High school student helps launch internet telescope network

If most high school students ever get to see the Horsehead Nebula, it’s by looking at a book, or a slide in science class.

But thanks to a telescope network spearheaded in part by a Pennsylvania youth, students from across the country now can view the nebula and countless other formations from any internet-connected computer.

Schuylkill Valley High School sophomore Ryan Hannahoe punches coordinates on a keyboard, and waits a few moments for a telescope under crystal-clear New Mexico skies to swing toward the dramatic dust cloud marked on astronomical charts as M33.

Back in Pennsylvania, where lights from Leesport and nearby Reading would make such observing impossible, Hannahoe keys in commands to set the telescope’s digital camera for a 200-second exposure. Fifteen exposures later, he has downloaded enough data to create a magazine-quality image of the horse-like formation in the constellation Orion.

Hannahoe made the picture of one of amateur astronomers’ favorite targets by remote control, 1,500 miles from the telescope site in the Southwest, via a Student Telescope Network he has helped to create.

“This is a big move for amateur astronomy,” said Hannahoe, 16, chairman of the Youth Activity Committee of the Astronomical League, a national coalition of astronomy groups. “Amateur astronomy is dying because of light pollution. There are not that many kids involved.”

“The typical school has nothing at all, they look at a picture in a book. The labs that we do, they’re on paper,” he said. “Here, we’re taking a picture and doing actual research, which is really cool, basically learning to be an astronomer.”

The students are learning to observe the way professional astronomers in search of dark skies often do, using automated facilities built in remote corners of the earth or, in the case of the Hubble telescope, in space.

Hannahoe worked with professor Robert Stencel at the University of Denver, the Software Bisque astronomy software company, and the New Mexico Skies astronomy resort to develop the student network.

In a pilot project that started in February, about 500 student groups from the United States, Canada, Mexico, and as far away as Australia and China have used it, he said.

Software Bisque, in Golden, Colo., developer of astronomy software and a robotic telescope system, has been working with New Mexico Skies to create a remote telescope network to lease observing time to institutions such as universities and community colleges for astronomy teaching, as well as to amateur astronomers on an hourly basis.

Mike Rice, owner of New Mexico Skies, said the service will be especially valuable for schools in urban areas with skies too brightly lit for observatories to function. Meanwhile, Stencel helped obtain a grant to connect one telescope at the resort to the free network for high-school students in a pilot project lasting from February to May.

“Ryan and I over the past two to three years have been conspiring about ways to get more young people more access to telescopes,” said the professor, familiar with Hannahoe from Astronomical League activities.

“A lot of students have trouble seeing a constellation, let alone an object such as a galaxy. In big cities, light pollution can be a big issue,” Stencel said. He added, “It sure is great to be able to observe from the comfort of an office rather than being up on the roof freezing.”

Rice said New Mexico Skies is far away from big city lights: 100 miles north of El Paso, 160 miles south of Albuquerque, 16 miles from Cloudcroft, N.M., population 592, “with a mountain range in between,” and three miles from Mayhill, N.M., population nine.

“There are not shopping centers in Mayhill,” he said. “We have a very dark location with pristine skies … and 260 clear nights a year. You see the center of our galaxy—the summer Milky Way—and more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Wherever they live, young astronomers can log on to the student network, view a star chart, type in the name or coordinates of M31, the Andromeda galaxy next to ours; M33, the Pinwheel Galaxy; M51, a dramatic swirl of two galaxies, or any area they want.

The Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with 14-inch mirror tracks on its robotic mount; the state-of-the-art, charge-coupled device digital camera, with its extremely light-sensitive 11/2-inch square computer chip, senses the image; and the student downloads the digital image at home.

The network is the latest of many projects for Hannahoe, who said his curiosity about astronomy was fired by dramatic photos of pieces of Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet fragments crashing into Jupiter in 1994. As a child, he said, “I thought, ‘How can I do this? How far is that? And can we travel there?'”

He’s been making telescopes since age 13, and belongs to seven astronomy groups including the Schuylkill Valley Youth Astronomers, which he founded, and the Berks County Amateur Astronomical Society.

Hannahoe downloaded the first brilliant test images from the New Mexico Skies telescope in January on the PC in a spare bedroom at his home.

“It was Friday, Jan. 11, at 11 p.m. EST. It was like, ‘Yes!'” he said.

Stencel is increasingly busy coordinating the use of the network, granting two-hour blocks to students who register on the web site. He said grants will be sought to continue and expand the network when the pilot project money runs out.

Hannahoe said he would like to add a dozen telescopes at New Mexico Skies, one in the mountains of Bolivia in clear seeing conditions at 17,000 feet, and one in Australia to the network.

Gary Becker, director of the Allentown, Pa., School District’s planetarium, has had student enthusiasts join him for nighttime sessions on the telescope network, sometimes until midnight.

By providing nighttime images during daytime in the Western hemisphere, Becker said, “The instrument in Australia is going to allow us in North America to use the Student Telescope Network as an in-school device.”

Possible student projects include observing the “light curves” of asteroids, the changing brilliance of reflected light that lets observers calculate the speed and direction of an asteroid’s spin, Becker and Hannahoe said.

