Friday, August 31, 2007

Oakland Wireless and Wireless Washtenaw! SIGN-ON to PROJECT!

Oakland, Washtenaw wireless systems coming soon

Posted on 8/30/2007 8:45:39 AM

Municipal wireless projects in Oakland and Washtenaw counties should be complete in 2008 and will offer considerable economic development benefits, officials of the two counties told a Great Lakes IT Report - WWJ Newsradio 950 breakfast Thursday.

The systems, Wireless Oakland and Wireless Washtenaw, will offer particular advantages for rural areas in western Washtenaw and northern Oakland counties, which are currently limited to broadband.

"West of Zeeb Road, we don't have access" to broadband, Washtenaw County deputy county executive and CIO David Beehan said during the event. He said business owners in western Washtenaw are telling the county, "We only have dial-up, and it's killing us."

Beehan and Phil Bertolini, Oakland County deputy executive and CIO, outlined their respective counties' progress toward free wireless Web access to a crowd of about 100 at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield.

Bertolini said the inspiration for the project came from a 2004 visit by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson to Dubai, which has universal Web access.

"Brooks said there's four square miles of Dubai, there's 910 square miles of Oakland County -- make it so," Bertolini said.

Both counties' projects involve no government investment or ownership. Instead, the counties are making government assets such as power poles and radio towers available for free to a private sector partner that provides the actual service. A basic level of service -- 128 kilobits per second, about twice as fast as dial-up -- is provided free, with higher speeds available at a price. The provider also gets advertising revenue from a portal start page that all users begin at.

In Oakland County, those upsell rates and prices range from $19.95 a month for 512 kilobits per second download speed to $39.95 a month for 1.5 megabits per second.

Berolini said Wireless Oakland's Phase I has covered 18.5 square miles, an area comprised of 35,000 households and businesses. So far, 11,000 of them have signed up -- far exceeding the county's initial projection of a 5 percent signup rate. Of the 11,000, about 200 are paying for higher speeds, Bertolini added.

Bertolini said Wireless Oakland is currently developing its rollout schedule for the rest of the county, which should be complete by the end of 2008.

Roughly the same schedule is in effect for Washtenaw County, which has a 15-square-mile pilot system operating in Saline, Manchester and downtown Ann Arbor. In Washtenaw, though, only 300 have signed up.

Both counties said government is one of the "anchor tenants" of the system and will use it extensively.

And Bertolini said the system is already paying off in terms of economic development.

"We already have companies contacting Oakland County and saying that part of the reason we are looking to locate in Oakland County is that the county is building a wireless network across 910 square miles," Bertolini said.

Behen said Washtenaw County got its inspiration not from Dubai, but from the fact that the private sector simply doesn't seem interested in providing broadband to rural areas.

"I'm not going to argue with the private sector," Behen said. "But in my position as deputy county administrator and CIO, I have to think a little bigger, and think about the quality of life for those areas."

Both plans also include programs to bridge the digital divide, once the wireless network is up and running. The counties will be providing free or low-cost computers and training for low-income residents.

Both speakers also said they're watching the development of WiMax technology carefully, but that it's still years away from widespread use. Oakland County is already using WiMax for backhaul, Bertolini said.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Something to Emulate!

Harlem Program Finds Ways to Help Kids, Revive a Community

Cox News Service
Sunday, August 26, 2007

In a worn building in the heart of Harlem, up two flights of well-used stairs and down halls dotted with proud plaques and bright murals, 14-year-old Alec Strong sits before a shiny white computer learning Web site design and pondering a future full of possibilities.

One floor up, beside a small gym favored by baby-faced basketball players, 6-year-old Bria Jordon yells and knocks down two men more than twice her size. She bows to her martial arts sensei, who smiles as another lesson in discipline and fitness is completed.

A few blocks away is the public school where Aisha Tomlinson attended "Baby College" classes and learned there was a lot she didn't know about being a parent.

At nearby Promise Academy elementary, 8-year-old Noah Brown begins each school day reciting a pledge that ends with the words: "We will go to college. We will succeed. This is the promise. This is our creed."

All these faces belong to the Harlem Children's Zone, an ambitious project spanning nearly 100 blocks in one of New York's poorest neighborhoods.

As many cities struggle with pockets of crime and poverty, the zone has become a rare national beacon, widely admired and studied by local governments and charities because of its success in bringing education, social services, medical help and a sense of community to thousands of children and families.

The program has lately become part of presidential politics, touted by Democratic candidate Barack Obama as the basis for his poverty strategy. He called the zone "an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children in a neighborhood where they were never supposed to have a chance."

Obama said in July that, if elected, he would spend billions of dollars to apply the zone's approach in 20 U.S. cities, spurring debate on whether the government can effectively replicate the program.

Many dedicated and generous people work to make the zone a reality, but it exists largely because of the vision and sweat of Geoffrey Canada, who overcame a poor and violent childhood in the South Bronx and dedicated himself to giving back.

"In communities like Central Harlem it's not just one thing that's really going badly for children, it's everything," said Canada, the zone's president and CEO. He said individual programs that address issues such as early childhood education or teen pregnancy are not enough to ensure that kids succeed.

The response, he said, is not to fight one battle, but to fight them all.

"That's how you reach the tipping point, really creating a conveyor belt that starts from birth with programs like Baby College and Harlem Gems for 4-year-olds," he said. "It supports young people straight through college."

Getting kids all the way through college is key, Canada said, noting that a high school diploma is not enough to ensure success in today's world. Helping new graduates stay connected to their community creates a positive cycle, he said.

"That's how you really begin to grow a young adult population which is prepared to take responsibility, by making sure young people feel that they have a place that they are responsible for and they have the tools to make a difference," Canada said.

The children's zone is part of a broader economic revival in Harlem that includes new construction and an influx of business after years of decline.

The zone grew out of a program called the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families and began providing services to a 24-block area of Harlem in 2001. That area included about 3,000 children, most of them black and nearly two-thirds living in poverty.

It now encompasses 97 blocks and serves more than 9,000 kids and their families.

Children in zone schools have longer days, shorter summer vacations and many after-school options. Teachers are held to very high performance standards.

The zone's approximately 20 programs range from a family crisis storefront facility to Harlem Peacemakers, which trains young people to keep neighborhoods safe and puts them in classrooms to work with elementary school kids.

The scope of the effort is clear at the program's recently built $42 million headquarters on 125th Street, which houses a community center, sports and medical facilities, a cafeteria serving healthy meals and upper grades of the Promise Academy.

A conference area here resembles a war room, with a map of the zone's blocks dotted with program sites. Another map shows the high levels of obesity in Harlem compared to the rest of New York. Still another pinpoints the schools where hundreds of children from the zone have made it to college.

Leaders from cities from San Francisco to Miami have come here to learn what makes the zone tick.

The zone's annual budget is $50 million, with one-third coming from federal, state and city funds and the rest from private donations. Much of the private money stems from hedge fund wealth and Wall Street donors among the program's trustees.

The zone's results can be found woven through the lives of people like Harlem mom Flo Brown and her three sons.

Noah, who soon starts Promise Academy's 3rd grade, passed 3rd grade state reading and math tests a year early. Jeremiah, soon to be 4, will begin at the Harlem Gems pre-kindergarten in the fall, and 1-year-old Caleb also has the zone in his future.

The two older boys already talk about going to college, Brown said.

"I'm fully aware of the epidemic of our black men going to jail, dropping out of high school, or on drugs or being killed," she said. "Having three black men that I'm raising is very frightening for me."

"Trying to raise a family in Harlem in this day and age — we really couldn't afford a private school," Brown said. "I don't know that I could have done this in this environment without the Harlem Children's Zone. It's also created a village of sorts for me."

That village provided help beyond schooling. Brown said a zone asthma program, needed in a neighborhood with some of the worst asthma rates in the nation, helped Noah get through a time of frequent emergency room visits.

Brown also attended the Baby College, which teaches moms and dads about parenting. One often eye-opening class concerns discipline and how to punish children without hitting.

"All that stuff is embedded in you, so you think because this is the way you were raised this is the way we are supposed to raise your children," Brown said. "My husband and I are talking to our son, we're explaining things to our son."

Aisha Tomlinson, 42, said Baby College classes about seven years ago also taught her the importance of reading to her kids.

"The things that you didn't have, you definitely want your children to have," she said.

