HP’s Cooltown to extend ‘pervasive computing’ into schools

Several companies and research institutions have been developing a vision of the future known as pervasive—or ubiquitous—computing, in which computer processors and networks are embedded into everyday objects, allowing people and devices to interact seamlessly.

The fundamental concept has been around since the 1980s. But now, one company, a research and development division of Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), is taking its specific manifestation of this vision—called HP Cooltown—to school.

HP Cooltown is based on the concept that millions of mobile and stationary devices will one day be able to interact with each other, using the web as a secure, always-on network system. It envisions a place where everybody and everything—from a wristwatch to a mirror to a car—is connected to the web, so people can get information and eServices from wherever they might be. Every person, place, and item would have a web presence.

Imagine your alarm clock waking you up an hour earlier than usual, because it checked the weather and traffic reports and calculated that you needed extra time to get to a meeting with your board president and the head of the chamber of commerce. Imagine driving to that meeting and having your car break down. Now, suppose your car’s on-board computer were able immediately to locate the nearest service station, book an appointment for you, then call a taxi cab to pick you up at the service station so you still could get to your meeting on time.

That’s the idea of pervasive computing. Cooltown aims to improve customer service by pushing content and services to each person based on his or her likes, dislikes, behavior, and needs, instead of having people go find these services.

Every time you’d access a web-enabled device, it would give you personalized content, similar to certain web services and internet portals—such as Yahoo and Netscape—that already let users customize the content they want to access readily.

A device “may share information with me that may be very different than the information it shares with you,” said Trina Wolfgram, business development and marketing of e-Eduation, an umbrella organization of HP.

“It enables a much richer, more personalized set of experiences,” Wolfgram said of the technology in development. “This is what Cooltown is about.”

In a school setting, this kind of personalized delivery of information and services could help ensure that each child’s learning needs are met. That’s why HP is working with the Vancouver Public Schools in Washington to develop Cooltown@School over the next five years.

“Our superintendent and board have recognized for years that we really need to personalize learning for each student,” said Terry Allan, information technology manager for the Vancouver Public Schools. “Cooltown offers the same kind of personalization that we’re interested in.”

“We really look at personalized learning as the answer to education for the future,” said Linda Turner, the district’s director of information services. “You have such high-end and low-end students in the same class, and you can’t take the time to reach them both.”

Because it takes so much time for teachers to prepare personalized learning programs for each student, not many teachers are able to do this. “We have some [who] are trying to do this without the correct tools. Now we are giving them the correct tools,” Turner said.

These tools include a laptop for each student, a handheld device for each teacher, and a web portal that combines a number of pre-existing products, such as a teacher planner, a student planner, and a lesson creator aligned to state standards.

The student planner will let students send and receive eMail, check their assignments, read a quote of the day, keep a journal, submit their work, and archive their work in a digital portfolio.

Parents can also access the student planner. They could keep track of their child’s activities—such as a dentist appointment—and have the option to notify the teacher and the school automatically.

Starting in September, three at-risk fifth-grade classes at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School will begin using these tools. In addition to training the teachers, the district will bring in parents, explain the vision, and train them to use the web portal.

The James Parsley Center, a new administrative building and community facility, will house the district’s technology department, as well as some HP staff. In addition, a group of 100 high-school students will attend school part-time in a digital, media-infused classroom at the center and participate in the Cooltown@School project.

“They won’t all get a computer, but they’ll get a portal and an individual plan for success,” Allan said.

HP’s role is that of facilitator, providing the infrastructure to make the technology possible and delivering services and applications provided by its content partners. So far, only NetSchools Corp. has been confirmed as a partner, but HP said it is looking to team up with other companies as well.

The first step toward realizing the Cooltown vision is to have all the software applications work together seamlessly. This will enable teachers to create personalized lessons for each student, because they won’t have to waste time re-entering data and because all student information will be available at the click of a button.

Currently, most schools use a number of software applications that don’t “talk” to each other, Wolfgram said. Cooltown@School capitalizes on the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) standard, which enables different education software programs to share data so that all programs are updated instantly and no information has to be retyped.

SIF has not been widely deployed in schools to date, because the standard was officially announced only last year. Many technology companies are still developing SIF-compliant applications.

The second step is to bring access to school data out into the community. The James Parsley Center will provide this access initially, and HP is also developing relationships throughout the community.

“Just like we have SIF, there’s been discussion that there should be a community interoperability framework (CIF),” Allan said.

With Cooltown@School, when students walk into the school building, the library, or log on to the internet, they’ll eventually be able to receive personalized information.

“Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. We’re building up the opportunity for students to learn on the bus or at home,” Wolfgram said.

Once pervasive computing becomes a reality, a student could download English-to-Spanish translation software to her or his wristwatch or handheld computer. Once the translation program is downloaded, the student could access information stored in English in everyday objects and have it translated into Spanish—or vice versa.