Just inside Hannahoe’s front door is an instrument that won him a prize at a telescope-builder’s event, a 6-foot shining black fiberglass tube with a 10-inch mirror and aluminum fittings cradled on a wooden stand.

At night, Hannahoe and his friends often take it out in his hilltop yard overlooking Leesport, on the Schuylkill River 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia, to do some observing.

Lately, he said, “I use the internet telescope more.”

Links:

Student Telescope Network
http://www.youthinastronomy.org

New Mexico Skies
http://www.nmskies.com

Software Bisque
http://www.bisque.com

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AI tutoring technology hits the classroom

Holt, Rinehart, and Winston plans to offer Quantum Intelligent Tutors for high school chemistry, high school physical science, high school integrated science and middle school physical science over the internet. This strategic initiative will give your students a robust e-learning curriculum along with textbooks, providing a complete, integrated multi-media learning experience for teachers and students.

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Groups ask Congress to keep funding for assistive technology

Congress should renew a law that provides funding to help disabled students and adults get access to assistive technologies, according to witnesses who testified before a House Education and Workforce subcommittee March 21.

At stake is more than $60 million in funding under a federal program called the Assistive Technology Act. Administered by the Education Department’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, the program gives seed money to states for various assistive technology projects, such as information and referral services, demonstration projects, and purchasing or refurbishment of equipment for people with disabilities.

Authorization of the act expires in fiscal year 2004, and next year 23 states are scheduled to be eliminated from funding under the act’s sunset provision.

The House Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness held the first in a series of hearings March 21 to provide legislators with information on the program’s effectiveness as they ultimately decide its fate.

The hearing testimony “will help the subcommittee assess whether these federal assistive technology programs have fulfilled their original purpose,” said subcommittee chair Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.

They have, according to the witnesses who testified.

“The flexibility of the [program] has allowed each state to prioritize its assistive technology needs and uniquely develop strategies to meet those needs,” said Mark Schultz, director of the Nebraska Department of Education’s Assistive Technology Partnership.

He added: “The bottom line is that more and more of the 50 million individuals with a disability in the United States are getting and using assistive technology to live independently, go to school and work, and participate in their communities than before the [act] was created.”

Schultz said 31 percent of his agency’s yearly budget, or about $380,000, currently comes from the Assistive Technology Act, which has made a difference for many disabled children enrolled in Nebraska schools. Its funds help operate the Nebraska Educational Assistive Technology Center, which in turn provides technical assistance, discount purchasing, and equipment loans and recycling to schools and students.

“Last year, the [center] provided information, training, and support to 5,400 educators, parents, and related service providers,” Schultz said.

Schools that have used the center’s discount purchasing process have saved $90,000 during the last three years, and the use of loaner devices has saved school districts an estimated $80,000, he said.

“These services did not exist prior to the [act],” said Schultz.

Carol Novak, mother of a 26-year-old son with cerebral palsy, told lawmakers that a variety of assistive technologies help her son live a more independent and productive life—including a power wheelchair for mobility, an augmentative communication device, and word prediction software for computer access. Novak said the principal source of funding for such equipment in the case of school-age children is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), provided a student’s individual education plan calls for assistive technology.

But “even when a person is eligible for [IDEA], it is often difficult to get funding approval for the purchase of assistive technology—challenging battles and long waiting periods are typical,” she said. “For this reason, I support continued funding [to state agencies under the Assistive Technology Act] to advocate for people’s assistive technology needs.”

Citing the importance of congressional leadership, Paul Rasinski, executive director of the Maryland Technology Assistance Program, said he and his colleagues “believe that the federal leadership role provides the infrastructure and the seed money to leverage a great range of programs and services that are critical to people with disabilities.”

William N. Ward, executive director of the Virginia-based Independent Empowerment Center, said the independence that assistive technology projects offer to people who are disabled is critical.

Ward also noted the importance of loan programs funded through the act. One such program, the Virginia Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority, helped Ward, who is confined to a wheelchair, purchase the specially-equipped van he needs to get around.

“Both [assistive technology] projects and loan programs are critical to independence and helping consumers acquire needed technology and making informed choices,” said Ward.

Though the Assistive Technology Act is not scheduled for reauthorization until 2004, a spokeswoman for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce said there will be three or four more hearings regarding assistive technology over the next year.

Links:

House Committee on Education and the Workforce
http://edworkforce.house.gov

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/NIDRR

Nebraska’s Assistive Technology Partnership
http://www.nde.state.ne.us/ATP/TECHome.html

Nebraska Educational Assistive Technology Center
http://www.neatinfo.net

Virginia Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority
http://www.atlfa.org

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Pennsylvania law requires ISPs to block child pornography

Starting next month, internet service providers (ISPs) with customers in Pennsylvania will be legally responsible for blocking access to child pornography.

The law, with maximum penalties including prison time for repeat offenders, is believed to be the first of its kind. But by putting the onus on the state attorney general’s office to notify ISPs of what should be blocked, the law is expected to have limited success.

“This is a community that already knows it is on the edges of legality and, as a result, [purveyors of child pornography] don’t do things to bring attention to themselves,” said Chris Hunter, a free-speech researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

Under the law, signed last month, prosecutors would give ISPs a list of web sites and other items to block after obtaining a court order.

