Easy technology management a must for schools, experts say

With record attendance of 32,000, InfoComm 2008 continued into the second day of conference sessions and exhibits with a focus on easy technology management, innovative audio systems, and digital signage.

School IT professionals often wear many hats, and when they receive multiple requests for technical support, IT staff, as well as classroom teachers, need quick and simple solutions on hand.

Crestron introduced a new media presentation controller that connects, controls, and routes AV presentation equipment in a one-projector application.

Any PC or other web-enabled device can monitor all of the devices that the media presentation controller controls.  A simple "help" functions lets IT staff speak with an instructor in real time if that instructor needs help with the unit.

RT Com USA introduced HDMI and DVI distributors.  School technology staff can send different images or videos to different television screens or displays from one central unit.

1UControl’s Virtual Remote Control Center gives a teacher control over all classroom AV equipment, from a single source, eliminating confusion that may occur when switching from one piece of AV equipment to another.

Sometimes the most basic solutions are overlooked when ensuring students have the best possible experiences in a classroom.

Simple actions such as making sure a room is bright or dark enough, or checking to see if every student can hear the instructor, go a long way during class time.

Crestron also introduced a series of wireless green products for lighting and window shade control.  The system lets IT professionals see their school’s carbon output, energy usage, energy costs, and energy savings per year based on how they have configured the system’s settings for their building.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, having easy access to lighting and window shade control ensures that the light in a classroom where an instructor is using a projector does not wash out the display, or that a room is bright enough so that all students can see.

Anchor Audio introduced the AN-Mini a portable speaker and audio system weighing less than three pounds.  The speaker comes with a corded or wireless microphone, and lets educators at the K-12 or university level plug in iPods or use voiceover features as well.

Audio Enhancement debuted SoloSolution, an infrared multimedia wireless sound system compatible with iPods, DVDs, VCRs, and laptops.  A remote control controls the system’s handheld microphone and multimedia audio sources.

A dedicated pavilion immersed attendees in a digital signage environment.  Experts say digital signage–electronic displays and digital signs in public areas–is quickly becoming an essential component of business.

Workshops on digital signage opportunities, content choices, and best practices helped attendees become familiar with the basic principles of digital signage, as well as how to proceed with the technology.


Senators OK $1 billion for online child porn fight

A U.S. Senate panel has unanimously approved a bill that would encourage federal, state, and local police to use and create special software designed to nab child pornography swappers on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, CNET reports. The Senate Judiciary Committee on May 15 voted to send an amended version of the Combating Child Exploitation Act, chiefly sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., to the full slate of politicians for a vote. All told, the bill would allocate more than $1 billion over the next eight years for a broad array of efforts aimed at tackling internet crimes against children. It calls for hiring 250 new federal agents at the FBI, the Immigrations and Custom Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. Postal Service dedicated to child exploitation cases; for beefing up personnel, equipment, and educational programs designed to combat internet crimes against children; and for creating new forensics laboratories if the attorney general deems it necessary to deal with a "backlog" of online child exploitation cases. "We need to give law enforcement the funds and the tools to pull the plug on internet predators," Biden said in a statement…

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Facilities bill would fund school renovation

Public school buildings around the country could receive billions of dollars for renovation and modernization under legislation recently approved by a House committee, FacilitiesNet reports. The House Education and Labor Committee passed the 21st Century High-Performing Public School Facilities Act (H.R. 3021), introduced by U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky. The legislation would provide funding to states and school districts to help ensure school facilities and learning environments are safe, healthy, energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and technologically advanced. H.R. 3021 would authorize $6.4 billion for school renovation and modernization projects for fiscal year 2009 and would ensure school districts quickly receive funds for projects that improve schools’ teaching and learning climates, health, safety, and energy efficiency. To further encourage energy efficiency and the use of renewable resources in schools, the bill would require most funds for school-improvement projects meet widely recognized green-building standards, and it would encourage states to help schools track their energy use and carbon footprints, among other things…

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Virtual classroom puts future teachers to the test

Five computer-generated students inhabiting a high-tech virtual classroom under development at the University of Central Florida’s College of Education are helping teachers-in-training learn to deal with unruly students and other classroom challenges, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Using simulation technology developed for military training, the virtual classroom gives future teachers a chance to practice important class-control and teaching skills by using realistic classroom scenarios. Teachers typically learn the real ins and outs of managing a classroom on the job, which can be nerve-racking, said Lisa Dieker, a professor in the College of Education and one of the simulation program’s originators. The virtual classroom allows teachers to try new techniques without involving real students. "Kids remember for a long time when things go wrong," Dieker said…

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Domenech plans to revitalize AASA

Inclusion, advocacy, and increased relevance reportedly are high on the agenda of Daniel A. Domenech, the former superintendent of Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), who takes over as executive director of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) on July 1. A past AASA president and current private-sector executive, Domenech will succeed Paul D. Houston, who is retiring June 30, after 14 years.

[Editor’s note: To watch an exclusive eSN-TV interview with Domenech, visit www.eschoolnews.com/video/domenech.] 

