Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2004

The past year brought a number of important developments affecting users of school technology. And, while larger issues–such as the presidential campaign and its impact on ed tech, or the sudden halt of eRate funding earlier this year–dominated the headlines and perhaps carried more overall significance, several other stories captured readers’ attention enough to pass them along to their colleagues. Here are the top 10 most recommended eSchool News stories of 2004, according to our readers:

10. Student deserves ‘A’ for homework-ware

For class credit, a Canadian high school student created a web-based homework management system that allows students to hand-in assignments electronically. He now is offering the service to schools across North America at no charge …

9. CoSN profiles ‘must-have’ technologies

Datacasting, radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, student web logs (blogs), and intelligent essay graders are among a dozen technologies likely to emerge as must-have solutions in the nation’s schools, according to a report unveiled Nov. 3 by the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) …

8. Tech-savvy schools reclaim millions

San Diego is one of dozens of school systems nationwide reportedly benefiting from the use of new technology designed to track, monitor, record, and report on the delivery of special-education services. Not only do these electronic tools promise to reduce dramatically the amount of paper pushed across administrators’ desks on a daily basis, but some say the technology also is helping foot the bill for special-needs children–giving schools a much more efficient means of applying for and collecting millions of dollars in state-provided Medicaid reimbursements …

7. ED gives preview of new ed-tech plan

Student data management, online assessment, and eLearning will be key objectives in the next national educational technology plan presented to Congress by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), according to Susan Patrick, director of the department’s Office of Educational Technology …

6. Schools, colleges flock to Internet2

Move over internet: Internet2 has arrived. According to a bi-annual survey presented to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Oct. 6, more than 25,000 K-12 schools, libraries, and museums in 34 states have graduated to the super-fast internet backbone, which works at a hundred times the speed of the fastest T1 line …

5. Studies validate laptop programs in U.S., Canada

Two recent studies of schoolwide one-to-one computing initiatives–one in the United States and one in Canada–suggest that using laptops in the classroom can help improve students’ writing skills and bolster overall academic success. The studies come as an increasing number of states and school districts are rolling out laptop programs of their own …

4. offers 17,000 royalty-free digital texts

For special-education teachers, providing required reading for blind and learning-disabled students is a significant challenge. Now, thanks to the aid of, a nonprofit digital book service based in Palo Alto, Calif., educators have access to a library of thousands of titles they can download and reproduce for use on screen readers or as MP3 files for as little as $6 per text …

3. ED unveils new educator training site

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) on Oct. 5 unveiled a new professional development web site for teachers and administrators. Its architects hope the free resource–built by teachers for teachers–will encourage the use of proven classroom strategies and provide more effective ways of using data to improve instruction in the nation’s schools …

2. Textbooks dumped in favor of laptops

No textbooks? No problem. A revolutionary new high school outside Tucson, Ariz., plans to do away with the bulky, hardcover tomes altogether in favor of laptop computers, making it one of the first schools in the nation to abandon the use of traditional textbooks for the educational value of the internet …

1. Video on demand boosts students’ math scores

Short video clips that reinforce key concepts are effective in increasing student achievement, according to a second research project. An earlier study found that video can improve learning in science and social studies. Now, brand-new research shows that judiciously selected video clips also can produce statistically significant gains in algebra and geometry scores …


Company paints new picture for wireless network security

InformationWeek reports that a Silicon Valley company is selling a special paint that it says can be applied to walls to protect the security of wireless signals within any room or building. The paint, which contains aluminum and copper, reportedly cuts down on the leakage of wireless signals.


$60,000 to support exemplary school-business partnerships

The Council for Corporate & School Partnerships is accepting applications for its 2005 National School and Business Partnerships Awards, which recognize outstanding examples of collaboration between businesses and schools to improve the student educational experience. The Council presents six awards per year. Those selected for the award receive national recognition, and the schools or districts receive $10,000 to support their partnership efforts. Applications are judged using a number of criteria, including: (1) The strength of the partnership’s foundation, as evidenced by shared values, and the school and business partner’s ability to define mutually beneficial goals; (2) The success of the partnership’s implementation, as evidenced by such factors as the management process and determination of specific, measurable outcomes; (3) The partnership’s sustainability, based on such factors as support by school and business leaders and by teachers, employees, students, and other constituents; and (4) The partners’ ability to present a clear evaluation of the partnership’s impact, as measured by evidence that the partnership was developed with clear definitions of success for all parties, and that it has resulted in improvements of the academic, social, or physical well-being of students. Judges may also consider the uniqueness of the partnership and the value of third-party support.


