How to fire an IT person

Information technology (IT) personnel can cause devastating damage to your systems and your morale if you don’t handle a termination right, as the recent case of a private school IT administrator illustrates, InfoWorld reports. Joseph Powell first suspected that there were problems with his IT contractor when the admin refused to cede his administrative rights on an accounting software package. Powell, who was the business administrator for a private school, began noticing more issues. When the school’s board ordered the IT admin to cede control of the software, he began introducing deliberate errors into the school’s database. By the time Powell and the board made the decision to fire the contractor, he was reading everyone’s eMail, so Powell had to leave his office every day and head over to a local library, where he then used a private eMail account to correspond with his bosses. He then hired a new IT team to replace the contractor and had them covertly copy everything on the school’s network. This turned out to be a prudent move: When Powell told the contractor that his employment was up, “he replied that he built the network and would be taking it with him.” And the former admin tried: On his last day of work, he logged in and wiped every document off the network. Had it not been for Powell’s foresight, the school would have lost all its digital assets…

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Fuel prices force schools to get creative

With fuel prices soaring to record-breaking numbers, school districts across the nation have been forced to rethink standard practices and cut corners just to keep their budgets afloat. From virtualizing field trips to switching to open software, districts are trying to adapt to what could be only the beginning of an escalating crisis.

For example, various news reports reveal that in Jefferson County, Ore., officials have spent nearly all of the $165,000 they budgeted for gas and have overspent the $10,000 budgeted for diesel fuel by more than $60,000; Baltimore City, Md., schools have suffered a $300,000 dollar hit in their budget for transportation costs, as the price for diesel fuel jumped by $1.80 per gallon over the last year; students at the Putnam County Schools east of Nashville, Tenn., went without bus service on their last day of school; and a Minnesota school district plans to cut back classes to four days a week this fall to save on transportation costs.

For Choctaw-Nicoma Park Public School District in Oklahoma City, Okla., the district’s annual fuel budget totaled $225,000 three years ago, when prices averaged a little more than $2 a gallon; this year, however, the budget is around $350,000.

Yet, despite rising gas prices, the state Legislature did not grant an increase in school operational expenses that was requested by Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett.

"It rolls downhill to the classroom," said Jim McCharen, Choctaw-Nicoma Park’s superintendent, of the impact of soaring gas prices. "Sometimes, the belt-tightening choices should not be on the backs of our school kids."

"We can’t continue to offer all the services we’ve always offered and function without losing money," said Terry Simpson, superintendent of the Gutherie Public Schools in Mississippi.

This fall, the 3,300-student district will implement a new transportation policy that does away with bus routes for students who live within 1.5 miles of the school they attend–a policy that already has been implemented by other local school districts.

"We have to cut programs just to buy gas. That’s where it gets very frustrating. We get very angry about it," says McCharen.

And there’s plenty to be angry about: Just keeping up with fuel prices has led administrators across the country to pay for gas with money that was supposed to be used for classroom programs.

McCharen’s district won’t be hiring any new teachers for the upcoming school year, so the district can afford to keep its buses on the road.

The Dougherty County School System in Albany, G.A., is planning to increase meal prices in 2009 because of rising food costs for the system. Because gas prices are driving up food prices and federal funds for child nutrition are limited, the only variable the school system has is in food prices charged to students, says Robert Lloyd, director of business and finance.

Baltimore City Schools are reviewing the 6,500 scheduled trips for athletic events and field trips that will cost around $100,000–more than the system had budgeted for at a time of lower gas prices.

At Bend-La Pine Schools in Oregon, staff are sharing rides when possible and making use of hybrid cars.

But bus routes are not the only programs being revised.

According to Marc Liebman, superintendent of California’s Berryessa Union School District, technology budgets could come under the knife, too.

"We have to increase our fuel budgets, which means there is less for everything else," Liebman explains. He says his district is limiting any new technology or software purchases next year largely to donations.

Lan Neugent, assistant superintendent for technology at the Virginia Department of Education, believes schools will feel pressure to cut their budgets for upgrades or maintenance of technology. "Professional development across the board, and especially for technology, will likely be cut back," he adds.