But child pornographers—many of whom operate from overseas—can quickly move to other sites. Child porn sites are generally temporary fixtures that disappear after a few hours anyway, said John Philip Jenkins, a Penn State professor who has researched internet pornography issues.

“There’s probably more out there than anybody knows, but this [law] probably won’t be an effective way of doing anything about it,” Jenkins said.

The law carries penalties of $5,000 for the first offense and $20,000 for the second. After that, violators are subject to fines of $30,000 and up to seven years imprisonment.

The law has the blessing of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Larry Frankel, the chapter’s executive director, said someone whose material is cut off could seek a court hearing.

But ISPs consider the law impractical from a technical standpoint.

“Once you use my service to get on the internet, I have no way of controlling where you go and what you see,” said Sue Ashdown, director of the American Internet Service Provider Association, an organization of small ISPs.

ISPs serve as conduits and do not actually control content—just as the postal service delivers letters without knowing what’s inside the envelopes.

The law does not require ISPs to actively monitor their service—only to block specific sites or services when notified. But more technically astute users can often bypass blocks by using so-called proxy services.

And while some ISPs now market themselves as “family friendly,” they often do so by restricting access to legitimate sites as well.

Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said the agency plans to expand its child sexual exploitation unit and will monitor the internet for sites that traffic in child pornography.

Two years ago, a congressional commission called for law enforcement agencies to develop a list of web sites, newsgroups, and other internet destinations that contain child pornography.

The commission;s own lists indicated that about 100,000 web sites show simulated or real child pornography.

Three federal laws aimed at restricting pornography—involving minors or otherwise—have all been challenged.

One was overturned, another is pending before the Supreme Court, and a third is scheduled for a trial in Philadelphia this month. None requires ISPs to do the blocking.

Officials at America Online and the National Conference of State Legislatures said they knew of no other state law like Pennsylvania’s.

A South Dakota law merely requires employees of ISPs to report any child pornography to law-enforcement officials, while South Carolina has a law requiring the same of computer-repair technicians—including school IT personnel.

Links:

Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General
http://www.attorneygeneral.gov

American Civil Liberties Union
http://www.aclu.org

American Internet Service Provider Association
http://www.americanisps.org

National Conference of State Legislatures
http://www.ncsl.org

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HP to Compaq: Houston, we don’t have a problem

Hewlett-Packard Co. chief executive Carly Fiorina claimed to have enough support for the company’s $20 billion purchase of Compaq Computer Corp., after a contentious proxy battle ended with the final voting of HP shareholders March 19.

If Fiorina is correct, the mega-merger’s effects are sure to be felt by the school technology field. Together, the two companies account for 11 percent of the installed base of computers in K-12 schools, according to market research firm Quality Education Data.

HP director Walter Hewlett, who led a fierce five-month campaign against the deal, insisted the shareholder vote was too close to call, especially since investors can change their minds several times, with only their last ballot counting.

But Fiorina said HP’s proxy solicitor had assured her the company would have enough votes to win.

“We think we have a slim but sufficient margin, and we think it’s important to let people know that,” she said.

It will take several weeks to determine the official result of what appeared to be the closest corporate election in years. Independent proxy counters must verify each vote, and each side can challenge whether the proper people signed certain ballots.

No such drama was likely in Houston, where Compaq shareholders are expected to approve the deal overwhelmingly March 20 because the company has been struggling and HP is paying a premium for its shares.

Once both shareholders’ votes are certified, HP and Compaq then can begin working together. Compaq chief financial officer Jeff Clarke said he expects the deal to take three weeks to close.

“We are very close to making this merger a reality,” said Compaq CEO Michael Capellas, who would be No. 2 at the new HP.

HP’s claim of victory came as somewhat of a surprise, because when the day began, nearly one-fourth of HP shares were publicly in Hewlett’s camp and less than 10 percent had come out in favor of the deal. But HP had claimed for a while to have a “silent majority.”

HP and Compaq say the deal is essential for their survival in the consolidating computing industry. They believe that together they can dramatically improve their end-to-end packages for corporate customers, improve their slumping personal-computer divisions, and generate $2.5 billion a year in cost savings.

Hewlett contends HP is overpaying for Compaq, would get bogged down selling low-margin personal computers and services, and shouldn’t risk the complex integration of the companies’ huge organizations.

That disagreement became one of the most intriguing episodes in high-tech history, largely because HP is one of Silicon Valley’s marquee institutions and its late founders are revered as visionary engineers.

Fiorina, who was hired to lead the giant computer and printer maker in 1999 and ordered to shake up the company, had staked her reputation on the deal and was expected to resign if it failed.

She had to overcome an initially hostile reaction from Wall Street after the Compaq deal was announced on Sept. 3, and then the opposition of Hewlett and Packard family interests with 18 percent of HP stock. Several large pension funds also opposed the deal.

“She took a strong position based on what she believed in, and it’s to her credit that she followed through whether she wins or loses,” said Forrester Research analyst Charles Rutstein. “This has been a polarizing battle.”

With the stakes so high, HP and Walter Hewlett each spent tens of millions of dollars to deluge HP’s 900,000 shareholders with letters, advertisements, telemarketers’ phone calls, and multiple ballots.

Many customers have told independent surveys they worry they’ll be neglected while HP and Compaq figure out how to work together.

