FETC 2006 Conference Kickoff

The 2006 Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) kicks off on Wednesday, March 22, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, and will bring together educators, administrators, and technology experts from Florida and around the nation. More than 8,500 attendees are expected.

The opening session begins Wednesday at 7 p.m., and Rudolph Crew, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, will deliver the keynote. More than 200 sessions are offered at this year’s FETC, and the exhibit hall will feature more than 500 exhibitors. The conference is sponsored by Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Jasmine Technologies Inc., Pearson Education, Riverdeep, and The Princeton Review.

Some of the topics to be addressed by presentations at the 2006 conference include accountability, community connections, learners, learning environment, professional competency, system capacity, and technology capacity.

Featured speakers include education executives from technology companies, U.S. Department of Education officials, university and college professors, and state school district administrators.

Thursday and Friday will offer “Eye-Opening Keynotes,” and presenters will address questions such as what students will need to know about and do with technology in the year 2010, what the nation’s next president should do about education, and the technology skills that “Gen D”–the generation that has grown up with digital devices in a digital culture–will need to compete in an increasingly global work environment.

New for FETC 2006 are updated session topics, in which FETC opted to use focus areas similar to the Florida Department of Education’s School Technology and Readiness (STaR) Chart.

Seventy-nine professional development workshops, given by local and national experts, will provide training opportunities for attendees.

While at the conference, visitors can explore the latest in assistive and instructional technology in the Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resource System’s (FDLRS) Hands-On Technology Lab. At the lab’s reading, writing, math, science, art, and music stations, attendees can preview programs that support differentiated instruction to match the needs of students with disabilities as well as general education students who are struggling to achieve learning gains. A Universal Access Station includes digital tools that provide access to information and curriculum content for all students, using Universal Design strategies.

Tours of Ocoee Middle School, Florida’s “state demonstration school,” will also be offered during the conference. In an effort to develop a “break-the-mold-technology-based” facility, this project was assigned to the state’s SMART Schools Clearinghouse, and began with extensive discussions on how middle-school-aged children learn and how technology can enhance learning.

Links:

Florida Educational Technology Conference
http://www.fetc.org

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Apple to continue laptop program

The Associated Press reports that Apple Computer Inc. submitted the winning bid to provide laptops to approximately 36,000 Maine teachers and students. The bid comes to a price of about $289 per unit, which is down from the original bid four years ago of $300 per unit. The bid, which works out to roughly $40 million, includes new iBook computers, upgraded wireless networks, a four-year warranty, and other perks like professional development for each of Maine’s 241 public middle schools…

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College search twist: 20 backup schools

The New York Times reports that unlike in the past, today’s college students are applying to several colleges in their quest to gain acceptance to elite institutions. A generation or so ago, most high school seniors applied to anywhere from three to five colleges. Because of the escalating anxiety over admissions, fueled in part by admissions guides, rankings, and other factors many of today’s high school seniors are applying to 10-12 schools, with some exceeding this total. The increased use of common applications and waived fees for online applications have also contributed to this trend… (Note: This site requires free registration.)

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Dell, St. Louis team on high-tech school

Dell Inc., the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS), and the University of Missouri-St. Louis have announced plans to develop a technology-rich high school that reportedly will provide 125 ninth-graders with some of the most advanced classroom technology ever assembled. The school is scheduled to open in September.

The organizations will work together to transform SLPS’s Carnahan Middle School into an advanced high school and learning facility, complete with wireless technology; Dell notebooks, printers, and network servers; and other devices intended to help students develop the kinds of skills they’ll need to stay competitive in the 21st-century workforce.

Dell’s effort is similar to recent undertakings by other leading technology firms, including Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. Intel’s Model School Program has locations in California and Florida; Microsoft’s School of the Future is located in Philadelphia. Both programs seek to build technology-embedded, 21st-century learning environments and prepare students for the contemporary university and job market.

In St. Louis, the Dell-sponsored school, also called a “School of the Future,” aims to:

  • Improve student academic achievement;
  • Enhance the educational environment, including school-to-home communication;
  • Increase teacher productivity through anytime-anywhere instruction;
  • Improve administrative effectiveness; and
  • Provide a measurable return on the district’s investment in technology.
  • Organizers–including educators, parents, community members, businesses, and community-based organizations–hope the school will serve as a model for how technology can improve student grades, attendance, and graduation rates by using computers pervasively in instruction and school management.

