School Video Use:

Founded in 1865, George Washington University (GWU) Law School is the oldest law school in the District of Columbia. Today, it’s one of the largest in the country–and a leader in integrating audiovisual technologies to enhance the classroom learning experience.

During the past six years, GWU Law School has equipped all 30 of its classrooms with Canon Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) Network Video Cameras, which–although small and inconspicuous–capture high-quality, full-motion video that can be transmitted through the internet or over an Internet Protocol (IP) network connection. GWU Law School uses Canon’s PTZ cameras for everything from recording classroom lectures for students to play back later or for viewing in overflow classes, to documenting the practice trials of mock court.

GWU Law School currently uses 40 Canon PTZ cameras, which are remotely controlled from the school’s media center. The center archives the video and makes it available for retrieval and sharing on student computers via a password-protected web site.

“We were remodeling, and when you do that you want to upgrade to the state of the art, which is what we’ve done,” said Thomas A. Morrison, senior associate dean for administrative affairs. “We realized very quickly that there’s always going to be a reason in any particular room to have a camera present. Your typical scenario is a law-class situation, where a student has a valid excuse for missing the lecture. We record that class digitally using a Canon PTZ camera, and we then upload that video onto a private link through a GWU Law School web page to the student so that he or she can view that class at a later time.”

Password protection ensures that the video is seen only by those it was intended for, and the school’s video recording, archiving, and delivery system renders make-up lectures unnecessary. Another use of the school’s PTZ cameras is to telecast lectures to satellite classrooms when audiences are too large for one room to hold.

The most important of all uses for the cameras, Morrison said, is for videotaping student practice trials in mock court. Afterward, students can review their performances, see mistakes, and become better prepared to avoid them in the future.

“Our intention is to be able to record the educational activities in a particular classroom or courtroom any time we want to,” Morrison explained. “This includes not only what goes on in the front of the room, but also audience reactions and questions from different parts of the room. Even though it can be painful to watch yourself making mistakes, it’s also one of the best learning devices you can have.”

Installing high-performance video cameras in classrooms where intensive legal training is an everyday occurrence demands technology that is not only reliable, but also invisible. A large, obtrusive camera has the potential to distract students from their studies. Canon’s PTZ cameras, however, are compact, remote-controllable, silent, and mountable on walls or ceilings in an optional reverse-mount configuration.

“I didn’t want unsightly cameras,” Morrison noted. “I didn’t want a big old camera hanging down from a pipe in the middle of the room. I needed cameras that blend into the classroom environment. And I want them to work. They do that–and we get good, clear pictures.” Canon’s VB-C50i/R PTZ Network Camera with Built-In Server, for example, features a 26X optical zoom lens and 12X digital zoom that can capture fine detail from long distances.

Unseen by students, meanwhile, is GWU Law School’s media center coordinator, Andrew Laurence, who controls the Canon PTZ cameras remotely via their RS-232 connectors. “I use a joystick for focus and for movement, and it has a couple of buttons to preset shots,” he explained. “I can preset shots and store them; I can do the auto focus and manual focus, and I can do backlight and adjust the iris remotely.” The cameras mount quite easily and move a good 180 degrees up and down, Morrison added.

Laurence said the cameras cost about $1,000 each, but he couldn’t estimate the total cost of the project. “The classrooms have computers, VCR/DVD players, reinforced sound systems, et cetera, so it is hard to determine the cost of the installation of the cameras separately,” he explained.

Concluded Morrison: “We wanted a hang-them-on-a-wall-and-forget-about-them solution. That’s what we got with the Canon PTZs. They’re very durable, and we’re very happy with them.”


GWU Law School

Canon USA Inc.


District’s laptop sale triggers stampede

Henrico County, Va., school leaders got a hard lesson in supply and demand on Aug. 16 when a rush to purchase $50 used laptops from the district turned into a violent stampede, with people getting thrown to the pavement, beaten with a folding chair, and nearly driven over. One woman reportedly went so far as to wet herself rather than surrender her place in line.