But before the Cooltown concept can be fully realized, computer infrastructure—including the internet, web appliances, and networking—must be ubiquitous. “When you think of pervasive computing, there [are] infrastructure and applications that have to be in place first,” Wolfgram said.

The Vancouver Public Schools already have a robust fiber-optic network, but to reach beyond the school district’s boundaries, the concept has to be expanded.

Several other companies and research institutions are working on pervasive computing projects as well, but so far none has been applied directly to the classroom.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a research project that aims to banish computers into thin air by making computers as ubiquitous and invisible as oxygen. Computers embedded in various objects would be able to hear, see, and respond to a wide array of needs.

The project in Vancouver began with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and was expanded to include HP, Acer, Delta Electronics, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, Nokia Research, and Philips Research.

HP was especially interested in Project Oxygen, company representatives said, because it has the same objectives as Cooltown.

In addition, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center has been working on the concept of ubiquitous computing since 1988, and IBM is spending $180 million on Planet Blue, a four-year pervasive computing project.

As for privacy concerns raised by the concept, Allan said, “We’re not collecting and archiving any data that a school district doesn’t ordinarily collect. It’s not like we’re going to make [these] data available to anyone. We’re still going to follow the regulations set by the state.”

Links:

HP Cooltown
http://cooltown.hp.com

Vancouver Public Schools
http://www.vansd.org

Project Oxygen
http://oxygen.lcs.mit.edu

Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
http://www.parc.xerox.com/parc-go.html

Planet Blue
http://www.research.ibm.com

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BYU develops online class for handheld computers

High schoolers in Provo, Utah, will be among the first in the country to take a history class designed specifically for a personal digital assistant. Developers say the course might signal the start of a new definition for “anytime, anywhere learning.”

“Five years ago, there were people [who] thought the idea of taking a course online, period, was silly,” said Corey Spencer, the Brigham Young University (BYU) programmer who adapted the lessons to work with palmtops from an existing independent study course. “But since then we’ve seen huge growth in eLearning.”

Provo-based BYU is offering a history course formatted for high school-age students who want to do their studying with a personal digital assistant, or palmtop computer.

Developers said they believe it’s the nation’s first complete distance-education course designed for the 4-inch screens. Students may also do the coursework using laptops or desktop computers.

“As far as we know, we’re the first to deliver an entire course over a portable device,” said Spencer.

The course, “American Government, Part 1,” is intended for high school students seeking a little summer or after-school enrichment.

Wireless access to the internet will revolutionize education, Spencer predicted.

“It’s a proactive way for people to educate themselves while they are sitting on the train or just killing time during lunch,” he said.

All students need to take the course is $92 and their own handheld computer with a wireless modem, said Spencer.

“They’ll be able to download course work, submit assignments and correspondence, and get their grades from almost anywhere—on vacation in the mountains, around the campfire,” he said.

Students can take as long as one year to finish the course. Most of the assignments are graded immediately after being submitted via computer.

“Within seconds, you get your grades along with a feedback statement for every question missed,” he said.

The university, operated by the Mormon Church, wants to “make the quest for academic intelligence as accessible as possible,” he said. Handheld computers seemed like the next logical step, given their recent explosion in popularity.

The challenge in developing the course came with the fact that Spencer had to worry about adapting the course for both Microsoft Pocket PC and Palm devices.

“We picked them because they are the two most popular [handheld platforms],” Spencer said. But the platforms handle the internet very differently, he explained.

“We also wanted to allow students without modems or wireless internet [access] to at least be able to read the content of the course, even if they can’t submit papers,” he said.

To adapt the course for use with Pocket PC devices, Spencer and his team stripped the original online course of all unneeded information—such as graphics—and converted the pages into new web pages that were then zipped together into “some very plain-looking web pages.”

Adapting the course for the Palm platform was more difficult, because Spencer wanted to develop the program in a way that would not make students have to download each page individually.

“It’s just very slow to do it that way,” he said. But the Palm platform has a “web-clipping” application that lets it view web pages from a cached reserve on the device.

“That application means a lot of content can rest on the Palm and only connect to the internet when it needs to,” he said. “We turned the course into a web-clipping application, and now the whole course rests right on the Palm itself.”

When students want to submit an assignment or see a grade, only then does the Palm device go online.

Spencer did not use any specific software but created the web pages using a generic HTML program.

“To deal with the Palms, we used a free application called WCABuild, which we got off the Palm web site,” he said.

Dwight Laws, BYU’s independent study director, said if the course proves popular he would adapt others to the portable format. But he’s prepared for the possibility the experiment will fail.

BYU reaches 50,000 students annually with its 600 independent study courses—240 of which are available over the internet. About 75 percent of BYU’s independent study course-takers still opt for the old paper and pencil approach, Laws said.

