House panel explores ed tech’s value

A panel of educational technology experts spoke before the members of the House Education and Labor Committee June 16, stressing the importance that technology plays in the classroom as well as the need for continued professional development.

In the first of what Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said will be a series of panel discussions, educators and educational technology advocates shared success stories about how technology has helped improve teaching and learning.

“I feel that if we do not adapt schools to the integrating and embedding of these tools into instruction,” American students will fall behind globally, Miller said. “I think this is a very exciting moment for American education.”

Members of Congress and education stakeholders also were able to try out different technologies at the event, including interactive whiteboards, virtual frog dissection, online teacher training and courses, video streaming clips, and math and reading software simulations.

“The Capitol Hill showcase reflected an increased understanding that classroom technology and innovation are essential to the future of learning and American competitiveness,” said Mark Schneiderman in a press release. He is the senior director of education policy for the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), a co-host of the showcase.

“Without the types of technology we saw today, America simply won’t be able to guarantee that our students–and our nation–can continue to lead in the global economy.  SIIA calls on policy makers to provide the investment and leadership necessary to ensure our schools and educators have the innovative tools demonstrated today–tools that promise a world-leading education for all students,” he said.

Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer for the White House Office for Science and Technology, stressed that there is more than one type of professional development needed for teachers to keep up with technology developments.

“Initially, a teacher has to learn to use [a technology], and then [he or she has] to learn different methodologies and ways to use it in teaching,” he said. He said technology professional development should be integrated with the professional development that teachers already are required to participate in.

“As we gather more and more solid data on the results of the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology program on student learning, it becomes increasingly essential that companies, policy makers, and educators work together to further integrate technology into schools,” said Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, which also co-hosted the showcase. “States are embracing technology as a way to positively impact student achievement. For example, in South Carolina, sustained professional development has encouraged the effective integration of technology to facilitate student achievement across the state.”


Schools could be clinics for swine flu shots

Schoolchildren could be first in line for swine flu vaccine this fall–and schools are being put on notice that they might even be turned into shot clinics.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday she is urging school superintendents around the country to spend the summer preparing for that possibility, if the government goes ahead with mass vaccinations.

"If you think about vaccinating kids, schools are the logical place," Sebelius told The Associated Press.

No decision has been made yet on whether and how to vaccinate millions of Americans against the new flu strain that the World Health Organization last week formally dubbed a pandemic, meaning it now is circulating the globe unchecked. But the U.S. is pouring money into development of a vaccine in anticipation of giving at least some people the shots.

While swine flu doesn’t yet seem any more lethal than the regular flu that each winter kills 36,000 people in the U.S. alone, scientists fear it may morph into a more dangerous type. Even in its current form, the WHO says about half of the more than 160 people worldwide killed by swine flu so far were previously young and healthy.

If that trend continues, "the target may be school-age children as a first priority" for vaccination, Sebelius said Tuesday. "That’s being watched carefully."

Schools do occasionally team up with local health officials for special flu vaccination clinics but it’s not common. More than 140 schools around the country scheduled flu vaccination days last fall, some providing free vaccine. Some vaccinated only students bearing parent consent forms; others opened their doors to entire families.

In a wide-ranging interview, Sebelius said it could take several years to meet President Barack Obama’s top healthcare priority–covering the uninsured–even if Congress manages to pass legislation this fall.

"Will something probably be phased in? You bet," Sebelius told The AP. It could take until 2011 or 2012 to set up new programs, time that would help spread out a cost that by some estimates would be $1 trillion over 10 years.

Among the aims of the administration’s planned overhaul is to help eliminate health disparities between minority groups and whites, "which frankly is unconscionable," Sebelius said.

Hispanics and blacks are more likely to lack health insurance, and also have higher rates of a host of illnesses. But Sebelius said some of the most severe disparities are found with American Indians, and pledged a multiyear effort to reverse "a historic failure of the government." The U.S. is obligated to provide free health care on reservations, but the troubled Indian Health Service has only about half the money it needs.

More immediately, Sebelius faces the looming question of whether to push forward with swine flu vaccinations this fall, on top of the regular winter flu vaccine that will be distributed as usual. A key challenge would be making people understand who needs which, or both, vaccines, decisions that will be made in part based on how swine flu behaves in the Southern Hemisphere this summer, where flu season is just beginning.

Sebelius soon will call together the nation’s governors to be sure "these months between now and the fall aren’t used as vacation months" but in getting ready.

