchool News that Alcatel has selected only half of the 20 schools so far. School administrators interested in Alcaltel’s Fundamentals of Communications program should call (800) 995-2612 for information about how to participate.

Each participating high school will be required to adopt and deliver the course over two semesters and collaborate with and provide feedback to Alcaltel, Kovich said.

Links:

Fundamentals of Communications
http://www2.ind.alcatel.com/topics/getinfo.cfm

Saint Maria Goretti High School for Girls
http://www.goretti.com

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New group to study emerging technologies in education

A new educational institute plans to research meaningful uses of emerging technologies—such as Internet2, handheld computers, and virtual reality—and share the results with school leaders.

The Institute for the Advancement of Emerging Technologies in Education (IAETE), which opens May 11 in West Virginia, aims to identify new technologies and work with their developers to see how these technologies can improve teaching, learning, and school management.

“Our entire focus is on new and emerging technologies,” said Tammy McGraw, executive director of IAETE. “We are trying to take those [technologies] and find ways they can be used in the classroom.”

The institute will research and test the technologies in schools to see how they can address individual learning styles, cultural and linguistic diversity, needs of children with disabilities, and geographic or temporal barriers.

Through research and development, IAETE will aim to ensure not only that these technologies have a positive impact on learning, but also that their integration is cost-effective and timely.

“There are many tools in business that might be well suited for education, but we don’t find out about them,” McGraw said. “The burden [of integrating these tools] has always been on individual educators.”

IAETE intends to share information with policy makers, technology developers, and business leaders in addition to educators so they, too, can learn how different technologies relate to the education market. IAETE will work closely with corporations and technology developers to help them create applications that are cost-effective and meaningful to education.

IAETE currently is investigating Internet2, virtual reality, teleconferencing, and technologies that will connect rural communities to schools. The group will continue to seek out and work with new technologies, too.

“Everything we do is research-based and unbiased,” McGraw said. “As we try these new tools out in a variety of settings, it’s really about funding what works in a school setting.”

IAETE will pilot and research these new technologies in school districts across the country. At these school sites, dubbed “intensive sites,” IAETE will figure out how best to modify and adapt new technology into a classroom setting. School districts interested in becoming pilot sites should contact IAETE through the organization’s web site.

As a division of AEL Inc., one of the nation’s 10 Advanced Educational Regional Laboratories that study learning and education, IAETE is built on a foundation of more than 35 years of experience in education research. IAETE receives its funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

The services IAETE plans to offer are especially important, as the Bush administration and the public demand more proof that the investment in education technology is a good one, McGraw said.

Schools “really have to be careful that [they] are using the best technology—not necessarily the newest—for the job,” McGraw said. “It isn’t about the newest technology and putting more computers in the classrooms, it’s about doing what [schools] do well.”

The IAETE web site will let school leaders search for technology solutions to help alleviate specific education or classroom problems.

“It’s very important to look ahead at the next generation of technology,” said Chris Dede, one of IAETE’s advisors and a Timothy Worth Professor of Learning Technology at Harvard University. “Schools have often been criticized because they’re behind the rest of society when it comes to technology.”

Links:

The Institute for the Advancement of Emerging Technologies in Education
http://www.iaete.org

AEL Inc.
http://www.ael.org

NASA-LED ASSOCIATION GIVES TECHNICAL ADVICE TO SCHOOL LEADERS

Another recently established, web-based professional association—the National Association of Educational Technology Specialists (NAETS)—is helping school technology specialists find new ways to integrate technology into curriculum.

The association, which was launched in August 2000 by the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, offers technical and professional guidance to school technology specialists, administrators, and principals.

“There’s literally hundreds of education associations, but our market is dedicated to technology specialists,” said Walt Jaworski, associate director of NAETS. “We are particularly interested in those people who are training teachers or troubleshooting.”

For a yearly fee of $50, members can get access to resources—including technical tips, technical links, a question-and-answer forum, and an eMail newsletter—to help them in their daily activities.

The association also shares innovative and successful technology solutions with its members, and it recognizes outstanding achievement in this area through the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award, presented annually by NAETS.

The association’s goal is to provide technical information to its members to help them in their jobs, give them an opportunity to collaborate, and honor educators for technology innovation.

The association currently has 603 members from across the country.

Kelly Losey, a media specialist at Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, Colo., said she joined NAETS because she just became a media specialist at her school and she felt her technology skills were weak.

“I was very intrigued when I discovered there was an association out there designed to help me in my new position and teach me more about technology,” Losey said.

Links:

National Association of Education Technology Specialists
http://naets.org

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Dell recalls more notebook batteries because of fire hazard

Dell Computer Corp. is recalling about 284,000 batteries used in notebook computers sold to schools and other customers because they can overheat and catch fire.

Dell and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said the company had heard one report of a battery that overcharged and caught fire, resulting in minor property damage.

The recall, announced May 3, covers batteries used in Inspiron 5000 and 5000e notebooks shipped to consumers from January 7, 2000, to March 21 of this year. Dell and its service providers also sold the batteries separately during the same time for $100 to $130.

Dell spokesman Tom Kehoe said the recall would not have a material financial impact on the company.

Kehoe said the batteries were made by Panasonic, though a Pansonic spokesman disputed that characterization.