“We’re just watching the technology and trying to stay abreast of it,” he said. “Our focus is always the student. These are just vehicles and tools to deliver education to them.”

Laws says he is prepared for the possibility that the Palmtop class may not take off right away, but he says the program has some significant strengths as well as restrictions.

“The small screen size is a minus, but the size [of the total computing unit] is the primary benefit of the class, because you don’t have to take along a big text or a laptop,” said Laws. “Its weakness is also its strength.”

Another strength compared to more traditional distance education methods is that using Palmtops enables students to conduct classroom activities anywhere they can receive a satellite signal, at any time of the day or night. This could be done using wireless laptops, but not with the same ease of transport.

There are some restrictions inherent when using a handheld device, however.

Monitor size restricts some of the things educators can enter, and the Palm device does not allow students to use CD-ROM technology, a problem when some classes use CDs for virtual labs and the like.

“But as soon as streaming gets strong enough, we’ll just send the video, audio, and virtual labs directly to the Palm Pilots, no problem,” Laws said.

Laws explained that the developers at BYU were interested in developing the course because of “the intrigue factor of asking ‘what can be done with a Palm Pilot?'”

The class, which opened to the public July 16, is “open entry/open exit,” meaning students can sign up at any time. The course of study lasts for a year from when they sign up, and if they want, students can buy a three-month extension.

“We are hoping to test the market and see if there is any interest,” added Laws.

Links:

Brigham Young University (BYU) Independent Study
http://ce.byu.edu/is

Brigham Young University (BYU) Independent Study
http://ce.byu.edu/is

Microsoft Pocket PC
http://www.microsoft.com/mobile/pocketpc/default.a sp

Palm Inc.
http://www.palm.com

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Internet program targets prospective K-12 administrators

For the past few years, online advanced-degree programs have been touted as a convenient way for teachers to meet their requirements for certification and ongoing professional development. Now, prospective K-12 administrators may benefit from such programs, too.

Anyone who wants to become a principal or superintendent—but has held off from earning an advanced degree in education administration because they were pressed for time or live in a remote area—now can fulfill the certification requirements in at least 20 states from an online university.

Supporters of the online program say it could alleviate the shortage of school administrators that many states now face. But critics say an online program is no substitute for the rigors of a traditional administrative program.

Capella University, an internet-based university headquartered in Minnesota, offers both a masters and doctorate program in education administration. Last month, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education announced that Capella University’s program meets Arizona’s requirements for certifying principals and superintendents.

Because of the state’s reciprocity agreements, Arizona’s certification is valid in 20 other states, including Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and Washington.

But just because an online program meets certification requirements doesn’t mean its graduates will be able to get a job as a superintendent or principal, said Joe Schneider, executive secretary of the National Policy Board for Educational Administration.

“Online programs are a long way from preparing tomorrow’s principals and superintendents for the complex job of running our schools,” Schneider said. “I don’t think you’re going to see school systems running out to hire these people simply because Arizona approves the program.”

Capella University maintains that its online education administration program can help alleviate the shortage of K-12 administrators, because it provides a convenient way reach those who are interested in pursuing administrator careers.

“To do the program online at your desk, it lets you simplify your life and lets you reach your professional goals,” said Elizabeth Bruch, dean of Capella University’s school of education and professional development.

“Over the next decade, [more than] half of the superintendents [now in America’s school districts] are going to have to be replaced,” said Barbara Knisely, public information manager for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). “There are 14,000 school superintendents, and you’re looking at half of that number being replaced.”

Schneider doubts whether online programs like the one from Capella University will have any impact on the number of people who enter superintendent or principal positions.

“More than 50 percent of people enrolled in these programs never become school administrators,” he said.

In his experience, he said, mostly classroom teachers enroll in online degree programs because they want to earn a convenient, comfortable, and low-cost masters degree.

“Those aren’t the people who want to be school administrators. They’re just people who want a masters degree to get a pay raise,” Schneider said. “Those aren’t the people we want running our schools.”

Although Schneider admits there is a shortage of K-12 administrators, he says the problem is not unique.

“There’s a shortage in every field. We’re going to have to replace half the teachers and half the nurses in this country,” he said.

Societal changes and higher standards for schools without commensurate salary increases have put additional pressure on school administrators.

“It’s not that [school districts aren’t] finding people to take the job, it’s just that the applicant pool is smaller,” AASA’s Knisely said. Prospective school administrators have to decide whether it’s really worth it for them to get into the field.

“It’s a very political position to hold in a school district,” Knisely said. “It’s certainly a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week job. You’re not just there between eight and five.”

Urban school districts have an easier time attracting qualified superintendents and principals than rural districts. “Rural America has a hard time finding principals, but it’s not because they don’t have degrees, it’s because the job is in a rural area,” Schneider said.

