Public school web site is a bridge to private aid

It’s like "Craigslist," except the goal is to bring people together to support public schools in Hawaii, reports the Honolulu Star-Bulletin: School stakeholders can click on the new web site helphawaiischools.com to find out how to help. The site is a two-way street, linking would-be donors and volunteers with specific campuses and their needs. Schools are using it to reach beyond their own parents to the community at large, in keeping with a national trend. "With the budget shortfall expected next year, outside help for public schools is crucial," said Ryan Ward, volunteer coordinator at Aiea Elementary School. He is looking for someone to teach PE once a week…

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Educators wary in wake of Nortel bankruptcy

Acutely aware of how the sudden change or demise of an important technology vendor can wreak havoc on their ed-tech programs, school leaders across North America are watching closely as Toronto-based telecommunications firm Nortel Networks aims to reorganize after filing for bankruptcy protection last month.

So far, all indications suggest it’s business as usual for schools that rely on Nortel service or equipment. But after many schools were left with worthless service contracts or unfilled orders after computer supplier MPC Corp. declared bankruptcy and subsequently folded late last year (see "MPC’s collapse leaves schools in the lurch"), it’s understandable if some educators are concerned.

Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada and the United States in mid-January, just one day before the company was due to make a debt payment of $107 million.

Facing a sharp drop in orders from phone companies, Nortel used the bankruptcy filing to buy some time to explore restructuring options, such as selling off assets.

In a press release, Nortel President and CEO Mike Zafirovski said the company had been in the process of a turnaround since late 2005, but the "financial crisis and recession have compounded Nortel’s financial challenges and directly impacted its ability to complete this transformation. … Nortel must be put on a sound financial footing once and for all."

As of its last quarterly filing, Nortel had $4.5 billion in debt and $2.4 billion in cash reserves. Nortel said its cash remains $2.4 billion, but the company did not immediately reveal its total assets or its debt load.

During the telecommunications and internet boom of the 1990s, Nortel had more than 95,000 employees and a market capitalization of $297 billion. At one point in 2000, it accounted for one-third of the market value on the entire Toronto Stock Exchange. After the dot-com bust, Nortel had problems: an accounting crisis that sparked shareholder lawsuits, regulatory investigation, and the firing of key executives, including CEO Frank Dunn.

Canadian Industry Minister Tony Clement said the government is willing to help Nortel restructure as a viable company by providing up to $24 million in short-term financing and is open to discussing other loans.

In the meantime, some customers have been delaying orders from Nortel as the company’s viability has come into question, USB analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos said.

"Nortel has enough cash to run its business this year and probably a good part of next year as well," said Theodosopoulos. But he added that declaring bankruptcy would give the company "a better chance to preserve itself."

Given the long-term service contracts associated with telecommunications network equipment, "you really have to convince your customers that you’re going to be around," said Ping Zhao, an analyst with CreditSights.

In recent interview with the IP telephony blog No Jitter, Eric Krapf, president of enterprise solutions at Nortel, said there’s nothing to worry about.

"The major milestone that people should look for is for Nortel to continue to be in the marketplace, being proactive about the value propositions that we’re putting forward and the wins that we are having. And to that point, I’m very pleased to let you know, even since filing, we’re winning new customers and contracts on a global basis. It’s in the hundreds," Krapf claimed. "And these are not just replacements or run-of-the-mill projects."

He also vowed that customer support would not lag as a result of the filing.

"Customers have told us this is a critical area that we need to watch, make sure we support them the way they’ve become used to," said Krapf. "We measure our on-time delivery performance daily and weekly to our published lead times. Last week we had one of our best performing weeks ever, at 96 percent delivery to our published lead times. And so it’s proof like that that [prospective customers] do their due diligence on, and that gives them a level of confidence to move forward."

Nortel serves K-12 schools and higher-education institutions across the U.S. and Canada, providing communications technology as well as mobile learning environments and security solutions.

Kentucky’s Owensboro Public Schools uses Nortel equipment to give all teachers and administrators eMail and internet access, as well as integrate streaming media into its classrooms.

Nortel now provides Owensboro with all of its data network and telephone services. Nortel has published case studies with dozens of districts just like Owensboro, as well as university campuses, across North America.

"We’re not worried so far," said Ron Milliner, district technology coordinator for Owensboro Public Schools, in an interview with eSchool News. "We had to switch some things around just last week, and we received the replacements the next day just as our warranty specifies."

He continued: "So far, their service has remained top-notch, as it has always been. Obviously, we have concerns, but we trust that the reorganization will not affect the good working relationship that we have with the company."

In Canada, Nortel reportedly provides more research funding than any other private company.