Suburban Philly schools crack down on cell-phone usage

The News-Herald of Perkasie, Pa., reports that local schools are cracking down on students’ use of electronic devices, particularly cell phones. The Upper Bucks County Area Vocational Technical School had to be especially vigilant, because many of its classes require students to change clothes, and the school was concerned about privacy rights and the use of camera phones.


$104 million for early reading instruction

The Early Reading First Program supports local efforts to enhance the oral language, cognitive, and early reading skills of preschool-age children, especially those from low-income families, through strategies, materials (including software), and professional development that are grounded in scientifically based reading research. ED is particularly interested in applications from preschools that operate full-time, full-year early childhood educational programs, and projects in which at least 75 percent of the children enrolled qualify to receive free or reduced-priced lunches. A competitive priority is given to first-time applicants under this program. Awards will range from $750,000 to $4.5 million in size, with an average size of $2.8 million. The Feb. 7 deadline is for pre-applications only, which are required; applicants who are invited to submit full applications based on the promise of their pre-applications will have until May 2 to do so.


Neighboring schools in N.H. take different tech spending routes

The Union Leader of Manchester, N.H. reports that two local schools are working hard to increase their technology integration–but taking different approaches. One purchased 125 new computers, while the other is reviewing and revising its IT priorities so that it can get the most out of the equipment it has purchased.


$25M for distance learning, telemedicine projects in rural areas

Distance learning and telemedicine grants are specifically designed to provide access to education, training, and health care resources for people in rural America. Administered by the Universal Services Branch of the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), these grants fund the use of advanced telecommunications technologies to help communities meet those needs. The grants may be used to fund telecommunications, computer networks, and related advanced technologies. The maximum amount of a grant in FY 2005 is $500,000, and the minimum amount is $50,000.


$2.25 billion in telecommunications discounts

Nonprofit schools and libraries in the United States have until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time to apply for Universal Service discounts on their eligible telecommunications services, internet access, and internal connections–the wiring, routers, switches, file servers, and other equipment necessary to bring internet access into classrooms–for Funding Year 2005 of the eRate, which runs from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006. Applicants qualify for discounts of 20 percent to 90 percent of the cost of eligible services, depending on the number of students they serve who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and whether they are considered urban or rural. To apply, schools must follow a three-step process: (1) Submit a Form 470 application listing all eligible services not currently under contract for which they will be requesting discounts; (2) wait at least 28 days before signing contracts or choosing service providers, during which time vendors may contact applicants and submit bids for their services; and (3) submit a Form 471 application after contracts are signed, requesting eRate discounts on all eligible services. Because a Form 470 application must be posted to the SLD web site for 28 days before a contract can be signed and a Form 471 submitted, applicants must file all Forms 470 no later than Thursday, January 20 to be eligible for Program Year 2005 discounts.


Experts: Watch for rise in online attacks

School technology directors and network administrators should make sure their anti-virus software is up to date and should take whatever additional steps are necessary to protect their computers before staff and students log on after the holidays, computer security experts warn.

Hackers, spammers, and spies go into overdrive in December and January, when unsuspecting neophytes unwrap new computers, connect to the internet, and, too often, get hit with viruses, spyware, and other nefarious programs, they say.

Although few researchers produce holiday-specific security data, experts at IBM Corp., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), software companies, internet service providers, and computer security firms agree that the holidays are prime time for hackers.

Do you know
your hacker lingo?

Few educators and consumers know hacker lingo, and even if they did, the most vigilant expert can’t make a computer 100-percent safe against attacks. But technology executives say they are undertaking unprecedented educational campaigns to teach consumers about emerging cyber threats. Here are some entries from Big Blue’s "Version 1.0 Online Security Dictionary," an employee reference guide that is currently published only on IBM’s internal web site….