For school districts considering hiring administrators who graduated from online programs, Schneider said, “I would look to see what practical experience in administration they’ve had—and at this point in time, I’d shuffle their resumes to the bottom.”

Schneider said a good education administration program should be rigorous and offer a lot of practical experience.

“We’ve got a lot of lousy traditional degree programs. … If we are going to add online ones, they really have to impress us,” Schneider said. “They’ve really got to convince us before we endorse them.”

Kathy Campbell, deputy director of the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, said it was merely a routine procedure for its board staff to evaluate Capella Univesity’s course for school administrators against the state’s requirements.

“It looked like it met all the criteria,” Campbell said. “The curriculum looks fine, the required reading looks fine.

“If you have an executive or a busy individual that can’t go to class, then it’s great,” Campbell said. “I don’t think it’s any better than any other type of classroom, it just works for some people.”

Links:

Capella University
http://www.capellauniversity.edu

Arizona State Board for Private Post-Secondary Education
http://azppse.state.az.us

National Policy Board for Educational Administration
http://www.npbea.org

American Association of School Administrators
http://www.aasa.org

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Educators tout free, open-source operating system for K-12 schools

While Linux may not be catching on like wildfire in K-12 education, the open-source operating system does have a growing support base among educators. In fact, a group of Linux users recently developed a free, easy-to-install, Linux-based terminal server package designed specifically for schools.

K-12 Linux Terminal Server Package (K12LTSP), which is available for educators to download at no cost, comes ready to run with a number of classroom-focused programs and works with low-maintenance, diskless workstations that developers claim are immune to viruses and mischievous student tampering.

The support base for the group that developed K12LTSP originated with a grassroots Linux user group based in Portland, Ore., called PDXLinux.org.

This small group of school-based Linux enthusiasts has since grown into two “Linux for Education” discussion groups, allowing K-12 Linux users to ask and answer each other’s questions and share some of the open-source software and applications.

Two Oregon educators created K12LTSP: Eric Harrison from the Multnomah County Education Service District and Paul Nelson from the Riverdale School District in Marylhurst, Ore.

According to Nelson, who serves as Riverdale High School’s technology director, there are now 240 users on the K12Linux list and 86 users on the K12LTSP list.

“We’ve been showing schools how to use Linux-based servers since 1995. For example, we show schools how to use Linux as a web server and proxy server. We provide step-by-step guides and instruction for new Linux users,” he said.

Nelson explained that the group has had “great success with schools and Linux-based servers.” But members wanted to realize the same reliability and cost savings at the workstation level, too.

“We started working on diskless workstations two years ago and spent the last year testing solutions in our school,” Nelson said. The end result was K12LTSP, released July 4.

The software “offers an easy installation along with a rich package of applications for classroom use,” said Nelson. Because K12LTSP is a terminal server program, it runs applications on the server and not on the workstations.

That means students can use terminal devices to access their applications, instead of fully-powered desktop computers. Because terminals don’t have hard drives and don’t require fast processors, they are relatively inexpensive.

It also means schools can use older hardware and still run programs at the speed of the server. “Installing one K12LTSP server is a great way to extend the life of legacy PCs and donated equipment,” said Nelson.

K12LTSP is based on RedHat’s Linux 7.1 and the StarOffice application suite from Sun Microsystems. It is completely free, and installation software may be downloaded from the K12LTSP.org web site.

K12LTSP offers a point-and-click interface and a complete package of useful classroom applications, including StarOffice, which provides word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation tools that are compatible with Microsoft Office 2000.

According to the group, once the K12LTSP server package is installed, schools may access it from legacy PC hardware and have the option of purchasing new workstations for under $200.

A typical lab installation of K12LTSP for 20 workstations would cost $6,000: one $2,000 server and 20 terminal machines at $200 each. Compare that to a typical lab installation of Windows 98 for 20 workstations at an estimated $20,000: $800 per workstation plus $200 or more for the software license for each machine.

The K12LTSP release is not the only Linux-based product being made available for schools, Nelson said. Sun Microsystems, in partnership with the New Internet Computer (NIC) Co., and Intel released similar devices at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Chicago last month.

According to Nelson, these terminal servers would address a huge need in schools.

“Teachers and overworked tech staff just can’t keep traditional PCs up and running,” he said. “Diskless solutions are the answer.”

But there are two advantages to using K12LTSP rather than the Intel or Sun solutions, he said: It’s completely free, and schools have control over the source code.

“Schools can modify and improve our code as with any open-source product,” said Nelson. “As schools learn more about the advantages of diskless workstations and open-source software, they are hard-pressed to justify the expense of traditional PCs running proprietary software.”

More information about how terminal devices work and why K12LTSP supporters think they are a good solution for schools can be found on the K12Linux OpenHouse page at http://www.k12ltsp.org/openhouse.html.

