Merger boosts CenturyLink’s status as a provider of cloud services

The nation’s third largest telecommunications company has gained even more expertise in supplying cloud computing to schools and other customers, thanks to a recently completed merger.

The $2.5 billion merger of CenturyLink and Savvis Inc., which was completed July 15, positions the combined company as a leader in meeting the demand for outsourced IT and cloud services, CenturyLink officials say.

“The combination of CenturyLink’s hosting and network assets with Savvis’ proven solutions in … managed hosting and cloud services substantially enhances CenturyLink’s capabilities and immediately provides the company with a solid platform for future growth,” said Glen F. Post, III, chief executive officer and president of CenturyLink, in a press release. “The transaction helps us meet the accelerating demand for cloud-based services through a robust hosting presence, including 48 data centers in North America, Europe, and Asia.”

Based in St. Louis, Mo., Savvis has approximately 2,450 employees in North America, Asia, and Europe. It provides cloud infrastructure and hosted IT services to nearly 2,500 clients, including many Fortune 500 companies.

Later this year, CenturyLink plans to integrate its hosting business with Savvis’ managed hosting and cloud services to focus on increasing CenturyLink’s market share in these areas. The integrated hosting business, which will operate under the Savvis brand for the foreseeable future, will be based in St. Louis and led primarily by key members of the Savvis leadership team, including chief executive officer Jim Ousley, CenturyLink says.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the deal July 12, and Savvis shareholders approved it July 13.

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Okla. school official tweets: Educators ‘dirtbags’

Oklahoma’s schools superintendent said Thursday that her chief of staff calling school administrators “dirtbags” in a personal Twitter post was a “poor choice of words”—but called a lawsuit targeting parents of special-needs children that prompted the comment vindictive and “groundless,” the Associated Press reports. In her Sept. 7 posting, which was first reported by the Tulsa World, Jennifer Carter referred to a lawsuit the Jenks and Union school districts brought against the parents of special-needs students who had sued the districts…

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Probe finds fraud in U.S. distance education

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) identified a “serious vulnerability” in distance education programs due to frauds committed by students and recommended a stricter enrollment process for colleges, Reuters reports. Stocks of for-profit colleges, which mostly offer online programs, fell on fears of further decline in enrollment and profit…

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Students lost 25 points off test for saying ‘bless you’ to sneezing peer

When someone sneezes, it’s common for a person in the vicinity to respond, “bless you.” But for making that remark, students in Steven Cuckovich’s health class in Vacaville, Calif. lost 25 points off a test, reports the Huffington Post. The next day, someone used the phrase again when a student sneezed, and Will C. Wood High School student Erica Fagan told KXTV that Cuckovich docked points off everyone’s grades. The punishment has nothing to do with religion, Cuckovich tells KTXL News in Sacramento. Rather, it’s about deterring students from being disruptive in class and interrupting learning time…

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Opinion: 5 myths about Gov. Chris Christie’s ed reform in New Jersey

New Jersey’s public schools are often cited for academic achievement, outperforming most other states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and ranking among top nations on international benchmarks, says David G. Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in Newark, N.J., and lead counsel to the plaintiff schoolchildren in New Jersey’s landmark Abbott v. Burke litigation, for the Washington Post. The Garden State has another distinction: it is one of the few states with an equitable school finance formula that, when fully funded, provides all schools sufficient resources to deliver rigorous academic standards while targeting more funding to high poverty districts and schools.  But fair school funding is not on Gov. Chris Christie’s so-called education “reform” agenda…

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Rankings: America’s best high schools for math and science

U.S. News and World Report, known for its annual rankings of America’s top colleges and high schools, released today its first-ever list of “Best High Schools for Math and Science,” the Huffington Post reports. Topping the list from first to third place: High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J., BASIS Tucson in Tucson, Ariz. and Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va…

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Earn national recognition through one of our many ed-tech awards programs

There's probably a contest or award that's just right for you!

In this current political climate, it’s not always common for educators to hear the words “well done.”

Schools today are under enormous pressure to produce results—and they must do so facing a number of challenges, including tight budgets and increasing poverty.

While technology can help, it’s not a panacea, and it takes a lot more than technology to reach a new generation of learners—it takes hard work, dedication, passion, and perseverance (not to mention strong leadership, staff development, and a supportive school culture).