Because many districts implemented conservation efforts years ago, there is little room to control these costs as fuel prices rise, said Raymond Yeagley, director of strategic projects for the Northwest Evaluation Association and a former schools superintendent in New Hampshire.

"Accordingly, districts are once again balancing the value of teachers in the classroom with other priorities that might have less instructional impact–including technology purchases," says Yeagley.

Yet, technology programs–which typically are vulnerable to budget cuts–can be the one investment that helps schools mitigate fuel costs.

For example, schools can save money by allowing students to take virtual field trips and providing online courses. Web-based conferencing systems also can help schools save on staff travel, paper, and printing expenses.

Darrell Walery, director of technology for the Consolidated High School District 230 in Illinois, said his district makes use of conference calling and online meetings to save on gas consumption and paper costs, and his district is upgrading certain online communications channels to save on these expenses as well. (See "School leaders get advice on ‘green’ computing.")

Liebman says his district is shifting toward using OpenOffice software in its computer labs instead of Microsoft’s proprietary Office suite. As they buy new administrative computers, Berryessa schools will shift the Microsoft Office licenses they already own in the computer labs to these computers and will replace them in the labs with OpenOffice licenses, which are free.
 
"We anticipate that this will save our district about $5,000 to $6,000. Not a bundle, but certainly enough to cover much of the increased fuel costs or lower some small part of our budget deficit," Liebman explains.

Jane McDonald, a former associate professor at George Mason University’s Graduate School of Education, believes that if school districts are savvy, they will maintain or even increase their technology budgets.

She says K-12 districts should consider delivering more of their instruction online, with follow-up instruction in the classroom. Many colleges and universities are adopting this "hybrid" approach, she notes, with some anecdotal evidence of success. (See "Hybrid courses show promise.") In fact, if districts could connect to individual homes, or learning centers, through technology, perhaps they could reduce the number of days that some students attend their school buildings each week.

"Without fuel for mobility, and with the possible cuts in personnel and teacher bonuses, technology is a way to get more bang for your buck," says McDonald.

McDonald believes the current fuel crisis might be an opportunity to rethink, restructure, and reorganize the traditional educational system.

"Do we have to all learn in one big building, strategically located? Do all teachers need to be present at school buildings to teach?" she asks. "Perhaps outsourcing and private takeovers of districts will [occur]–offering a buffet of courses from which to select, through technology. Perhaps students can bring their cars to school if they show evidence of bringing others to school as well. Perhaps schools can be organized on a small, K-12 basis, within neighborhoods."

Concludes McDonald: "With the help of technology, the opportunities for learning and reinforcing with local teachers can expand."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

Choctaw-Nicoma Park Public School District

Berryessa Union School District

Northwest Evaluation Association

Virginia Department of Education

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$21,000 in cash and science equipment from Vernier Software & Technology

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Vernier Software & Technology have announced the seven winners of their 2008 NSTA/Vernier Technology Awards. Ranging from elementary school teachers to college instructors, these seven pioneers were chosen for creating innovative data-collection lessons and projects in their classrooms.  Each winner received $1,000 in cash, $1,000 in Vernier data-collection technology products, and up to $1,000 toward expenses to attend the 2008 NSTA National Convention in Boston March 27-30. They were formally recognized during the convention’s NSTA Awards Banquet.  The winning projects included a middle school program that has students investigate greenhouse gas emissions during Atlanta’s rush hour, and a high school program that asks students to investigate the sounds created by different band instruments and then "teach" an electronic keyboard to play each overtone with the right intensity to match these instruments.  

 

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$45,000 from the Verizon Foundation for family tech literacy

Five projects that help students and their families develop technology literacy skills will share a total of $45,000 in grants from the Verizon Foundation and the National Center for Family Literacy.
Boston Digital Bridge Foundation’s Technology Goes Home @ School Program, based at Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, was chosen as the national winner of the Second Annual Verizon Tech Savvy Awards. Through the Technology Goes Home program, Boston public school teachers provide computer and technology training to students and their parents after school or on weekends.  "We have found that Tech Goes Home not only provides families with the opportunity to obtain 21st century skills, but also increases family engagement," said Deb Socia, principal of Frederick Middle School. "We find that increased parental involvement leads to increased academic success for the children."  As the National Verizon Tech Savvy Award winner, the Technology Goes Home program will receive a $25,000 award to continue and expand its program. In addition to the national winner, four other programs were recognized as regional winners, and each will receive a $5,000 grant. The grants recognize nonprofit programs for their innovative efforts to help parents understand the technology used by their children.