In 2007, Nortel spent $1.8 billion on research and development, and it has projects under way at more than 20 universities around the world.

"We need them to be successful," said Jeffrey Dale, chief executive officer of the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI), in an interview with the Globe and Mail of Toronto. "Nortel is at the top of the food chain in terms of working with academic institutions that support the research, but more importantly, that support the development of master’s students and Ph.D. students."

Dale said Nortel officials told him they plan to continue funding the company’s various educational programs, including a high-school course on networking technology. But he said he’s concerned about what could happen if the company fails to reorganize and is sold.

Several Canadian universities, including the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, Queen’s University, McGill University, and Carleton University, have received funding from Nortel for a variety of programs over the years.

Nortel also has a corporate signature community-relations initiative called LearnIT–an educational nonprofit that helps prepare teachers and students to develop 21st-century skills.

Even though Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection, LearnIT last month launched the Everyday Technology Toolkit (ETT), a project-based site that encourages educators and students to create short, one- to two-minute how-to videos about a piece of everyday technology.

In an interview with eSchool News, a Nortel representative said that "while any and all costs associated with our efforts will be closely reviewed and controlled, our partners who have adopted LearnIT and employee volunteers are actively engaged in promoting LearnIT initiatives in schools and communities, and that will continue."

The representative added: "In 2008, there were 2.5 million unique users who used Nortel LearnIT, and we are excited about building new relationships with visitors and users in 2009 and beyond."

Links:

Nortel

LearnIT

Owensboro Public Schools

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Court strikes down California video-game law

In a decision that could have a far-reaching effect on other states’ efforts, a federal appeals court on Feb. 20 struck down a California law that sought to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, reports the Associated Press. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 2005 law violates minors’ rights under the Constitution’s First and 14th amendments. The three-judge panel’s unanimous ruling upholds an earlier ruling in U.S. District Court. The law would have prohibited the sale or rental of violent games to anyone under 18. It also would have created strict labeling requirements for video-game manufacturers.
In a written opinion, Judge Consuelo Callahan said there were less restrictive ways to protect children from "unquestionably violent" video games. For example, the justices said the industry has a voluntary rating system, and that parents can block certain games on video consoles. The law’s author, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said he wanted Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We need to help empower parents with the ultimate decision over whether or not their children play in a world of violence and murder," Yee, a child psychologist, said in a statement. California lawmakers had approved the law, in part, by relying on studies suggesting violent games can be linked to aggression, anti-social behavior and desensitization to violence. The justices dismissed that research. "None of the research establishes or suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm, and inferences to that effect would not be reasonable," Callahan said in her ruling…

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Learning with blogs and wikis

Technology has made it easy for educators to embrace continual professional development, writes Bill Ferriter in the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s publication, Educational Leadership. "Adult learning is often pushed aside in schools as educators sprint through the day, worried about leaving no child behind," Ferriter writes. "The few moments that we can steal for professional development are usually spent in sessions with experts pitching the latest silver bullet. Teachers rarely get to self-select learning opportunities, pursue professional passions, or engage in meaningful, ongoing conversations about instruction." But times have changed in two significant ways, he writes: First, there’s a new emphasis on the importance of collaborative learning among members of close-knit teams in schools. Second, digital tools are now helping to fulfill this need: "Specifically, thousands of accomplished educators are now writing blogs about teaching and learning, bringing transparency to both the art and the science of their practice. In every content area and grade level and in schools of varying sizes and from different geographic locations, educators are actively reflecting on instruction, challenging assumptions, questioning policies, offering advice, designing solutions, and learning together. And all this collective knowledge is readily available for free…"

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AASA hears what’s about to disrupt schools

Disruptive innovations are based on the idea that every so often, a new innovation comes along that completely changes the marketplace.

Disruptive innovations are based on the idea that every so often, a new innovation comes along that completely changes the marketplace.

If Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen is right, half of all instruction will take place online within the next 10 years–and schools had better get into the online-learning market or risk losing their students to other providers.

Christensen was at the American Association of School Administrators conference in San Francisco Feb. 19 to discuss his book Disrupting Class, which looks at why schools have struggled to improve through the lens of “disruptive innovation.”

Disruptive innovation is the business idea that, every so often, a new innovation comes along that completely changes the marketplace, knocking the old market leaders from their perch and giving rise to new ones.

Disruptive innovations transform products or services into something so simple that anyone can use them, creating what Christensen called “asymmetric competition.”

Because they take advantage of these radical innovations, new entrants to the marketplace are essentially competing against “non-consumption”–that is, they’re getting customers who didn’t exist in that market before–while the innovation continues to improve.

Once the new innovation has matured, these companies are in a great position to compete with the established market leaders, Christensen said–and therefore they nearly always win.