    “For our children to be successful and competitive in college and in the rapidly changing job market, it is imperative that they have access to up-to-date and relevant technology today,” said SLPS Superintendent Creg E. Williams. “Our goal is to help prepare these young people for the challenges that lie ahead and show them how promising their futures can be. Our partnership with Dell and UM-St. Louis will help provide them with the tools and technological skills they need to be successful in life.”

    Williams, who was involved in Microsoft’s program in Philadelphia before coming to St. Louis, said in an interview with eSchool News that he intends to use the pilot at Carnahan as a model to be replicated across the district eventually. Five years from now, Williams said, he’d like to see every high school in the district partner with at least one technology corporation and one university.

    Under the current plan, all high schools that are refurbished or built, beginning with Carnahan, will begin as transition high schools, Williams said. That means the school will start with a single class of ninth-graders, adding additional classes each year, until a complete four-year high school comes together, with the freshman of the 2006-07 academic year graduating in the summer of 2010.

    The district says the middle school-to-high school conversion is consistent with its plans to create smaller high school learning environments.

    Carnahan reportedly is only two years old and therefore will not need a great deal of retrofitting to incorporate new technological elements provided by Dell and other sponsors, Williams said. Additionally, Carnahan’s original budget of around $3 million annually will remain about the same, with program sponsors chipping in to provide additional support and services where needed.

    Besides helping design and implement the project, Dell will provide teachers with ongoing professional development to promote the effective use of technology. The company also plans to produce a set of best practices developed in cooperation with SLPS teachers, administrators, students, and parents.

    “We’re committed to helping students prepare for the 21st century and to helping teachers harness the teaching power of today’s technology,” said Karen Bruett, vice president of Dell’s K-12 education business. “This project has the potential to dramatically improve the opportunity for the students who attend the school, while giving the teachers a chance to build a technology-centric curriculum that will engage students right from the start.”

    Teacher commitment to professional development, Williams said, is key to the project’s success.

    “This is a ‘school of the future.’ In order to remain a ‘school of the future,’ year after year, the professional development provided by Dell and the university will continue to remain very important,” Williams said.

    Williams also is planning to mandate parent participation, making it necessary for the parents of every child who applies to Carnahan as part of the school’s inaugural class to remain involved with their child’s education through electronic and in-person contact with school officials. Dell also will host on-campus development courses for parents to better prepare them for their role in the learning process. Though it’s not likely the parental mandate will stay in place as additional schools move to the model he’s envisioned, William said, it will be “interesting” to see how such close parent contact affects attitudes and policies in other schools, not to mention student outcomes at Carnahan.

    Williams anticipates that corporate partnerships–in conjunction with funding, human capital, and professional and IT support–will help foster a culture of professionalism atypical of traditional school environments. That professionalism likely will serve students well as they move on to the university community or enter workforce after high school, he said.

    Kathy Thomas, manager of education strategy for Dell, said opportunities for ongoing assessment will be built into the Dell school architecture to help meet state standards and the assessment goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

    Since NCLB’s inception, Thomas said, some schools and educators have been reluctant to experiment with new technologies and pedagogies for fear of the law’s strict requirements. But that could change with the Dell project.

    “We are pulling [technology architecture, security, professional development, and other elements of the program] together along with the ability to do the ongoing assessment that we will build into the learning environment,” she said. “That information is necessary to make decisions based on what’s going on with students. If we can make assessment formative, rather than summative, as part of the process, it will allow teachers to correct students if they’re not getting it, and advance them forward if they’re moving too slowly. We also need [formative assessment] to better provide for the collaborative learning environment for the teachers–to get the feedback they need to work with the technology, experiment with new learning practices, and get appropriate peer feedback and assistance.”

    Another sponsor, telecommunications provider AT&T Inc., says it plans to develop and deliver appropriate curriculum and content training sessions for teachers, library staff, and administrators; provide AT&T executives to serve on committees associated with the school; work to network with other appropriate community and business leaders in support of the project; and provide financial assistance for future development.

    AT&T Missouri’s vice president of external affairs, Debra Hollingsworth, was present at the dedication of the project.

