Adobe’s new web design bundle is a bargain

Adobe Systems Inc. is offering two newly upgraded web design programs to education customers at an unbeatable price. Adobe LiveMotion 2.0 and Adobe GoLive 6.0 normally sell for $399 each, but schools can buy these two products bundled together for $89.99.

With Adobe LiveMotion 2.0, teachers and students can design animated Macromedia Flash and QuickTime content for the web presentations, educational games, and other projects quickly and easily. LiveMotion enables users to animate objects, pictures, and designs without writing complicated code. The latest version of LiveMotion is now more compatible with Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator than ever before; users simply drag and drop items created in Photoshop or Illustrator into LiveMotion to open the file. Files created in LiveMotion also work seamlessly with Adobe’s other products, GoLive and After Effects.

Changes to Adobe GoLive, which is used to build web sites, allow designers to produce web sites that can be accessed by a variety of wireless devices. The software allows users to preview the page as it would appear on a wide variety of wireless devices, including Nokia and i-mode telephones. In addition, GoLive 6.0 offers the Web Workgroup Server, a web site management tool that allows builders to change, share, and manage files. The new Site Diagram feature allows web designers to create an easily sharable or printable map of the web site links between its various pages.

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Internet access gap closing, but other inequities remain

As internet access from schools and libraries becomes nearly ubiquitous, some technology advocates are shifting focus, to argue that the “digital divide” will not be closed until everyone has private access and high-speed connectivity. The issue takes on a human perspective when considering the case of a computer-using youngster in Brooklyn, N.Y.

For eighth-grader Dale Willis Jr., getting internet access at home means no longer having to wait in line at the library for less than a half-hour at the computer.

It means no longer scheduling his school day around teachers’ availability to supervise—and no more mockery from classmates.

“They may laugh at some of the hobbies that you like,” Willis said. “I didn’t really feel comfortable looking at sites I really wanted to.” Willis, 13, exemplifies the difference having internet access at home can make. If people without home access are classified as disadvantaged, the “digital divide” is much larger than recent studies suggest.

According to the Commerce Department, 54 percent of Americans used the internet in September, up from 44 percent in 2000 and 22 percent in 1997—with increases among all races, income levels, and educational backgrounds.

Though there’s disagreement over how much work remains and what role government should play, the numbers show that when it comes to basic access, the online population is looking more like America in its diversity.

But those numbers can be deceiving.

Much of the focus so far has been on getting internet access to schools, libraries, and community centers. Federal programs such as the eRate, funded through a telephone surcharge, have helped get more than 95 percent of public libraries and 98 percent of public schools wired.

But new research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 12 percent of internet users can log on only from work, a library, a school, or some other place away from home.

While overall home access reached 44 percent of the U.S. population in 2001, minorities and lower-income Americans were less likely to have it, according to Commerce.

For example, half of blacks and Hispanics who use the internet at public libraries can’t log on from home, compared with only 30 percent of whites and 22 percent of Asians.

Among all kids ages 10 to 17, less than one-third of blacks and Hispanics have access at home while at least two-thirds of whites and Asians had it.

Schools, libraries, and community centers can be important for training people so they feel comfortable enough to eventually own a computer.

But public spaces alone aren’t adequate, some technology advocates say, given the limited hours and terminals. Also, some schools discourage or prohibit nonacademic use of the internet, hobbling students who might otherwise develop interests online that could sprout into careers.

Then there is privacy. A pregnant teen-ager who wants to get information online before confiding in a parent is less inclined to seek it at a public terminal.

The Willises, a close-knit black family making less than $25,000, relied on a nonprofit program, Computers For Youth, for a free computer and access.

With the computer centrally located in the living room, Willis can pursue online his interests in drums and can help younger siblings with homework, while other family members read and play games nearby. That bonding is difficult outside the home.

His mother, Lori, studies the Bible and looks up recipes and poems. She found the small chunks of computer time at the library disruptive.

