Travel the Grand Canyon with TrekInteractive

Students can lace up their hiking boots—and boot up their computers—for a “Grand Canyon Journey,” the latest CD-ROM field trip in the TrekInteractive Young Naturalist series, which transports students to the outdoor classrooms of the national parks.

This interactive field trip is designed to allow third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders to explore earth science while on a wilderness tour. Guided by Ben, a junior ranger, elementary students can explore a wide range of science and social studies topics related to the Grand Canyon.

Students navigate the journey through a web-browser format, gaining access to a select number of child-safe web sites. The software features “you are there” photography and factual narration that makes Grand Canyon Journey a valuable geology and history resource.

Produced in cooperation with national park educators, this series is the only “just for kids” software about America’s natural wonders, according to its maker, T.I. Multimedia. The series also features Yellowstone Journey and Everglades Journey. Each CD-ROM costs $24.95, or $69.95 for the complete set.

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Sony plug-and-play internet videoconferencing

Sony Distance Learning has released a competitively priced videoconferencing system that delivers high-quality real-time video over the internet. At 6 pounds, 10 ounces, the Contact 323 videoconferencing system is one of the smallest set-top systems available, Sony says.

The system’s easy-to-use plug-and-play design is intended to make distance-learning a snap. The unit connects to any local or wide area network and features wireless document imaging.

The Contact 323 is capable of scanning and transmitting three-dimensional objects, graphics, and computer presentations. The unit comes with a dockable camera that allows users to detach it from the base and strategically place it in the room. The camera pans, tilts, and zooms. The system also has a built-in microphone, auto-tracking motion detection, and a remote control.

“As videoconferencing becomes more mainstream, the Contact system offers the flexibility to start basic and add on as needs change,” said Glenn Adamo, vice president of videoconferencing at Sony.

Sony sells five scaleable videoconferencing models with transmission speeds ranging from 128 Kbps to 768 Kbps. The Contact 323 sells for $5,995.

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EarthWalk wireless mobile computer labs

EarthWalk Communications has developed a complete computer lab, without wires, walls, or limits. The company’s NetWize system expands upon the “computers on wheels” concept by bundling presentation equipment, training, and software into its wireless solution.

The system consists of 32 wireless eBuddy laptops, classroom management software, a SmartCart, a large-screen presentation monitor, online teacher training, and software. Within minutes of rolling the SmartCart into a classroom, students can connect to the school’s network, perform research on the internet, or use educational software, EarthWalk says.

To use the mobile classroom, teachers just plug the SmartCart into a standard electrical outlet and a single Ethernet connection. The eBuddy student laptops have a range of 1,000 feet and operate on Windows 98. They are stored and charged in the SmartCart. The NetWize system solves the problem many schools face of not having the infrastructure or resources to install computers and internet connections in every classroom.

EarthWalk, established in 1997, has gained a reputation for providing cost-effective technology resources for teachers and students. The NetWize system is completely customizable, EarthWalk said. The price ranges from $12,000 to $50,000, depending on the features selected.

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Microsoft launches new IT training program for schools

Despite a recession that has hit the economy in general and the technology sector in particular, Microsoft Corp. has announced the launch of a new information technology (IT) training and certification program for both high schools and higher education institutions.

Other providers of training and certification programs aimed at high-school students also predict a continued demand for IT training courses, despite the softening economy.

The Microsoft IT Academy program includes product licenses, faculty training at regional centers, technical support, and community-building tools—such as online seminars and newsletters—for participants. A reduced-cost membership package is available to high schools for $1,500, while a higher tier membership is offered for $5,000 per school. The total estimated value of the latter package is $27,000, Microsoft said.

The IT Academy program replaces the Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Provider program, which began in 1994. As the demands on the IT work force started to change, Microsoft received requests for changes to its training program, said Diana Carew, program manager in the company’s education solutions group. Participants asked for more faculty training and earlier access to new technology and product releases.

“We’ve packed both of these into the new [program],” said Carew.

Microsoft says students are more receptive to training when their teachers get it too. The company expects demand for its vendor-specific training to be strong among both high schools and two- and four-year colleges.

Although Microsoft admits that some schools might prefer vendor-neutral certification, the company has found that its position as an IT market leader carries weight among its client schools.