  • "People want to get on the ‘net right away, just like they want to put together and start using any Christmas present," said Tony Redmond, chief technology officer of Palo Alto, Calif.-based computer giant HP, whose new PCs ship with 60 days of virus and adware protection. "They should be warned that the ‘net is a very, very dangerous place."

    David Loomstein, group manager for Symantec Security Response, said administrators should make it a point to cull security web sites and other notices for a list of the latest online threats. The key, he said, is to be as vigilant as possible.

    One way to do that is to make sure system virus protections are up to date before allowing teachers and students to boot up in the New Year, he said.

    But virus protections can only do so much.

    "A lot of this really is about human factors," added Loomstein, who said the number of first-time technology users always increases during the gift-giving season. It’s a reality that provides hackers and other online miscreants with a swath of new and unsuspecting targets, he said.


    Given the situation, Loomstein said, the best way to protect any network is to reissue guidelines for responsible use. Precautions should include never opening unknown attachments and staying away from generic messages–even if those messages appear to come from someone you know and respect. If you’re not sure, place a call or send a separate message to the apparent sender, just to confirm. When it comes right down to it, Loomstein said, safety starts with precaution.

    School leaders also would be wise to share this advice with parents, community members, and other stakeholders, experts say.

    Technology executives describe the relationship between hackers and security programmers as an arms race, as both sides keep ratcheting up their fire power. But lack of consumer awareness–if not downright naivete–allows the war to escalate.

    According to a recent survey by the National Cyber Security Alliance, of the 185 million Americans with home computers, one in three say they’ll never get hit by viruses or other cyber attacks. In a Consumer Reports study, 36 percent of U.S. home computers showed signs of being infected with spyware, and only 41 percent of surveyed households said they actively try to prevent it.

    American businesses generally are savvy about firewalls, spam filters, multiple passwords, and other network protections, said Stuart McIrvine, director of corporate security strategy at IBM. But problems at the consumer level–from spyware to security risks in coffee shop wireless networks–are so severe that every hardware and software vendor should be worried about a backlash.

    Seasonal attacks start around Thanksgiving, when online shopping begins an annual spike and marketers pummel consumers with junk eMail–from the perfect stocking stuffer for a balding spouse to a limited-offer holiday cruise.

    With the rise in eCommerce, identity thieves try even harder to obtain credit card and other financial data from wireless and home networks. They set up dummy web sites that seem to be hosted by major financial institutions in hopes that gullible consumers will provide their account information.

    Virus writers hide viruses and worms in holiday-themed eMails, seasonal greetings cards, and screensavers.


    "W32/Zafi-D," a mass mailing and peer-to-peer worm, harvests addresses from Windows address books and other files. Infected eMails’ subject lines begin, "Merry Christmas!" and the text reads, "Happy Hollydays."

    The most vulnerable computers are the ones that have sat under Christmas trees for days or weeks. If a consumer buys equipment that arrives on Dec. 15, and it sits in the living room until Dec. 25, it could be hit by hundreds of viruses written in the 10-day interim.

    Tony Ross, analyst at British security firm Sophos Plc., advised consumers to get a CD-ROM with the newest updates from their electronics vendor, next-door neighbor, or the computer at their office before connecting to the internet. They should prohibit children–who tend to be liberal in distributing their personal data–from using the machine until it’s patched.

    Consumers should vigilantly buy and update security software, which can add hundreds of dollars over the course of a computer’s lifetime. Popular anti-spyware and anti-adware programs include Webroot Software Inc.’s Spy Sweeper ($29.95 for a one-year subscription), Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware SE Professional ($39.95), Tenebril Inc.’s SpyCatcher ($29.95), the free Spybot Search & Destroy program, and Computer Associates Inc.’s eTrust PestPatrol ($39.95).

    Related story: Know your hacker lingo


    Hewlett-Packard Co.

    Symantec Inc.

    National Cyber Security Alliance

    IBM Corp.

    Sophos Plc.

    Webroot Software


    Tenebril Inc.

    Spybot Search & Destroy

    Computer Associates



    Tacoma leaders making plans for high-tech high school

    Seattle’s KING-TV reports that Pierce County, Wash., might be opening a high-tech high school on the University of Washington Tacoma campus. Local leaders expect taxpayers to fund about 75 percent of the school, which would be attended by up to 400 students. (Note: This site requires registration.)