Links:

K12LTSP
http://www.k12ltsp.org

Riverdale School District
http://www.riverdale.k12.or.us

RedHat
http://www.redhat.com

Sun’s StarOffice
http://www.sun.com/staroffice

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Grants for technology- and science-related initiatives

Intel Corp. offers a wide range of support for many technology- and science-related initiatives. On a national level, Intel funds programs that advance math, science, or technology education, promote science careers among women and underrepresented minorities, or increase public understanding of technology and its impact. National grants are made either to national projects or to local projects that serve as pilots for national programs. Community grants are viewed with the same priorities and are subject to the same rules as national grants, but they are limited to communities where Intel has a major facility: Chandler, Ariz.; Folston and Santa Clara, Calif.; Rio Rancho, N.M.; Hillsboro, Ore.; Fort Worth, Texas; and DuPont, Wash. Finally, Intel’s Teach to the Future program aims to train two million teachers worldwide. Combined with software and equipment discounts from companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Premio, and Toshiba, Teach to the Future represents approximately a half-billion dollars invested by leading U.S. computer firms in bringing technology to the classroom. Applications for all these programs can be found on Intel’s web site.

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Microsoft aims to sink school software pirates

Software giant Microsoft is stepping up efforts to stop software piracy, and schools that don’t shape up soon might have to pay up.

Microsoft is seeking to thwart would-be software pirates by adding copy controls to the new version of its operating system and by urging schools to invoke zero-tolerance policies against copyright-violating educators.

The company’s latest version of its Windows operating system, Windows XP, contains a technology called “product activation” that creates and stores a profile of the configuration of every PC on which you install the software. This profile allows Microsoft to “lock” each copy of Windows XP to one specific computer.

The technology is intended to thwart licensing infringements of the software, and it’s just the latest in a series of steps Microsoft has taken to crack down on software piracy.

In fact, a number of school districts—most notably the School District of Philadelphia—have been the target of recent investigations by Microsoft, after company officials received tips that schools were installing single-user copies of Microsoft Office on multiple hard drives.

According to the Philadelphia schools’ chief information officer, Ron Daniels, the district received notice from its Microsoft sales representative earlier this year that someone had reported a December 2000 piracy incident at a school.

The district has no knowledge of the circumstances of this incident, because Microsoft policy is not to reveal the identity of the person that reported the incident, said Daniels.

But on July 10, the online magazine Salon.com printed an interview with a Philadelphia computer teacher, using the pseudonym Lloyd Kowalski, who reportedly admitted to installing his school’s only copy of Office on several teachers’ computers last January.

“It was a minor violation,” the teacher told Salon.com. “We use AppleWorks for word processing, but I put Office on [teachers’] computers because they couldn’t read the Microsoft Word attachments they kept getting from the district’s central office. It was easy to do, and it made sense since our schools are in dire financial straits.”

Dire straits indeed. Last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that unless they received additional cash advances from the state or city government, district officials weren’t sure how much longer they could meet payroll for the district’s 27,000 employees.

In fact, to meet payroll for the week ending June 22, the Philadelphia School District had to delay payments totaling nearly $30 million to several major vendors.

“I don’t know how far into July we can go,” Philip R. Goldsmith, the district’s interim chief executive officer, told the Inquirer shortly after discussing the district’s financial woes with the Board of Education. “None of this is a surprise. We’re not creating a crisis. A crisis is here.”

But arguments like that hold little water with Microsoft or the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an industry-wide enforcement group that educates computer users about software copyrights, advocates public policy that expands trade opportunities, and fights software piracy. Microsoft is a member of BSA, but company officials say they do not have information about whether BSA is involved in the Philadelphia case.

In accordance with standard Microsoft practice, the company sales representative notified the district of the alleged violation and explained that Microsoft would be investigating the call, said Daniels. But according to a Microsoft official, there was no call that sparked the investigation.

Toby Richards, director of marketing for Microsoft’s Education Solutions group, explained that “the topic of compliance came up through the course of our daily customer relationship.”

“It’s my understanding that we were there to talk about the academic licensing, and that led to a question about the district’s current [copyright compliance] situation,” he said. “We wanted to begin educating the school users within the district on compliance. This generated some great conversation about those issues.”

Regardless of where the investigation originated, during the next 90 days there were a series of conference calls and meetings between Microsoft and the Philadelphia School District, culminating in a request from Microsoft that an internal audit be performed.

The audit was to be done in two phases, Daniels explained. Phase One was to audit the software and corresponding licenses for all personal computers within the district. That phase was completed in April.

Phase Two was to audit all of the district’s Macintosh computers, and it is still under way. The complete audit is expected by late summer or early fall.

“We are in the process of determining how compliant we are … and will have this information sometime late this summer, once the second phase is complete,” said Daniels. “I can say that after the first phase was completed, we were over 97-percent compliant with our software on administrative PCs.”