In contrast to vendor-specific programs such as Microsoft’s, 3Com Corp. offers its NetPrep program. A series of eight courses designed by WestNet, the NetPrep program provides vendor-neutral training in areas such as networking to more than 450 K-12 schools. 3Com donates the licenses for this program to participating schools.

“Our end goal is to train students for IT and networking [jobs],” said Bill Swift, marketing director for education at 3Com.

Joe Scullion is vice president of WestNet, 3Com’s partner in the NetPrep venture. He believes that, as the recession deepens, schools will shy away from vendor-specific programs because they are too narrow, while programs that are vendor-neutral and linked to college degree programs—such as NetPrep—will continue to experience growth.

“[People are] nervous of product training,” he said.

But Microsoft reports no softening of demand for its certification programs. “We’re not finding that at all,” said Carew. She contends that “certification is a new credential. … Employers certainly value [certification].”

Her conclusions are borne out by a report last year from the U.S. Department of Education, which found that, while one in five IT job advertisements indicate a degree is required, one in eight want ads indicate that a certification is a “plus.”

At the time of the report, an estimated 1.9 million IT certifications had been awarded nationwide, the majority of those since 1997. The report indicates that IT certification is becoming a parallel industry to higher education for those seeking a leg up in the job market.

IT job openings have decreased in the past year, but estimates still place the number of vacancies around 400,000 nationwide. And while the number of positions is declining, the pool of workers is as well.

Because of the severity of the work-force shortage, Carew said, the United States government has been more generous in the granting of H1B visas, which allow foreign nationals into the country to work. After the attacks on Sept. 11, security concerns might lead to increased restrictions, thus forcing businesses to rely more on a home-grown work force.

Training and certification programs such as those offered by Microsoft and 3Com attract strong interest from schools in areas that traditionally are isolated from technology, such as rural and American Indian schools. “I’ve heard from a number of American Indian schools,” said Swift. “This is a way to get back to what’s going on [in technology].”

Although both the Microsoft IT Academy and the 3Com/WestNet NetPrep programs are aimed at students who plan to continue their study at the postsecondary level, the companies involved say the programs are a good investment for schools to make even for students who will enter the job market immediately after high school.

Students who leave the IT Academy program after high school “do have the skills” to be competitive in the job market, Carew said.

The 3Com/WestNet NetPrep program is designed as a “two plus two” program, linking eleventh and twelfth grade participants with local community colleges. The Microsoft IT Academy program is open to all accredited high schools and institutions of higher education.

Another vendor-specific program, similar to the Microsoft offering, is the Cisco Networking Academy. The Cisco program offers fee-based training for students and teachers at high schools and colleges in all 50 states.

Links:

Microsoft IT Academy
http://www.microsoftitacademy.com

3Com Corp.
http://www.3com.com

Cisco Systems Inc.
http://www.cisco.com

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Some schools revisit cell-phone bans after 9-11

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest some schools, in the wake of the terrorist attacks just over two months ago, are reexamining their attitudes towards students using cell phones. The following report takes a closer look at this emerging phenomenon:

As students rushed to get in touch with their parents in the anxious hours after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Principal Ann Monday decided she had bigger worries than enforcing her school’s ban on cellular phones.

The attacks have led school officials to reconsider long-standing bans on cell phones and pagers during school hours.

“Enforcing a cell phone ban was not on our agenda” that day at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va., Monday said. “Taking care of the emotional needs of our students was.”

When word spread of an airliner crashing into the Pentagon, just 14 miles away, the phones began appearing everywhere. “The reality was that many kids are carrying around phones, and carrying them around responsibly,” Monday said.

In early November, her school district decided to let students carry cell phones, which must be kept off during school hours. But Fairfax County isn’t alone in its policy shift.

Judy Seltz of the American Association of School Administrators said superintendents are reporting a “fairly low-key” shift toward loosening restrictions since Sept. 11.

“Pagers and cell phones are not the oddity they were five years ago. I think it’s harder for schools to make an issue of something that’s so commonplace these days,” she said.

Knox Bricken, an analyst with the Yankee Group, a Boston technology research company, said that after the attack as many as 2 million people bought cell phones.

She said a recent survey found that 32 percent of children ages 10 to 19 use cell phones, compared with 25 percent last year. Overall, 42 percent of Americans use cell phones, Bricken said. Her company predicts that in 2003, more than half the youngsters and adults in the country each will have cell phones.