The change in leadership comes at a time when many school stakeholders believe AASA is in need of new direction and a fresh voice to make it more responsive to 21st-century education challenges.

"The appointment of Dan Domenech as executive director of AASA is nothing short of spectacular," said Anne L. Bryant, executive director of the National School Boards Association. "Dan brings not only a career of strong superintendencies, but a lifelong commitment to children of all races, creeds, and origin. His own story, well known to his colleagues in the field, serves as an inspiration to all of our work. Public education is the beacon of light to most children, and we need to commit ourselves to making it even better for all children."

Domenech is a 29-year member of AASA, which currently has around 11,000 members. He served as its president from July 1998 to June 1999. He also is a past president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the Suffolk County Superintendents Association, and the Suffolk County Organization for Promotion of Education. He was the first president and cofounder of the New York State Association for Bilingual Education.

In taking the helm at AASA, Domenech will leave his current position as senior vice president and head of the Urban Advisory Resource for McGraw-Hill Education, where he is responsible for building strong relationships with large school districts nationwide.

Before joining McGraw-Hill, Domenech was superintendent of FCPS, the 12th largest school district in the nation, for six years.

"I know Dan, and he’s an excellent choice for AASA," says Jack Dale, Fairfax County’s current superintendent. "He is an excellent spokesperson for public education, for kids in public schools, and for people charged with educating our nation’s youth. With McGraw-Hill, he continued his work with large urban school systems, the challenges they face, the support they need, and the governance structures that help and impede that work. Dan has a great deal of energy and can reignite AASA’s role in national education policy."

From 1994-1997, Domenech was superintendent of the Second Supervisory District of Suffolk County, N.Y., and chief executive officer of the Western Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Previously, he served as superintendent for Deer Park Schools and the South Huntington School District, both in Long Island. He served as program director for the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services–the largest intermediate school district in New York–and began his career as a sixth grade teacher in Queens, N.Y.

He has had more than 36 years of experience in public education altogether.

In an interview with eSchool News, Domenech said he plans to use his experience as "both a teacher in a smaller district and a leader of many large districts to make sure all districts–whether large and urban, or small and rural–have a voice in AASA and have their needs addressed. While sometimes a one-size-fits-all plan works, you also have to plan for districts with varied needs."

Domenech’s plans for AASA include helping the organization become more of a national presence in Washington, D.C.

This might prove to be a challenge, because over the years, AASA seems to have lost its impact on the national scene, according to many observers.

Jane McDonald, a former AASA member and professor at George Mason University, said a growing number of people are "joining their state administrative associations rather than the national group, because they believe the state groups are more focused on their immediate needs and provide a network close to home."

She continued: "Although AASA has been active with general education, I don’t know where [it has] been helpful, nationally, for leaders of education."

"Our main goal will be to have every superintendent in America [become] a member of AASA," Domenech told eSchool News. "This will really give us a voice in D.C. and [will allow us to] become powerful advocates on behalf of children in the U.S. With that kind of membership, we can go to Congress, the White House, everywhere, and be heard, because we will be the education leaders of America."

One way he plans to increase membership will be to reach out to younger generations of school superintendents and administrators, as well as women. Currently, AASA’s average member age is 50, and only 25 percent of members are women. Women constitute approximately 70 percent of educators at large and about two-thirds of all K-12 administrators.

"Including people from every demographic will help us reach our potential," said Domenech. "Being a young superintendent myself years ago, I know what it’s like. I will do everything I can to inspire and help many generations and both genders."

When Domenech served as superintendent at FCPS, he blazed a trail using technology as a means of bringing equitable access to educational opportunities for all students, and he says he believes now more than ever that technology must play an important part in education.

"Technology has reshaped the role of teacher from a talking head to a director of learning," he said. "Technology affords teachers the luxury of individualizing instruction, but many teachers still need to take advantage of technology and be retrained so that they’re no longer imparters of knowledge, but directors of knowledge, to their students."

He also believes technology will help AASA maintain its operations and foster better communication among members. "We’ll be using a lot of technology to help our members communicate with each other and provide crucial resources," he said.

Said Keith Krueger, chief executive officer for the Consortium for School Networking, "Fairfax was, and still is, a leader in the use of information technologies. I would expect Domenech to lead AASA to take an increased interest in how technologies can create engaging 21st-century learning environments. With his public and private sector experience, he understands the importance of leadership and vision and that technology must be viewed from an enterprise perspective."

"This is an exciting time at AASA," said Domenech. "The association is taking bold, new steps to revitalize its mission and strengthen its programs and services. … I look forward to leading this revitalization effort."

(Editor’s note: You can watch our entire interview with Domenech here.)


American Association of School Administrators

Fairfax County Public Schools

McGraw-Hill Education

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Tech & Economics of Special Populations resource center. Managing special student populations can be taxing–especially in today’s educational climate. Educators of special populations face formidable accountability and student tracking requirements, often making it difficult to focus on what’s really important: educating children and improving student achievement. But luckily, a range of comprehensive, special-education management solutions exists to allay some of the burden. Go to: Tech & Economics of Special Populations


Low-cost XO laptop now runs Windows

The One Laptop Per Child initiative is about to find out whether Microsoft Corp., a rival that the nonprofit group once derided, is the solution to its problems in spreading inexpensive portable computers to school children worldwide.