“This is total, total chaos,” said Latoya Jones, 19, who lost one of her flip-flops in the ordeal and later limped around on the sizzling blacktop with one foot bare.

An estimated 5,500 people turned out at the Richmond International Raceway in hopes of getting their hands on one of the four-year-old Apple iBooks. The Henrico County school system was selling 1,000 of the computers to county residents; the machines had been used as part of Henrico’s high-profile one-to-one computing initiative. New iBooks cost between $999 and $1,299.

Officials opened the gates at 7 a.m., but some residents already had been waiting since 1:30 a.m.

When the gates opened, it became a terrifying mob scene, the Associated Press reported.

People threw themselves forward, screaming and pushing each other. A little girl’s stroller was crushed in the stampede. Witnesses said an elderly man was thrown to the pavement, and someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.

Seventeen people suffered minor injuries, with four requiring hospital treatment, Henrico County Battalion Chief Steve Wood said. There were no arrests, and the iBooks sold out by 1 p.m.

Blandine Alexander, 33, said one woman standing in front of her was so desperate to retain her place in line that she urinated on herself.

“I’ve never been in something like that before, and I never again will,” said Alexander, who brought her 14-year-old twin boys to the complex at 4:30 a.m. to wait in line. “No matter what the kids want, I already told them I’m not doing that again.”

Open to Henrico County residents only, the laptop sale was envisioned as a way to give back to members of the community whose tax dollars were used to subsidize the school system’s pioneering one-to-one program.

Before offering the computers to the general public, the Henrico County school system gave its graduating high school seniors the opportunity to purchase the machines. The remaining 1,000 computers then were handed over to the county government for the sell-off.

District spokesman Mychael Dickerson referred all questions about the laptop sale to county government officials, who were in charge of the event.

Paul Proto, director of general services for Henrico County, could not say whether the government planned to sell surplus machines again in the future, but he did say, “I’m certain if we do offer another sale like this one, it will not be conducted in the same fashion.”


‘Kutztown 13’ hackers quietly offered deal

The case against the “Kutztown 13”–a group of Pennsylvania high school students charged with felonies for tinkering with their school-issued laptop computers–seems to be ending mostly with a whimper.

In meetings with students in late August, the Berks County, Pa., juvenile probation office has quietly offered the students a deal in which all charges would be dropped in exchange for 15 hours of community service, a letter of apology, a class on personal responsibility, and a few months of probation, the Associated Press reported.

“The probation department realizes this is small potatoes,” said William Bispels, an attorney representing nearly half the accused students.

The 13 initially were charged with computer trespass and computer theft, both felonies, and could have faced a wide range of sanctions, including juvenile detention.

The Kutztown Area School District said it reported the students to police only after detentions, suspensions, and other punishments failed to deter them from breaking school rules governing computer usage. (See story:

But the students, their families, and outraged supporters around the nation said that authorities overreacted, punishing the kids not for any horrible behavior but because they outsmarted the district’s technology workers.

The trouble began last fall after the school district issued some 600 laptops to every student at the high school, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Students easily breached security and began downloading forbidden internet programs, such as the popular iChat instant-messaging tool. Some students also turned off a remote monitoring function that let administrators see what students were viewing on their screens–or used the monitoring function to view administrators’ own computer screens.

School district officials and prosecutors did not return telephone messages left Aug. 25 and had not been heard from by press time.

In legal terms, the students have been offered an “informal adjustment”–the least severe form of punishment.

Mike Boland, who represents one student, said his client would accept the offer. “It doesn’t require my client to acknowledge he is guilty of anything,” he said.

One student who has had prior dealings with the juvenile probation office was not offered a deal. That case is expected to proceed.