Older kids in the zone have programs like TRUCE, The Renaissance University for Community Education. The program provides after-school and summer activities for kids 12-19, focusing on academics, arts, technology and nutrition and fitness. Students here produce a cable TV show, a newspaper and have a Web site in the works.

Alec Strong has been part of TRUCE since he was 10. He said he wants to be a video game designer and the program provides an early step.

"Some students really have nothing and this program gives students something to look forward to," he said. "I'm looking forward to going to college."

On the Web:

Harlem Children's Zone:

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Importance: URGENT!

The Preschool Question: Who Gets to Go?

Va. Expansion Efforts Highlight Debate

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007; A01

The children in Carrie Hamilton's preschool class yesterday drew wobbly hearts with wobbly letters underneath. They tapped the buttons on a toy cash register and raced cars over roads built of wooden tracks. Hidden in the games and giggles were lessons on the building blocks of reading and math.

These Fairfax County 4- and 5-year-olds are part of a national push to devote more public resources to the youngest learners. They are also at the center of a debate, underscored last week in a Virginia policy shift, over whether the government should offer preschool to all children or concentrate on those from poor families.

Nationwide, about 950,000 children are enrolled in state-funded preschool, a 36 percent increase from five years ago, said experts who track the programs. As advocates promote quality pre-kindergarten as a way to prepare children for school, strengthen the workforce and reduce crime, states have increased funding since 2005 for such programs by 75 percent, to $4.2 billion, according to the District-based organization Pre-K Now. Some in Congress have also proposed more federal money to help build state preschool initiatives.

The questions about which children will benefit most from government-funded preschool and how great the investment should be are at the core of Virginia's effort to expand pre-kindergarten but have also arisen in Maryland. Next week, in its first foray into all-day preschool, Montgomery County plans to introduce full-day, federally funded Head Start classes for 260 students at 10 elementary schools that serve low-income neighborhoods. This week, Prince George's County expanded its full-day state-funded preschool program by half, to 261 classes, also targeting students from poor families.

After campaigning in 2005 to offer free preschool to every 4-year-old in Virginia regardless of family income, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) scaled back his plan last week and said he would focus resources on the neediest children.

In an interview yesterday, Kaine said his pledge to launch universal preschool was prompted by research showing that a tremendous amount of learning takes place before the first day of kindergarten. But education experts persuaded Kaine to build on the work of existing public and private preschools.

"Instead of just creating a system from scratch, why not take the existing network and focus on the goals of increasing access and increasing quality?" Kaine said. "We can change the financial criteria to help kids who can't afford it and have an impact on the quality of all parts of the system."

Virginia 4-year-olds who qualify for free school lunches -- those in households with incomes of less than $27,000 for a family of four -- are eligible for free preschool, and about 12,500 children take part at an annual state cost of about $50 million. Kaine's plan would extend benefits to children in families with incomes up to $38,000. The new proposal, which envisions enrolling about 17,000 more underprivileged children by 2012, would cost an additional $75 million a year.

Kaine also is calling for a state-led rating system to help parents gauge how providers measure up. Preschools, much like restaurants or hotels, would be rated on a five-star scale based on such factors as the educational level and training of teachers, class sizes and an expert's classroom observation.

Kaine's plan to offer universal preschool for all 100,000 4-year-olds in the state would have cost about $300 million annually.

Bruce Fuller, an education and public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley who is a leading proponent of income-targeted funding, said research has shown that children from poor families get the biggest boost from high-quality preschool. He said universal preschool provides unneeded benefits to wealthy families and said the emphasis should be on helping children in lower-income homes, who tend to start school knowing fewer letters and numbers than their peers.

"We need to focus scarce dollars where the benefit is the greatest, and that's to children from low-income and blue-collar households," Fuller said. "If dollars are sprinkled across all families rich and poor, it's illogical to think early learning gaps will be narrowed."

But other education experts said the country should shift to preschool for all children. They say every dollar spent on public preschool will improve school performance, lessen the need for remedial education and have other long-term benefits.

A recent study of New Mexico's preschoolers showed that students in the state program learned many more words and scored higher on a test of early math skills than peers who didn't attend.

"Even though it costs more, the public is better off if they make sure it gets to all kids," said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. "Even middle-income kids, the middle 60 percent, have a 1 in 10 chance of failing a grade, a 1 in 10 chance of dropping out of high school. A lot of that can be traced to how far behind they were when they started kindergarten."

Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now, which backs universal access, applauded Kaine's proposal. "Given the political realities of the state, he's starting where he should," Doggett said, alluding to Virginia's budget constraints.

The federal Head Start program provides preschool for about 900,000 children from low-income homes across the country, and many states fund classes targeted largely to disadvantaged children. Georgia and Oklahoma offer universal preschool that reaches large percentages of children. Other states, including West Virginia and New York, are working toward such programs.

In Florida, voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2002 that mandates pre-kindergarten for all children, but critics contend the quality of the program has suffered because of a lack of funding. Last year, California voters rejected a ballot measure that would have taxed the wealthy to pay for universal preschool.

In the District, more than 5,000 children are enrolled in full-day preschool programs in public schools.

The nonprofit preschool of Annandale Christian Community for Action, where Hamilton's students played yesterday, is one of several private centers in a pilot program started by Kaine to help Virginia reach more children from disadvantaged homes. This summer, the center has new state funding for 26 additional children.

Camilla Torejo, 4, showed off her artwork as classmates flipped through books, played computer games and zoomed around with toy cars. "I made this heart and this heart and this heart," Camilla said. Next to them, she wrote her name.

Staff writer Daniel de Vise contributed to this report.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Batter UP!

Published Online: August 14, 2007


Why Education Reform Is Like Baseball

Thoughts for the Days of Summer

By Jeanne Century

If you are looking for an entertaining summer read, what could be more promising than a David-and-Goliath baseball story? That’s what I expected as I opened Michael Lewis’ 2003 best-seller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. But before I had finished the first chapter, I realized this was more than a sports story, and that my hopes of being distracted from the work of improving education were not going to be realized.

Moneyball tells many stories, one of which is how General Manager Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s used an otherwise disregarded statistic—on-base percentage—as a strategy for selecting players. His scouts were accustomed to the more traditional approach to finding baseball stars: traveling across the country and recruiting those who looked “right.” Beane’s analytic approach was decidedly unpopular, and the story of its implementation before the 2002 season is yet another illustration of the fact that, whether in baseball or education, systems are stubborn.

Moneyball tells about a system that did not want to change; of practices held steadfast in tradition; and of how a leader, with the right motivation and insight, innovated for success. So, as this season winds down and you sit watching nine innings, consider these nine lessons for educators drawn from an unlikely place: America’s simple favorite pastime—baseball.

1. Don’t go for the home runs … just get on base and the rest will come. Beane didn’t win baseball games by hoping for home runs. Home runs are rare, and hope doesn’t win games. He understood that individual players don’t win games; teams do—when they work together in a process of creating runs. In education, we identify isolated strategies that we hope will be our home runs. But experience tells us that a better approach is to get solidly and clearly “on base.” Then, the system can work, each piece supporting the other, stepping up when necessary and stepping back to “sacrifice” if that is what will win the game. The only way the system can work is if everyone buys in and does his or her part.

In a quickly changing world, practices that once worked can become ineffective artifacts, and those most familiar to us may be the very ones that are in fact standing in the way of improvement.

2. Money is important, but it is not the answer. Beane had to spend his team’s meager $40 million wisely; other clubs had several times that amount. So he set out to identify ways he could use his money more efficiently. As Lewis writes, “[I]n professional baseball it still matters less how much money you have than how well you spend it.” Instead of investing in one big star, Beane sought out those players who were regularly and consistently getting on base (see lesson one). We in education need to find ways to get on base. Small steps are enough if they are consistent and well informed. The smartest strategies don’t necessarily cost the most money. Indeed, some of them don’t cost anything at all.

3. Be willing to change the things that are the most familiar. When it came time to make changes, Beane identified a part of his organization that looked most like the others—his scouting department—and that is where he made changes that were key for his success. Educators can take a lesson from this. In a quickly changing world, practices that once worked can become ineffective artifacts, and those most familiar to us may be the very ones that are in fact standing in the way of improvement.