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$120,000 to support early childhood advisory councils

The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices has awarded 12 states and territories $10,000 grants to support early childhood advisory councils (ECACs) in an effort to bolster and support early childhood learning.  The states receiving grants are Alabama, Connecticut, Colorado, Guam, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.  The grants will help states create or improve ECACs and meet the provisions of the Improving the Head Start Act of 2007.  "Gubernatorial leadership continues to drive state early childhood policy advances," said John Thomasian, director of the NGA Center for Best Practices. "These grants will help states bolster coordination of early childhood services and streamline resources to improve outcomes for young children and their families."
In many states, ECACs are the coordinating entities that are responsible for advancing the policy agenda for at-risk children between the ages of birth and five years old and for promoting linkages to early care and education, family support, health, mental health, and other developmental services.  The grants are supported by the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.

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$115 million from the Education Department to improve history teaching

Through its Teaching American History program, the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded 121 grants, totaling $114.7 million, to improve the quality of American history education in districts across 40 states. The program "offers educators opportunities to work with colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, libraries, and museums to learn more about our nation’s history, culture, and democratic tradition," said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. "By providing professional development for teachers, we can help them support young people in becoming active, informed citizens."
The grants fund teacher training and curriculum projects for up to five years. Grantees must partner with institutions that have extensive knowledge of American history.

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Education in Focus: New presentation features aim to lower costs–and appeal to schools

Aiming to win over education customers, makers of projectors and other presentation systems are focusing their latest efforts on saving schools time and money.

Audiovisual customers have been hearing how lens shift, new filter technologies, and other innovations will keep schools on budget without sacrificing quality. This report highlights some of these cost-saving features, as well as other new AV trends–including a new color specification; low-cost, widescreen, and wireless projectors; and touch-screen monitors.

Lens shift

Many manufacturers, such as Panasonic Projector Systems Co., are now touting "lens shift" as a cost-saving feature.

Panasonic says lens shift on its new PT-F series projectors–which have a brightness of 3,500 lumens–can cut installation costs. Lens shift, combined with a 2x powered zoom lens, "can reduce costs by relaxing placement and permitting the use of existing mounting positions," the company says.

Lens shift makes installing a projector easier, and therefore cheaper, manufacturers say. With lens shift, users can move the projector’s lens from side to side or up and down, giving the installer a wider range of positions to choose from to get the best screen geometry. Without lens shift, there is less flexibility–and only one place to mount the projector correctly.

Some projectors offer digital keystoning to align an image on the screen, instead of lens shift. The downside is that the image can appear distorted, and pixels are lost.

"Lens shift isn’t particularly new," said Tim Anderson, senior marketing manager of 3LCD, an industry group that markets the three-color chip technology used in LCD projectors for Epson, Sony, and other manufacturers. "It’s been around for a couple of years. [But] it’s not well known and not something customers are asking for."

Manufacturers are hoping to change that by promoting the technology’s benefits.

Better filters

Innovative new filter technologies promise to decrease a projector’s total cost of ownership (TCO). Several manufacturers are touting filterless projectors, new scrolling filters, and even filters that need changing less frequently.

Traditionally, DLP projectors do not require filters, whereas LCD projectors have a dust filter that needs cleaning or changing periodically. The cost of cleaning and replacing this filter increases the cost of owning the projector over its lifetime.

Panasonic’s PT-F series projectors have a second-generation rolling filter that advances automatically, like a scroll. Each filter provides 25 rotations before someone has to clean or replace the filter.

"When you figure in the cost of labor times 25 and the fact that the room cannot be in use for the service to be provided, this is a huge savings," said Frank Covelli, Panasonic’s national higher-education sales manager.