Chicago to get relaxed tutoring rule

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) will allow Chicago Public Schools to tutor struggling students even though the district itself has not met academic standards–a waiver of federal rules that could have national implications.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced the change Sept. 1 in Chicago, marking the second time in a week she has shown flexibility in how she enforces President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

In the other case, four Virginia school districts have been allowed to offer tutoring before they are required to offer transfers to students in struggling schools, the first time the department has allowed that sequence to be reversed.

Depending on how Spellings defines these pilot projects, other districts might get the chance to apply for the same flexibility–or they might have to wait and see.

For months, state education officials have been looking for signs on how Spellings would deliver on her promise to be more reasonable in enforcing the law if states show rising achievement.

Under federal rules, school districts that fail to show enough yearly progress in reading and math for two straight years cannot provide tutoring. That restriction is designed to protect poor students from having to rely on the same schools that might not be serving them well when tapping into the law’s promise of free tutoring.

But urban districts such as Chicago say the rule is unfair because their test scores in two subjects might have little to do with their ability to provide extra help. What’s more, the large districts argue, the rule could keep children from getting help if other tutors aren’t available.

Chicago, one of the largest school systems in the nation, also has had one of the most expansive tutoring programs. Federal officials previously had ordered Chicago to stop providing tutoring under the law or risk losing federal money. (See story:

Michael Petrilli, a former senior aide at ED who is now vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an education think tank, said the Bush administration had avoided issuing waivers to the law at all costs. Not anymore.

“The secretary is showing her willingness to use waivers to provide flexibility,” Petrilli said. He added: “I can’t imagine that other districts would not be eligible for this. I don’t think they could justify keeping it to these few places.”


Georgia launches statewide online SAT prep program

With the Oct. 8 administration of the SAT looming, Georgia has become the first state to offer its students the online SAT test prep program from the College Board, the nonprofit company that makes of the college-entrance test, at no charge. The new state program was unveiled in August by Gov. Sonny Perdue and state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox.

“Every student across Georgia can use this free online SAT class at their own convenience,” said Perdue. “Students will be able to take … practice tests and then review the results to determine their strengths, as well as areas where they need more work. Thanks to this resource, our students will be better prepared to take the SAT.”

The program was financed through a $1 million state appropriation.

“Over 70 percent of our seniors take the SAT,” said Charlotte Robinson, program manager for AP, PSAT, and SAT exams in Georgia. Robinson said that, before implementation of this program, SAT prep was the responsibility of individual schools or districts.

The state has purchased an access code for each of Georgia’s 400,000 high school students in grades 9-12. High school students can use the code to log onto a web site operated by the College Board at any time and take 18 SAT lessons. The lessons feature interactive activities and multimedia content. The site also offers three full-length, official SAT practice tests.

Students and educators also can access more than 600 practice questions with explanations of answers. The practice questions give students personalized score reports. The site also features automated essay scoring for practice on the new essay section of the SAT.

Registration cards will be given to students by their schools. The College Board also has distributed registration information to the state’s public high schools and districts.


How to win grants with an effective evaluation plan

Editor’s Note: This month’s column is an excerpt from Deborah Ward’s new book, Writing Grant Proposals that Win (3rd Edition, 2006: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, Mass., It is reprinted here with permission from the publisher. For more information about the book, go to 29302.

Since the late 1990s, evaluation has become increasingly important to funders. They want to know if their money was well spent, who benefited from the project, and to what extent. Evaluation should, by the same token, be important to grant seekers as a means of showing funders they are capable, reliable, and can be trusted with future grants. Unfortunately, proposal writers too often treat evaluation casually and give funders very little information about their plans.

This can be avoided by asking the evaluator to be a part of a project development process and to provide the information that is needed for this proposal section. (Often, the evaluator must be identified and his or her qualifications must be included in this section.)

Evaluation asks: Did the project meet its objectives, and if so, how do you know? If it did not, what were the reasons why? If you have written clear, measurable objectives, your evaluation design should be apparent. For example, if your objective is to raise test scores of the target group as compared to a control group, the evaluation design section of your proposal should describe the selection procedures for the control group, the testing instruments and procedures, and the process for establishing validity of the test.