4. Decisions should be made with personal investment, but not overpersonalized. In baseball, the people who make the decisions generally have played the game at one time or another and, as Lewis puts it, they “generalize wildly from their own experience.” This sounds familiar? We all have personal experience with education, and it is easy to think that what worked for us will work for others. We need to make good decisions grounded in personal experience and beliefs. But we need to recognize that beliefs built on the experience of one person, or even a few people, may not hold the answers for the country as a whole.

5. Make decisions based on experience and evidence, not on impressions. Lewis tells us that baseball scouts had a dislike of short, right-handed pitchers and a “distaste” for fat catchers. But Beane looked past appearances and turned to performance. While scouts chose players without looking very far below the surface, Beane looked at past performance and made informed decisions based on what was most likely to happen next. In other words, he paid attention to history to inform his shaping of the future. In education, we need to hold our goals clearly in our sights while remembering to look below the surface and consider all that we know. Informed by our history, we can look optimistically forward.

6. The changing environment makes old rules obsolete. Lewis notes that some practices of baseball are vestiges of a time long gone when players wore no gloves and fields were rough expanses of dirt. Likewise, the education system was invented at a time when the world looked quite different, and yet, the instruction and function of our schools often looks very much the same. Even as ball fields have built lights and digital scoreboards, the object of the game has stayed the same. Likewise, the object of our “game” stays the same, but the setting is very different. We need to discard the obsolete practices and find those that will keep us apace in our growing world.

7. There is resistance to new knowledge and ideas. The book explains that as baseball statistics became more sophisticated and available, those inside the sport relegated them to a “cult” of users. Lewis notes that “there was a profusion of new knowledge and it was ignored. … [Y]ou didn’t have to look at big-league baseball very closely to see its fierce unwillingness to rethink anything.” This sounds painfully familiar. In education, we say we want to innovate and improve. But saying it and acting on it are two different things. Few are willing to let go of the familiar to take the risk of embracing the promising, but still unknown.

8. People do things even when there is evidence that they don’t work. Oddly, in baseball and education alike, people do things even though it’s clear that they don’t work. In baseball, for example, players might steal bases even when it seems to be statistically pointless or even self-defeating. In education, we know that an incremental, evidence-based approach will get us where we want to go. And yet, we continue to implement popular (albeit unproven) strategies on unrealistic timelines because that is what the constituents want, even if, in the end, it won’t help win the game.

9. A system is a system is a system. Lewis quotes the innovative baseball statistician Voros McCracken, who once wrote: “The problem with major-league baseball … is that it’s a self-populating institution. … [T]hey aren’t equipped to evaluate their own systems. They don’t have the mechanisms to let in the good and get rid of the bad. They either keep everything or get rid of everything, and they rarely do the latter.”

As I sat in the warm summer sun, I had to check the cover of the book, just to make sure I hadn’t accidentally picked up a book about education.

Jeanne Century is the director of science education and research and evaluation at the University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thank You for PARTICIPATING in this Virtual Community!

August 15, 2007

Building Virtual Communities

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

from Technology & Learning

Online communities of practice are central to 21st century professional development. In this excerpt from, an expert shares her views—and we invite yours.

Building Virtual Communities

Author, consultant, and social learning theorist Etienne Wenger describes virtual learning communities as electronic communities of practice where you find groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion for a topic. These communities deepen their knowledge and expertise by interacting on an ongoing basis. According to Wikipedia, traditional communities of practice are "based around situated learning in a colocated setting." In the blogosphere however, we see community developed not by common location, but through pockets of common interest.

Capacity Building

I spend a lot of time participating in communities online. I have had the opportunity to see some of the best and some of the worst in action. I am thankful for the new electronic models of professional growth that inspire me daily to think and collaborate differently. The diversity of ideas and thoughts represented in my community 21st Century Collaborative push the boundaries of my thinking as I share knowledge and do my part to advocate for educational reform.

The way I see it, social networking tools have the potential to bring enormous leverage to teachers at relatively little cost. The burning question: How can we accelerate the adoption and full integration of 21st century teaching and learning strategies in schools today?

What Makes a Community Successful?

A burgeoning body of opinion suggests virtual learning communities are becoming the venue through which agents for change operate. The potential is enormous, as knowledge capital is collected and the community becomes a sort of online brain trust, representing a highly varied accumulation of expertise. However, successful virtual learning communities are hard to come by, and many seem to fade away almost as soon as they get started. This past June at the EduBloggerCon at NECC several online community leaders tried to think about components and attributes of successful learning communities. The following are tips and tricks garnered from my lessons learned as I have created and led virtual learning communities for various purposes over the last seven years.

The Community Organizer

Typically, community organizers foster member interaction, provide stimulating material for conversations, keep the space organized, and help hold members accountable to the stated community guidelines, rules, or norms. They also build a shared culture by passing on community history and rituals. Perhaps most important, community organizers are keenly aware of how to empower participants to do these things for themselves. Organizers use their group facilitation skills to help all members of the community to become active participants in the process. They work hard behind the scenes to support socializing and relationship-and trust-building.

Points to Consider

Besides finding the right organizer, other key attributes of successful online communities include:

  • a shared vision of what constitutes the mission or niche of the community

  • a core group willing to chime in on a variety of topics, self-monitor, and keep the conversation rolling

  • opportunities for content creation such as book reviews, book chats, lesson sharing, and other professional development input

  • regular posting of relevant, provocative issues.

Here are some questions you need to ask when designing your learning community:

  • Will communications be asynchronous, synchronous, or both?

  • Will we need file-storage and file-sharing capabilities?

  • How will we share and store links to Web-based resources?

  • How will we support collaboration on projects?

  • Will we need archiving capability for Webcasts, chats, and threaded discussions?

  • Will we need polling or surveying tools as part of our work?

  • Is voice capability important for our synchronous events?

  • Is a member profiling tool an important feature?

  • What recruitment and rollout strategy will we have?

  • Is the community open or closed?

Measuring Impact

Evaluation needs to be built in to this work from the beginning. In addition to any evaluation done in connection with scholarly research, it is critically important for organizers to use "just-in-time" assessments that allow for continuous improvement of the virtual community experience. Since this is a relatively new field, many research questions remain to be answered.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach is a regular speaker on teacher leadership and virtual community building. Her Web portal is 21st Century Collaborative.

21st Century Digital Learning Environments would like to hear your comments on and experiences with virtual learning communities:

  • What role does Web 2.0 play in the development of teacher leadership and implementation of school reform through the communities in which we learn and play?

  • What are the components of successful, thriving virtual communities?

  • Do intentional roles and norms lead to building the trust that is necessary for a community to grow?

  • Does part of the answer to meaningful change and implementation of 21st century skills and dispositions in schools lie in the collaboration that occurs in virtual learning environments?
To participate in the conversation, visit

The TIP(S) of the 21st Century ICEBERG!

November 1, 2006

Tips for Building an Online Community

Susan Taylor

Attention school administrators: using technology to support virtual collaboration and establish an online community can serve as a useful tool to “keep the fire burning” among a planning group and help bring positive resolution to the task at hand.

The value of bringing the school community and various stakeholders together to address problems, find solutions and generally contribute to improving situations on the campus cannot be overstated. The most common way to bring people together is to host a face-to-face meeting. However, most issues are not resolved during a one-time meeting and follow up is usually required. In today’s world of competing priorities, it is difficult to find the space and time amenable to everyone’s schedule to allow for follow-up and ongoing conversations. To the rescue comes Virtual collaboration, and it can make a real difference.

Virtual Collaboration Tools

Virtual collaboration may be either Synchronous or Asynchronous. The difference: if it occurs during real-time activities like video teleconferencing or audio conference, where people are in different places participating at the same time, it is Synchronous; but if it enables participants to join in from different places at different times, then it is Asynchronous.

Some strategies to support virtual collaboration include the following:

  • Establish regular times for team interaction
  • Send agendas to participants beforehand
  • Designate a team librarian
  • Build and maintain a team archive
  • Use visual forms of communication where possible
  • Set formal rules for communication and/or technology use

Establishing an Online Community

To accommodate an online community, it is useful to think about the media being utilized and its effect on group dynamics. Kimball (1997, p. 3) provides some useful questions to help you with this process:


Questions for Facilitator/Manager

Electronic Mail

  • What norms need to be established for things like: response time, whether or not Email can be forwarded to others?
  • What norms are important about who gets copied on Email messages and whether or not these are blind copies?
  • How does the style of Email messages influence how people feel about the team?