To help educators, schools, and even ed-tech companies receive the credit they deserve when they bring these elements together to improve instruction, we’ve created a number of awards programs. These programs aim to highlight the innovative work of school and campus leaders, schools, districts, colleges, and education industry professionals, while holding it up as an example for others to follow.

To make these programs a success, however, we need your help. We’re asking readers to look at our many awards programs and consider nominating themselves or their colleagues.

But don’t delay—some programs are about to close in the next few weeks!

Our 2011-12 ed-tech awards programs include…

Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards (TSSA)

One of eSchool Media’s longest-running awards programs (now in its 12th year), TSSA seeks to honor superintendents who demonstrate exemplary vision for the use of technology to improve all facets of education—and who show outstanding leadership in working to make this vision a reality.

If your superintendent meets our 10 “hallmarks of excellence” for senior school district executives, then nominate this individual for our 12th annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, sponsored by GlobalScholar. Nominations will be accepted until Friday, Oct. 28. Winners will be honored in a ceremony held in conjunction with the American Association for School Administrators’ National Conference on Education in February 2012.

Nominees, who must be general superintendents of a K-12 school system, will be judged according to specific criteria, listed here. Ten national finalists will be chosen by the editors of eSchool News in consultation with the previous year’s winners.

To nominate a superintendent, click here.

Readers’ Choice Awards (RCA) for K-12 and Higher Education

One of our most popular award programs is back!

Have you had success with a particular ed-tech product or service? Want to recognize that product and share your success with your colleagues? Then nominate your favorite product(s) for our 2012 Ed-Tech Readers’ Choice Awards.

Nominations can include hardware, software, or online services in any area of educational technology.

In your nomination, please include the name of the product or service, the company that provides it, and a brief but detailed description telling us how you use the product or service and how it has benefited your school, district, or campus and its students. (The more specifics you can provide, the better.)

Nominations must come from school, district, or campus personnel only, and the person submitting the nomination should have a valid school or campus-issued eMail address. No nominations by vendors, please.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, Oct. 28, and winners will be announced in print and online in January 2012.

To nominate a product or service for K-12 education, click here.

To nominate a product or service for higher education, click here.

eSchool and eCampus of the Month

One of our newer, and ongoing, awards programs is the eSchool or eCampus of the Month program, where eSchool Media recognizes the hard work that has helped your school, district, or campus become a model for others seeking to more effectively integrate technology into every aspect of the educational and administrative process.

New winners are chosen each month by the editors of eSchool Media. Winners will be profiled on our websites, as well as in our monthly print publications.

For more information and criteria for K-12 nominations, click here.  You’ll also find stories on our current and past monthly winners.

For higher education, click here.

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A look inside an i21 classroom

Harlan Klein, principal of San Diego’s Innovation Middle School (iMiddle), said the i21 initiative has transformed students’ attitudes toward learning.

iMiddle students receive netbooks that operate with 3G wireless connectivity paid for by the school. Students bring their devices home and can connect to the school’s network from anywhere, but school filters and firewalls remain in effect—blocking access to questionable or unsafe websites on school grounds as well as at home, a library, or other location.

The school achieved the top ranking on the state’s most recent Academic Performance Index.

“All our data suggest that not only are the most exceptional students making progress, but all students are making progress,” Klein said. “We’re raising achievement from the ground up.”

Klein said iMiddle has “virtually eliminated the far-below achievement gap” through its one-to-one program. “I attribute a lot of our success to our technology integration,” he said.

The i21 initiative has “definitely provided more accountability for students” through the use of Zangle Gradebook, he said, which gives students and parents access to assignments, homework, and school communication online.

In addition to the online gradebook, iMiddle teachers maintain classroom blogs or Moodle sites. Tests and quizzes are delivered electronically, which gives students and teachers immediate feedback on performance and weak areas.

All student work is saved to student profiles housed on the district’s network, and that work remains accessible during students’ time in the district by using the student’s Active Directory ID number.

If iMiddle students go on to high school and have difficulty with a math course, Klein said, they can “go back to their student portfolio and look at their saved notes from the previous year, and watch their former teacher’s video post explaining the concept—it’s all saved electronically.”

The technology has “dramatically increased the students’ motivation and their ability to recognize where their own inadequacies are,” Klein said, adding: “It really has helped teachers differentiate their instruction, and they’re able to target specific students for specific intervention based on the data.”