In Boston and several New York suburbs, students may keep cell phones with parental permission. Other cities maintain a virtual “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, hoping students will keep the devices quiet so teachers do not have to confiscate them.

School districts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and other big cities are retaining their bans for now. Officials say cell phones and pagers are a distraction and easily can be used for drug deals or bomb threats—the reason most often cited for the bans in the first place.

In California, the principal of James Monroe High School in North Hills wants the Legislature to repeal a statewide ban. Gregory J. Vallone estimates that as many as 70 percent of his 4,600 students carry cell phones. Penalizing most students because a few still use them for illegal means is not practical or fair, he said.

In Maryland, several school districts moved to drop their cell phone bans this fall after the Legislature struck down a statewide ban for most of the state’s 24 school districts.

Dana Dembrow, the lawmaker who sponsored the repeal, said the 1987 ban “was overkill in the extreme.” He called it a throwback to a time when only drug dealers had the devices.

“Parents want to be able to get in touch with their kids on an immediate basis,” said Bob Gardner, PTA president at the Fairfax school.

Last month, the school board in Montgomery County, Md., voted unanimously to let high school students have cell phones if the devices are turned off during school hours.

Dustin Jeter, a senior at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Md., said virtually all of his friends carried cell phones even before the ban was lifted.

“A lot of teachers and administrators were put in a hard place, because if they saw it, they’d have to decide whether to suspend a student for a couple of days or just look the other way,” he said.

Jeter said cell phones were invaluable after the attacks because local phone lines were clogged. “I think it was just a matter of getting in touch with family, letting them know that everything was OK, trying to make plans for where they would be meeting,” he said.

According to a survey conducted before the Sept. 11 attacks by International Communications Research, 60 percent of teens aged 13 to 19 said their schools forbid them from bringing in beepers and 55 percent said their schools prohibit the use of cell phones.

Links:

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

Yankee Group
http://www.yankeegroup.com

International Communications Research
http://icrsurvey.com/icr/index.htm

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TSSA: Final tech standards will ’empower administrators’

Drawing on advice from more than 2,000 educators, policy makers, and industry representatives, a collaborative of education leaders on Nov. 8 issued a comprehensive set of concrete and specific technology leadership guidelines to assist the nation’s school administrators.

A preliminary draft of the standards was issued last March (see “Here’s what it takes to be tech savvy,” April), and the final version of the standards followed nearly nine months of fine-tuning.

The Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA) identify what administrators need to know about successful technology integration and advise them on how to prudently and effectively manage technology resources to ensure both efficiency and impact.

“Administrators play a pivotal role in determining how well technology is used in our schools. In order for teachers and students to fully use technology to achieve academic goals, they need the support and vision of tech-savvy administrators,” said Jim Bosco, chairman of the TSSA Collaborative. “These standards will empower administrators to provide strong technology leadership.”

TSSA’s creators hope to follow the success of the two-year-old National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for students and teachers. Those standards were developed by a group of educators—assembled by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)—to help integrate technology at the classroom level.

TSSA was developed through a grassroots process in which numerous practicing administrators, policy makers, association leaders, and industry representatives provided input on the early draft of the standards. Those comments were examined and used to formulate the final version of the TSSA, released during a National School Boards Association (NSBA) technology conference in Atlanta.

“We thought it important to ensure that these standards represent a national consensus among all educational stakeholders rather than the top-down views of a few experts,” said ISTE’s Don Knezek, the TSSA project director.

The TSSA report lists six primary standards school administrators should adhere to. Each standard has a corresponding set of performance indicators for all school administrators. Additionally, tasks related to the standards are identified for three job roles: superintendents, district-level leaders for content-specific or other district programs, and principals and assistant principals.

Here are the six areas defined by the collaborative:

1. Leadership and Vision. This standard urges schools administrators to provide leadership by developing and promoting both a long-range vision and a comprehensive plan to integrate technology in schools and districts.

2. Learning and Teaching. This standard encourages education leaders to ensure the successful infusion of technology into all aspects of teaching and learning by attending to issues such as curricular design, instructional strategies, learning environments, and appropriate technology purchases.

3. Productivity and Professional Practice. This standard recommends that school leaders make use of technology in their own work to improve school management, collaboration, communication, and their own professional development.