Decision Making Support Systems

  • How does the ability to contribute anonymous input affect the group?
  • How can you continue to test whether “consensus” as defined by computer processing of input is valid?
  • How can you help participants have a sense of who is “present?”
  • How can you sense when people have something to say so you can make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard?


Questions for Facilitator/Manager

Video conferencing

  • How can you best manage the attention span of participants?
  • Where can video add something you can’t get with audio only?

Asynchronous Web-Conferencing

  • How do you deal with conflict when everyone is participating at different times?
  • What’s the virtual equivalent of eye contact?
  • What metaphors will help you help participants create the mental map they need to build a culture, which will support the team process?

Document Sharing

  • How can you balance the need to access and process large amounts of information with the goal of developing relationships and affective qualities like trust?

Building trust and establishing relationships is cited as a challenge for online communities, so begin with a face-to-face meeting and then pursue the online community. During your face-to-face meeting, let people know that you want to continue the conversations and ask people to join your online community by submitting their Email addresses to you.

To reach as many people as possible, keep things simple in the beginning. Initiate your online community with listserv messages. Begin by sending a message to your group thanking them for attending your recent meeting. One way to begin interaction is to post a question and ask people to respond.

Consider if you want responses to go out to everyone on the listserv or if you want all responses to come to you and you will compile the responses and send back to everyone. Compilation of responses may help ensure anonymity for your members and encourage participation in the beginning when the trust level may not be where it needs to be.

As your online community grows, it will be useful to host an audio conference or another face-to-face meeting to continue the work on building trust.

Remember to offer content and information focused on participants’ interests. Provide resources to help participants make informed decisions. Although information sharing does not encourage community interaction, it may serve to reinforce continue use of the online community.

Use opportunities to share success stories and reward or recognize members.

As your group becomes comfortable with the online community, you may want to consider providing more sophisticated methods to support and maintain your community. Of course, this will be determined by your members’ level of expertise and ability to meet the technology requirements.

Email: Susan Taylor


Kimball, L. (1997). Intranet Decisions: Creating your organization’s internal network, Miles River Press.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

21st Century Digital Learning Environments

AIM for Technologically EVOLVED Learning!

A Classroom Evolved

Students Advance Because of Technology and Real-World Application

By Missy Raterman

Diablo Valley College is one of three publicly supported two-year community colleges in the Contra Costa Community College District in California. DVC serves more than 22,000 students of all ages through more than 2,600 courses offered in 57 occupational specialties.

Many students at the college come from underrepresented socioeconomic groups. Thanks to a grant package that provided wireless technology, cash, and professional development, new learning experiences ignited student interest in the subject matter and helped them get a better focus for their studies.

Calculated Improvement

When Diablo Valley College Calculus II professor Despina Prapavessi was asked whether students entered her course with a strong background in the type of mathematics that they would be expected to engage in during the semester, she replied, "This particular class happened to have a rather weak background in many of the fundamentals they would need to build on for the purpose of the course, but once technology was incorporated in the classroom, participation and learning improved close to 20 percent."

As a recipient of a 2005 Hewlett-Packard Technology for Teaching Higher Learning grant award package, Prapavessi was able to redesign her curriculum with a focus on technology. This gave way to immediate results. Once technology was incorporated into the classroom, 17 percent of Prapavessi's students improved their scores by one to two letter grades during the 18-week semester. This course also reported a 98 percent attendance rate and Prapavessi saw a level of camaraderie between the students that she had never before experienced in her 16 years of teaching at DVC. Along with improving their ability to collaborate on projects in the classroom, students also strengthened their independent, critical thinking skills. These positive additions to the classroom environment resulted in a spike in the number of students with an overall score of 83 percent or higher.

During her course redesign, Prapavessi had a two-fold philosophy of teaching that guided her course development. She felt it was important that the curriculum supported:

  • Inquiry-based learning: A method that encourages students to question why they want to learn the subject at hand and creates the need for the learning to be relevant beyond the objective of classroom testing.

  • Cooperative-based learning: A method that stresses the importance of the social experience of classroom learning and supports the building of strong relationships between teacher and student, student and student, and student and curriculum.

To achieve this type of environment, Prapavessi felt that it was important to create memorable and active learning experiences, "It's important that students own their learning," she said.

Make it Fun

The award package Prapavessi received included, along with other amenities, 20 tablet PCs which were shared with two other classrooms in a rotation cycle. Personal familiarity with tablet PCs allowed Prapavessi to maximize the impact of having the technology in her classroom. Prapavessi experienced several positive results, which included:

Flexibility: Students could walk around the room taking notes and collecting data or work as a group in areas outside the classroom.

Ability to give feedback in real-time: The tablets, along with the software programs used in the course of the semester, allowed for instant submission and feedback of work during in-class problem solving exercises. Prapavessi was also able to garner anonymous submissions from students by way of the tablet PCs and then cast the submissions on the projector screen, using a software program to work through the students' misconceptions as a group.

Confidence: The new method of communication seemed to lighten the mood in the classroom so that students felt more comfortable making mistakes, which in turn made them more open to learning. The anonymity that the tablet PC submission process was able to provide in terms of feedback cycles also led to instances of many students "tagging" their submissions and including jokes to share on the projector, providing students with a way to laugh together while learning.

Keep it Relevant

Along with the inclusion of new technology in the classroom, Prapavessi's redesigned curriculum incorporated fieldtrips that allowed students to see how calculus is relevant in the real world. These trips included a visit to the Pacific Southwest Forest Service Station where students saw how mathematics can be used to study hawk migration and elk movements. A trip to Roche Pharmaceuticals prompted positive reactions from students. One student said, "The field trip was like the word problems we learned in class but more complex. So now we know that the math formulas we are learning are actually used in real life." The technology alone did not enhance the learning that occurred in the classroom. Rather, it was a combination of real-world applications and relevant teach-friendly technology that worked together to make learning accessible and pertinent to the students.

In the words of Jim Vanides, program manager of the Worldwide Higher Education Grants in the HP Corporate Philanthropy department, "If you take technology and throw it into a classroom where a professor is really focused on teaching the way they've always taught with no plan to really change the learning environment, you risk having the wrong things happen. It's the combination of exemplary teaching plus the power of the technology where the magic happens."

More Than Just the Hardware

HP's educational philanthropic philosophy initiatives focus on three major areas:

Transforming the learning experience: Integrating technology into classrooms to revolutionize teaching and learning processes.

Leading students to high-tech careers: Increasing the number of students on paths toward high-tech careers, emphasizing groups that are underrepresented in the technology sector.

Student success in math, science and engineering: Enhancing skills in math, science and engineering through national and district-wide school reform and teacher professional development.

When the U.S. HP Technology for Teaching Grant Initiative was launched in 2004, the grant supported projects in more than 400 schools. The original vision had been to commit $25 million over the course of what was intended to be a three-year program. However, HP will be funding its fourth year of grant recipients and has provided more than $36 million since 2004, impacting 589 K-12 public schools and 155 two- and four-year colleges and universities engaged in transforming teaching and learning through the integration of technology in the classroom and beyond. "The philosophy really is: plant a bunch of seeds, see which ones grow and then help those projects who are having the most success really blossom," says Vanides. During the past 20 years, HP has contributed more than $1 billion in cash and equipment to schools, universities, community organizations and other nonprofit organizations worldwide. However, HP strives to provide more than just the hardware for the educators and communities it supports, as Vanides notes, "If you just give away hardware, you might as well forget it."

Forging On

The learning for educators doesn't stop once the funding runs dry. Vanides is involved in several continuation projects that focus on the development of grant recipients and non-recipients. He is also committed to connecting educators with educators. "This is not about 'Here's some technology, have fun and good luck,'" Vanides says. "It's really, first and foremost about helping students learn better and giving professors a chance to redesign their course, and the technology is supposed to support all that. The projects are more about teaching than they are about technology, and what's interesting is that the technology allows teachers to do some things that they were never able to do before ... it creates a whole new social environment," says Vanides. Prapavessi remarked on this in her classroom, too: "It's refreshing to be able to have the freedom to explore new methods of teaching. For me, it makes the learning feel less fragmented."