Daniels believes that schools should not be held to the same copyright standards as for-profit businesses, because school districts deal with issues other institutions need not face, such as lack of funds, donated equipment, and stakeholders that are unfamiliar with the rules.

“There are new employees coming into the system, there are principals moving from one school to another, and there are administrative offices that constantly exchange equipment once new purchases are made,” he said. “Given that, it’s real easy to lose track of equipment, let alone software licenses.

“I feel that, just as there are significant software discounts for educational institutions and nonprofit groups, so too should there be some leeway with regards to regulations,” he added.

Microsoft’s Richards said while the company is very proud of its academic pricing and programs, “when we sign a agreement with a customer, we expect that customer to abide by the terms of that agreement, like any two parties would expect when contracts are being signed.”

Daniels said Microsoft has been very supportive of the district’s audit efforts, giving the district an initial 90-day extension on performing the audit, searching company records to provide the district with software licenses, and allowing the district access to Microsoft’s online license database.

“They stayed in phone and eMail contact and reviewed our proposed plan to educate users about piracy,” Daniels said. “We constantly receive eMails regarding anti-piracy information that we can share with staff and schools.”

But Daniels said organizations in charge of enforcing copyright laws—like BSA—have been going for the most vulnerable targets.

“Given the magnitude of this problem worldwide, I think it’s easy prey to go after large school districts,” he said. “It does not matter how many policies, procedures, and training programs that you have in place, when you have over 40,000 computers with over 30,000 employees and over 200,000 students, there is bound to be something installed on a computer that should not be there.”

Bob Moore, executive director of information technology services for the Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, Kan., agreed that compliance is a problem for schools. “Any large district that can say with absolute confidence that they are 100-percent compliant on all copyright issues has its head in the sand,” he said. “Your compliance issues grow exponentially with the more technology you have and the more people that use the technology.”

Well within its rights

For the most part, educators seem to agree that Microsoft did not exceed its rights in auditing the Philadelphia school district.

Rick Bauer is the chief information officer for the Hill School, a private academy located near Philadelphia. Bauer said he believes schools should be held to the same copyright standards as private businesses.

“The size of the company, the cost of the software, the ease at which it can be copied, are all just smoke-screening the real issue—theft,” he said. “Licensing can get a little tricky, but the plain fact of the matter is that unauthorized copying of other people’s work is stealing.

“If any of the teachers at the schools in violation of illegal software duplication had some intellectual property that was abused as frequently as software copyright restrictions … those individuals would be howling,” Bauer said.

But Overland Park’s Moore added that keeping schools compliant with copyright laws is “a constant struggle.”

“First, you practically need a staff attorney to help you understand copyright law and to have solid, practical policies that you can use,” he said. “Also, among some staff, students, and parents, there is the general belief that schools can do pretty much whatever they please when it comes to the use of copyrighted materials.”

At Overland Park, Moore said he spends a significant amount of time and energy educating stakeholders that schools are not exempted from copyright laws.

“Further, the reality is that we in education get steep discounts on software. I pay a whopping $48 for Windows 2000 and $65 for Office 2000 Premium,” said Moore. “Compared to prices for the consumer or private sector market, that’s awfully good.”

Bauer said he believes that Microsoft and the BSA are justified in taking action against schools, because educational discounts made it far easier for schools to afford enough copies of important computing software like the Windows suite.

“When you can get a fully loaded computer software bundle—operating system, connections to networks, applications suite—for less than $100 a system with the academic discounting, it is not fair to Microsoft to take further advantage of them by illegally copying the software,” he said. But educators agree that financial issues are not the most important factor in keeping schools compliant with anti-piracy laws. “There is a bigger issue—that of right and wrong. Stealing is wrong,” said Bauer. “‘Everybody does it’ or ‘we need it’ or ‘they are picking on our poor cash-starved operation’ are the kind of excuses that impenitent teenage shoplifters give when caught.”

Bauer said schools are not doing a good job in teaching an important lesson about honesty and integrity if they let students and faculty copy software illegally. “Our actions could drown out our words here, and students have the best hypocrisy detectors in the world.”

Agreed Ray Yeagley, superintendent of Rochester, N.H., Public Schools, “If we are going to tell our students that it is wrong to steal, we need to provide the example. You can be assured that they know when we are violating copyright laws.”

But what can a district—particularly a large one—do to make sure it is not liable for copyright infringement?

According to Yeagley, Rochester has a stated policy about copyright violations and has voluntarily audited its own system to remove software that teachers have brought in on their own.

“Violation of the policy can result in denial of access to the computers until we have a satisfactory resolution that assures that the employee will not violate the law,” said Yeagley.

He added that his district also has provided employees with notice that if they knowingly violate the copyright laws, they may incur personal liability, because the district has provided them with adequate notice about policies and compliance. That notification is periodically renewed.