Your evaluation design should clearly indicate the criteria for success for the project. These criteria should be specific and ambitious enough to show that the impact of the project is substantial. For example, a criterion for success of the test score project described above could be that the average test score for the target group exceeds that of the control group by 15 out of 100 points.

The proposal also should describe how data will be collected and analyzed, and explain all evaluation instruments, such as tests and questionnaires. It should discuss how the instruments were chosen or developed and why they are appropriate for the project.

You may choose either to evaluate the project at its end to judge its ultimate result (summative evaluation), and/or conduct continuous assessments as the project proceeds to keep an eye on progress and make any necessary adjustments (formative evaluation).

In the following example of a summative evaluation plan, note how the evaluation measures accomplishment of the objectives:


A summative (statistical) evaluation will be conducted for the project objectives relating to reducing drug use. These data will be collected and analyzed annually.

The evaluator will use official police records to ascertain the extent to which incidents involving students who have tried or sold drugs have decreased and whether that reduction is at least 10 percent as compared to the base year.

The evaluator will evaluate student perception of using drugs by conducting a survey that duplicates the survey administered prior to project implementation (see need statement). This survey will be administered to a stratified random sample of students in the target school. The survey will seek to gather data on the extent to which students are opposed to drugs. The evaluator will determine if 50 percent fewer students have never tried drugs at the end of the project compared to the beginning of the project.

In most cases, a summative evaluation will meet the funder’s evaluation requirements. But formative evaluation is a very valuable tool for managing projects, because it requires a great deal of time to interview staff and participants and observe activities. Check the budget guidelines to see if the costs of an outside evaluator are an allowable expense–this will often allow you to include the cost of a formative evaluation.

The information gained through formative evaluation can be very important for multiyear grants. In most cases, summative evaluations are not completed in time to apply for continued funding. Formative evaluation, on the other hand, provides periodic reports you can use to convince a funder to renew your grant.

Because projects usually use formative evaluation to help with implementation, your proposal should describe how the evaluation report will be used. Your project must publish the report in a timely manner, present it to the proper authorities, share it with project staff, and provide a plan to use the information to modify the project.

Discuss the costs of conducting a formative and summative evaluation with your evaluator before submitting your proposal. If it is not too costly, conduct both types of evaluation. This can enhance the credibility of your project and your proposal.

Deborah Ward, CFRE, is an independent grant writing consultant. She welcomes questions at (717) 295-9437 or


Hurricane Katrina shows power of eCommunications during crisis

In times of chaos and crisis, psychologists tell us that a return to some semblance of normalcy–even in the midst of utter of devastation–is a key to helping victims start repairing their battered lives and psyches.

Children displaced by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina need the comfort and support of returning to school as quickly as possible. Teachers and administrators need to get back to work, recognizing their new curriculum will be of the heart rather than the mind.

Psychologists also tell us that uncertainty, misinformation, and fear make bad situations worse.

That’s why I commend the state departments of education in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for getting hurricane-related information and news posted so quickly on their web sites, even though staff members were undoubtedly dealing with incredible personal and professional stress.

The quick actions of these educational leaders remind us once again just how powerful eCommunications can be during any kind of crisis.

Florida, for example, quickly posted the latest information regarding Katrina-related school closings, including community colleges and universities, as well as schools run by the vocational rehabilitation office and division of blind services.

Florida also posted information regarding student support service resources for school districts recovering from hurricanes, as well as links and phone numbers for a variety of disaster-related services and agencies.

No stranger to nature’s devastation, Florida also has a strong “Interested in helping?” section that provides a toll-free number for volunteers and links web site visitors to three key sites:,, and

Despite having millions of residents displaced and entire cities underwater, the Louisiana Department of Education was able to post its first hurricane-related release as early as Aug. 31 to implore superintendents across the state–and the nation–to assist the more than 135,000 students and thousands of teachers displaced by the disaster.