The continuity and connectedness of the grant initiative is evident from the funding to the classroom and beyond. The process starts with visionaries like Vanides who strive to connect educators with global learning tools; the process is supported by the grant initiative which requires measurable outcomes; the process is enacted by leaders like Prapavessi who support students through innovative redesign and willingness to learn alongside them; and the process is further fueled by classroom software tools. With the right perspective, there are really no limits to what technology can inspire.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

STEM the Congress.........
Contents Copyright 2007 eSchool News. All rights reserved.

Congress schooled on STEM teaching crisis

Laura Devaney, Associate Editor
August 1, 2007

The lack of a systemic approach to recruiting, preparing, and retaining teachers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has contributed to a shortage of highly qualified instructors in these fields--and this shortage, in turn, threatens the nation's ability to compete in a global economy: So said speakers at a June 21 briefing on Capitol Hill.

Hosted by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and the U.S. Senate's STEM Education Caucus, the briefing sought to convince members of Congress of the need for national strategies and solutions to attract and retain teachers in the STEM disciplines--subjects that are vital, participants said, to preparing students to participate in an increasingly global society.

"It is well known that the country's ability to succeed in the global economy is lagging and that we are losing our unrivaled edge in mathematics, science, and innovation to competitor nations," said Sharon Robinson, AACTE's president and chief executive.

"The 16-percent annual turnover rates of both math and science teachers is the highest of all fields," Robinson said. "Shortages of [highly] qualified math and science teachers exist in most states and districts across the country. Thus, unprepared teachers are assigned to teach math or science out-of-field."

Shortages of well-trained math and science teachers create a domino effect of problems across the United States, said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford University's School of Education.

Because math and science often are not taught well, the nation's schools are producing math-phobic citizens who increasingly are unprepared to pursue higher-level math and science instruction in college, she said. As a result, there are far too few majors in those fields in college, which means schools are competing with the private sector for fewer college graduates with a math or science degree. And because teachers earn much less on average than programmers or engineers, graduates often opt for the higher-paying jobs.

"There isn't a shortage of teachers in this country; there's a shortage of people who are willing to work for too little salary and in poor working conditions," Darling-Hammond said.

"We must ask ourselves why we have these recurring problems, and why other nations with whom we compete do not," she added. "What do other nations do, and what would it take to create a foundation for excellence in mathematics, science, and technology education here?"

Darling-Hammond said high-achieving countries that rarely experience teacher shortages--such as Finland, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Germany--have made substantial investments in teacher training and equitable teacher distribution in the last two decades.

That includes offering competitive and equitable salaries, high-quality teacher education that is generally at the government's expense, mentoring for all beginners in their first year of teaching, and ongoing professional learning embedded in 10 or more hours a week of planning and professional development time.

"By contrast, the United States lacks a systemic approach to recruiting, preparing, and retaining teachers," she said. "With very unequal spending and resources across districts, and with few governmental supports for recruitment, preparation, mentoring, or support, teachers in the U.S. enter with dramatically different levels of training and support. Those teaching in the most disadvantaged communities typically earn less, have poorer working conditions, and receive fewer supports."

Educators from Ohio and Nevada discussed ways that teachers can be well-trained to understand and teach STEM subjects in globally oriented and relevant ways.

Lisa Suarez-Caraballo, a middle school mathematics teacher at Luis Muñoz Marin School in Cleveland, said making sure all teachers have clinical experience before becoming licensed teachers and supporting induction programs and better school working conditions will help efforts to recruit and prepare STEM teachers.

Supporting teachers' development of content knowledge also is essential, she noted, making clear that it's not just a problem for K-12 school systems and colleges of education to solve.

"There is a misconception ... that schools of education teach the content knowledge required of candidates," Suarez-Caraballo said. "This is not the case. This means that educator preparation must be a university-wide responsibility if we expect to have candidates well-prepared in content knowledge and pedagogical skills."

College graduates in the STEM disciplines might not even consider teaching a possibility unless it is brought to their attention, said Valdine McLean, a science teacher at Pershing County High School in Nevada, who said she majored in biology in college and never thought of teaching until she took a career-placement exam that displayed "science teacher" at the top of the list.

"Make sure that whatever programs you authorize in legislation ensure that entry-level courses at higher-education institutions in the STEM fields provide exposure to the possibility of going into teaching," McLean urged lawmakers.

Like Suarez-Caraballo, McLean stressed teacher-induction programs as a key to retention.

"I cannot say enough the importance of not leaving new teachers alone to flounder in their first few years of teaching," she said. "Induction programs need to pair mentoring with advanced content and methods strategies. New teachers are trying to make the classroom work, and there are so many decisions and routines to get used to that advanced methods are often lost."

Robin Willner, vice president of IBM's global community initiatives, talked about IBM's Transition to Teaching initiative and how the program, which currently has 85 participants, supports STEM teachers and education.

Through the program, IBM employees receive reimbursement for tuition and a stipend as they pursue degrees or credentials to become certified K-12 teachers. "We know there is a huge gap between mastery of a subject and the ability to teach that subject to others, especially when the others are a group of sometimes wayward, sometimes bored, and sometimes poorly prepared teenagers," Willner said.

Also at the briefing, AACTE released "Preparing STEM Teachers: The Key to Global Competitiveness," a report highlighting more than 50 teacher-preparation programs across the country that are dedicated to increasing the number of effective STEM educators in K-12 schools.

The University of Southern California, for example, offers a 13-month master of arts in teaching program, with concentrations in teaching math and science. Students enrolled in the program attend math and science camps, where they work with K-12 teachers. Eighty-six percent of the program's graduates have been retained in teaching beyond three years.

Contents Copyright 2007 eSchool News. All rights reserved.

Report sees online schools as models for reform

Robert L. Jacobson, Senior Editor

August 1, 2007
The growing popularity and success of online learning is an important but "largely unnoticed" trend that reform-minded educators and policy makers could use to much greater advantage as they seek to improve public education in general, says a new report from Education Sector, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C.

Titled "Laboratories of Reform: Virtual High Schools and Innovation in Public Education," the report urges reformers to recognize that long-sought improvements in teaching and learning already are being applied successfully in online education.

"Virtual schooling is driving the same sorts of transforming changes in public education as Apple's iTunes has been producing in the way people collect and listen to music," the report asserts. "While the importance of effective teaching and learning has not changed, the internet has enabled educators to significantly alter the experience of schooling."

For example, the report says, virtual schools are "personalizing student learning and extending it beyond the traditional school day," as well as creating "new models for the practice of teaching--with opportunities to easily observe, evaluate, and assist instructors. And they are pioneering performance-based education funding models."

As a result, successful experiences in virtual education--which so far have been structured mostly as "supplemental" programs--are demonstrating that "innovative reforms can be readily integrated into the public school system," the report concludes.

Nationwide, two dozen states now have state-run programs in virtual schooling, mostly at the high school level, Education Sector notes. It cites an estimate by the Sloan Consortium--a group created by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to improve online education--that 700,000 of the nation's elementary and secondary students were served by online schools in the 2005-06 school year.

The organization's report was written by Bill Tucker, its chief operating officer. He stressed in an interview that reformers might not have to look much beyond their own backyards for an exciting new avenue to school reform, because in online learning, many positive changes are "going on already."

New approaches to issues such as who should teach, how instructional responsibilities should be divided, and where to direct limited financial resources for the greatest educational benefits are being effectively modeled by online programs, Tucker added, and educators ought to be paying close attention.

But the report also cautions that policy makers should "make it their primary goal to use virtual schooling to significantly improve student learning outcomes and not as a measure to save costs." Focusing on virtual education mainly as a way to save money "will likely lead to lower-quality programs," it observes.

Drawing on input from several dozen educators and policy makers, the report includes these policy recommendations:

  • Don't let calls for stricter scrutiny of virtual schooling compromise innovation. "The right way to increase scrutiny is to demand greater transparency and more accurate ways to measure student learning in virtual schools. Regulating the wrong inputs--class sizes, seat time, or any other number of traditional measures--will not guarantee quality, and may stifle the innovation and flexibility that give virtual learning its strength," the report says.

  • Virtual schools should "research, develop, and implement new measures to assess student engagement and demonstrate skills, such as critical thinking and collaborative work."

  • The federal government should create a $120 million Virtual Schooling Innovation Fund to spur innovations in this field. And "district, state, nonprofit, and university-based programs should take advantage of economies of scale and remove barriers to cross-state or joint development and updating of course components."

  • Educators should adopt new models for funding and accountability to replace the traditional seat-time model, which is "not flexible enough to enable ... true personalized learning."

