2007 AT&T Excelerator Grant Program

The 2007 AT&T Excelerator grant program will be open to nonprofit organizations located in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. To qualify, the major focus of the organization and project must have an emphasis on education, community development, health and human services, or arts and culture. The 2007 AT&T Excelerator grant program will award individual grants ranging from $2,500 to $25,000 that are one year in length. Collaborations by two or more organizations will be considered for grants up to $50,000 for one year.

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CoSN conference has international flair

This year’s annual conference of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) in San Francisco has had a decidedly international feel to it, highlighted by a closing general session on March 30 examining what might be the world’s largest effort to transform instruction through the use of technology on a national scale in Great Britain.

In a session titled “Personalization and the U.K.’s Whole-School Reform Effort,” Doug Brown, head of learning technologies for the U.K.’s Department of Education and Skills, described the scope of these efforts and the vision behind them.

The U.K. has pumped a tremendous amount of funding into educational technology over the last 10 years, Brown said. It now spends the equivalent of $1.5 billion a year on school technology alone for its 9 million students–and this figure is growing at a rate of about 5 percent, per year. The country also has made a push to install interactive whiteboards in its school, and though the decision to participate is left to each institution, the devices are now in more than 50 percent of the nation’s classrooms.

By 2008, the country’s goal is to have all schools using learning platforms, all students using personalized learning spaces, and “universal access” to technology, wherever and whenever students need it, Brown said. That could include laptops, personal digital assistants, Sony PlayStation Portables, tablet computers, or whatever technologies school leaders choose.

The goal of these initiatives is to personalize instruction, Brown explained, adding: “One size fits all isn’t going to work.”

Sir Michael Barber, a consultant on global public-sector practice and former head of the British Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, was the original architect of Great Britain’s school-reform movement, which provides the context for that nation’s ed-tech initiatives.

Barber addressed the conference in a pre-recorded video, saying, “Change will only happen if it is placed in the context of whole-school reform.” It also will happen only if education leaders combine pressure with support, he noted.

Toward that end, high-quality leadership is key. Brown acknowledged that education officials made a mistake when their initial push to train teachers in the use of technology to improve learning didn’t include training for school principals; that has since been rectified, he said.

How are these reform efforts working? There is some evidence that achievement gaps have been narrowed, Brown said, and literacy rates in the elementary schools are on the rise–but there is still much more work to be done.

‘A new kind of conversation’

The “British invasion” at this year’s CoSN conference wasn’t limited to a discussion of that country’s revolutionary school reform program.

Earlier in the show, Jean Johnson, project director of the UK’s Notschools.net, showcased her project’s efforts to re-engage students who have dropped out of the traditional school system through an asynchronous, online learning community that she referred to as “the absolute antithesis of what school is.” (See story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStoryts.cfm?ArticleID=6959.)

Other conference sessions highlighted such initiatives as Australia’s national education portal, EDNA; the use of open electronic learning content in Japan; and an international research project to investigate new ways of measuring the value of school technology.

For the last six years, CoSN has held an International Symposium in conjunction with its annual conference, in which the organization has brought together key education and policy leaders from the United States and abroad to examine global responses to educational technology. This year’s symposium, held March 27, focused on the role that computer games and simulations can play as instructional tools.

But with this year’s conference, CoSN has made an effort to integrate more international speakers and voices into the general program itself, said Keith Krueger, the group’s executive director.

This year’s CoSN conference featured more than 50 international participants from more than a dozen countries, Krueger said; that’s double the number from past years. Besides the U.K., Japan, and Australia, these also included Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand, France, and Denmark.

Krueger said CoSN wanted to give more international education leaders the chance to showcase their own ed-tech challenges and solutions, “so we can start a new kind of conversation and not just stop at the ocean’s shores.”

Links:

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

U.K.’s “Personalised Learning” web site
http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/personalisedlearning

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2007 Pier 1/UNICEF/Weekly Reader Greeting Card Contest

Children in the U.S. are being asked to submit creative drawings for the 2007 Pier 1/UNICEF/Weekly Reader Greeting Card Contest. Two winners will be chosen from thousands of entries and their winning artwork will be reproduced as official UNICEF greeting cards sold exclusively at Pier 1 Imports, Pier 1 Kids and pier1.com to benefit children around the world. Entry forms are available online pier1.com, unicefusa.org, and weeklyreader.com; or by calling Pier 1’s Customer Relations Department at 1-800-245-4595. Entry forms will also be available at Pier 1 Kids locations and at Pier1Kids.com. The children’s artwork will be judged on artistic quality and creative interpretation of the theme “Holiday Happiness.”

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World of Children Awards

Established in 1998, World of Children seeks to recognize and elevate ordinary people worldwide whose lives are dedicated to doing extraordinary work on behalf of children.

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Road Scholar Educator of the Year Awards

The Road Scholar Educator of the Year Awards honor deserving, experienced educators by providing them with the opportunity to participate in Road Scholar educational adventures throughout the United States and around the world. Experienced educators throughout the United States are invited to apply for the 2007 Road Scholar Educator of the Year Awards. Road Scholar will offer three awards: one $7,000 award; one $2,000 award, and one $1,000 award. Road Scholar is an initiative of Elderhostel a nonprofit educational travel organization for older adults. Road Scholar is open to adults of all ages.

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Jordan Fundamentals Innovation and Inspiration Grants

A minimum of 200 small grants, averaging $2500 will be awarded to individual teachers, to support the development of more effective approaches or more effective implementation of traditional strategies to engage students and foster improved outcomes. Medium-sized grants, averaging $10,000 may be awarded to teams of teachers to support scaling-up the implementation of approaches developed with Innovation Grants that hold promise for scalability and being replicated. Multi-year funding for Inspiration Grants will require evidence of sustainability.