Kurt Praschak said the batteries were made by Matsushita Battery Industrial Co. Ltd. and do not carry the Panasonic name. Panasonic is a brand name of the parent company, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.

Dell said consumers should remove the batteries from their notebooks and call the company. The recall doesn’t affect the computers themselves, which sold for $2,100 to $3,100.

The faulty batteries have a colored sticker with an identification number containing the either “99” or a series of numbers “00 51” or less and the letter P in the first line, Dell said.

This was the third notebook-related problem in the past year for Dell. The company last August warned as many as 400,000 customers that their machines may have contained defective memory chips.

In October, Dell recalled about 27,000 batteries used in notebook computers because of a similar fire hazard. That recall mostly affected Latitude and Inspiron 3700 and 3800 models sold last year.

Links:

Dell Computer Corp.
http://www.dell.com

Dell Battery Recall Program
http://support.dell.com/i5000battery

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FCC may change rules for eRate funding

Because of the extraordinarily high demand for eRate discounts this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed changing the priority for discounts so that schools and libraries not receiving funds for internal connections last year would have priority this year.

The demand for Year Four of the eRate—which runs from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002—is more than double the amount available. The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the program, received 37,188 applications from schools and libraries requesting a total of $5.195 billion, when the cap is set at $2.25 billion.

The existing rules for administering the eRate say requests for telecommunications services and internet access have first priority, and requests for internal connections, beginning with the most economically disadvantaged schools and libraries, have second priority. After these priorities have been met, any leftover funds continue to be distributed to the neediest applicants first.

Considering the number of applications received, the FCC has determined that after funding first-priority requests, there will only be about $900 million left over for second-priority requests—not enough to fulfill even those requests from applicants who qualify for 90-percent discounts.

“The commission did not envision demand for the schools and libraries universal service support mechanism at the level we are currently experiencing,” stated the proposed rule-making notice released April 30 by the FCC. “The commission anticipated that the fund would provide full support for telecommunications services and internet access, and would provide support for internal connections for the neediest applicants.”

For three out of four years, there hasn’t been enough money to fund all eRate requests, said Julie Tritt, executive policy specialist for the Pennsylvania Department of Education and part of an informal group that advises the FCC and SLD on eRate issues. “This year, they didn’t even have enough money to fund an entire discount band.”

The estimated $900 million left over for internal connections would fund only two-thirds of requests from applicants in the 90-percent discount band, Tritt said. So why doesn’t the FCC just increase the $2.25 billion cap?

“It’s … their sentiment that the $2.25 billion cap is pretty high already,” Tritt said. The FCC is charged with finding a balance between helping schools and libraries connect to the internet, while also making sure people’s phone bills don’t increase. The eRate is paid for by fees collected from telecommunications companies, which then pass the cost onto their customers in the form of a surcharge.

If the FCC does not change its current rules, the funds would be distributed pro rata, meaning each school or library in the highest discount band would receive only a portion of the funds it requested. If there is enough money to fund only 66 percent of requests, then applicants would get only 66 percent of the amount they asked for.

“If applicants were to receive only a pro rata portion of the support they requested, schools and libraries might not receive sufficient funding to permit completion of a useful system of internal connections. As a result, schools and libraries would be in a position of hiring contractors to perform only a portion of an internal connection project,” the FCC said in its notice.

As a solution, the FCC has proposed giving priority to requests for internal connections made by individual schools and libraries that did not receive funding commitments for internal connections during the previous funding year.

Under this proposal, applicants who received funding for internal connections in Year Three would not be eligible in Year Four, but they could apply for discounts the following year. In its notice, the FCC said it was concerned that some applicants eligible for 90-percent discounts might receive funding for multiple years, while others that are also economically disadvantaged—but to a lesser degree—might not receive any discounts at all.

“We tentatively conclude that this approach would be more consistent with the commission’s commitment to ensuring that discounts under this support mechanism are targeted to the schools and libraries with the greatest need,” the notice said.

“It’s certainly a viable alternative to giving every 90-percenter 66 percent of what they asked for. It might be a more equitable approach to who hasn’t gotten funding,” Tritt said.

“Certainly there will be some disappointed schools, but there will also be some happy schools,” she added. “There are always winners and losers in every proposal.”

Extra time for wiring projects

In addition, the FCC has proposed giving schools and libraries three extra months to implement contracts or agreements with service providers for non-recurring services. The deadline for completing these one-time projects would be extended from June 30 to September 30. This would apply to Year Three of the eRate and all subsequent years as well.

Currently, eRate discounts must be implemented within the funding year they were granted. “We find that many schools and libraries have been unable to meet the June 30 implementation deadline in previous years due to a variety of reasons, including delays in funding commitments and events beyond the service provider’s control, such as manufacturing delays and natural disasters,” the notice said.

The extension is “something they’ve done every year,” Tritt said. “We kept asking for it year after year. We thought it would be easier on schools and on the FCC if it was permanent.”

For even greater flexibility, applicants who are unable to complete projects by the September 30 deadline could apply to extend the deadline, the FCC said in its proposal.

As required by law, the FCC has asked the public to submit written comments on these proposals before May 15. Comments can be filed electronically at the commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) web site.

Links:

FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rule-Making
http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/Notices/2001/fcc01143.txt

FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System
http://www.fcc.gov/e-file/ecfs.html

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