Bauer’s staff has implemented similar procedures at the Hill School.

“We manage all our licenses and insist that software cannot be installed without proof of licensing,” he said. Since the Hill School provides all students and faculty with notebook computers, Bauer’s staff also inspects all systems to make sure they are in license mode and do not order, install, or support systems without the full software bundle.

Said Bauer, “More than anything else, we talk to our students and faculty every year in our training programs, and we underscore what most of us already know in our heart of hearts—’thou shalt not steal’ is still a pretty good standard.”

Links:

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

School District of Philadelphia
http://www.phila.k12.pa.us

Salon.com
http://www.salon.com

Philadelphia Inquirer
http://inq.philly.com

Business Software Alliance
http://www.bsa.org

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Up to $2.25 million for instructional technology projects

The Corning Inc. Foundation, established in 1952, develops and administers projects in support of educational, cultural, and community organizations. Over the years, the foundation has contributed more than $83 million through its grant programs. Each year, the foundation fulfills approximately 225 grants totaling some $2.25 million. Corning’s areas of involvement have included community service programs for students, curriculum enrichment, student scholarships, facility improvement, and instructional technology projects for the classroom. The foundation also supports youth centers, YMCAs, and local chapters of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America. All requests for support must be made in writing.

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Survey: Apple likely to regain top spot in education sales

Apple Computer Inc. appears to be regaining its foothold as the most purchased computer in the K-12 education market, according to a survey by an education market research firm.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker has been fighting to boost its K-12 education sales since it lost its market share lead to Dell Computer Corp. more than a year ago.

For the upcoming school year, schools will purchase 311,896 to 447,994 Macs compared with 203,808 to 270,500 Dell systems and 118,427 to 215,705 Compaq Computer Corp. units, according to a recent survey of 421 school districts conducted by Quality Education Data (QED).

The forecast puts Apple back ahead of Dell—27 percent to 15 percent—in terms of expected unit sales. For the past two years, Denver-based QED said the survey tilted in Dell’s favor.

Dell disputed the accuracy of the latest QED survey, saying it doesn’t match other industry research.

International Data Corp. (IDC), for instance, has shown Dell as No. 1 in the units-shipped position since the last calendar quarter of 1999. Dell’s market share climbed to 34 percent as Apple’s share dropped to 22 percent in the first quarter of 2001.

“We believe we’re well-positioned to retain our leadership position in the U.S., and we don’t expect that to change,” Dell spokesman Dean Kline said.

IDC senior analyst David Daoud said his company does not issue forecasts but said preliminary data indicate Apple has picked up more sales recently with the release of its new iBook laptop computer. But, he added, “Dell is a very strong player, and it will be very difficult to dislodge it from the No. 1 spot.”

Apple acknowledged a slip in sales that contributed to a staggering net loss in the quarter that ended in December—its first non-profitable quarter in three years—and has since pledged to once again become the education leader.

“Education is in our DNA,” Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs has said publicly several times.

Hoping to revive its slumping education sales, Apple last fall rehired Cheryl Vedoe, a former vice president of Apple’s education division, to the newly-created position of vice president of education marketing and solutions, reporting directly to Jobs.

“The education market is a top priority for Apple, and we intend to regain market share beginning in 2001,” Jobs said in announcing Vedoe’s appointment. “With her extensive experience in education and technology, Cheryl is a strong addition to Apple’s education team.”

In March, Apple demonstrated its rededication to education by acquiring privately held PowerSchool Inc., a leading provider of web-based student information systems (SIS) for the K-12 market, for $62 million.

“Apple has a legacy of helping teachers teach and students learn. We are now expanding that mission to include helping schools run more effectively,” Jobs said in a company statement.

In May, Jobs announced that Virginia’s Henrico County Public Schools had purchased 23,000 iBooks, “the single largest sale of portable computers in education ever.”

And in June, Jobs further avowed his company’s dedication to the education maket as he addressed more than 13,000 educators at the National Education Computing Conference in Chicago.

Jim McVety, an analyst at Eduventures.com, said the latest figures from QED show Apple is recommitted to education despite the fact that it has lost ground to competitors.

Apple “lost [its] focus after a while. With such a large market share for so many years, it was easy to lose focus,” McVety said.

“Apple has recognized the need to address schools at the administration level, and you see that with the [company’s] acquisition of PowerSchool,” McVety said. Administrators often push the technology they’re comfortable with down to the school level, he said.

“I think we will see a greater number of marriages between hardware and software [providers],” McVety said. Apple’s acquisition of PowerSchool “was the most high profile and among the first … of that nature.”

According to QED, Apple also holds the top spot in the number of installed units. United States public schools have nearly twice as many Apple computers than computers of any other single brand. They have 2,727,018 to 3,236,798 Apple systems, compared with Dell’s 1,240,420 to 1,572,042 systems and Compaq’s 738,680 to 997,485 machines, QED reported.