On the other hand, some big Compaq and HP clients have offered high praise for the deal. And the companies contend customers have nothing to fear because the merger is being planned better than any in recent memory.

Patricia Dunn, chief executive of Barclays Global Investors, said she always thought buying Compaq would strengthen HP’s technology products for businesses, but worried whether HP could come up with an integration plan that would work.

She became sold after seeing how the 900 HP and Compaq employees planning the integration have studied what went wrong in failed mergers, and made clear decisions on which products and brands will survive and how the new HP’s sales and service organizations will work if the deal is approved.

“It’s been: ‘Make tough decisions, make it clear which way we’re going, and then get on with it,'” Dunn said in an interview with the Associated Press. “I think they can pull it off.”

Although HP traditionally has focused more on the business market than on education, Compaq education customers who spoke with eSchool News said they weren’t concerned about the pending merger.

“The information we have from Compaq is that we do not expect any significant change in the services or products they are providing to us,” said Daniel New, executive director of technology program management for the Richardson Independent School District in Texas. “I don’t expect any impact on the services we receive.”

Compaq provides a full turnkey solution for Richardson ISD’s approximately 16,000 computers, including delivery, installation, and maintenance. The district’s agreement with Compaq, worth between $30 million and $35 million over five years, is scheduled to continue through August 2006.

New said he expects Compaq will take “the existing organizations that support us—the laptop and desktop manufacturing and distribution service organizations—and merge them into HP as they are now. Bottom line: We expect the merger to be transparent to the support they provide us.”

Links:

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

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

Pro-merger site
http://www.votethehpway.com

Opposition site
http://www.votenohpcompaq.com

Richardson Independent School District
http://www.richardson.k12.tx.us

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Report: Digital literacy is essential for students

Two prominent foundations have declared that the world needs to set new standards for what it means to be literate in the 21st century.

“For the first time in a long time, we must ask ourselves what it means to be literate, what it takes to achieve this, and how technology will play an essential role,” stated a white paper called “21st Century Literacy in a Convergent Media World.” The Bertelsmann Foundation and the AOL Time Warner Foundation released the paper at the 21st Century Literacy Summit in Berlin March 7 and 8.

The two foundations hosted the summit to start a “transatlantic dialogue” on the topic of digital literacy. The summit attracted more than 300 policy makers, business leaders, media experts, and academics from approximately 35 countries.

“The internet has the power to truly engage people by transforming education from a passive, one-way process to an exciting, interactive learning experience that connects people all over the world,” said Steve Case, chairman of AOL Time Warner Inc. and of the company’s foundation. But “meeting the challenges … to equip individuals with 21st-century literacy skills requires leaders with extraordinary commitment, courage, and a clear vision.”

Case presented the white paper along with Gerd Schulte-Hillen, vice chairman of the Bertelsmann Foundation’s executive board. Other summit attendees included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, German Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and Spanish Prime Minister and European Union Council President Jose Maria Aznar.

According to the paper, “Information and communication technologies are raising the bar on the competencies needed to succeed in the 21st century, and they are compelling us to revisit many of our assumptions and beliefs.”

In today’s society, people need to be able to do more than just read, write, and do math, the paper said. New technologies—like computers and the internet—require different skill sets, such as reading graphs, searching databases, and thinking critically. How do different search engines work? How does one tell good information from bad?

The paper identifies education, the work place, and civic engagement as the major areas that create digital literacy challenges. “Despite an awareness that schools and teachers must change to help students develop the necessary skills, most educational efforts fall short of achieving this goal,” it says about education.

The paper recommends that schools around the world set the following priorities for teaching and learning:

  • Students should learn the basics first—such as reading, writing, math, and science—to create a strong foundation for digital literacy.
  • Once students have mastered reading and writing, they should learn to use all forms of media with ease.
  • Students need to learn how to use new technologies to gather, organize, and evaluate information for problem solving and innovation, not just regurgitating facts.
  • New technologies enable self-directed, at-your-own-pace learning, so students must acquire discipline and be willing to take control of their own learning.
  • Using technology, students can reach beyond their classrooms to engage in collaborative learning experiences and should be encouraged to do so.
  • Students should be taught to use technology responsibly, thoughtfully, and creatively. Students should also know how to protect their safety, security, and privacy online.
  • Schools should monitor how the use of the internet in classrooms makes learning easier.

In regard to education policy, the paper recommends:

  • Schools must find adequate funding to maintain their technology infrastructure, as well as provide equal access to technology for all students.
  • The education community should use only those technologies that make learning more productive and effective. In addition, more “adequate pedagogical concepts, as well as effective learning software,” need to be developed.
  • To help students learn these new literacy skills, teachers must be trained first to integrate technology effectively into the curriculum.

In their charitable contributions, the two foundations have aimed to identify best practices from around the world that effectively address developing 21st-century skills—but their research demonstrates that digital literacy requires an ongoing commitment.

The foundations also noted that rapid technological developments and expanding globalization require people to update their knowledge and skills continually.

“No one should assume that the skills acquired during school and career training will remain adequate to meet tomorrow’s demands,” said Schulte-Hillen. “Lifelong learning must become the new educational standard.”