"We can always sort of back off" if the new flu fades away, she said, "but we can’t wait til October hits and say, ‘Oh my heavens, what are we going to do?’"

Companies are on track to provide pilot doses for testing later this summer, Sebelius said. Those government-led studies will check if the vaccine seems to work, if one dose or two will be needed, and most important if it’s safe. The last mass vaccination against a different swine flu, in the U.S. in 1976, was marred by reports of a paralyzing side effect–for a feared outbreak that never happened.

So the Food and Drug Administration will closely track vaccine safety, Sebelius said.

The secretary said: "The worst of all worlds is to have the vaccine cause more damage than the flu potential."


Health and Human Services Department


Facebook a key to college marketing

Universities are attracting students with coordinated, well-funded social networking campaigns, bringing their campus marketing message to sites such as Facebook without pushing teenagers away with an authoritative approach in an informal environment.

Attendees at the annual InfoComm Conference in Orlando gathered during an EduComm session June 16 analyzing how some universities have caught students’ attention on the web sites that have drawn millions of teenagers and young adults in recent years.

Diane C. McDonald, associate director of marketing at Texas A&M University, told the group of educators and IT officials that the campus has transferred about 80 percent of its marketing budget to online advertising, while cutting back on print ads.

Before the internet became ubiquitous, college officials largely depended on word-of-mouth advertising among current and prospective students. Now, with most students connected to at least one social networking site–such as MySpace or Facebook–McDonald said schools should focus their marketing on "word of mouse" advertising.

Creating a legion of "online evangelists" for a college or university is the key to spreading positive marketing across social networking sites and blogs, she said.

"That’s a huge step in our efforts," McDonald added.

Texas A&M launched a Facebook page and a site called last year. The DoYouWonder page invites students to share their experiences, which means user-generated content such as videos create an interactive atmosphere that brings students back daily or weekly.

"We’re not in control as much as we’re facilitating," McDonald said, adding that social networking-based marketing campaigns mean colleges "no longer have [control over] 100 percent of the message that goes out."

The reach of even one college student can mean the university’s message is spread exponentially on social web sites. If a student has a Facebook profile, a personal blog, and accounts on Flickr, a photo-sharing site, and LinkedIn, a professional networking site, he or she can potentially reach thousands of people, who then could spread the message to thousands more, McDonald said.

McDonald said jumping into the increasingly popular Facebook pool is not as simple as creating an account and watching students join as group members. Texas A&M has student employees constantly monitoring the site for provocative posts from students or visitors from rival campuses.

Maintaining a "non-authoritative" Facebook presence, McDonald said, was key to attracting potential students to the page and making them feel invited to return again and again. Administrators shouldn’t push college coursework or administrative news through a college’s Facebook page, she said.

"As soon as we start acting like mom and dad, we’ve destroyed that [social networking] spirit," McDonald said.


Texas A&M’s


Schools suffer despite stimulus funding

The nearly $100 billion for education in the federal stimulus package is helping school districts staunch the bleeding as the recession gashes their operating budgets. But though state and school district leaders from coast to coast say they’re grateful for the additional money, many say it isn’t nearly enough to meet their needs.

In Los Angeles, 2,500 of the city’s teachers and support staff are slated to lose their jobs–even after an infusion of stimulus money has helped save thousands more. In South Carolina, state education officials figure the stimulus will save only 700 of the estimated 2,600 school positions expected to be cut. And in Washington state, officials anticipate teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and reductions in services, despite the stimulus aid.

This year, 26 states have made cuts to K-12 education and 31 states have made cuts to higher education, according to a report issued in June by the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) and the National Governors Association. For the 2010 fiscal year, 27 states expect to cut their K-12 budgets and 28 states expect to cut higher education spending, the report says.

Without the help of stimulus funds, the budget situation “would have been disastrous for states,” said Brian Sigritz, a staff associate with NASBO. Yet, although the stimulus package is helping, the size of state budget shortfalls keeps growing as well, Sigritz said.

“The stimulus alone isn’t going to be enough” to solve the problem, he said.

For the first quarter of this year, state revenues were down nearly 13 percent, Sigritz explained, adding that states’ income tax collections have declined faster than expected. “The magnitude of the problem is greater than people anticipated” when the stimulus package was drawn up, he said.