Urging parents to get their children signed up for school in the districts they were taking shelter in, Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard said in the release: “We will worry about school records, funding, payrolls, and waivers. Let us work out those details. Right now I want parents and school systems to make sure these children have the stability of a classroom as soon as possible.”

The department also urged all teachers who were able to apply for work in the school districts in which they are taking shelter. Louisiana also made temporary unemployment benefits available to teachers and assisted the Orleans Parish as district officials tried to rescue payroll documents.

A call center was quickly established with a toll-free number (1-877-453-2721), and additional information for teachers was posted on the Teach Louisiana web site. For hard-hit New Orleans, the department linked school employees to a special web site with payroll, health insurance, and other benefits information.

Health benefits were extended for employees who recently received layoff notices as part of a massive restructuring effort underway before the killer storm hit.

These types of efforts are critical components of crisis and emergency communication, according to Marc Wolfson, public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Wolfson says that during a crisis, the most important thing for communicators is to “be first, be right, and be credible” with news and information.

“Speed counts,” says Wolfson. “You have to be able to get an initial message out quickly, even if you don’t know very much or don’t have much to share.”

By all accounts, Texas led the nation in this regard. While other states let concerns about funding and lost paperwork stymie relief efforts, Texas flung open its door to storm victims.

“I want stranded families to know the doors of Texas’ public schools are immediately open to your school-aged children,” said Gov. Rick Perry. “I also want school leaders to know that we realize this will put a strain on their capacity, so I have asked the Texas Education Agency to work with them to make sure they have the textbooks they need, funding for transportation, and the free-and-reduced lunch program and class size waivers as needed.”

Expressing empathy is an important facet of building trust, something that many school leaders are hesitant to do for fear of saying the wrong thing or spawning lawsuits and other reprisals.

“I know everyone has the victims of Hurricane Katrina in their hearts and prayers,” wrote Joseph Morton, state superintendent of education for Alabama, in his first communication with school leaders. “The devastation has been almost too severe to comprehend, and the recovery will likely be ongoing for years.”

“We’re all in this together,” said Perry in the news release welcoming Louisiana refugees. “We will continue to do what it takes, from offering assistance to offering prayers, to get through this together, as one American family.”

Texas also did an excellent job of bulleting all of the actions it was taking to support storm victims and assist with disaster recovery.

Keeping the information pipeline filled during a crisis and its aftermath lets people (including the news media) know that leaders are aware of what’s going on and are addressing the most pressing issues in an effective manner.

While frequent, consistent, and clear communication may help restore or preserve a sense of normalcy, poor communications frighten, confuse, and anger the public, leading them to doubt everyone and everything associated with an organization.

Most crisis communication experts believe that if a crisis is not handled right in the first hour or less, the opportunity to restore confidence and minimize damage might be permanently lost.

Wolfson says the most common mistakes communicators make is sending mixed messages from multiple experts, releasing information late after other sources have already published competing versions of the story, paternalistic attitudes, not countering rumors and myths in real time, and public power struggles or confusion.

According to Wolfson, who trains leaders in emergency and risk communications, most people generally want to know the answers to five basic questions: (1) “Are my family and I safe?” (2) “What have you found that may affect me?” (3) “What can I do to protect myself and my family?” (4) “Who caused this?” and (5) “Can you fix it?”

While having answers to these questions doesn’t take the pain away, not causing additional anguish and harm make proactive communication worth the effort.

School leaders also must realize that the process of recovery will take intensive communications for months and even years to come.

Just as when people grieve the loss of loved ones, organizations must deal with institutional grief and the year of firsts that inevitably follows any major upheaval. For school staff, students, and parents, this means that time–and their entire school experience–is now permanently marked “before” and “after.”