Links:

AOL Time Warner Foundation
http://aoltimewarnerfoundation.org

Bertelsmann Foundation
http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/index.cfm?lan=en

21st Century Literacy Summit
http://www.21stcenturyliteracy.org

“21st Century Literacy in a Convergent Media World”
http://www.21stcenturyliteracy.org/white/WhitePaperEnglish.pdf

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The First Amendment Schools project

The First Amendment Schools project, in partnership with the Education Program at Newsweek, is hosting a three-day professional development workshop for teachers from July 12-14, 2002. All workshop-related expenses, including travel and lodging, will be provided to 30 teachers. Applicants must be full-time classroom teachers during the 2002/2003 school year in the United States. Teachers selected will be expected to participate in an ongoing evaluation of the program and materials during the school year, and present at least one workshop or professional development activity for teachers in their home community/state during the 2002/2003 school year on the First Amendment in schools.

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Study touts classroom benefits of handheld computers

Despite their small size and more limited computing power, handheld computers can improve classroom teaching practices and aid in student learning, according to more than 100 teachers who were given the devices through a $2.3 million grant program from Palm Inc.

In a study of the Palm Education Pioneer (PEP) program’s effectiveness, independent research firm SRI International surveyed participating teachers and students, made a small number of site visits, and looked at data collected from 86 grant projects in all. The results from the study were released March 6 at the Florida Educational Technology Conference in Orlando.

Ninety-six percent of the teachers surveyed said they believe handheld computers are an effective instructional tool, and 93 percent agreed that “having a classroom set of handheld devices will have a positive effect on my teaching practice.” Seventy-three percent agreed that handhelds “are more easily used in the flow of classroom activity than desktop computers.”

Researchers cautioned against reading too much into the study’s findings, and most experts agreed that further research is necessary. Still, in what Palm called its first major, systemic evaluation of handheld computers in education, the results were encouraging to advocates of classroom technology.

Through its PEP program, administered by SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning, Palm has donated a handheld computer for every student in 175 K-12 classrooms across the country so far, but the company said little research has been done until now on the effective uses of handheld technology in the classroom.

“This research provides us with invaluable feedback that will help Palm and its developers create the right solutions for education. We expect these findings to foreshadow the broader, year-end results to be released later this summer,” said Mike Lorion, vice president of education at Palm.

The teachers who received handhelds for their classrooms had to submit an application as part of a competitive grant program and therefore “tend to be highly motivated technology users,” the report said.

“We can’t say the PEP awardees are very representative of all teachers by and large,” said Valerie Crawford, lead project evaluator for the report. But “this research is still important, because we’re investigating the issues that need to be addressed before the typical teacher can adopt the technology.”

Of the 102 classrooms studied, 15 had classroom sets of handhelds for two complete semesters, and 87 had them for just one semester. The study took place in the fall of 2001.

Teachers praised the portability of handhelds and said they promoted student autonomy and responsibility, according to the study.

Teachers also reported that the devices have created some new problems in the classroom, such as game playing and inappropriate beaming, difficulties in synchronizing information, and easily damaged screens.

When teachers were asked to compare handhelds to the use of laptop or desktop computers, the majority of teachers said handhelds are easier to integrate into class, are more portable, and facilitate the sharing of information between students. On the down side, teachers said handhelds lack the durability and power of laptop or desktop computers.

A school’s rules regarding whether students could take the handhelds home or not affected the way students used them, the report found.

Seventy-seven percent of teachers who permitted students to take handhelds home said their students spontaneously used them for learning tasks without being asked. Only 34 percent of teachers whose students did not take them home said students spontaneously used handhelds for learning tasks.

“It appears that students who can take the handhelds home find more integral use then those who leave the handhelds at school,” the report said.

All students surveyed said they use the memo pad, calculator, hot sync, and beaming features of the handhelds the most. Students who were permitted to take the handhelds home frequently used the date book, to-do list, address book, and downloading features as well.

When researchers asked teachers to describe in their own words the main benefit of handhelds in education, 39 percent cited portability and ready-at-hand, and 16 percent said they help motivate or organize students.

Researchers identified text entry as the main drawback for using handheld computers for extended writing assignments. Ninety percent of teachers surveyed whose students used keyboards to enter text gave positive evaluations, whereas 80 percent of teachers whose students didn’t have keyboards gave negative evaluations and reported difficulties. None of the PEP grants included keyboards.

There are a few different styles of portable keyboards on the market, ranging from $60 to $100. But the use of these keyboards could affect the handheld computer’s portability, one of its strongest features.

The report also states, “Handheld computers are probably best not viewed as a replacement for desktop computers, but as a supplement to them.” To make the best use of handheld computers, teachers should plan to integrate them with other technologies, the report says—such as beaming an assignment to an infrared port on a printer, or collecting data outside using handheld computers and sensors, then transferring the data to another computer for analysis.

Elliot Soloway, a University of Michigan professor who is a big advocate of handheld computing in schools, said this research is the first step in showing that handhelds have a place in the classroom.

“We needed this first-level evidence from the field,” he said. “Now, we can proceed with the next types of research—more in-depth interviews with students and teachers, more designed experiments, et cetera.”

Soloway added, “I think educators will find this first-level data as relevant and valid; they will still be skeptical of the impact on learning, as well they might.”

Chris Dede, Timothy Wirth professor of learning technology at Harvard University, agreed that the research is “important.”