There are very few states that aren’t feeling the pinch. With the recent decline in oil prices, even Texas and Alaska–two states that largely have been spared during past recessions–are now hurting. In fact, financial analysis firm Moody’s lists all states as being in a recession except North Dakota. The last recession, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, wasn’t nearly as far-reaching, Sigritz said.

When Congress passed the stimulus package, it designated $48 billion for a “State Fiscal Stabilization Fund” intended to offset state budget cuts to education and public safety, while also saving jobs.

States had to apply to receive these funds, pledging that they would spend at least as much on education in 2009 as they did in 2006. States that could not meet this requirement could apply for a waiver, however.

Two-thirds of the money from the stabilization fund was available to states immediately, within two weeks of having their application approved. The remaining one-third is contingent on a follow-up application that states must file this fall, explaining how they have used their first round of funding to enhance education, save jobs, and spur reforms.

As of mid-June, all states had applied for their share of stabilization funding, and 29 states had received a total of $22.4 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

California was the first state to apply, receiving nearly $4 billion in mid-April–with another $2 billion expected this fall. But the state is facing a budget deficit of more than $24 billion, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed $6 billion in education cuts to help balance the state’s budget.

“The stimulus payments will allow us to offset the significant cuts in revenues” resulting from the state’s budget crisis, said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif. “It is an almost perfect dollar-for-dollar tradeoff.”

But that doesn’t make up for shortfalls in local school budgets resulting from declining property tax revenues, rising energy and health-care costs, shrinking student populations, and other factors, Liebman explained. He added that the state stabilization dollars mean Berryessa “will only [endure] a $3 million cut … instead of a $6 million or $7 million cut.”


Project makes digital video more accessible

More of Discovery Education's streaming videos will include closed captioning.

A new partnership will expand the availability of closed captioning (CC) and audio description (AD) in multimedia educational content–giving students who are hearing or visually impaired, are English language learners, or have other challenges greater access to digital learning opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has awarded two 5-year grants to CaptionMax for a collaboration with Discovery Education, intended to increase the accessibility of educational media used in K-12 classrooms.

Digital content that includes CC uses an on-screen transcription of the audio portion of a program. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students, as well as students with learning disabilities and those learning English, can follow along with classmates and keep pace with the rest of their class using CC. A teacher or student may turn off the captions if these are not needed.

Discovery Education’s streaming video collection currently offers more than 1,700 full-length programs and 13,000 core-concept video clips with CC. The grant project will increase these numbers.

Many Discovery videos also will be audio described, so that visually impaired students can access program content through a voice-over that describes key visual elements. The AD feature is mixed into the original program audio. Besides benefiting visually impaired students, AD can help students who learn best aurally or through multi-sensory input, CaptionMax says.

Through the partnership, CaptionMax will add CC and AD features to Discovery Education streaming videos in batches.

Dale Fulton, Discovery Education’s senior vice president of curriculum development, estimated that in the first 80 hours of work, approximately 150 to 200 new videos will be equipped with both CC and AD features.

Updated videos are available to educators as soon as they are loaded into the streaming service. Educators are alerted to new streaming content via a monthly newsletter.

“What is really unique about this [partnership] is that it is opening up the world to more students,” Fulton said. “It’s a remarkable way to differentiate instruction.”

Help for students with visual or aural impairments is frequently lacking in classrooms.

“This is a great step forward. The closed captioning is often missing in classrooms,” said Tracy Gray, director of the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) and a managing research scientist at the American Institutes of Research. NCTI advocates for technology’s role in expanding learning opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities.

Gray praised the partnership and its members for their efforts.

Educators say visually impaired students often have trouble keeping up with classroom videos.

“Visually impaired students often find themselves in a classroom where the teacher is showing a video to complement the lesson and are left with no access to the messages that are provided on the screen,” said Jill Soule, a high school teacher in San Diego, Calif.

“The few times my students have experienced video description, they have been ecstatic.  The insight these descriptions afforded them was unlike anything they had experienced before.”

And expanding the accessibility of classroom videos to visually and hearing impaired students helps educators use digital content in the most effective way possible.

“Digital content, such as video, is proven to be a valuable resource in the classroom, engaging students through both the visual and aural senses,” said Kelli Campbell, senior vice president of content and product development for Discovery Education.

“Expanding the availability of titles with captioning and audio description increases the ways educators can integrate digital content into existing curriculum.”