Klein said i21 has helped otherwise shy students participate in classroom discussions, because they feel comfortable using the i21 technology tools in the classroom. He said student engagement is one of the biggest successes to emerge from iMiddle’s part in the i21 initiative.

The curriculum exhibits “a much higher relevancy to the work students are doing,” he said. “Learning is more meaningful for students, because they have ownership of it. That ownership and responsibility have been critical to our success. There are very few times in any classroom where it’s a stand-and-deliver type of instruction. The engagement is vastly increased, because there’s such diversity in how things are presented.”

For example, teachers assign projects to students, and while those projects must contain certain elements, students are allowed to use nearly any technology, delivery method, and media they wish to complete the project.

“Students feel a lot more engaged in their curriculum, because they have ownership over what they’re learning and how they’re learning it,” Klein said. “Because they have that freedom, I’ve seen students take a lot more risks, and they put more time and effort into projects and assignments.”

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A blueprint for ed-tech success

San Diego’s i21 initiative follows Intel’s K-12 Computing Blueprint for eLearning Initiatives, which helps school leaders implement anytime, anywhere learning programs. The blueprint is based on real-world successes and includes consideration for the many variables facing schools today, Intel says.

Here are its seven components…

Policy

Policy affects every component within the blueprint, and rightly so—as “federal, state, and local policy provides the context in which all education takes place,” the blueprint notes. School leaders must understand policy, and how it affects education, in order to make technology initiatives successful.

An important part of this is recognizing that policies should be flexible and should be evaluated periodically, making modifications if necessary. Doing so will help policy makers create realistic policies with workable time frames. Periodically evaluating existing policies also helps state and local education leaders determine whether the policies truly are working in the interests of those whom they are meant to benefit.

Educators, school leaders, and other stakeholders can become involved with policy making or regulation in several ways, including as individuals or as members of an association or advocacy group. Other ways include working closely with local media, developing fundraising plans, and partnering with local or community organizations to support policies that will benefit both parties.

Though many policies are created at the state or federal level, school districts have control over their own acceptable use policies. These guidelines for technology use should include the definitions of appropriate and inappropriate technology use, consequences for violating the policy, and plans for addressing student safety, among other items.

Leadership

Inspiring and supportive leaders are behind nearly every successful school technology implementation. School and district leadership have a huge influence on whether ed-tech programs are effective, and state and federal leaders also can help or hinder an ed-tech implementation through their actions or policies.

The Software & Information Industry Association has developed a number of suggestions for school leaders as they prepare to implement a new technology program. Some of those suggestions include identifying the program’s objectives before planning, drafting evaluation criteria, and assigning an effective leader to manage the implementation.

“Effective leaders are ones who are able to balance top-down and bottom-up approaches to planning and implementation,” according to the blueprint.

If school and district leaders hope to implement a successful technology initiative, they should identify key stakeholders who will have a say in the process; build a technology task force; develop teacher buy-in; create a strategic and sustainable plan; involve people, process, technology, and data; and maximize communication.

Teachers and students who support the proposed initiative can prove valuable by championing the vision in the community and among colleagues and stakeholders. Additionally, explaining the proposed initiative’s potential benefits and outcomes can help generate early buy-in.

Some sample objectives for a one-to-one computing initiative, clearly identified by a school or district leader, might include using data-driven decision-making performance solutions, improving teachers’ technology skills, reigniting students’ interest in classroom lessons, improving students’ technology skills, and enabling administrators to provide comprehensive professional development.

Effective communication is essential to effective leadership, and communicating through social media plays a large part in today’s schools. School leaders increasingly are using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with students, parents, and community members. For instance, the Urban School of San Francisco uses Facebook and Twitter to update students and parents on the progress of its one-to-one laptop program.

Funding

Project leaders must account for not only the up-front costs of any proposed technology implementation, but also the ongoing funding that will be necessary to sustain the project.

The strained economy has made many people wary of large-scale education investments, but initial project costs could be covered by a variety of sources, including grant-making foundations, community bonds and allocations, and statewide pilots and seed funding.

If school and district leaders hope to procure computing devices, such as laptops or tablets, they have a few avenues to consider. Purchasing the devices is a beneficial option if ongoing funding is a concern, but leaders must consider the need for future upgrades or device replacement. Leasing the devices spreads the cost over a period of time and makes upgrading or replacing devices easier. A lease/purchase arrangement offers some installment financing, and some hardware companies support upgrades during the lease period. Leveraging student or family-owned devices is a fourth option, and schools might be able to negotiate lower student or education rates at which families can purchase devices for their children.