“These types of learning technologies are potentially very important for equity, because their cost is so much less than [that of] desktop or laptop machines,” Dede said. “Personal digital assistants today have the computational power and memory of mid-range computers a few years ago, plus these devices are portable, so they can be used to accomplish many things.”

The report’s findings suggest “that these devices have promise, that they may be a good investment by educators, and that further research is needed,” Dede said.

Links:

Palm Education Pioneers Program: March 2002 Evaluation Report
http://www.palmgrants.sri.com

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STS brings supes up to speed on school technology

Top-level executives from school districts across the country gathered in Austin, Texas, March 10-12 to develop solutions to the technology challenges facing the nation’s schools. The occasion was the fourth installment of the Superintendents’ Technology Summit, co-sponsored by Gateway and produced by eSchool News.

Since October 2000, the summit has provided a forum for senior education leaders to fine-tune their knowledge of the issues that impact school technology use, such as recruiting and retaining technology personnel, evaluating the costs and benefits of various computing solutions, implementing complex information systems, and communicating successfully with stakeholders.

The summit opened on Sunday afternoon, March 10, with a golf tournament, in which participating superintendents were given the chance to play in the sun, chat with technology vendors, and network with colleagues. Summiteers got down to business at a keynote session the following morning with Willard Daggett, president of the New York-based International Center for Leadership in Education. His talk was entitled “The World Today—2005.”

Daggett told the gathered superintendents that “we need to take something off the plate of educators in this country.” He cited the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” which criticized the effectiveness of the American educational system. Since the release of that report, Daggett said, many new theories have surfaced claiming to address the nation’s educational shortcomings. “There is an expert for each of those theories in every district,” he said. “And these issues have now been institutionalized,” making the process of education reform extremely difficult for the nation’s education leaders.

Daggett cited numerous examples of pointless educational practices that result from an inability to adapt to change. For example, he said that the United States and Canada are the only nations that use the “old-school” keyboard. Originally developed for use on early-model typewriters, the standard keyboard setup is blamed for drastically increasing the incidence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in recent years. Daggett also cited a “disconnect between what kids learn in the classroom and real life.”

“Why are we the only industrialized country in the free world that does not follow the American research on reading and writing?” Daggett asked rhetorically, adding, “Our challenge is not figuring out what needs to be done—it is figuring out how to deinstitutionalize our institutions.”

Damage control and cutting costs

Following the keynote speech by Daggett, attendees went to one of two morning breakout sessions. Tom DeLapp, president of California-based Communication Resources for Schools, spoke on the topic of “Damage Control: When Technology Creates a Crisis.”

He presented attendees with a number of hypothetical situations in which schools might face a technology-related public relations crisis. For instance, he asked what would happen if a community watchdog group received evidence that someone had been viewing pornography on district computers.

“A crisis is a test of your capacity, your beliefs, and your skill,” said DeLapp. His first piece of advice was, “Don’t call it a crisis. If you do, it will be in the headlines as a crisis.” Instead, school leaders should take the opportunity to define the situation immediately.

“The public is looking for three things: leadership, definition, and accountability,” he said. “You have to think of yourself as a reputation manager.”

In emergency situations, DeLapp advised superintendents to release a statement within the first 30 minutes. The statement should reveal the who, what, when, where, and how, and it should set the tone and provide context.

In the other morning session, Daryl Ann Borel, assistant superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, advised attendees on “Cutting Technology Costs through Standards and Audits.”

“We are in the business of educating children, not buying stuff,” she pointed out. “The question we always have to ask ourselves is, ‘How do the things we buy support learning?'” Borel said school leaders must make decisions based on the total cost of ownership of the equipment they buy, and this might not always mean selecting the cheapest option. “You also have to address training, maintenance, upgrades, and a lot of other things,” she said.

National K-12 Advisories

Summiteers then participated in the National K-12 Advisory consensus-building activity, assisted by handheld polling technology provided by the Leadership Technology Group (LTG) and led by Gary Marx, president of the Virginia-based Center for Public Outreach. Experts gave presentations on three topics: the advisability of using application service providers (ASPs), the feasibility of outsourcing school information technology (IT) functions, and the merits and demerits of platform standardization.

After the pros and cons of each issue were debated, participants selected the topic they were most interested in discussing further. The most popular choice, outsourcing IT functions, was the subject of a post-lunch consensus development session. Dick Callahan, vice president of education at Gateway Inc., and Don Knezek, executive director designee of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), debated the pros and cons of outsourcing.

Participants then were asked to come up with a list of key questions that define the issue and indicate their positions on each of these questions using the polling devices. The results will be used to help policy makers at all levels reach their own decisions about the topic.

Participants agreed that if you’re going to outsource any of your technology functions, you need at least two things: a contract specifying mutually agreed upon expectations for both your school district and the outsourcing company, and constant communication with the outsourcing vendor, so adjustments can be made if necessary. (More information about the National K-12 Advisories on IT Outsourcing will be published in a future story.)

Federal funds for administrator training

The March 11 luncheon was highlighted by a speech from the newly appointed executive director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology. John Bailey, former director of technology for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, briefed superintendents about the recently signed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. According to Bailey, the law simplifies funding for educational technology. It combines several ed-tech programs into a single block-grant program, Enhancing Education through Technology, which will be administered locally by states.