  • States should "enable true reciprocity for certified teachers" by allowing teachers to teach for a virtual school located in another state without having to become certified in that state.
  • AIM for Technological Diversity!
    Contents Copyright 2007 eSchool News. All rights reserved.

    Court ruling on diversity raises ed-tech stakes

    From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
    August 1, 2007

    The Supreme Court's sharply divided June 28 ruling that rejected integration plans based on race in two major public school districts has raised the stakes for educational technology leaders to ensure that all students have equitable access to technology--and the opportunities it affords.

    "The court's ruling ... sends K-12 policy makers back to the diversity drawing board," said Maureen Dwyer, a partner in Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman's education practice and managing partner of the law firm's Washington, D.C., office.

    "The Supreme Court has upheld public education agencies' pro-diversity motives, while striking down anything resembling quotas, and now, with [its June 28] ruling, elaborate admissions formulas incorporating race are off the table as well," Dwyer said. "This places administrators in a challenging position; the courts are on their side in seeking diverse classrooms, but the means to get there are continually scrutinized and subject to interpretation."

    In placing limits on race as a means of creating diverse learning populations in their schools, justices have put school district leaders in a difficult position, many education groups said in the wake of the court's 5-4 decision.

    Other groups, such as the conservative Cato Institute, praised the ruling, saying the focus should not be on the racial makeup of schools, but whether they are providing students with access to a high-quality education.

    Regardless of where educators might stand on the issue, it's clear that many school districts are likely to rethink how they assign students to their schools in the aftermath of the court's ruling.

    For years, many districts have used race as a factor in placing students to help close achievement gaps and create more diverse, racially balanced learning environments.

    If district leaders cannot seek to achieve this kind of balance within their schools by using key demographics to assign students, the challenge then becomes: How do they ensure equitable access to educational resources--including computers, high-speed internet connections, software, training, and support--in schools with higher poverty rates and percentages of minority students?

    Equitable access to digital resources was the subject of a recent report from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), called "A National Consideration of Digital Equity."

    Released at the organization's National Educational Computing Conference in Atlanta, the report says the digital divide continues to exist, particularly along demographic and socioeconomic lines. It asks, in effect, "whether current educational experiences are meeting the needs of culturally diverse students," and it calls that idea one of seven "essential components for creating an environment that supports digital equity."

    For some ed-tech advocates, the court's ruling provides an opportunity as well as a challenge. When used correctly, they say, technology has the potential to help level the educational playing field for all students. And with new limits imposed by the court's ruling on using racial diversity to achieve this same goal, technology could be called upon to play an even more significant role in schools, they contend.

    "Many families cannot [afford to] move and might not have access to the best education available in their geographical areas," said Susan Patrick, executive director of the North American Council for Online Learning. But "by allowing students to transcend time and place," she said, online courses open doors for students from diverse backgrounds to come together to learn "in a color-blind environment--giving students choices to pursue a high-quality education from any location, instead of having a very limited choice ... decided by others."

    The Supreme Court's June 28 ruling in cases affecting schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle could imperil similar race-based plans in hundreds of districts nationwide, legal analysts said, and it further restricts how public school systems may attain racial diversity.

    The court split, 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts announcing the court's judgment. The court's four liberal justices dissented.

    "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Roberts said.

    Yet Justice Anthony Kennedy would not go as far as the other four conservative justices, saying in a concurring opinion that race may be a component of school plans designed to achieve diversity.

    "A district may consider it a compelling interest to achieve a diverse student population," Kennedy said. "Race may be one component of that diversity."

    Some advocates of greater school diversity took heart from Kennedy's words, but others saw the court's dominant view as essentially hostile to racial integration plans in education.

    Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by the other liberals on the court, said Roberts' opinion undermined the promise of integrated schools that the court laid out 53 years ago in its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. "To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown," Breyer said.

    The Louisville case grew out of complaints from several parents whose children were not allowed to attend the schools of their choice. Crystal Meredith, a white, single mother, sued after the school system turned down a request to transfer her 5-year-old son, Joshua Ryan McDonald, to a school closer to home.

    Louisville's schools spent 25 years under a court order to eliminate the effects of state-sponsored segregation. After a federal judge freed the Jefferson County, Ky., school board, which encompasses Louisville, from his supervision, the board decided to keep much of the court-ordered plan in place to prevent schools from re-segregating.

    Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said he was disappointed with the ruling, because Louisville's system had provided "a quality education for all students and broken down racial barriers" for 30 years. He said he was confident, however, that school leaders would implement effective new guidelines.

    The Seattle school district said it used race as one among many factors, relying on it only in some instances--and then only at the end of a lengthy process in allocating students among the city's high schools. Seattle suspended its program after parents sued.

    The opinion was the first on the divisive issue since 2003, when a 5-4 ruling upheld the limited consideration of race in college admissions to attain a diverse student body. Since then, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who approved of the limited use of race, retired. Her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, was in the majority that struck down the school system plans in Kentucky and Washington.

    STEM the Tide...
    Contents Copyright 2007 eSchool News. All rights reserved.

    Wanted: More IT workers
    Tech jobs on the rise; schools aim to fill demand

    Laura Devaney, Associate Editor
    August 1, 2007

    Employers across the nation are finding it increasingly difficult to fill information technology (IT) positions, mainly because of a shortage of qualified entry-level and advanced employees, according to industry experts.

    Contrary to what many people believe--that available IT jobs are on the decline--businesses throughout the United States say the IT sector offers more job opportunities than ever, and they're struggling to find employees to fill these many openings.

    Industry insiders point to a few reasons for the shortage, including the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law and lingering perceptions from the dot-com bust that occurred earlier this decade. Now, experts are trying to change these perceptions--and they're looking to schools for help.

    Part of the reason many people think the IT field holds little promise is they don't understand things have changed since 2000 and 2001, when the IT field took a hit, said Gene Longo, senior manager of U.S. field operations for Cisco Systems' Networking Academy program.

    "In 2000 and 2001, when the dot-com bust happened, and then [immediately after] September 11, we saw lots of layoffs in the IT and tech industries," Longo said, adding that many students and professionals shied away from the IT field when they saw jobs were scarce.

    But that was then. Job opportunities in areas such as computer software engineering, computer support, and systems administration are expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations, with computer software engineering projected to be one of the fastest-growing occupations through 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' "2006-07 Occupational Outlook Handbook."

    According to the federal agency, computer systems analysts are expected to see a 31-percent increase in total employment from 2004 to 2014. Network systems and data communication analysts are expected to see a 55-percent increase in total employment during that time, and computer software engineers should see a 48-percent increase in employment.

    Longo believes another reason for the lack of qualified IT employees in the United States can be traced to high school reform and NCLB, which puts the focus squarely on core skills such as reading, science, and math--and therefore might not give students the chance to explore IT courses or electives while in high school.

    "States have to rethink how they measure success" if they are going solve the problem, he said.

    Informing educators and students about opportunities in the IT field "can make a substantial difference in programs available to prepare IT workers and, ultimately, in the number of U.S. workers qualified to fill the positions," said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education. Student clubs, internships, and other creative programs that expose students to IT careers also can help, he said.

    These activities "allow students to explore IT roles in schools, and in work settings outside schools, in ways that stimulate interest in IT careers ... and allow them to consider an IT-related career they might otherwise never have considered."

    One such activity is Microsoft's DigiGirlz technology day camp, which took place in June in cities from coast to coast. About 150 Microsoft employees pitched in to teach young women about their professions, company spokeswoman Katie Hasbargen said.

    Teenagers from seven states, in grades eight through 10, attended sessions on computer hardware and software, programming and web site construction, resume building, leadership, and career opportunities.

    The camp ended June 14, when girls had a chance to shadow Microsoft employees. The company gives each camper about $1,000 worth of software and products to continue practicing at home.

    Longo said the Cisco Networking Academy is another such program that is helping to refill the pipeline of qualified IT employees.

    Cisco launched the program in 1997, and it now counts approximately 400,000 graduates in the United States. Schools in all 50 states offer courses. The majority of these courses are taught at high schools and community colleges, and students can earn credits that transfer to four-year colleges. They also can take an exam to become a Cisco-certified network associate.

    State programs might help, too, Longo says, as "government leaders are saying we need to regain our technical competitiveness."