Consideration for ongoing costs is essential if school leaders hope to support a technology implementation for the long term. Ongoing costs might include hardware maintenance and replacement expenses, subscription fees for online content or access to other resources, and professional development costs.

Schools might be able to locate funding for this ongoing support through grants, discount programs such as the eRate, support from local organizations, community partnerships, or family contributions.

“In addition to looking for innovative and realistic approaches to [total cost of ownership] budgeting, it is important to look for ways in which the innovative use of technology can actually save a district money,” the blueprint notes. “The long-term effects of one-to-one adoption, for example, can bring many parts of an annual budget down after year one.”

For example, communication costs might fall if teachers and administrators begin to communicate with families electronically instead of through paper-based means alone.

Digital content

Investing in technology for its own sake will not change education. Effective professional development, willingness from teachers, and a realistic and enthusiastic vision for how technology can enhance curriculum and instruction are necessary as well.

Technology should be applicable to all learning styles and should support student activities that would be difficult or impossible without use of the technology.

Digital content should be flexible, meet the needs of all learners, be translated into other languages if applicable, and be adjusted to fit different abilities.

Proper and effective professional development will help teachers feel confident and well-equipped as they incorporate technology and digital content into their lessons.

Infrastructure

Aside from the devices themselves, school leaders should consider infrastructure issues that might arise during a technology implementation. These issues might include which mobile devices to choose, or how to deploy a secure wireless network.

When it comes to computing devices, project leaders must know the student-to-device ratio, how many—if any—desktop devices are needed, and what precise mobile devices will best suit students’ and teachers’ needs. Leaders also should consider implementing a battery exchange program, providing onsite charging and device docking, making software upgrades easy, and establishing detailed plans for device maintenance and support.

Devices will best support students and teachers if they offer several hours of battery power between charges, have sufficient storage capabilities, and have wireless capabilities.

The network that will support these student and teacher devices is equally as important as the hardware. A school network should be stable and secure, and it should able to support the necessary number of users without slow traffic or hiccups. Some schools are moving from wireless Wi-Fi networks to WiMAX, which is faster than Wi-Fi and has a greater access range.

School IT leaders will have to support this infrastructure, and they will best be able to do so if they schedule regular collaborative meetings; log, track, and analyze reports to identify and address weaknesses in the IT infrastructure; and use students to help maintain equipment and support users, Intel says: This approach reduces the load on the IT staff, while giving students a chance to develop and apply their own IT skills.

Professional development

“Professional development is one of the most crucial—and frequently overlooked—aspects of implementing a technology initiative,” the blueprint says. In fact, truly effective professional development goes well beyond a single training session and “is ongoing, frequently reinforced, well-supported, and embedded into the daily life of schools.”

The blueprint contains many tips to help school leaders build and sustain an effective professional development program, including:

  • Provide teachers and administrators with the technology one year prior to implementing with students; before they can be comfortable using the technology to teach, educators must be comfortable employing it for their own personal use and professional growth.
  • Offer opportunities for educators to get their how-to technology questions answered through just-in-time, technology-based modules and peer support.
  • Teachers, like students, should have opportunities to learn at their own levels and in their own style.

Just as school leaders aim to use data to monitor and shape instruction, they should do the same when it comes to professional development. A human capital management solution will let a district track teachers’ participation and progress in professional development offerings.

Results

Education leaders should approach ed-tech initiatives with their intended results in mind—and beginning a project by identifying its goals from the get-go, and determining how to measure progress toward those goals, is a critical first step.

Consistently monitoring data and results is key as well, because the initiative might need some revisions or tweaking to ensure that benefits everyone involved.

According to the bleuprint: “Not only is this sort of evaluation crucial to the success of individual programs, it helps education leaders in other parts of the country and world learn from one another’s success and build new programs based on scientifically-based research.”

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$5,000 awards for innovative projects

Entrants can conceptualize a new, commercially-viable product using science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and entrepreneurship to addresses real-world problems. Competition categories include Aerospace, Clean Energy, and Health and Nutrition. Teams must consist of 2-5 high school students, ages 13-18, and one coach. The top teams will be invited to present their products at the Conrad Foundation’s 2012 Innovation Summit March 28-31, 2012 at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Winning teams receive a $5,000 seed grant for future product development.

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