    “AT&T has long echoed the St. Louis Public Schools’ vision ‘to ensure that every student achieves his or her fullest potential to live, work, and prosper in a global, technologically advancing world,'” said Hollingsworth. “This ‘School of the Future’ is a significant step toward making this type of learning environment the ‘school of the present.’ Technology truly makes a difference in enhancing children’s education, and we’re pleased to partner on this important initiative.”

    The district and its partners currently are assessing the school’s existing infrastructure, pulling together the blueprint for wireless and back-office infrastructure, and determining what’s needed and how to proceed to get Carnahan off the ground, Williams said.

    Thomas praised Williams for his leadership and his eagerness to design partnerships to promote 21st-century student skills in public education.

    “When you contact an organization like ourselves & just asking for price, that’s what you’re going to get from us,” she said. “As a partner, we’re going to bring more to that relationship. We’re going to share best practices, collaboration, the expertise of Dell’s IT professionals, and much more. There’s so much to be harvested from relationships like the one between Dell and Carnahan. Our hope is that more school districts will look at what St. Louis is doing and be encouraged by that degree of partnership.”

    Links:

    Dell Inc.
    www.dell.com

    St. Louis Public Schools
    www.slps.org

    University of Missouri-St. Louis
    www.umsl.edu

    Intel Corp.
    www.intel.com

    Microsoft Corp.
    www.microsoft.com

    AT&T Inc.
    http://att.sbc.com/

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    ISTE provides online assessments of students’ tech skills

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    The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has added to its web site a National Education Technology Standards (NETS) for Students Online Technology Assessment to help teachers measure students’ skills in using software applications, and to help measure students’ progress toward meeting these standards. The new addition to the site is the result of a collaboration between ISTE and Microsoft Corp. Each assessment consists of five to 10 activities measuring a number of separate skills, as well as integrated sets of skills, related to a project or problem. Assessments are available for word processing, web authoring, presentations, eMail, spreadsheets, and more. The assessments are designed to be completed within an average of 30 minutes or less, but they are not timed. Individual activities can be repeated, and the assessments can be retaken as many times as needed. Feedback on student performance is provided after each question, and a summary is given at the end. Microsoft and ISTE say their online assessments are more authentic in the sense that they ask students to undertake real-world tasks, in a real-world technological environment, using the same real-world tools students might use to complete these tasks outside of school.

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    Microsoft to delay Windows Vista release

    The Associated Press reports that Microsoft Corp. has announced that the release of its new Vista operating system has been delayed, and it will not be available for the holiday season. The release date has been pushed back to January of 2007. Analysts say the move will hurt computer manufacturers and retailers most of all, as they were looking for the new operating system to boost holiday sales…

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    Critics: testing industry needs oversight

    The New York Times reports that a string of scoring errors on the fall version of the College Board’s SAT test has educators and other critics of standardized testing calling for greater oversight of the testing industry. In an era where laws such as the federal No Child Left Behind Act require schools to demonstrate improved scores or risk losing federal dollars, and the market for standardized tests is exploding across the nation, critics contend test-makers must be held accountable for mistakes.

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    Software catches plagiarists in act

    The Rutland Herald in Vermont reports how the internet is making it difficult for educators nationwide to detect and discourage plagiarism in their classes. In an age of “cut-and-paste,” always-on internet access, educators say plagiarism is becoming increasingly commonplace. What’s worse, they say, students often don’t see anything wrong with lifting quotes and passages sans attribution. To combat the problem, the paper reports, several schools are turning to online services that vow to catch these cheaters in the act.

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    Network promotes online sharing

    The National Grid for Learning reports on a new European venture designed to promote sharing, foreign language development, and collaboration in six European schools. The project, called the “Collaborative Technology in Languages Initiative (CTLI),” was launched in Granada, Spain, and is run by the international Training and Development Agency for Schools. The aim of CTLI reportedly is to link up European classrooms, enabling teachers and students “to communicate, collaborate, and share information, resources and techniques to support teaching of the curriculum” and to motivate children to develop their language skills, the group said on its web site.

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    Miami-Dade to Bully maker: Game over

    The maker of the controversial video game Grand Theft Auto is reportedly set to release a new game, Bully, that some officials believe will lead to increased violence on school campuses. The Miami-Dade School Board in Florida has taken local action to limit the sale of the game to minors.