    In fact, many states are supporting initiatives to build up a pool of talented IT workers. Kentucky, for instance, has implemented a statewide initiative--called Prescription for Innovation--to deploy broadband connectivity to each of its 120 counties by the end of this year. Each county was charged with developing its own technology plan for the statewide initiative, which Longo believes has fueled more interest in technology and the opportunities it affords.

    Kentucky, which has a shortage of skilled workers in IT fields, is "representative of what we are seeing in other states," Longo said. "Cisco's channel partners are saying they can't find enough people to hire. The companies, businesses, and IT users we're hearing from say there is not only a shortage of entry-level employees, but there's a much larger shortage at the advanced-capability level."

    Another reason for this shortage, according to Longo: "When the industry took a dive, companies stopped providing funds for their employees to go back to school and earn more advanced degrees."

    Still another problem that makes companies feel the IT crunch is that employers have raised the bar in terms of what they expect from their IT staff.

    "In the past, IT has always been thought of as the shop in the basement, but the CEOs who are getting it understand that IT is becoming a core part [of business]," Longo said. "It's becoming more of a solution to business problems."

    He added: "In the late 90s, anyone with an industry certification could get a high-paying job. Now, some level of postsecondary education is preferred."

    To help meet these changing workplace needs, the Cisco Networking Academy has created new courses that focus on both entry-level and more advanced skills. These new courses fit in with the program's focus on giving students the skills they need to pursue IT careers in business-critical positions and industries ranging from technology and finance to medicine and entertainment.

    Longo's final words to school policy makers? "All STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] skills are important," he says--but "don't forget about technology and engineering."

    Creativity + Innovation + Technology = Success 101
    Contents Copyright 2007 eSchool News. All rights reserved.

    Innovation a key theme at NECC '07
    New tech standards for students launched

    Dennis Pierce Managing Editor
    August 1, 2007

    The need to produce a generation of students who are creative thinkers and innovators was a key theme at this year's National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Atlanta.

    More than 18,500 educators and exhibitors gathered at the Georgia World Congress Center June 24 through 27 for the nation's premier educational technology conference, hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

    Conference-goers heard from keynote speaker Andrew Zolli, a futurist and author who urged those in attendance to cultivate students' creativity to maintain America's position as a global leader in innovation. Later in the conference, Zolli moderated a roundtable discussion on what it takes to unlock the creative potential in all of us.

    In between, ISTE released an updated version of its National Educational Technology Standards for Students, a set of standards for defining what students should know and be able to do with technology at various grade levels. The revised standards include creativity and innovation at the top of the list of traits to be measured.

    The innovation ‘imperative'

    Zolli's opening keynote speech on June 24 had two parts. In the first half, he explained why it's "imperative" for educators to encourage students' innate creativity.

    "You are shifting our whole civilization onto a new platform," he told attendees, using a metaphor the audience was familiar with to describe the changes in society brought on by advancements in technology. "We're watching an exponential curve ... an amazing set of shifts."

    Two key ideas underlie these shifts, Zolli said: Everything that can be done by machine (eventually) will be, and many more things will be able to be done by machine than we now think.

    "What happens when we're successful?" he asked attendees. In other words, what would the world look like if everything we needed were plentiful, fast, and cheap? "What is left to humanity is the essence of the creative spirit," he answered--and it's that creative spirit that educators must nurture in their students.

    These capabilities are latent in all of us, Zolli said. He illustrated his point with an example from science. Scientists, he said, now have the ability to "shut off" various parts of the brain temporarily. In one research experiment, scientists turned off various inhibitors and had subjects draw a picture of a dog. In almost all cases, he noted, the subjects' drawings were much more rich in details than they were capable of before the experiment.

    "We all have to find our own creative center," Zolli concluded. "The good news is, science tells us it's there."

    In the second half of his speech, drawing on fields as diverse as demographics and psychology, Zolli outlined five key trends that are shaping education's future. And it's clear from these trends that creativity and innovation aren't necessary just for students: Educators, too, will need these traits to cultivate new approaches to teaching and learning.

    The first of these trends is what Zolli called "demographic transformation." The world and U.S. populations are changing in ways that will have profound effects on education in this century, he noted.

    For example, the world is becoming increasingly urban, and many of the largest cities in the world soon will be in East Asia. Women now make up 56 percent of undergraduates in the United States, and this figure is rising. The population in the Western part of the U.S. is rising at a much faster rate than in the East, and whites will be a minority in the United States by the middle of this century.

    "The next generation is going to be more multiethnic and female than ever," Zolli said--and schools, too, will need to evolve to address these changes.

    The second trend Zolli described is a shift in the way we think about our relationship with the natural world--or, as he put it, a growing awareness of "the need to navigate our moment in human civilization in relationship to our ecosystem." These social forces are going to meet new technological forces, he said--and as a result, "we're going to see hundreds of examples" of so-called "eco-innovation," or efforts to "rethink the world."

    As examples of this phenomenon, Zolli cited a plant that scientists have engineered to turn red when its roots come into contact with the chemicals associated with landmines--and "ecotiles" that use the kinetic pressure of your stepping as you walk to power the lights around the town square.

    "Someone you educate," he said, "... is going to win the Nobel Prize in this century for having solved a problem like this that also makes them a trillionaire." He added: "That's the opportunity in front of us."

    The third trend, Zolli said, is a change in our perception of ideal "learning places."

    "We are animals," he said, and as such, "we have preferred habitats." These are places that are rich in resources, multisensory and vibrant, adaptable and reusable, and mix public and private spaces. Zolli then showed a slide of a typical school building, with rows of bland lockers all looking the same.

    "We send [students] to a place almost guaranteed to elicit psychosis to a social primate," he joked. His message: Educators must rethink their learning environments to elicit innovation from students.

    The fourth trend is the need to cope with choice and complexity. In our "surplus society," Zolli said, we're now awash in choices. A key skill for educators to impart to their students will be the ability to manage these choices.

    The final trend is the redefining of what "literacy" means. In our post-Sputnik model of intelligence, Zolli said, you're smart if you either know more facts than the average person, or you know unique facts that most others don't know. But as technology evolves and puts knowledge literally at the fingertips of students, that definition must change.

    "Today, when students take the [SAT], they can take a programmable calculator into the test with them--and that's a bridge to a day when that device contains access to all the world's present information," he said. "The question is, what are we testing when we enable people to come in with the cloud of human knowledge behind them?"

    It is inevitable that students will bring those tools with them to future tests, he said, and when they do, "we will have changed the nature of what we test to something a lot more like our ability to find, build, and use complex information tools in real time."

    [Editor's note: For video highlights of Zolli's speech, as well as other aspects of NECC 2007, go to:]

    New ed-tech standards

    On day two of the conference, ISTE formally unveiled a new version of its National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS*S), the culmination of a yearlong process to revise this rubric for what kids should know and be able to do with technology.

    Launched at last year's NECC, the NETS*S Refresh Project convened students and stakeholders in town-hall style meetings around the country during the past year, inviting their feedback. The project reportedly included participation from representatives in 50 states and 22 countries, including China, Costa Rica, Egypt, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.

    ISTE first issued its NETS for students in 1998, and this framework has since found its way into the standards of as many as 48 U.S. states. Now, nearly 10 years later--and having also issued NETS for teachers and administrators--ISTE has revised its NETS to keep pace with the changing demands of a new global, information-based economy, the group says.

    Toward that end, creativity and innovation head the list of characteristics the new standards seek to measure.

    According to ISTE's chief executive, Don Knezek, the original NETS*S focused primarily on technology tools, "because that was okay at that time, but that's not true now. ... [We need to focus on] what students need to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly digital age."

    Knezek has described the changes as a shift away from a focus on "competency with [technology] tools" and toward a focus on the "skills required in a digital world to produce and innovate" using technology.

    The differences can be gleaned by looking at the categories that define each set of standards.

    In the original standards, the skills necessary to define technology proficiency were outlined across six categories: basic operations and concepts; social, ethical, and human issues of technology use; productivity tools; communication tools; research tools; and problem-solving and decision-making tools.

    The revised draft standards also are organized into six categories: (1) creativity and innovation; (2) communication and collaboration; (3) research and information retrieval; (4) critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making; (5) digital citizenship; and (6) technology operations and concepts.

    "The first set of standards was about learning to use technology. This set is about using technology to learn," said David Barr, a retired educator and a member of ISTE's accreditation and standards committee.