“Whenever I started getting into something, I had to quickly save that information,” she said. “You lose your train of thought.”

Policy makers and researchers who study the digital divide are beginning to pay more attention to location inequities and other factors beyond mere access.

And that just makes the problem more difficult to tackle.

“If it is in the schools, libraries, or community technology centers, then this is something for the community,” said Mark Lloyd, executive director for the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy. “We have a great deal of difficulty making the argument that we ought to subsidize poor people’s access” at home.

Richard Akeroyd, who runs library grant programs at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, agrees that access at home is better. But a computer in a library can benefit 20 or 30 times as many people each day.

Inequities also exist in skill. Without training, minorities are less able to plumb the internet for relevant and empowering content.

There are also inequities in how people get access.

New York University professor Anthony Townsend found that in urban areas, lower-income neighborhoods are less likely to have access to high-speed services and must settle for dial-up connections.

Rural areas are also less likely than cities to have high-speed services.

Those differences are likely to become more pronounced as more online services are developed with high-speed access in mind.

The current criteria of measuring the digital divide through access alone grew out of comparisons between the internet and the telephone—a device with fewer functions, noted Andrew Blau, a technology consultant who advises nonprofit groups.

A better approach, he said, is to compare internet use with literacy.

Comparing access “does a real disservice to understanding and seeing the real issues,” he said. “We don’t think, ‘If everyone had a book, they would be literate.'”

Links:

Benton Foundation
http://www.digitaldividenetwork.org

Commerce Department report
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/dn/index.html

Pew Internet & American Life Project reports
http://www.pewinternet.org

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SLD: Few schools will see Year Five eRate funds for internal connections

The bulk of Year Five eRate applicants hoping to get money to wire their schools won’t receive funding for internal connections, according to program officials. In fact, because of the extraordinarily high demand for discounts this year, there won’t even be enough money to fund all requests at the 90-percent discount level.

The nation’s schools and libraries have asked for a record $5.736 billion in eRate discounts for Year Five, nearly $550 million more than last year’s total and more than double the $2.25 billion available.

The eRate program, part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, derives its funding from the universal service charge on telephone bills. The program is intended to help needy and rural schools pay for telephone service, internet access, and internal wiring.

This is the third consecutive year that the demand for eRate funds has surpassed the amount allotted by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Last year, applicants requested an unprecedented $5.19 billion total, an amount greater than the first two program years combined.

The Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co., the group that administers the eRate, received 36,043 applications by Jan. 17, the close of the Form 471 application filing window.

Interestingly, 86 percent of the applications were filed online using the SLD web site.

“Obviously, demand continues to be very strong for the program,” SLD spokesman Mel Blackwell said. But this also means a large number of applicants won’t receive funding for their internal connections.

The eRate funds all requests for telecommunications service and internet access—called Priority One services—first. Then, any leftover funds are allocated for internal connections, starting with the neediest schools and libraries.

The estimated demand for telecommunications service and internet access this year is $1.817 billion, leaving $433 million to pay for internal connections. The demand for internal connections at the neediest level—the 90-percent discount level—is $2.619 billion.

“There’s enough money to fund all the Priority One [requests], but there’s not enough to fund all the internal connections [requests], even at the 90-percent [discount] level,” Blackwell said.

The estimated $5.736 billion figure might decrease as the SLD wades through the applications and eliminates duplicate and ineligible requests.

“You don’t really know [how much the estimate will be reduced] until you get through all the applications throughout the course of the year,” Blackwell said.

Under current program rules, each 90-percent discount school would get only a small portion of the funds it requested for internal connections this year—in this case, about 17 percent, if current demand estimates hold true.

Facing a similar problem last year, though on a smaller scale, the FCC proposed a change to the eRate rules that would have given priority to schools that had not received funding for internal connections the previous year. But the agency scuttled its proposal when several applicants complained that changing the rules in mid-stream would not be fair.