Discovery Education


U.S. Department of Education


‘Storm computing’ gathers just beyond the cloud

Renowned futurist George Gilder first discussed cloud computing with colleagues nearly 20 years ago. Now, Gilder is looking beyond the cloud and predicting a new kind of network that could boost universities’ computing power.

Gilder delivered his predictions at an ed-tech meeting during the InfoComm Conference in Orlando, where educators and campus IT officials came to see the latest products from technology companies and attend lectures on how higher education can better use computers and multimedia devices.

Gilder, a best-selling author and long-time advocate of technology and free-market capitalism, spoke in an Educomm keynote speech June 16. Gilder has closely tracked higher education’s embrace of cloud computing–using software that is hosted offsite, rather than spending thousands of dollars cooling and powering on-campus servers–but said using the cloud-based approach soon could be obsolete. Instead, “storm computing,” which Gilder said would enhance computing capabilities with a much faster network, will attract public and private sector IT administrators in the coming years.

“It’s a bigger development than is often understood,” Gilder, 69, said about cloud computing, which he described as a critical first step to true software virtualization. “When networks became faster than computers,” he said, the only logical solution was to switch to offsite cloud-computing data centers.

Rea Burleson, campus information officer at the University of South Florida Polytechnic, said he hadn’t yet heard of Gilder’s “storm computing” theory, but added that the days of massive hardware purchases–a major contributor to skyrocketing IT costs in higher education–are coming to an end.

“There’s going to be a point where I won’t have to buy hardware or local licenses or anything like that,” said Burleson, the university’s CIO since 1995.

Gilder, a Harvard University graduate, recalled talking to technologists at Sun Microsystems in the early 1990s about the inevitable limits of microprocessors and the solution of moving to a cloud-computing system. Eventually, he said, computer companies would risk “sizzling [microprocessors] like a frying pan” in the never-ending effort to increase computer speed.

Gilder first wrote about the potential impact of cloud computing three years ago–before technology companies and higher education began turning to the cloud en masse.

Gilder was optimistic about the innovation that could come from the world’s economic downturn. He pointed out that the rise of the microchip came from the slumping economy of the 1970s and said he expects the current recession to be “a golden era of … technology.”

“Do not relax in a recession,” said Gilder, pointing out that technology helps people innovate to overcome financial shortcomings, as nearly all U.S. colleges and universities are facing this year: “A recession is the mother of invention.”


George Gilder


Layoffs mean city schools will lose a new breed of teachers

By next school year, 2,100 Los Angeles teachers and another 400 support staff are expected to lose their jobs–a 5-percent hit to the nation’s second-largest school district behind New York City.

Worse still, some observers say, is that the layoffs are concentrated in some of the city’s grittiest neighborhoods. L.A. Unified’s inner-city schools have higher turnover and tend to hire more new teachers, and the state education code mandates that layoffs be issued based on seniority.

"This is about civil rights and education for inner-city children," said longtime English teacher Sean Leys.

The National Education Association estimates that some 34,000 teaching jobs will be eliminated nationwide this year. California–with L.A. Unified in the lead–faces the largest loss, of nearly 18,000 teachers.

Some inner-city middle and high schools in Los Angeles could lose up to 40 percent of their teachers, according to an analysis by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.

By contrast, many schools in the district’s more affluent areas, such as the San Fernando Valley suburbs, will be less affected, because only up to 10 percent of their teachers are new, the analysis found.

At schools such as John H. Liechty Middle School, located in gang-riddled central Los Angeles, more than half the teachers are losing their jobs. Their classrooms will be filled by transferred senior teachers and administrators whose positions were eliminated, and students also will have larger class sizes.

Administrators say layoffs are spread throughout the district, but Liechty has a large number because it opened in 2007 and was filled with new hires.

District officials acknowledge that staff turnover is a problem at certain schools and that layoffs will cut into the new hires the district has worked hard to recruit in recent years –including those who requested to work in urban areas.

Teachers who lose their jobs can join the substitute pool and are placed on the re-employment list, officials said.

"Our hope is to keep them involved in the system," said Vivian Ekchian, the district’s chief human resources officer.

Critics of the layoffs say the district’s newer teachers bring sorely needed enthusiasm to the problem-plagued campuses, as well as new teaching methods and ideas–including a willingness to use technology and other 21st-century tools.

Many of the district’s newer hires also are minorities who can relate to the majority of the district’s 650,000 students.