In the PT-FW100NTU model, the filter automatically rotates at set intervals. The standard setting is every 240 hours of use, but this can be adjusted to every 120 hours or every 60 hours for extremely dusty environments. In the PT-F200 series projectors, the filter rotates as needed, when heat sensors detect restricted airflow.

Hitachi Home Electronics Inc. has developed a filter that needs changing less frequently. Three new projectors announced May 8–the CP-X201, CP-X301, and CP-X401–feature a new "hybrid" filter, which reportedly lasts for 2,000 hours before needing to be replaced.

Industry watchers say these filter innovations address a recent marketing campaign by Texas Instruments, the maker of DLP technology. The company’s advertisements purport that total ownership costs typically are lower with a DLP projector, because it does not have a filter.

New color specification

3LCD and its partners are trying to devise a new metric for projectors, called Color Light Output.

"Currently, the biggest specification that people make their purchase decision on is brightness," Anderson said. "What people don’t understand is that the current specification only measures white."

Adding a measurement for color will let customers know how saturated and rich the picture will be. Ideally, the white light and color outputs should be equal. For example, if a projector has 2,000 lumens of white-light brightness, the color output should be the same.

"Where the customer wants to be wary is where you have a 3,000-lumen projector with a 1,500 color projection," Anderson said. That means manufacturers are adding white to get an artificially high lumen number, he explained, adding: "They are actually trading off color to get a higher lumen output." This new metric, the Color Light Output, aims to prevent this kind of fudging, he said.

Epson will be the first manufacturer to include Color Light Output on its specifications, Anderson said. Customers might even find this new metric available for projectors released at the annual InfoComm conference in June, he said. Other manufacturers, such as Hitachi, ViewSonic, and Panasonic, are expected to follow suit.

Lower prices, and other features

Many SGVA projectors are now available for less than $500–a phenomenon that seems to break a new price barrier for projectors.

In April, ViewSonic Corp. unveiled a DLP projector with an estimated street price of $499. The PJ513DB features 2,200 lumens, 800×600 native resolution, and a 2,000-to-1 contrast ratio.

"One of the key changes in technology supporting the lower cost trend is the overall acceptance of DLP light engines," said Terry Reavis, director of sales for ViewSonic’s public sector. "This technology shift has helped bring the chip cost down, the overall prices down, and–in turn–has resulted in larger volumes of key components."
 
"There are several [models] that have gone below $500," says Evan Powell, editor of ProjectorCentral.com, a web site that reviews projectors and keeps a searchable database of every projector manufactured. "They are typically SVGA, 800×600 pixels, and most laptops and computers [have resolutions] higher than that."

A search of ProjectorCentral’s database produces 80 projectors that sell for less than $1,000. Most of those are low-resolution projectors, Powell said.

Most sub-$500 projectors are SVGA, meaning they have a resolution of 800×600. SVGA is fine for applications that display large text, such as PowerPoint presentations. But XGA is better for viewing small text, Powell said, like that found on an Excel spreadsheet or on the web.

"We all recognize that $499 is an important price point in any market … remember when the PC market went to $499? Sales jumped significantly," Anderson said. "We are probably 18 to 24 months away from mainstream projectors being under $500."

Higher-resolution projectors are better for using spreadsheets and web surfing, but they’re not essential, said Art Feierman, editor and owner of ProjectorReviews.com.

Considering how a school district can get 50 SGVA projectors for the price of 35 XGA projectors, the K-12 market mostly buys SVGA-quality, he said.

"Five hundred dollars is not rare for SVGA–and XGA is popping up now at $600," said Feierman.
 
Another trend to watch: The cost of widescreen projectors will drop over the next year, Feierman said. "From a teaching standpoint, widescreen is better and easier to read," he said.

Wireless projectors are handy for navigating back-to-back PowerPoint presentations and other similar activities, Feierman said. Wireless projectors, such as Panasonic’s PT-F series devices, can connect with up to 16 laptops. The teacher simply clicks from one presentation or laptop to the next.

Touch-screen monitors

As the price for touch-screen monitors drops, and more educational applications are developed, touch screens will crop up in a growing number of classrooms, predicts Jack Flaherty, director of channel markets and system integrator for LG Electronics.