Links:

Apple Computer Inc.
http://www.apple.com

Quality Education Data
http://www.qeddata.com

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

Compaq Computer Corp.
http://www.compaq.com

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Idaho educator’s high-tech mouse spurs class participation

An elementary school principal, with help from three university engineering students, has developed a wireless “network mouse” system that allows any designated student to control the cursor on a monitor at the front of the classroom.

Each student has a device similar to a laptop power pad and, when selected by the teacher, can use a fingertip to operate the classroom’s central computer. Result: Any designated student can participate in a computerized lesson without being at a computer.

The concept is the brainchild of Dennis Sonius, principal of the Morningside Elementary School in Twin Falls, Idaho. Sonius said he has always believed classroom learning could be accelerated if every student could work with the computer just as the teacher did.

“But that meant too many computers in the classroom—you’d run out of space,” he said. “And it would be too many wires. I wanted something simple, something that kids could interact with from their desks, and it had to be wireless.”

The Idaho educator could not find such a tool commercially, so he developed it himself.

Sonius already had considerable knowledge of computers. He introduced the Twin Falls School District’s first computers to Bickel Elementary School in 1980 and wrote a programming booklet for elementary students.

So he repaired to his basement and then contacted the University of Idaho for some help.

“They gave me three engineering students, who put it together for their senior projects,” he said.

In return, the students get to share in the profits from the invention once the money starts rolling in. That shouldn’t be long, now that the device—called Mousenet—has worked its way through the expensive patent process.

Sonius had little trouble rounding up investors to finance mass production by a company in Post Falls, Idaho.

The system, which uses the same kind of communication signal as a cell phone, consists of a unit that enables the teacher to punch in a signal to any designated student and a number of 3-inch-by-4-inch sturdy rectangular devices for students.

Schools can buy between eight and 32 touch pads, for $1,900 to $5,995 depending on how many touch pads they buy.

The student gadget is like a power pad on a laptop, Sonius said. Students simply use a finger to rub on the device and point to what the teacher has instructed them to point to on the computer screen at the front of the classroom.

The system was field-tested by Teacher Cathy Muus in her fifth-grade class. She applied it in an instructional program involving states and the locations of cities and land forms. Muus would show the image, call a student by number through the command block, and get an immediate student response.

“Everyone would participate,” she said. “The kids loved the concept.”

Not only were they sucked right up into the learning process, Muus said, but they were amazed their very own principal had invented the system.

“The thing I liked is that everyone could participate,” she said. “The drifters, the doodlers, the talkers—they stayed interested.”

Schools interested in purchasing Mousenet should call (208) 736-0648 for more information.

Links:

Twin Falls School District
http://www.tfsd.k12.id.us

Mouse-net LLC (web page will be accessible in late July)
http://www.mouse-net.com

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Apple recalls 570,000 adapters for PowerBook laptops

Amid reports that the units could overheat, posing a fire hazard, Apple Computer Inc. is recalling 570,000 AC adapters used with some older models of the company’s PowerBook G3 laptop computer, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced July 6.

The recall affects adapters for PowerBook G3 units shipped from May 1998 until March 2000, but not those used for the iBook or the newer Titanium PowerBook G4. The label on the side of the adapter in question reads “Macintosh PowerBook 45W AC Adapter” and “Model Number: M4402.”

Apple received six reports of the adapters overheating, though no injuries were reported. The small, rectangular black AC adapter box has a permanently attached cord on one end connecting to the computer and a detachable, two-prong cord on the other end to plug into an AC outlet.

The government agency said consumers should stop using the AC adapters immediately and contact Apple at (866) 277-2096 to receive a free replacement. Customers also can contact Apple via the web address listed below.

Customers with the recalled adapter are asked to give their laptop’s serial number and a mailing address where the replacement can be sent.

Apple spokeswoman Nathalie Welch could not say how many of the company’s K-12 education customers might be affected by the recall, but she did say the PowerBook G3 was more attractive to higher-education customers because of its higher price and more powerful features.

Two months ago, Dell Computer Corp. announced a recall of about 284,000 notebook batteries because of a flaw that caused at least one notebook to catch fire. And last October, Dell recalled as many as 27,000 notebook batteries, stating that the batteries could short circuit and cause fires.

Also in October, Compaq Computer Corp. recalled 55,000 battery packs sold with two of its notebook models because of an overheating problem.

Links:

PowerBook G3 AC Adapter Exchange Program
http://exchange.info.apple.com/exchange

“Dell recalls computer batteries, citing fire hazard” (eSchool News, October 16, 2000)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=1731

“Dell recalls more notebook batteries because of fire hazard” (eSchool News, May 4, 2001)
http://www.eschoolnews.com/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=2611

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