Twenty-five percent of the funds must be used for professional development activities, Bailey told attendees. The good news: The costs of administrator professional development, including conference attendance, may be counted toward the 25 percent, Bailey announced. “Now, you know something that even your IT staff hasn’t heard yet,” he told the superintendents.

Another benefit of NCLB, Bailey said, is that every single education program is an opportunity for technology funding: “You have to first think about your instructional need, and then ask how technology can help you solve that need.”

A third benefit is the law’s flexibility, which is exemplified by a feature called “transferability,” Bailey said. This feature gives school leaders the ability to transfer education dollars between programs, depending on need. “So if you decide you have a safe and drug-free school, you can take funds from that [program] and move them over to technology, if you feel that is where you need to focus your funds,” he said.

Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards

Immediately following Bailey’s speech, 12 of the nation’s most technologically astute superintendents were honored in the second annual eSchool News Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards. Winners had been nominated by their peers and chosen by the editors of eSchool News for their leadership and vision in K-12 technology. The awards program was sponsored by Dell Computer, and Greg Davis, Dell’s director of K-12 education, was on hand to present the awards.

Here are the 2002 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners: Christine M. Carter, Reed Union (Calif.) School District; Rudy M. Castruita, San Diego County (Calif.) Office of Education; Mark Edwards, Henrico County (Va.) Public Schools; Joe Kitchens, Western Heights (Okla.) School District; Richard Maier, Will County (Ill.) School District 92; Doug Otto, Plano (Texas) Independent School District; Welton Sawyer, Manhattan (N.Y.) High Schools; James Scott, Spring Cove (Pa.) School District; Stu Silberman, Daviess County (Ky.) Public Schools; Keith Sockwell, Northwest (Texas) Independent School District; Ray Yeagley, Rochester (N.H.) Public Schools; and Julie Young, The Florida Virtual School. (For a description of each winner’s technology credentials and accomplishments, see http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=3551.)

Security and professional development

In the afternoon sessions on March 11, Harold Kellogg, a consultant for school districts looking to enhance their security, spoke on the topic of “Balancing Security and a School Climate Conducive to Learning.” Kellogg advocated giving teachers wireless phones to use at their discretion and letting students use phones—responsibly—as well.

In another session, Heidi Blair-Clevenger, digital media coordinator for Deer Valley Schools in Phoenix, Ariz., discussed the merits of “Technology Professional Development for Administrators.” It’s crucial for school administrators at all levels to be well-versed in technology issues and applications, Blair-Clevenger said, because strong leadership at the school and district level is needed to ensure the success of technology programs.

Clevenger recommended that school leaders review the Technology Standards for School Administrators, released last year by ISTE (see http://cnets.iste.org/tssa for more information); expand professional development offerings so they address these topics; conduct regular self-assessments of technology skills; identify peer experts who can help “coach” colleagues; and employ a variety of delivery modes for staff development.

Surviving systems implementations

The final day of the summit opened with another round of informative breakout sessions. In “Information Systems Implementations: A Survivor’s Guide,” a group of IT consultants discussed what it takes to implement a complex information system successfully. The group’s advice resonated with attendees, many of whom were familiar with recent, high-profile (and costly) problems with installations of new information systems in large urban districts such as Philadelphia and San Francisco.

In her presentation, Donna Linder, manager for the Gibson Consulting Group, gave tips on how to implement such systems smoothly. In one example, she urged school personnel to give very explicit guidance to vendors. For instance, instead of saying in your request for proposals that the vendor must “capture at-risk information,” she recommended that you specify your district’s expectations in greater detail. She also urged school leaders to adopt a disciplined approach, use measurable requirements, and be sure to leave even more time for the process than you think will be necessary.

In a session titled “Update on Arizona’s $144 Million School Tech Initiative,” Philip Geiger, executive director of the Arizona School Facilities Board; Craig Larson, chief executive officer of LearningStation; and Megan Zimmerman, senior consultant for KPMG, discussed how their organizations worked together to implement a statewide distribution of software to Arizona school districts via the ASP model.

“A neat thing about the ASP [model] is that you can actually track the usage [of curriculum software] and see which pieces are actually being used and which are not,” Zimmerman said.

There was some heated discussion about the selection methods for curriculum titles. One attendee expressed concern that “the decision was made on behalf of the teachers,” rather than by teachers. But according to Geiger, who spearheaded the Arizona ASP project, “If there are pieces missing, the schools can go buy them for themselves. The point is that this is one state project that will be done, whereas there are so many projects that just go on and on and eventually lose their focus.”

Distributed learning

At the March 12 luncheon, Chris Dede, professor of learning technologies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, delivered a speech entitled, “Technology as a Means, Not an End.”

“As a member of the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ generation, I got a lot of what I call ‘teaching by telling,'” he said. “Now that we have a global, knowledge-based economy, a lot of what I learned then is now obsolete.”

Dede told attendees that, as superintendents, they know that if you study issues until you completely understand them, it can be far too late to take action. “By that time, they have morphed into a whole new problem,” he said. “Thriving on chaos is typical of what future generations will face.”

Dede said his research indicated that children need to learn “higher-order skills,” such as guided “learning by doing,” collaborative learning, and nurturing apprenticeship or mentoring relationships. He called these higher-order skills “distributed learning.”