FCC spokesman Mike Belmoris said the agency has no current plans to increase eRate funding or change the program’s rules this year, either.

Links:

Schools and Libraries Division
http://www.sl.universalservice.org

Federal Communication Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

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High school’s instant-replay system an instant hit with students

A high school in Nebraska is taking its coverage of school sporting events to the big league, with the help of cutting-edge technology and some tech-savvy students in the audiovisual communications class.

Although Schuyler Central High School in Schuyler, Neb., does not have a tunnel for athletes to run through or a stadium filled with thousands of cheering fans, it does have something in common with most professional arenas. The school is one of the first in the country to offer student-produced instant replay at its live sporting events.

Schuyler’s “Warrior Vision” audiovisual production shows instant replays from athletic events, as well as advertisements and a number of other special programs. Industrial technology teacher Steve Williams said Warrior Vision is like the University of Nebraska’s instant-replay system, HuskerVision, on a much smaller scale.

The program is operated by students enrolled in Williams’ communications technology class. They use cameras, computers, and a projector. All the action is shown on a 10-foot-by-10-foot retractable flatscreen panel that hangs from the ceiling in the school’s west gym.

When broadcasting athletic events, two students either roam the sidelines or stand in a lift to get aerial views with one of two digital camcorders. One camcorder is connected to an Apple iBook laptop computer equipped with iMovie software. The other camera is connected directly to a video mixer.

The camera connected to the mixer films the game play and produces what Williams calls the “live shot.” The camera connected to the iMovie-enabled laptop also records pictures and audio from the game, but it is used for recording the sequences that are made into instant replay.

Besides the two student videographers, another student controls the laptop computer and a fourth controls the video mixer.

“The student who works on the computer and the one who works on the mixer are more or less the producer and director,” said Williams. Those students are in charge of choosing when to show a replay of an interesting play.

Once they make the call, the edited video is sent to a projector that displays the images on the screen.

“I don’t know of any other high school that puts together a program like we do,” Williams said.

The school has used Warrior Vision to videotape basketball games since the middle of the 2000-2001 season, but “we have plans of attempting to put it outside [in the football stadium] next fall,” said Williams.

The biggest obstacle is finding a screen that can be used outdoors, he said. Currently, he and his students are considering building an outdoor screen out of bed sheets.

The Warrior Vision team uses the same technology to produce a number of films from various bits of video footage it has collected. “For instance, we interviewed the members of basketball teams that were going to play in the sub-district finals,” said Williams. “We showed clips of video and put that to music, and we showed it in a pre-game show at the finals.”

“People have really liked the programs we have put on so far,” senior Curt Reha said.

A tribute the students put together highlighting the athlete and coach of the year seemed to mesmerize the crowd.

“I’ve never heard a gym full of people so quiet before,” Reha said.

The cost for Warrior Vision was about $9,000. None of the money came from tax dollars, Williams said. Rather, it came from a student athletic club fund and student soda machine profits collected over the last seven or eight years.

The installation was very simple and involved merely hanging the flatscreen from the ceiling and connecting it to an outlet. Some of the equipment already was on hand, thanks to the school’s student-produced cable television channel, Channel 99.

Students on the Warrior Vision team all come from Williams’ communications technology class, where they first learn the theory behind video and audio technology. They are then trained in the operation of the various pieces of software and equipment the school uses to produce videos.

“After that, we just let them go off and learn on the job, so to speak,” said Williams.

Links:

Schuyler Central High School
http://schs.esu7.org

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School software interoperability takes huge step forward

School officials are one step closer to sharing student data between multiple software programs without any retyping, thanks to an industry-wide initiative that has been tested and found to work.

The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) is an open-standard specification that lets different software programs—such as student information systems and library automation software—connect through a central server and share information in a common computer language.

Driven by K-12 education technology providers, SIF—a division the Software and Information Industry Association—aims to save educators from repeatedly entering and updating student information. The goal is to enable diverse software applications to interact and share data efficiently, reliably, and securely in real time, regardless of their platform.