To illustrate this idea, Christensen brought up the example of the personal computer in the 1980s. At the time, mainframe computer manufacturers such as IBM, Wang, and Digital Equipment Corp.–which made a smaller mainframe called the “mini-computer”–were the clear market leaders.

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Electronic tutor helps accounting students

Accounting students now have access to the same kind of artificial intelligence-based tutoring software that math and chemistry students have had for years–and science teachers-in-training soon could benefit from the technology as well.

Quantum Tutors, which was created in 1998 to help high school and college students with chemistry, now offers help for students in college-level accounting as well as math. The company recently partnered with McGraw-Hill Higher Education to offer Quantum Tutors for the Accounting Cycle. The software covers topics such as transaction analysis, adjusting entries, and financial statement preparation and is correlated with McGraw-Hill textbooks.

“McGraw-Hill is the first and only higher-education solutions provider to offer this level of personalized tutoring with our accounting textbooks,” said Kevin Kaine, president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education’s Business and Economics Group.

Quantum Tutors provides instant, step-by-step feedback based on the student’s work, including specific reasoning explaining why the student’s answer is right or wrong, said Benny Johnson, Quantum’s president and chief executive officer. Johnson is also the developer of the company’s artificial-intelligence technology.

Ron Lazer, assistant professor of accounting at the University of Houston, said the software covers a wide range of questions that students might ask.

“The [program] allows students to ask questions and practice at their own pace at home, but with an interaction that is similar to class work and questions,” he said. It answers students’ queries and provides one-on-one tutoring tailored to each student’s level of understanding.

In September, Quantum received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an artificial intelligence-based simulation program for students learning to become science teachers, delivered in real time over the internet.

The software will be “useful for a new teacher or a teacher who is teaching outside of [his or her] field,” Johnson said. “We are developing a classroom simulator so the instructor inputs problems and the [virtual] students answer in different ways.”

The software provides the same pedagogical knowledge that teachers would receive from a master teacher, Johnson said, but it’s delivered completely through the internet.

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Free Microsoft curriculum encourages students to be good ‘digital citizens’

Students interact with music, movies, software, and other digital content every day—but many don’t fully understand the rules surrounding the appropriate use of these materials, or why this should even matter. To help teach students about intellectual property rights and encourage them to become good “digital citizens,” software giant Microsoft Corp. has unveiled a free curriculum that offers cross-curricular classroom activities aligned with national standards. The Digital Citizenship and Creative Content program was designed for students in grades 8-10 but can be adapted for use in grades 6-12, Microsoft says. In one unit, students are given a scenario in which a high school sponsors a school-wide Battle of the Bands. A student not involved in the production decides to videotape and sell copies of the show to students and family members. Later, one of the performers (“Johnny”) learns his image has been co-opted by the maker of a video game without his permission. Students research intellectual property laws to see who owns the “rights” to the Battle of the Bands as a whole, as well as the rights of individual performers, to determine three or four steps that Johnny can take. http://digitalcitizenshiped.com

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2009 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winners honored during AASA conference

Ten superintendents who are among the nation’s most successful in leading their schools into the 21st century were honored in a special ceremony Feb. 20.

The occasion was eSchool News’ Ninth Annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, sponsored by Promethean, the Pearson Foundation, and K12 Inc. This year’s award winners were honored during a private ceremony held in conjunction with the Century Club 100 meeting at the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in San Francisco.

“Research shows that if you start with a clear vision for how to implement technology effectively, and you provide strong leadership in sharing this vision with stakeholders, and you make sure your staff is well supported and receives professional development that is relevant and sustained, and you seek to change instructional practices to take advantage of technology’s potential, then technology really can empower more effective teaching and learning,” eSchool News Managing Editor Dennis Pierce said in presenting the awards.

Now in its ninth year, the Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards are intended to recognize excellence in ed-tech leadership from the very top level of school district administration, and hold these exemplary leaders up as models for others to follow.

Among other criteria, “tech-savvy” superintendents must model the effective use of technology in their day-to-day execution of the superintendency; ensure that technology resources are distributed equitably among students and staff; insist that adequate professional development is a component of every school technology initiative; demonstrate exceptional vision in leading the development and implementation of a district-wide technology plan; and think creatively and strategically about the long-term challenges and opportunities that technology provides in their district and in education at large.

Winners were nominated by the school field and then chosen by the editors of eSchool News with the help of Tech-Savvy Superintendent laureates from prior years.