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NSF Advanced Technological Education

With an emphasis on two-year colleges, the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program focuses on the education of technicians for the high-technology fields that drive our nation’s economy. The program involves partnerships between academic institutions and employers to promote improvement in the education of science and engineering technicians at the undergraduate and secondary school levels. The ATE program supports curriculum development; professional development of college faculty and secondary school teachers; career pathways to two-year colleges from secondary schools and from two-year colleges to four-year institutions; and other activities. A secondary goal is articulation between two-year and four-year programs for K-12 prospective teachers that focus on technological education. The program also invites proposals focusing on applied research relating to technician education.

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Migrant and Seasonal Farm Workers Program

The purpose of this program is to provide grants for vocational rehabilitation services to individuals with disabilities who are migrant and seasonal farm workers, (individuals who have been determined in accordance with rules prescribed by the Secretary of Labor), and to the family members who are residing with those individuals (whether or not those family members are individuals with disabilities).

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Experts: Ed tech must change its message

Supporters of educational technology need to change their message when talking with stakeholders, and they need to advocate more forcefully for change in higher education: These were the key points made during a special roundtable discussion featuring past board chairs of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Aimed at celebrating CoSN’s 15th anniversary, the event took place during the nonprofit organization’s annual conference in San Francisco March 28.

Seven former chairs of the group’s board of directors, as well as many other industry leaders, gathered for an informal conversation centered on the question: Given the needs of today’s learners, as well as the current context of technology in most school districts, what are the most important ed-tech leadership issues that are not receiving attention?

In a spirited, hour-long discussion, participants touched on a variety of issues–from the need for a formal certification process for school district chief technology officers, to the lack of federal leadership on educational technology under the Bush administration.

But two themes stood out in particular: (1) the need to shift the focus in the national dialogue about educational technology from the technology itself to the changes it enables in teaching and learning, and (2) the need to overhaul teacher education in the United States to produce a new generation of educators who are not only comfortable with technology, but expect it to be used in schools.

‘A new vocabulary’

Cheryl Williams, a former CoSN board chair who is now vice president of marketing for the San Francisco-based professional development firm Teachscape, said ed-tech leaders need to “bridge the divide between technology and teaching.” She noted that many conversations about school technology fail to make the vital connection between the two–thereby empowering critics who argue that technology isn’t necessary in schools.

“We need a new vocabulary for discussing [educational technology] with stakeholders,” Williams said.

To illustrate her point, she referred to arguments made by the Bush administration in justifying the elimination of federal funding devoted to school technology.

“The administration says, ‘It’s not about technology, it’s about teaching.’ Well, yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing all along,” Williams said.

Sheryl Abshire, administrative coordinator of technology for the Calcasieu Parish School System in Louisiana and another former CoSN board chair, cited another reason stakeholders sometimes balk at funding for educational technology: Many people don’t understand the ongoing commitment it takes to sustain a strong ed-tech program.

“We still have people who think that, because schools are wired and because we’ve reduced the student-to-computer ratio, the work is done,” she said.

Cheryl Lemke, president of ed-tech research firm The Metiri Group, said research points to the essential value of such “21st-century” skills as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, and collaboration–skills that educational technology, when used effectively in schools, can help foster.

“Instead, we let No Child Left Behind drive us into using technology [primarily] for data collection,” Lemke said. And while data collection is an important function that allows educators to make more informed instructional decisions, she said, this ignores technology’s full potential to transform teaching and learning.

Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive, expanded on Lemke’s point. He noted that the United States has been a leader in innovation for the last few centuries, but countries such as Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore, and India are catching up. “Will we, in 15 or 20 years, be the birthplace of innovation?” he asked.

Krueger described a recent trip he took to Asia. In places such as South Korea and Singapore–where students are outperforming American students on standardized tests in math and science–education officials are worried, Krueger said, because they recognize the need to improve in areas such as creativity and innovation.

“Here, we’re squeezing that out” of the curriculum, he observed.

David Byer, an education executive at Apple Inc., summed up the discussion on this topic by noting that the national conversation about technology in schools should shift to one of pedagogy.

“We need to focus on the learning process,” Byer said. “Then, the technology becomes irrelevant.”

Fixing the pipeline

Another key theme to emerge from the discussion was the need to overhaul the nation’s higher-education system–and the teacher-education process in particular.

“Unless we address our colleges of education, we won’t fix the pipeline,” said Karen Bruett, vice president of K-12 education for Dell Inc. “We need teachers coming in who recognize the need for technology in schools.”

Kurt Steinhaus, a former CoSN board chair who now works for the presidential campaign of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, noted that, for his own children, ages 20 and 23, “the whole rhythm of their social life is built around technology.”

“We haven’t figured that out yet in K-12 schools,” Steinhaus said.

But just because today’s young people are accustomed to using technology in their everyday lives doesn’t mean they will be agents of change when they become teachers themselves, warned Jim Bosco, another former CoSN board chair and a professor emeritus at Western Michigan University.

In their role as students in the classroom, today’s youth are exposed to a model of teaching and learning that is largely devoid of the same technologies they use at home, Bosco said. As a result, he said, “when those students become teachers, they follow the same structure.”

And that might happen regardless of how schools of education transform their curricula, Bosco added. To change this dynamic, he said, it’s more important to reach out to college presidents than schools of education.

“Transformation needs to be institutionalized throughout college,” Bosco concluded.

Links:

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

(Editor’s note: For more real-time coverage of CoSN’s 12th annual conference in San Francisco, see the Conference Information Center at eSN Online: http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic)

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