In August 2000, eSchool News reported that SIF Implementation Specification v1.0 had been released to software developers. Now, a remote demonstration of SIF-compliant products in early February has proven the specification works.

In the first-ever “Connect-a-thon,” held Feb. 4 through 8, approximately a dozen companies were able to establish a connection over the internet through a zone integration server (ZIS) to share database information. The ZIS is the component where data from one piece of software communicate with data from another program.

In the experiment, the participating companies added new students to a student information system and then looked to see if the information was also added to the library software, the bus scheduling software, and so on.

Participants also tried changing student information to see if it would be updated on all the programs. And they queried for information to see if they could conduct a search of all the programs.

“Things just pretty much worked,” said Eric Peterson, chief technology officer at Edustructures, a company that makes zone integration servers.

SIF is an open standard, so any company can add support for it to the company’s software product. “The specifications have been out there for a while, and now it’s getting to the point that it actually works,” Peterson said.

Currently, more than 120 companies are working to make SIF possible.

“The Connect-a-thon is significant because this is the first time vendors who have been building support for SIF into their systems found that it actually works,” Peterson said.

SIF Director Tim Magner described the Connect-a-thon as a “milestone” for SIF, which has been in the works for nearly three years.

“It means that SIF is real, that schools can begin to assess their own readiness to implement SIF, and that they should begin to explore how SIF can make a difference in their district,” he said.

SIF is more than a technology solution, Magner said. It’s an infrastructure that links software systems in schools to software programs at the district level. “It’s not just about hardware and software, it’s also about data management and school administration,” he said.

SIF is platform-independent and vendor-neutral and can be used anywhere schools would want to share data between systems.

“Usually when you enroll new students, you have to propagate that enrollment data to, like, 11 different programs, [often] by hand. This automates that whole process,” Peterson said.

A list of SIF-enabled applications is available on the SIF web site. Schools interested in SIF can sign up on the initiative’s web site to become a beta-tester of SIF-compliant products, and the group also provides language on its web site for schools to include in their requests for proposals if they want to specify SIF-compliant software.

Participants in the Connect-a-thon included Pennsylvania’s Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, Computer Power Solutions of Illinois, Edustructures, Follett Software Co., Novell Inc., Parlant Technology, Sagebrush Corp., SIRS Mandarin, TetraData, SUNGARD Pentamation, and VersaTrans Solutions.

“Some of the challenges surrounding this first event were mostly logistical—for example, how to schedule tests and groupings across time zones, and facilitating communication between teams of companies as they tested their applications,” Magner said. “Now that we’ve done it once, we’ve learned some things that will streamline these [processes] in the future.”

Links:

Schools Interoperability Framework
http://www.sifinfo.org

Software and Information Industry Association
http://www.siia.net

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Rejuvenate your schools with help from the

Think innovation. Think change. The School Renewal WebCenter provides a place for teachers, administrators, and parents to discuss ways to share new ideas for bettering the learning experience in and out of school. This comprehensive site includes strategies for improving the educational impact of schools on students. It also offers decision-makers a chance to look at dilemmas faced by other districts and the solutions their peers have found in regard to these problems. The site also lets educators explore various “scripts,” or philosophies concerning the advancement of education. The Academy script focuses on how schools can better promote student mastery of certain subjects.

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Education’s essential element

Now comes the push for accountability through assessment and for schools to take charge of what comes into their classrooms and libraries from the internet (See our Special Reports on Assessment & Accountability on page 17 and Filtering & Beyond on page 33.)

Yet once again, you and your colleagues are being called on to do more—a lot more—with less.

A lot less? Too soon to say. How much less is not entirely clear just yet. (For some indications, though, see “Bush budget cuts school tech dollars,” front page, and “Funding for Maine laptop program in jeopardy,” page 51.)