    As originally reported in The Miami Herald newspaper, a resolution passed by the Miami-Dade School Board on March 16 urged retailers not to sell Bully to minors and directed the district to inform parents “on the potential harmful effects to children of playing interactive video games containing violence.”

    The resolution is believed to be the first such action taken against Bully by a major school district. But as more school leaders become aware of the game, districts around the nation could take similar action.

    Little is known about the new game, as companies such as Rockstar Games and its parent company, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., the maker of Bully, are routinely quiet about the content of a major release until it hits the shelves. But Bully is said to take place in a school, and players reportedly are permitted to act as bullies, using slingshots and other weapons to commit violent acts against schoolmates.

    Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series has been highly controversial–and highly profitable–for years. In that game, players steal cars; beat and murder enemies, police, and passersby; hire prostitutes; deal drugs; and engage in numerous other illegal activities.

    As of press time, neither Rockstar Games nor Frank Bolanos, the Miami-Dade School Board member who introduced the resolution, had returned telephone calls from an eSchool News reporter seeking comment.

    Bolanos, however, told The Miami Herald that Bully is “the antithesis of everything [the Miami-Dade School Board] is trying to promote.”

    Joseph Garcia, chief communications officer for the Miami-Dade County School System, told eSchool News that school safety issues are very important to Bolanos and other board members.

    “I think [Bolanos] sees [the Bully resolution] as of a piece with other efforts he’s championed in the district in terms of raising school safety issues,” Garcia said, noting that Bolanos has offered other resolutions concerning the scope of school security operations in Miami-Dade County, training for school police and security officers, and the district’s effort to train and prepare for various emergency situations.

    William Lassiter, manager for the Center for the Prevention of School Violence, a resource center for programs that promote safer schools and foster positive youth development, said Miami-Dade’s resolution “helps raise awareness [among] parents.”

    “There is violent content in the game, and it does encourage children to do things that are inappropriate in schools,” Lassiter said. “I think parents are unaware about the violence in the game. Anything that raises awareness to this is a good thing.”

    Lassiter also warned that, like some games in the Grand Theft Auto series, pass codes can be obtained by players to “unlock,” in gamer lingo, secret content that is even more graphic in nature.

    In February, the Los Angeles County city attorney’s office filed a lawsuit against the publisher of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for reportedly hiding pornographic images in the game. In addition to the usual content of the Grand Theft Auto series, the San Andreas version of the game also includes an embedded mini-game, in which characters could engage in virtual sexual acts, according to news reports. In July, gamers reportedly used codes obtained from internet web sites and other sources to unlock a mini-game called “Hot Coffee.” In San Andreas, characters refer to sexual acts as “hot coffee.”

    “A lot of times, parents might see the beginning clip of [the game in the store, but they] don’t understand the full content of the game,” Lassiter said. “Even if you don’t have to enter pass codes, parents might not see the full content of the game, and [so they might] not realize this is inappropriate for their child.”

    Though Lassiter said efforts to block the sale of such games through legislation have been largely unsuccessful, he said boycotts by parents might negate the question of game censorship. The message to parents, he said, should be: “Don’t purchase it, [and] don’t let your child purchase the game.”

    The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulatory ratings organization for video games established by the Entertainment Software Association, independently applies and enforces ratings, advertising guidelines, and online privacy principles adopted by the computer and video game industry. The organization notes on its web site that it has a two-part ratings system consisting of a ratings symbol that indicates the age-appropriateness of the game in question, as well as content descriptors that indicate the elements in the game that led to a particular rating or that might be of interest to concerned parties.

    In the lawsuit against Rockstar Games and its parent company, the Los Angeles County attorney’s office states that the publisher failed to disclose the hidden contents of the game to ESRB, which led to a lesser rating of “Mature 17+” instead of “Adults Only 18+.”

    A spokesman for the ESRB would not comment on the pending court case. He told eSchool News that Rockstar Games has not yet submitted Bully for rating and, as a result, the organization is not in a position to discuss the content of the game. The spokesman said any organization submitting materials to ESRB is under contractual obligation to submit “all pertinent content” to the ratings board–whether it is directly playable or hidden on the disc.

    Links:

    Miami-Dade County Public Schools
    http://www.dadeschools.net

    Rockstar Games
    http://www.rockstargames.com

    Center for the Prevention of School Violence
    http://www.cpsv.org

    Entertainment Software Rating Board
    http://www.esrb.org

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