"I think that’s going to be the new wave," Flaherty said. "[By the middle of] next year, touch screens will be everywhere."

Using an interactive, touch-screen monitor is a more expensive way of navigating applications than using a mouse and keyboard–but for some applications, it makes sense, Flaherty explained. Medical and science tutorials, for example, could allow a student to interact directly with the diagram. In a classroom setting, multiple students can manipulate a single screen at the same time while engaging their tactile senses.

The "cool" factor alone will help keep students engaged and involved in learning, Flaherty said.

In small spaces, Flaherty predicts, 50-inch LCD flat screens and plasma televisions will replace some projectors. Lower pricing means customers can buy three flat screens for the price of one mid-level projector and incur no maintenance or parts costs.

LG has two new LCD touch-screen display models, the 32-inch M3201T and the 42-inch M4210T, that are suitable for the education market. 
In small huddle spaces or breakout rooms, flat screens could work better than a projector, 3LCD’s Anderson said. However, in a classroom, where a minimum 120-inch image is required, projectors are the best solution.

Currently, universities such as Oklahoma and Ohio State are using touch-screen monitors as information kiosks. Students can look up faculty information or a campus map, read announcements, and more. "It’s limitless," Flaherty said of the technology’s potential.

Links:

3LCD

Panasonic Projector Systems Co.

Hitachi Home Electronics Inc.

ViewSonic Corp.

LG Electronics

Projector Central

ProjectorReviews.com

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Maine writes a new ed-tech success story

Since the early 1990s, Maine has been at the forefront of educational innovation, thanks largely to the adoption of new standards–called the Maine Learning Results–as a driver for 21st-century teaching and learning. A critical outcome and guiding principle of these standards is to graduate all students from Maine high schools to be clear and effective communicators.

To achieve the goals spelled out in the Learning Results, state leaders made a strategic decision in 2001 to ensure that all students and educators, beginning with grade seven, would be given 21st-century tools and resources to support instruction. Every seventh- grade student and teacher received a laptop computer and software; teachers also received ongoing professional development.

Equity of access to digital tools and resources has been a hallmark of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI)–and professional development that focuses on fostering literacy skills, rather than on the technology itself, has been a key to ensuring that students develop the necessary 21st-century skills. For many years, MLTI professional development has focused on simultaneously integrating a knowledge of technology, pedagogy, and content, helping teachers deepen their classroom practices.

With the correct focus on equity of access and high-quality, sustained professional development, technology resources can transform the learning process in ways we never imagined. This process is best described by the work of Mishra & Koehler in building the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) framework:

• Writing process: Students draft, revise, peer conference, write to other adults (including and beyond the classroom teacher), provide and receive feedback to and from their peers, and collaborate on writing projects. The accessibility features of the laptop allow students to hear their own writing read aloud, and easy access to a thesaurus and dictionary provide timely assistance. The teachers and students use electronic "stickies" to give feedback, eliminating the marked-up paper.

• Writing for a specific audience and purpose: Students are able to reach a variety of audiences via blogs, wikis, and other online social-networking tools. At the same time, the internet gives them access to people working in a variety of fields (science, math, other writers) and allows them to experience and use different types of communication.

• Writing across content areas: The laptop is a natural place for collecting and organizing data, media, and writing tools, thus supporting writing across various content areas–mathematical, scientific, and expository writing.

Because each student has a personal technology device, the students are able to work on their writing any time, anywhere; keep a portfolio of their work; and share their work more easily with family, peers, and others.

Sharon Bowman, an eighth-grade teacher from Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham, Maine, sums up what we have heard from teachers across the state:

"… All writing teachers will tell you that at the heart of the writing process is revision. Revision is the step in the process too often overlooked in the past, [owing] to many factors–most simply put, it’s just a lot of work if it’s to be accomplished on paper. Revision is the opportunity for the student to step back from the rough draft and resee, rethink, refeel their first thoughts plunked down on the paper. …