What a difference a year makes. It seems like only yesterday America enjoyed booming economic prospects that stretched as far as the eye could see. State and local governments were awash in operating surpluses from sea to shining sea. Presidential candidates, federal lawmakers, governors, and state legislators were only too happy to encourage ambitious plans and to underwrite them at funding levels for education that, for once, were not half bad. Plans involving technology-powered education were especially well received.

In those heady days, it seemed almost possible to roll the quaint, old business cycle into the garage and park it against the wall, just in time to ride merrily along on the NASDAQ-driven bandwagon.

Well, that was then. Business thrived; state and federal tax revenues gushed in.

This is now. And now, educators watch the skies grow darker, feel the thickness permeate the atmosphere. We begin to hear that inelegant refrain we know so well.

Suck it up. Hunker down. It’s belt-tightening time again.

Demands for accountability through assessment are louder than ever. Insistence on internet controls remain in place. Budgets, on the other hand, will be smaller. Assessment and internet management are hot, but some politicians now are turning cool when it comes to funding. What else is new?

Technology for one thing. Without the new and effective technology just now becoming available, neither accountability on a grand scale nor effective control of internet content would be possible—period, full stop.

But even if technology budgets were bulging, no one would reach the desired goals without something far more crucial than the technology itself. When it comes to accountability through assessment and internet management, technology is a requirement, but a secondary one.

The primary requirement is something considerably older and perhaps rarer. The first thing we need, without which technology will avail us little, is good, old-fashioned leadership. Without wise selection, proper preparation, thoughtful implementation, sound evaluation, and regular adjustment, investments in technology will pay small dividends and sometimes will do more harm than good

Piles of hardware and stacks of software can give the false impression of progress. But without savvy leadership—starting with the superintendent and permeating throughout the entire education enterprise—technology initiatives will be for naught.

That’s why it’s so important to stop from time to time and celebrate the top school chiefs who really get it. And that’s exactly what we do on page 14 of this issue. Read about this year’s twelve Tech-Savvy Superintendents. Come join us at the Superintendents’ Technology Summit in Austin, Texas, March 10-12, as we honor these excellent leaders on their numerous achievements.

Our purpose in the awards and the ceremony is not only to recognize individual leaders for their vision and execution, but also to encourage others to emulate this excellent behavior. We need more a lot more tech-savvy superintendents.

Bright-minded men and women dedicated to education and sophisticated in the effective uses of technology will supply the resources this nation needs to prepare another generation of young people for an ever-more-challenging world. As school leaders have done before, they’ll find a way to accomplish this daunting task—whether the politicians make the job easier or harder.

At the end of the day, it’s not what comes from outside that will make the crucial difference. It’s what’s within. It’s down to you. After all, isn’t that why you got into this field in the first place?

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“Schoolforge” forges an alliance of open-source software groups

Schoolforge, a global coalition of organizations dedicated to promoting open-source software in education, announced the launch of its web site Jan. 8. The alliance was formed in November when members of the online groups SEUL/edu, Open Source Schools, the K-12 Linux in Schools project, and the Open Source Educational Foundation decided to develop a central organization to help educators take advantage of open-source and free software resources. Composed of more than 30 open-source educational organizations on five continents, the all-volunteer Schoolforge aims to help its member organizations introduce open resources to primary and secondary educational settings; help educators use and develop open resources, including free software and curricula; foster local and global volunteer support networks to implement open-source educational solutions; and provide open forums for educators to share information with colleagues and with corporate and government stakeholders. Visitors to the site will find links to successful case studies from around the world, as well as how-tos, reviews, and informative essays. Links are also provided to free and open-source educational and administrative software and free instructional texts. Organizations interested in joining can learn more on the siteÕs “Becoming a Member” page.

http://www.schoolforge.net

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“Title2.org” tracks the quality of the nation’s teacher preparation