"I share a lot of my life with my students," said L.A. native Christian Aguilar, a Liechty seventh-grade math and science teacher who’s facing layoff. "I tell them there’s an opportunity for you to grow up and get out of here. I tell parents I want their kids to get out of here. I can only hope I made an impact on some of them."

Students said they like the empathetic ear that the younger teachers can provide.

"They’re easy to talk to," said Marilyn Ann Flores, an eighth-grader at Liechty. "They understand you. It wasn’t that long ago that they were teenagers. They tell us their background. Some teachers went through the same things we’re going through. We see if that person made it, we can, too."

School board member Marlene Canter said the experienced teachers and administrators who will fill the gaps after the layoffs are also capable of motivating children. What’s really needed, she said, is a way to reward higher-performing teachers and a simpler process to weed out poor ones.

"Just because you’re a senior teacher doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, or if you’re a younger teacher, you’re automatically good," she said.


Community college invests in ESL training

Established in 1958 as a part of a statewide system of industrial education centers throughout North Carolina, Alamance Community College (ACC) has grown into a vibrant two-year college offering associate degrees in a diverse range of subjects. ACC is committed to responding to the changing needs in the area and, in response to the many new employment opportunities for technically trained personnel, the college seeks to give its 5,000 enrolled adult educational students the opportunity to develop their potential.

In recent years, ACC saw a rise in local jobs for multilingual candidates, but a burgeoning number of adults in continuing education programs had limited or no ability in the English language. ACC sought to ensure that all students received the opportunity to become proficient in both Spanish and English in order to help these individuals prepare for the real world.

As a vocational institution, ACC’s primary goal is to train its students for success in their chosen career path.  In an effort to accomplish this goal and bring both the school’s foreign language instruction and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs to the next level, I decided that the school’s foreign language programs would benefit from integrating the immersive and interactive technology Rosetta Stone offers into the ACC classrooms.

I was able to convince ACC President, Dr. Martin Nadleman, that the software would help better prepare students for their future and Rosetta Stone Classroom was introduced into five ESL and two Spanish language classrooms in January 2009 under Clara Vega, the head of ACC’s Humanities department.

The Rosetta Stone pilot program introduced technology and individualized language learning into their classrooms for the first time. With the launch of the program in Fall 2009, Rosetta Stone Classroom has become a central part of ACC’s Spanish classes and ESL programs, providing an immersive and personalized learning experience to their students, faculty, and staff.

As soon as the students began using the software, they immediately experienced the freedom to learn based on their own comfort level and the ability to continue their practice outside the classroom walls. Rosetta Stone Classroom allowed students to set their own pace and move forward on their own time, according to their skills and individual needs.

Within months, students using the software had outpaced the scheduled curriculum and advanced beyond teachers’ expectations. Teachers were most were impressed by how steep the students’ learning curve became once they were practicing with Rosetta Stone.


Online resources help fill schools’ funding gaps

With a national drop in charitable contributions making it harder for schools to raise their needed funds, thousands of PTAs, schools, and nonprofit organizations across the country are taking advantage of two innovative fundraising tools: and GoodShop is an online marketplace that has partnered with more than 1,000 stores (including Target, Apple, Gap, Kmart, Staples, and others) and donates up to 30 percent of every purchase to the user’s favorite school or nonprofit. GoodSearch is a search engine that donates 50 percent of its revenue — about a penny per search — to the school or nonprofit designated by its users. You use it exactly as you would any other search engine, but each time you do a search, about a penny goes to your favorite cause. More than 79,000 schools and nonprofits across the country already are earning funds using GoodSearch and GoodShop, and schools can sign up by clicking on the “Add a New Charity or School” link on the GoodSearch home page. and


Survey: Family time eroding as internet use soars

Whether it’s around the dinner table or just in front of the TV, U.S. families say they are spending less time together. The decline in family time coincides with a rise in internet use and the popularity of social networks, reports the Associated Press — though a new study stopped just short of assigning blame. The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California is reporting this week that 28 percent of Americans it interviewed last year said they have been spending less time with members of their households. That’s nearly triple the 11 percent who said that in 2006. Respondents did not report spending less time with their friends, however. Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the center, said people report spending less time with family members just as social networks like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are booming, along with the importance people place on them. Meanwhile, more people say they are worried about how much time kids and teenagers spend online. In 2000, when the center began its annual surveys on Americans and the internet, only 11 percent of respondents said family members under 18 were spending too much time online. By 2008, that grew to 28 percent…

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