This year’s winners are:

• Margaret Anderson, Knob Noster R-VIII School District, Missouri;
• Steven Baule, Community Unit School District 201, Illinois;
• Vince Cotter, Colonial School District, Pennsylvania;
• Richard A. DiPatri, Brevard Public Schools, Florida;
• Arthur Himmler, Steilacoom Historical School District No. 1, Washington;
• Lorraine Lange, Roanoke County Schools, Virginia;
• Larry Price, Wilson County Schools, North Carolina;
• Tom Shelton, Daviess County Public Schools, Kentucky;
• Steven Stephanoff, Center Grove Community School District, Indiana; and
• Mark Weedy, Eastland/Fairfield Career and Technical Schools, Ohio.

“You’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Well, with billions of dollars in new federal [stimulus] funding will come intense scrutiny,” Pierce told the honorees.

“As they get set to spend this new influx of cash, your colleagues in other districts will be looking to you for guidance. …I hope you’ll use your collective voices to help spread the word: When used effectively as part of a well-designed plan, and when supported with adequate staff development (and not one-and-done workshops), technology can help reach today’s students and equip them with the 21st-century skills they’ll need to succeed.”

After the awards were presented, Chip Kimball, superintendent of the Lake Washington School District in Redmond, Wash., spoke about an initiative from the Consortium for School Networking called “Empowering the 21st Century Superintendent.” Kimball and Century Club 100 President Evelyn Holman then led a discussion about effective school leadership in the 21st century.

(Editor’s note: For more coverage of AASA’s 2009 National Conference on Education–including a video interview with AASA President Daniel Domenech–see our AASA Conference Information Center at eSN Online: http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/aasa.)

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What it means to be ‘tech savvy’

At our Ninth Annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards ceremony in February, we asked the winners what technology-related programs they were most proud of in their districts–and what it means for them to be a “tech-savvy” school leader. Here’s a sampling of what they said.

“Right now, our one-to-one laptop initiative has my attention, because we’re trying to make sure we have some baseline data to show our community that the investment of those dollars is really going to pay off in terms of student achievement. …Students have access to the technology 24-7, [which enables] a just-in-time kind of learning. I was talking to a teacher who was saying, ‘If we want to look up some information, we don’t have to schedule into out computer lab–I can just have the students open up their laptops and look up this information right away.’ …Our media specialists are moving ahead with all sorts of ideas and innovations; I’m just really fortunate that our community, the staff, and the school board are all behind this.”

Margaret Anderson, Knob Noster School District, Mo.

“Being a tech-savvy superintendent means giving teachers the tools they need to succeed in the classroom, and [making] sure that [we] operate effectively by integrating our systems together. …We’ve been able to create a ‘classroom of the future’ for every single classroom in the district, K-12. A classroom of the future, in our opinion, is one in which we have interactive whiteboards [and projectors], giving teachers the ability to be very engaging with the students. …Our classrooms have become really alive with the implementation of technology.”

Vince Cotter, Colonial School District, Pa.

“We used to teach kids by bringing technology to them and saying, ‘Learn this technology.’ We’ve advanced [beyond] that now, to where we’re adapting what we’re doing to the kids’ mode of learning. …We’re taking our curriculum and delivering it in a mode and a fashion that the kids readily adapt to and are successful with.”

Arthur Himmler, Steilacoom Historical School District No. 1, Wash.

“Whenever you win an award, you don’t win it alone. I’m lucky to have a supportive school board and a director of technology and teachers and principals who really embrace technology. …The students we have now are the digital natives–they were born with technology, they use it in games, they use it at home–so it’s important that we use it in instruction.”

Lorraine Lange, Roanoke County Schools, Va.

“Technology is a tool, and it has transformational qualities if we use it in the right way. We have to always be curious about how we can use technology to enhance what we’re doing, to make what we are trying to teach our children more relevant, to help them develop skills that will enable them to be successful in this new age we’re in. …I think it’s a matter of finding ways that children already embrace technology, and then working together to make sure teaching and learning are complementary to that.”

Larry Price, Wilson County Schools, N.C.

(Editor’s note: More ed-tech insights from the winning superintendents are available at eSN Online. Watch video interviews with nine of the 10 winners at http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/tssa.)

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Editorial: Stimulating education, technology

President Obama’s stimulus plan includes more than $150 billion in new federal money for education, with "infrastructure projects" like school modernization and repair, programs to make schools more energy efficient, and technology infrastructure upgrades being put forth as the most productive use of the money. So, with the prospect of an extra billion dollars in the budget that the stimulus plan dictates must be spent right away, where will it do the most good? asks Ed Bouryng of the Washington Times.
Few projects can offer the rewards to taxpayers like an investment in information infrastructure. The benefits of rebuilding our education system’s information infrastructure are clear. For many years, the private sector has implemented technology that enables organizations with vast operations to function on a single information platform. This platform has become the operational backbone of most leading corporations and holds great promise for the education system…

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