He also gave attendees the web address for a course he teaches at Harvard on distributed learning (http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~dedech/502) and encouraged them to use the resources it contains.

Sponsor information

The fourth edition of the Superintendents’ Technology Summit was made possible through the generous sponsorship of numerous companies. These are:

Advanced Academics, of Oklahoma City, Okla., offers accredited secondary education courses, fully aligned with national and state standards for grades 7-12 via the internet.
(866) 235-3276
http://www.advancedacademics.com

Citrix Corp., of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., provides a unique combination of support and services to help schools and educators meet the challenges they face today.
(800) 393-1888
http://www.citrix.com/education

Cognos, of Ottawa, Canada, helps schools analyze student test results, upgrade and improve curricula, streamline management processes, and identify and forecast trends in student performance.
(800) 426-4667, option 4
http://www.cognos.com

Dell Computer Corp., of Round Rock, Texas, provides hardware and technology solutions—such as Dell PowerEdge servers and PowerVault storage—to thousands of schools across the nation.
(888) 374-7786
http://www.dell.com/education/standardize

eSylvan, of Baltimore, Md., is a leading online provider of instructor-led tutoring for third through ninth grade students, specializing in reading and math programs for both enrichment and remedial students.
(800) ESYLVAN
http://www.esylvan.com

Gateway Inc., of Irvine, Calif., helps schools extend their IT capabilities and maintain high-quality standards through the company’s TechSource service and support program.
(800) 270-5740
http://www.gateway.com

Gibson Consulting Group, of Austin, Texas, is a management consulting firm specializing in a range of financial, operational, and information consulting services for public, nonprofit, and private sector organizations.
(512) 328-0884
http://www.gibsonconsult.com

The Leadership Technology Group, of Everett, Wash., is the creator of Group Interactive Feedback Technology (GIFT), personal wireless response pads that allow for meaningful participation and feedback in meetings of any size.
(800) 621-9785
http://www.theltgroup.com

Lightspeed Systems, of Bakersfield, Calif., offers Total Traffic Control, a full-featured network management product built for Microsoft Windows.
(877) 447-6244
http://www.lightspeedsystems.com

Mimio Inc., of Boston, Mass., turns any ordinary whiteboard into an interactive touchscreen to aid front-of-class instruction and presentations.
(877) 696-4646
http://www.mimio.com

Safari Technologies, of Lawton, Mich., designs, manufactures, and sells video-on-demand, IP-based multimedia networking software and hardware products for education.
(800) 782-7230
http://www.safaripathways.com

Sassafras Software, of Hanover, N.H., is the creator of KeyServer, a network-independent software license management tool for Windows, Macintosh, and thin-client based computers.
(603) 643-3351
http://www.sassafras.com

Scientific Learning Corp., of Oakland, Calif., is the creator of the FastForward series of language, reading, and learning programs.
(888) 665-9707
http://www.scientificlearning.com

Sharp Electronics Corp., of Mahwah, N.J., is the creator of the C40 line of multimedia projectors, which combines all school projection needs in one package.
(877) SHARP-88
http://www.notevisionC40.com

SMART Technologies Inc., of Calgary, Canada, creates electronic whiteboards and roomware to increase classroom interaction and support learning.
(888) 42-SMART
http://www.smarttech.com/education

SpectraLink Corp., of Boulder, Colo., creates wireless telephone systems designed to improve safety and communication in schools.
(800) 676-5465
http://www.spectralink.com

SynreVoice Technologies Inc., of Ontario, Canada, specializes in providing state-of-the-art, cost-effective computer and telephone integration and automated voice processing systems.
(800) 450-5450, ext. 222
http://www.synrevoice.com

Teacher Created Materials, of Westminster, Calif., creates custom teacher- and student-focused solutions for educational excellence.
(800) 662-4321
http://www.teachercreated.com

Unisys Corp., of Bluebell, Pa., is the creator of the Unisys Server Sentinel, which brings customers substantial boosts in server performance and a new measure of systems management simplicity.
(800) 874-8647
http://www.unisys.com

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Students can get SAT scores online a week early—for a fee

High school students now can end the nerve-racking wait for SAT scores by getting them online a week early, but it will cost them.

Students who used the internet to register for the college-entrance exam received an eMail two weeks after the test telling them scores were available online immediately for a $13 fee. If the students waited another eight days, they could access their scores for free by mail or computer.

The exam’s New York-based owner, the College Board, said the service is one more way to lessen the anxiety for test-takers. For years, students have been able to get early test scores by phone for $13.

“This is a totally optional service that we started with the October tests,” Brian O’Reilly, executive director of the SAT program, told the New York Times. “No student needs to do this.”

Critics say the service makes money off students’ anxieties.

“[Students] want to know what their scores are, and they want to know them quickly to determine whether they should take [the test] again. It’s using that anxiety as a profit center,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

O’Reilly said the fees are used to design the College Board web site. But Schaeffer said he doubts the service costs the College Board that much to offer.

“That’s the same excuse they use for every price increase,” Schaeffer said. “And until they make their books public, no one can tell.”

Links:

College Board
http://www.collegeboard.com

National Center for Fair & Open Testing
http://www.fairtest.org

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