4. Support, Management, and Operations. This standard is focused on the administrator’s activities in planning for all aspects of technology implementation, including technology compatibility, budgetary, staffing, technical support, and technology upgrade issues.

5. Assessment and Evaluation. This standard pertains to the administrator’s activities involving the assessment and data-gathering capabilities of technology to improve student learning, professional development, and administrative and operational systems.

6. Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues. This standard highlights the need for school leaders to (a) comprehend and develop policies about social, legal, and ethical issues associated with the use of technology, (b) communicate these policies to staff and students, and (c) enforce the polices when necessary.

“Over the last two decades the role of school leadership has evolved from being managers of buildings to facilitating and challenging the direction of instructional objectives and goals,” said David Rawls, superintendent of the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, schools.

“Given this transformation, today’s administrators must be able to seamlessly integrate technology into the learning environment and curriculum,” he said. “Technology will not only assist school leaders when assessing the impact of their efforts, but it will enable them to utilize data management systems to maximize technology investments to reach educational goals.”

Here is a list of the TSSA Collaborative members: American Association of School Administrators (AASA), National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals , NSBA, Association of Education Service Agencies, ISTE, Consortium for School Networking, North Central Regional Technology Consortium @ North Central Regional Education Laboratory, Southern Regional Educational Board, Kentucky Department of Education, Mississippi Department of Education, University of North Carolina Principals’ Executive Program, and Western Michigan University College of Education.

According to AASA’s executive director, Paul Houston, the new standards “represent a nationwide consensus on what school administrators need to know to promote the effective use of technology from the classroom to the central office.”

“These standards will also provide a benchmark for superintendents to measure the integration of technology into existing and future systemic reforms,” he said.

Links:

Technology Standards for School Administrators
http://cnets.iste.org/tssa

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Pending HP/Compaq deal draws family fire

The pending acquisition of Compaq Computer by Hewlett-Packard (HP) will go forward as announced, company representatives have assured eSchool News. They expect the deal to be completed by early spring. But in the weeks since the acquisition was first announced, the proposed pact has met with increasing criticism.

The ultimate outcome of the pending merger is important to school leaders because Compaq and HP are leading providers of technology equipment in education.

Much of the criticism of the deal comes from members of the Hewlett and Packard families. On Nov. 12, it was revealed that Walter Hewlett, the son of the Hewlett-Packard co-founder William Hewlett, has hired MacKenzie Partners, a proxy solicitation firm. This move could signal the start of a proxy fight between the Hewlett family and the company over its proposed acquisition of Compaq.

Hewlett has not decided whether he will solicit proxies against the deal, a spokeswoman told the Reuters news service on Nov. 11, but he hired the firm to “preserve his options.”

A week earlier, Hewlett said the family’s trust, which owns about a 5 percent stake in the company, would vote against the transaction.

The David and Lucille Packard Foundation, which owns an additional 10 percent of the company, said it would decide later whether to support the deal.

On Nov. 9, the company said it would delay its December meeting with financial analysts until early next year, adding that it made the decision to do so before family members came out against the deal. Even before the family objections surfaced, Hewlett-Packard chairwoman and chief executive Carly Fiorina was fighting hard to win support for her $21 billion plan to acquire Compaq Computer Corp. Fiorina faces the increasing possibility the acquisition will fall through, putting her job at risk, the Associate Press has reported. And even if HP shareholders do vote for the deal, her leadership has been questioned at a difficult time, the wire service said.

“Clearly it’s a lot more challenging now,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst with Sanford Bernstein & Co.

“Not only do (the Hewlett and Packard sons) have voting power, they have influence power because they are the family and the founders are fairly highly revered. More importantly, it sets in motion a more open forum for other shareholders to start voicing their opinion about the deal.”

Walter Hewlett said Compaq would give HP too much exposure to low-margin personal computers and dilute its valuable printing franchise. Hewlett, the eldest son of co-founder William Hewlett, is a member of HP’s board.

Then co-founder David Packard’s son, David W. Packard, whose Packard Humanities Institute has 1.3 percent of HP’s shares, said he agreed, and sharply criticized HP’s Fiorina approach to running the company.