Microsoft and the laptop organization announced May 15 that the nonprofit’s green-and-white "XO" computers now can run Windows in addition to their homegrown interface, which is built on the open Linux operating system. That had been anticipated for months, but it amounts to a major shift.

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the laptop project–which aims to produce $100 computers but now sells them at $188–acknowledged that having Windows as an option could reassure education ministers who have hesitated to buy XOs with its new interface, called Sugar. Negroponte had hoped to sell several million laptops by now; instead, he has gotten about 600,000 orders.

Beginning in limited runs next month, XO buyers will have the option of computers loaded with or without Windows. Versions with Windows will cost $18 to $20 more; $3 of that is for Windows, and the rest covers hardware adjustments, such as an additional memory-card slot, needed to make Windows run.

Soon Negroponte hopes to sell just one kind of machine with a "dual-boot" mode, meaning users would have Windows and Linux and choose which to run each time. Because that will take advantage of a broader hardware redesign, the dual-boot XOs will cost about $10 more than today’s versions, Negroponte said.

Despite the higher price–and Windows’ inability to take advantage of some key features of the XO–Negroponte said his project would benefit from Microsoft’s strengths in selling and deploying technology.

"I think our goals are dramatically enhanced with Microsoft’s decision and this partnership, because we will reach many more children," he said. "There are now many more countries prepared to look at the XO and collaborative learning and some of the things we stand for."

The partnership culminates an odd dance.

Not long after Negroponte first dreamed up the idea of seeding the developing world with $100 laptops for education, he talked with Microsoft about using a version of Windows on the machines. That seemed to vanish before long, as Microsoft’s Bill Gates and a close partner, Intel Corp. Chairman Craig Barrett, publicly dismissed the XO’s scaled-back processing power and small screen.

At first Negroponte wore the criticism as a badge of honor, saying it showed that his little group would upend the laptop market. "When you have both Intel and Microsoft on your case, you know you’re doing something right," Negroponte said to cheers at a Linux convention in 2006.

Negroponte had other reasons for pursuing a path separate from Windows. For one, Linux is free. That’s key when you’re trying to make a computer for $100. Plus, Linux was seen as easier to configure for the XO’s specific innovations, such as its ultra-low power consumption.

Negroponte and his crew also talked about how the open nature of Linux better suited the project’s vision for "constructivist" learning, with children teaching each other and themselves by tinkering with the computer. Negroponte has said he finds it sad when children learn to use computers mainly as tools for office automation.

"The hundred-dollar laptop is an education project," he often said. "It’s not a laptop project."

However, it’s enough of a laptop project that Negroponte is eager to speed XO sales and donations beyond their initial deployments, which include Haiti, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Mongolia, and Birmingham, Ala. (Earlier this week, South Carilona announced a pilot project to supply XO laptops to students in that state, too.)

Negroponte’s first big change was to make peace with Intel last year in hopes of boosting the XO’s technical development and blunting competition from Intel’s low-cost Classmate PCs, which Intel developed in response to the One Laptop Per Child project. But the relationship ended after only a few months.

The Microsoft relationship looks sturdier. Microsoft engineers spent the past year customizing a version of Windows that can run on XOs. Even so, XOs running Windows for now can’t use some of the machines’ security features or their built-in "mesh" wireless networking.

Negroponte indicated last month that eventually, Windows could be the sole operating system, with Sugar serving as the educational software running on top of it. But on May 15, he said he does not envision that happening.

Still, a key question will be whether having Windows on the laptops means children make less use of Sugar, one of the project’s core innovations. Recently a splinter group formed to keep up development of Sugar, and Negroponte has endured complaints that education no longer is his top priority.

"OLPC changed its mission outright, and in the most ill-conceived way imaginable," Ivan Krstic, a former security developer for the laptop group, recently wrote in an eMail message.


One Laptop Per Child

Microsoft Corp.


Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Mobile Computing resource center. Giving each student access to a laptop computer or other mobile computing device is having a profound effect in schools from coast to coast. As the number of mobile computing options for schools continues to multiply, the body of knowledge about which approaches work best (and which don’t work at all) also continues to grow. This resource will help you make the best possible decision for your students as you consider mobile computing in your own schools. Go to: Mobile Computing


House OKs increase in GI Bill education benefits

An overwhelming majority of the House voted May 15 to sharply increase education benefits for Iraq-Afghanistan veterans under the GI Bill–and to pay for it with a tax surcharge on the wealthy, Newsday reports. Thirty-two Republicans joined with Democrats on a 256-166 vote to provide up to four years’ full tuition at a level charged by the most expensive in-state public university, a monthly housing allotment based on local cost of living, and an annual $1,000 book stipend. But the benefits increase, part of a multibillion-dollar emergency spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, still faces an uncertain future. President George W. Bush has vowed to veto the bill over the non-war spending, the tax surcharge, and restrictions on his ability to conduct the Iraq war…

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