    Breaking the rules

    Continuing the theme of creativity and innovation at this year's NECC, Zolli moderated a June 26 roundtable discussion on how educators can encourage the development of these characteristics within their students.

    The discussion involved four experts with different perspectives on creativity: Mary Cullinane, a Microsoft employee and technology architect of the company's School of the Future project in Philadelphia; Michael McCauley, creative director for a Chicago-based communications agency; Francesc Pedro, senior analyst for the Paris-based Center for Educational Research and Innovation, a division of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; and Elizabeth Streb, a nationally renowned choreographer.

    The conversation centered on the question: What kind of environment best stimulates creativity?

    The School of the Future project (see was about "fundamentally questioning the norm," Cullinane said. She added: "One of the things we wanted to focus on was creating a place where failure was an option--where kids weren't afraid to fail." That's hard to do in an era of increased school accountability, she acknowledged. In terms of its physical space, the school's designers sought to create "gathering places" where kids could come together and collaborate on projects.

    Streb described a place she created in New York City, called Slam, where dancers, acrobats, and students come together to explore movement and flight. She portrayed it as resembling a large "garage," where it's OK to break things and get dirty. "We also allow complete sovereignty," she added, noting there is a "thin line between when play stops and class begins."

    Streb also had a few words of advice for those in the audience: Ask seemingly unanswerable questions, and break the rules. "Discovery is going in with a clean question and then ignoring everything you thought you knew," said Streb, who has revolutionized modern dance by challenging many widely held assumptions about this art form.

    Zolli noted that the panelists seemed to be talking about taking risks and empowering individuals (that is, students). So, he asked, how do educators deal with the structural impediments to these notions that typically exist in today's schools?

    Cullinane acknowledged this can be difficult. She said Philadelphia's School of the Future was designed to exist within the traditional constraints common to school systems, such as budget limitations--yet its goal was specifically to loosen the structural barriers that often impede progress.

    "Imagine if we were all swimming downstream--imagine how fast we could go," she said. "Yet, in schools, we're often swimming upstream" against a current of policies and procedures.

    Zolli then asked what it is about the culture at Microsoft that encourages innovation. Cullinane responded that it's a place where individuals are self-critical and constantly questioning: How can I get better? This behavior is modeled every day, she said. Also, employees are given time to just think.

    "You didn't have to justify that you were doing something," said Cullinane, a former teacher before joining Microsoft. "Thinking was doing something--and that, for me, was a fundamental change, coming from a school environment."

    Cullinane ended the discussion by urging educators to remember the word "motive," asking: What motivates students? What do they value? What is their environment? What are their challenges?

    "If we can't answer these questions, we're not going to be able to create the kinds of environments like the School of the Future," she concluded.

    In a case reportedly involving the brother of Rep. William J. Jefferson, D-La., who was indicted recently on federal bribery charges, a former president of the New Orleans Public Schools board has admitted accepting $140,000 in bribes to help JRL Enterprises, a producer of educational software, obtain a lucrative New Orleans school contract.

    The former board official, Ellenese Brooks-Simms, 67, pleaded guilty in a U.S. District Court in New Orleans to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery. Her lawyer told reporters outside the courthouse on June 20 that Brooks-Simms "fully acknowledges and regrets being involved in this." The charges against Brooks-Simms did not identify a business consultant who was said to have paid her to win school board contracts for the company.

    JRL, which was founded in New Orleans and moved to Jackson, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, was not accused of wrongdoing in the case. But JRL's "I CAN Learn" software has been involved in controversy in the past over its efficacy and the circumstances surrounding its contracts with the school district of Fort Worth, Texas (see Officials freeze ‘I CAN Learn': showStory.cfm?ArticleID=5679).

    In the New Orleans case, JRL's founder, John Lee, acknowledged that he hired Rep. Jefferson's brother, Mose Jefferson, to "facilitate introductions to the decision makers" in Orleans Parish. But according to the city's newspaper, the Times-Picayune, Lee said he never authorized bribes.

    Brooks-Simms was accused of accepting bribes on three occasions for "promoting and approving" school board contracts that "illegally benefited" a person known to federal prosecutors but not named in court papers. A news release from U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the person in question received more than $900,000 in commissions for software contracts with the New Orleans school board.

    Brooks-Simms served on the Orleans Parish School Board from 2000 to 2004. She is the latest person to plead guilty in a wide-ranging probe that began in 2003 and has resulted so far in 23 guilty pleas, Letten said. A string of plea deals has revealed kickback schemes involving construction and insurance activities, as well as school payroll thefts.

    New Hampshire officials release new high school model

    The New Hampshire Department of Education has released a document intended to develop "a new high school delivery model," in which learning is tailored around students' interests and teachers mentor instead of instruct.

    "This is the next step in moving forward with school redesign," said Fred Bramante, a member of the state Board of Education. "If we do this right, why would any kid drop out of high school?"

    The vision document, "Moving from High Schools to Learning Communities," is closely tied to the state's minimum standards for school approval. Those standards were revised in 2005 to allow schools more flexibility.

    Among the changes were a provision that would allow high schools to maintain a school year of 990 hours instead of 180 days and a mandate that by the 2008-09 school year, students must have the option to earn credits by demonstrating mastery of a subject instead of taking a course in that subject.

    Six "guiding principles" for redesigning high schools are outlined in the new vision document:

    · Students should feel a personal connection to their high school experience. School guidance programs are important, as are internships and lessons customized to each student's learning style.

    · All students should be held to high academic and personal standards.

    · Students must believe that what they learn is relevant to their lives; students should be able to personalize their learning.

    · Teachers should be facilitators, mentors, and coaches.

    · Each student's learning should be monitored and documented.

    · Data about that learning should be used to tweak the system to make it better. State education officials say some schools already emphasize personalized learning.

    For example, Merrimack Valley High School offers online courses and internships, and its staff members are developing a charter school that would assess students based on their demonstrated abilities. The CSI Charter School would "profile" students and then adapt the curriculum to fit their needs.

    Merrimack Valley Principal Mike Jette said he hopes to pilot the concept of awarding credit for "real-world learning," as outlined in the revised minimum standards, at the charter school next year and then bring it to the high school in 2008-09.

    South Dakota joins effort to teach 21st-century skills

    South Dakota has joined a national effort that seeks to teach students the skills required to succeed in a rapidly changing world, Gov. Mike Rounds said on June 19.

    South Dakota is the fifth state to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization that includes major corporations and education groups. The other four states are Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The group's members include Apple, Cisco Systems, Ford Motor Co., Microsoft Corp., Texas Instruments, and Verizon.

    "We have a powerful vision for the 21st century. We feel we need to infuse different skills into the core subjects," said Kathy Hurley, a representative of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

    Students must graduate with skills that allow them to think critically, solve problems, communicate, be leaders, and use computers and other technology, Rounds said. Such skills are needed, he added, so South Dakota businesses can hire highly qualified workers to compete in the global economy.

    "If we start now teaching these critical skills, we have a better chance of being economically successful within our state," Rounds said.

    An advisory council of South Dakota business and education leaders will make recommendations on what skills should be taught to students at all education levels. The panel met on June 19 for the first time.

    State Education Secretary Rick Melmer said the new effort could require some additional training to help teachers emphasize the targeted skills, which would be integrated into existing courses.

    Rounds said the new skills program will be tied to his existing 2010 Education initiative that already has set goals for improving education in South Dakota.

    By this fall, 25 percent of South Dakota's high school students will have laptop computers they can take home with them after school, Rounds said. Other programs let students take courses over the internet or television if their high schools do not offer those subjects, he said.

    Seattle offers iPods as incentives for test-prep classes

    Seattle high-school students who failed reading or math on the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) are being given the chance to earn an iPod Shuffle from Apple Inc., the Seattle Times reports. The catch? They must spend five weeks in one of two WASL-prep summer programs.

    The city hopes the programs, a joint project with Seattle Public Schools and Seattle Community Colleges, will help students pass the state exam--and city officials are offering the iPods, which retail at $79, as an incentive to get students in the door.

    "For the subset of students who have lost motivation ... this is worth a try," Holly Miller, director of the city's Office for Education, told the Times.

    A tutoring company helping with the programs came up with the idea of the iPod incentive, Miller said, saying it has worked well in other cities.

    An anonymous donor is paying for the iPods for all students who complete the math-tutoring program. The city said it would buy iPods for students in the reading program.