Last year, more than 4.5 million students from several different countries used the site, Furdyk said, and they “produced over a million pieces of content on almost 50 different global issues.”
Most projects start with writing and reflection, and then end with a call to action, he explained—adding that the site’s instructional model is “inspire, inform, and involve.”
Saving money by using open technologies
Jim Klein, director of information technology for the Saugus Union School District in California, discussed how CoSN’s K-12 Open Technologies Initiative helps inform school IT leaders about open technologies and how to implement them.
“Open technologies are particularly important for educators these days, especially in our current financial situation,” Klein said. School technology leaders are constantly trying to find ways to increase their students’ access to technology resources, he added, “but it’s often difficult, because finances have a tendency to get in the way.”
Using open technologies can enable school districts to get more technology into the hands of students, he said, while freeing up money to invest in other areas.
Saugus Union uses open technologies across its server infrastructure as well as on desktop computers, Klein said.
On the server side, the district has replaced its proprietary server software from companies such as Microsoft and Novell with Linux-based servers—and this has saved the district $50,000 to $60,000 per year in licensing fees.
“We’ve taken those dollars and reinvested them in the classroom,” Klein said.
On the desktop side, Saugus Union uses OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office software, which saves about $150,000 per year in software licensing fees. The district also uses the Linux operating system to extend the life of older computers. So rather than a three or four-year refresh cycle, “we’re able to extend the life of those machines out to seven, eight, nine years and still have effective technology in the classroom,” Klein said.
(Watch our interview with Jim Klein below.)
One concern that school leaders often have about using open technologies is that they are harder to support. But Klein said he’s found it’s actually easier to run Linux, because it eliminates the need for the “patch cycles” that proprietary systems are notorious for.
And from a desktop perspective, “having a consistent [user] environment is a plus,” he said; you can install the same desktop system across every computer, which eliminates software compatibility issues. This also allows Saugus Union to give students a disk with open software to take home, so they can use the same learning tools as they use in school.
On innovation, and a vision for ed tech
Karen Billings, vice president of the education division for the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), discussed the challenges of innovation for school leaders and ed-tech vendors.
If an education technology program is really innovative, “they’re not sure if it’s going to be a success in schools,” Billings said, “and by the time they wait to make sure it’s going to be a success and that it will lead to student achievement … it’s no longer innovative.”
To help encourage successful ed-tech innovation among its members, SIIA runs an Innovation Incubator program, Billings said, in which new companies receive advice and support to help bring new products to market. Through an annual awards program, the organization showcases the best ideas that are deemed most likely succeed in the education market.
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