Education degrees are not immediate indicators of good, high-quality teachers. That’s why this new site from the United States Department of Education supplies data and information concerning the quality of teacher preparation from among all 50 states and outlying territories, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, “The reports contain a host of useful information about teacher quality and teacher education programs in the states-information essential for improving accountability and strengthening our teaching force.” Every state report available on the site includes information on efforts to improve teacher quality nationwide. Some of the more important features include data for each college and university with an education program; numbers of teachers employed without licenses or on waivers in state schools; statewide certification and licensure requirements; and steps taken by each state to improve the quality of teaching in schools. The department hopes these new online databases will help to encourage and enforce teacher quality at a time when top-notch educators are retiring at a rate faster than they can be replaced. “We need qualified teachers using best practices if we are to ensure that no child is left behind,” Paige said.

http://www.title2.org

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Schools eye tracking system after bus hijacking

The disappearance in late January of a Pennsylvania school bus on what should have been a minutes-long trip has school districts around the country looking to the heavens for help. They’re consulting satellite tracking companies about how to keep better tabs on students.

“We’ve been swamped with calls,” said Daniel Lee, vice president of FleetBoss Global Positioning Solutions, whose systems monitor various kinds of vehicles, including school buses in Cleveland and Tulsa, Okla., and charter buses operated by Coach USA.

Todd Lewis of the company’s Philadelphia office said Pennsylvania districts have made inquiries “piqued by last [January’s] current events.”

The bus in Berks County, which is northwest of Philadelphia, went missing after picking up 13 students, ages 7 through 15, for a short trip from a high school to their Christian school nearby.

Frantic parents gathered at a municipal building and a police helicopter and cruisers made futile searches in rainy, foggy weather, until driver Otto Nuss parked the bus and surrendered to an off-duty police officer six hours later in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Nuss, who authorities said had a loaded rifle aboard the bus, faces kidnapping charges.

“You couldn’t find the bus in five hours. I could find it in five seconds,” Lee said. In fact, the tracking system could sound an alarm as soon as a bus left its route, he said.

Since the Berks County scare, two state senators have said they are drafting measures to examine the possibility of installing transponder devices similar to the LoJack stolen vehicle tracking system that would help locate missing buses.

All kinds of fleet operators, from trucking companies to city sanitation departments, keep a satellite eye on employees. FleetBoss, headquartered in Orlando, Fla., makes systems that track municipal garbage trucks and snow plows, service vehicles such as plumbing, heating, and air conditioning vans, and all of Orkin’s pest control vans, Lewis said.

Fleets save money because drivers speed less and don’t make unauthorized side trips, and drivers become safer, he said.

“You can know you have a driver who’s doing Mach 1 down a side street before an accident happens,” Lewis said. “You tell him I don’t want to see this. It literally changes the behavior of the drivers.”

Many companies market the systems. For example, the MARCUS vehicle tracking system developed by Discrete Wireless of Atlanta tracks school buses in systems near Atlanta and New Orleans, as well as fleets of from 10 to 100 vehicles in the trucking, courier, limousine, and various field-service businesses.

Elsewhere in Berks County, the Wilson School District is installing a tracking system with an additional wrinkle: boxes in pupil’s homes that sound a tone when the bus gets close.

The “Here comes the bus” system is being donated to the district in a pilot program by the developer, Joe Winkler, owner of Everyday Wireless in West Lawn, said Brian P. Loncar, supervisor of transportation for the district.

The West Paterson school district in Passaic County, N.J., implemented a system in September designed to do more than monitor buses. The system also gives students plastic ID tags that register on computer scanners so that parents can use a password on a web site to see where a child gets on and off each bus.

Terry Van Lear, operator of a school bus company in Reading and president of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, said bus surveillance can cost from $350 per vehicle for a basic LoJack system that lets police locate a stolen or hijacked bus, to $2,500 per vehicle for the most elaborate tracking capabilities.

Related links:
FleetBoss Global Positioning Solutions
http://www.fleetboss.com/home.cfm

Discrete Wireless Inc.
http://www.discretewireless.com

Everyday Wireless Inc.
http://www.herecomesthebus.com/work.html

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