"In the past, in the days without computers, students were forgiven for a rough draft, quick edit, and copy-over by too many teachers; hence, unthoughtful writing [resulted]. Since the introduction of laptops in writing classes, I have been provided with the one tool that makes revision accessible and real to my students. It has never been that kids refused to revise; it was just not possible on paper to make revisions easily. Students in my class learn revision techniques based on purpose and audience, which drives writing strategy. They learn this mantra early on, and through it [they] understand the reason people write. You have a message, you choose the audience, and then you choose the techniques that best fit your purpose. It sounds simple, yet students for the first time get the idea when they can so easily manipulate words. …

"How do laptops make all this happen? During writing conferences with my students, we pursue many revision techniques. My students learn that each piece must have something to say, that each paragraph and word must carry meaning to a specific audience. As we sit together, students might understand, for example, that an entire paragraph is in the wrong place, that it will be more effective at the beginning of the piece than in the middle. One highlight, one click, and it’s there. It might be that [a paragraph] is redundant or poorly worded, [so] we take it out. We work together to revise each paragraph, each sentence, each word. It is all about one essential point. Every word counts.

"Students search for words and find that they have used the same verb or too many adjectives to express a simple thought. Students can call up the thesaurus and discover a better word in each sentence. Laptops provide more thoughtful expression of a student’s voice. … When all of the manipulation of words flows as to meaning, students realize that their voices are able to shine. No longer bound by copy-overs, the creative reality, the ability to paint with words, shines through. Teachers are actually able to have the conversation with students about voice. …

"There is so much more to this. It is just that I thought the real issue, although not glitzy, deserves my words. I love this so much, it would take a book to express all the ways I use the laptops. Just today we researched 13th-century Italy to create our sets for Much Ado About Nothing. Students turn the entire room (and I mean every wall) into Messina. It is so exciting to read the play within an environment that is not our classroom. They show their excitement and pure happiness in their collaboration and urgent desire to get into the room and get busy. Today we had Bob Marley playing and paint flying and Messina being recreated thought the magic of laptops and, of course, Shakespeare. God, I love what I do."

That’s the voice of the teacher–what do the students have to say about this?

Will: "I like having the laptops, because I can produce more work in less time. I’ve improved lots on my writing skills, because it is easier to delete words and retype them than taking the time to redo the whole story to add five words. But the best thing is that I rarely lose my work."

Omri: "I like having computers for writing, because I can get work done with ease, and I don’t have to write my story over, and over, and over on separate sheets of paper, with the teacher scribbling questions, or what to change, or spelling. Plus, if I get one letter wrong, I have to erase, and sometimes, it erases the work above. With computers, to change something, you just need to press delete. Computers are easier to work with, because they don’t wear out your hand unless you’ve typed for a long time, and you can write faster. It’s also easier to express myself with writing, and I only have to print one time, and I get the feel. This is why I like computers."

Results are now visible, not only to teachers and students, but also in measurable outcomes. A study by Dr. David Silvernail and his team at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation indicates that, five years after the initial implementation of the MLTI, students’ writing scores on Maine’s statewide test have improved significantly. Furthermore, students scored better the more extensively they used their laptops in developing and producing their writing. The evidence indicated that using their laptops in this fashion helped them become better writers in general, not just better writers using laptops.

Earlier this spring, Maine received its students’ results from the writing portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). To measure students’ writing skills, the assessment engaged students in narrative, informative, and persuasive writing tasks.

Maine eighth graders’ writing scores improved significantly over previous years. Thirty-nine percent of Maine eighth graders performed at or above proficiency in 2007, compared with 36 percent in 2002 and 32 percent in 1998. Nationally, 31 percent of students performed at or above proficiency in 2007. The percentage of students in Maine performing below the basic level dropped from 13 percent in 1998 to 10 percent in 2007.

Maine continues its journey to bring about equity of access to technology resources and support for educators as they learn to "flexibly navigate the space defined by the three elements of content, pedagogy, and technology and the complex interactions among these components." (Mishra & Koehler, 2008)

Bette Manchester is executive director of the Maine International Center for Digital Education and the former director of special projects for the Maine Department of Education.

Link:

Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation

 

 

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eSN TechWatch: June 2008

Flash VideoFormer Fairfax County, Va., superintendent Daniel Domenech outlines his plan for revitalizing the 143-year-old American Association of School Administrators. Plus, a look at ed-tech news from around the nation.

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