Each time there is a crisis or major disaster, emergency management officials and responders across the country review and adjust their plans based on the lessons learned, even if they weren’t directly involved.

School leaders and public relations professionals need to do the same thing. While even the best crisis plans might only get you through the first few hours, being prepared will help you communicate effectively any time.

Decision making and communicating during a catastrophic event is a completely different ball game than “business as usual” operations.

“In a serious crisis, all affected people take in information differently, process information differently, and act on information differently,” says Wolfson.

Even the strongest leaders and communicators will experience psychological barriers that block their ability to absorb, analyze, and act on information quickly and decisively.

Wolfson says that fear, anxiety, confusion, and dread may create additional psychological burdens that can make even simple, everyday tasks difficult.

I experienced that firsthand when I assisted Colorado’s Jefferson County Public Schools with communications in the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy. While outwardly I felt and looked calm, my brain felt muddled and I kept losing things–all classic signs of stress.

Statements, message points, and press releases that normally would take minutes to write, suddenly took a team of two or three public relations professionals to come up with something coherent.

That’s why advance planning, including drafting message points to fit various scenarios, is so important.

Few realize that Mayor Rudy Giuliani used messages crafted years before during the first horrifying hours following the terrorist attacks on New York City and America on 9/11.

On Sept. 16, 2001, Giuliani delivered one of his most memorable addresses at a posthumous promotion ceremony for three New York City Fire Department leaders who perished on 9/11.

His words inspired our nation and the world, and conveyed in eloquent simplicity the power of words to call out the very best in us:

“Some may wonder why we’re proceeding with a promotion ceremony during such a devastating time of loss. The answer is very clear: Those who were lost and missing would want us to continue. They invested their lives and their love in this department. They gave their life for it. And it’s out of sense of profound responsibility to their memory that we must go forward.”

Nora Carr is senior vice president and director of public relations for Luquire George Andrews Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based advertising and public relations firm. A former assistant superintendent for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, she is nationally recognized for her work in educational communications and marketing.


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eSN Online Partners

Be sure to visit eSchool News Online: and the K-20 Technology Solutions Center: to learn more about these leading organizations that believe an informed educator is their best customer:

American Education Corp.
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Tripp Lite
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From NCREL: Research puts schools on the path to improvement

From the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), “Pathways to School Improvement” is an online library of reports and educational research intended to put schools on the path to meeting their educational and improvement goals. Report topics include assessment; how to deal with at-risk students; fostering greater family and community involvement; improving instruction; effective school leadership; literacy; math and science; professional development; and more. Each research-driven topic area also contains summaries of best practices and descriptions of schools that have successfully addressed the issue, as well as collections of materials to support change. As part of its Critical Issues series, NCREL provides advice and research intended to drive institutional change. In one recent feature, NCREL investigated equity and inclusion in math and science classrooms, giving advice for teachers and administrators caught toeing the line between equity and individualized student instruction.


Online dictionary helps define good research

With more than 100 million visitors to its site since 2003, has developed a reputation as a multifaceted, virtual research hub for students and teachers. Not only can visitors use this free web site to look up words–it features more than 1 million entries for words in general use–but they also can access a virtual encyclopedia, thesaurus, and reference guide, among other tools. Students and teachers can use the site’s flagship interactive dictionary feature to look up definitions, synonyms, antonyms, and usage examples from classic literature, as well as audio/phonetic pronunciation guides and word etymologies. The site also includes repositories for more obscure terms, including those specific to the medical, legal, and computer professions, as well as thousands of photos and diagrams. All information is either assembled by the site’s editorial staff or obtained from other recognized, premier reference sources, developers said. “Most dictionary sites just ‘dump’ information onto a page. We decided to make our web site not only the most comprehensive, but also the most organized and intuitive of all the dictionary sites,” said Nick Simonov, president of Farlex Inc., the parent company of The idea, according to Simonov, is to provide every student and teacher who visits the site with “an array of information that paints a rich, complete picture of the entry in question.”