“For some time I have been skeptical about management’s confidence that it can aggressively reinvent HP culture overnight – a culture that developed over many years and was thoroughly tested under all kinds of business conditions,” Packard said. “While change is necessary and inevitable, it does not follow that every innovation is an improvement.”

David W. Packard is not on the board of the charitable foundation his parents launched in 1964, which owns more than 10 percent of HP stock, making it the largest shareholder. Two sisters are on the board, however.

That organization is still undecided about the Compaq acquisition. The stakes are huge – roughly $4 billion of the foundation’s $5 billion in assets are tied up in HP stock.

Analysts say that if Hewlett and Packard family holdings are voted against the deal, the chances of approval would drop significantly. A date for a shareholder vote has not been set.

George Vera, the Packard Foundation’s chief financial officer, said he expects the organization will take at least a month to make its decision, in consultation with outside advisers.

HP’s full board of directors, except for Walter Hewlett, released a statement Nov. 7 saying it “unequivocally” backs Fiorina. Compaq’s board also reiterated its support for the deal.

“The board thoroughly analyzed this transaction and unanimously concluded this is the very best way to deliver the value our shareowners expect,” said Dick Hackborn, HP’s former chairman and executive vice president – and a member of the Hewlett family foundation’s board.

That and similar emphatic statements from HP’s directors have led Sacconaghi to believe that Fiorina’s job would not necessarily be in jeopardy if the Compaq deal falls apart.

Fiorina did not discuss these recent developments during a speech Nov. 7 in Los Angeles, though she said in response to an audience question that she is more focused on ensuring HP’s long-term financial health than on short-term issues.

“Doing that requires the courage of one’s convictions, but’s that’s also the CEO’s job,” she said. She declined to comment to reporters afterward.

Links:

Hewlett-Packard Co.
http://www.hp.com

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

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Aspiring Rangers of Any Age Can Ask the Experts About the Amazing World of Dinosaurs

For the first time since the launch of its JPI Rangers Club, education.com will be hosting four separate live chats in November, one with world-famous paleontologist Dr. Robert T. Bakker and three others with fellow dinosaur experts. Club members can interact, ask questions, express opinions and share prehistoric ideas and theories with well-known dinosaur experts within a monitored and secure online environment. Education.com’s JPI Rangers Club brings together online a comprehensive set of games, activities, creative tools, stories and articles that are fueled by content addressing the real science of paleontology.

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ATI Technologies All-In-Wonder 128

Educators wondering how to incorporate multimedia elements seamlessly into the curriculum have a powerful new tool with ATI’s All-In-Wonder PC upgrade card. The All-In-Wonder product can be installed easily into any Pentium computer. It enables teachers to output video from the computer to a video screen, capture stills of live motion video from the web or television, and edit footage for use in the classroom.

All-In-Wonder 128 includes an intelligent TV-tuner with a digital VCR, 128 bit 3-D graphics acceleration, true color gaming, video output to a TV or VCR, still image and MPEG-2 motion video capture, video editing, hardware DVD video playback, and up to 32 MB of memory.

A number of educational applications for the device already have been tested in the classroom. For example, a high school physics teacher in Schenectady, N.Y., helps his students learn by incorporating video footage of everyday physics principles into his class. He uses a camcorder to shoot video of a garden hose being held at different angles depending on where the water is supposed to fall, then downloads the video to the computer in his classroom using All-In-Wonder and outputs the video to a LCD screen for display.

The upgrade card requires Windows 95 or 98, a Pentium chip, a sound card supported by Windows 95 or 98, a CD-ROM drive, and a DVD-ROM drive for DVD playback.

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Digital Innovations’ DataDoctor

With the explosion of compact discs and digital video discs, many technology users are experiencing problems with damaged and scratched discs. After more than five years of research, Digital Innovations has released DataDoctor, the first CD and DVD scratch repair kit, according to the company. Intended to save users money on replacing damaged discs, DataDoctor was designed by a former NASA scientist and an experienced consumer products engineer and has won the prestigious “Design Distinction” award from ID Magazine. DataDoctor’s machine-provided control makes it easy even for novices to repair discs without risk of damaging the CD further or dealing with messy paste repair kits, according to Digital Innovations. The company offers a lifetime warranty: if DataDoctor fails to perform to specifications for any reason, the consumer can return it to the company for free repair or replacement. Units carry a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $34.99, and certified retailers can be identified on the company’s web site.

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