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Internet in a box

Internet access in developing countries can be prohibitively expensive and
cumbersome (e.g., thousands of dollars per month for speeds that often are less than dial-up).
Now imagine if someone identified a wealth of high-quality educational materials
on the Internet, downloaded them using web site ‘scraping’
software, and then made them available on an inexpensive hard drive that could
be plugged into an existing server network. All of a sudden, individuals could
access many of the incredible resources on the Web quickly, easily, and cheaply,
without consuming expensive bandwidth. Can you imagine how empowering that would
be?

The Internet
in a Box.
’ That’s the idea behind the University of Iowa eGranary Digital Library
project, which is making web sites, books, journals, and educational software
available to universities, schools, clinics, and libraries in the developing
world. This is a pretty nifty idea (and I’m not just saying this because I’m a
U. Iowa alum). I encourage
you to check out the eGranary fact
sheet
, content
catalog
, list of
subscribers
, and other
materials
.

I wonder how this could intersect with the One Laptop per Child initiative. Also, wouldn’t it be a great school project to raise money to buy these for some institutions in other countries?

Special needs

As I
speak with districts about ramping up for the 21st century
, special
education teachers and directors have asked me several times lately:

What will the role of adults with special needs be in the new economy? In
particular, how do we prepare students with cognitive disabilities to
participate and function in this new era?

Although assistive technologies can actually help some individuals
with disabilities be productive learners / workers, I believe the concern here
is that many of the lower-skill jobs traditionally held by employable adults
with cognitive disabilities may go overseas where wages and benefits are
lower.

My knowledge of workforce training for students with cognitive disabilities
is virtually nil. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Online multimedia textbooks: Follow-up

My letter to Secretary Spellings in the previous post about online multimedia textbooks is the outcome of a conversation that I had with Jim Hirsch, Associate Superintendent for Technology and Academic Services for the Plano (TX) Independent School District, at the TIES conference last December. I’m not the only one thinking on this front. For example, Scott McNealy, Chairman of the Board for Sun Microsystems, said last June that ‘technology trumps the textbook.‘ Similarly, four days ago Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, noted that textbooks as we know them will disappear.

To be honest, the two most visible free online textbook initiatives still have a long way to go. WikiBooks, a project of the Wikimedia Foundation, seems to be having a hard time getting off the ground; most of its content has yet to be created or is in the very earliest stages of development. Curriki, which is sponsored by Sun and has gotten a lot of media attention, so far seems to consist primarily of disparate resources and activities rather than comprehensive, meaningfully-organized textbooks. Both seem to be relying on volunteers’ efforts for most of the content. While both initiatives have potential, so far that potential remains unfulfilled. It’s early in the game, though. The National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) also is doing some interesting work but appears to be complementing, rather than replacing, print textbooks.

As my letter indicates, I think we need something more intentional and systematic. A strategic investment of monies could go a long way toward creating some pedagogically powerful, wonderfully engaging, online multimedia textbooks that then could be used by anyone in the country (or world). Can you imagine what a rich, interactive, media-saturated textbook a team of expert teachers, professors, and computer / Web programmers could create given a year’s time and $800,000 to play with (above and beyond their sabbatical salaries)? Can you imagine how fiscally and educationally empowering it would be for schools to have free and open access to 150 to 200 high-quality online multimedia textbooks created by the top experts in the country?

Clearly this an expensive venture from a raw dollar standpoint, at least to do it well. That said, the $200 million per year figure that I proposed represents less than 4 one-thousandths of the current federal discretionary funds allocated for K-12 education. The federal government clearly has the money to pull this kind of thing off. So might a consortium of states or maybe a large private foundation. As big as the numbers are, the return on this strategic investment would be HUGE.

Textbook publishers probably would oppose this idea. So might others, for a variety of political, educational, and sociological reasons. But Public Education Network CEO Wendy Puriefoy’s February 14 statement that "the new federal education budget is full of enthusiasm but lacks powerful ideas and transformative levels of funding" strikes home with me. I think this is a powerful, transformative idea whose time has come and I hope someone besides me will think big and make this happen.

Online multimedia textbooks: A strategic investment

[send this letter to Secretary Spellings, Director Magner, and Congress]

The
Honorable Margaret Spellings
Secretary
United States Department of
Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202-7100

Dear Secretary Spellings,

The United States Department of Education currently administers a budget of
approximately $56 billion per year in discretionary monies. I am sending this
letter to encourage the Department to make a relatively small, but extremely
strategic, investment that would pay enormous dividends for our nation’s
elementary and secondary students.

For $200 million per year, the Department could create phenomenal,
mind-blowing online multimedia textbooks that could be used by students all
across the country. Imagine 50 teams, each made up of individuals who took a
paid sabbatical for one year, working to create rigorous, standards-based,
online textbooks that included text, graphics, electronic presentations, audio,
video, simulations, learning games, interactive problem-solving and review
activities, etc. The teams could be comprised as follows:

  • 16 expert teachers * $100,000 each = $1,600,000
  • 4 university professors * $100,000 each = $400,000
  • 8 computer / Web programmers * $100,000 each = $800,000
  • 1 assistive technology expert * $100,000 = $100,000
  • 1 national organization representative * $100,000 = $100,000
  • 1 project manager * $200,000 = $200,000
  • Communication and other software, supplies, travel, etc. =
    $800,000

Four teachers plus a professor plus two programmers equals a workgroup; four
workgroups per team. Each team receives ongoing feedback from a representative
from an appropriate national organization (e.g., National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics, National Council for Social Studies), has an assistive technology
expert to ensure content accessibility by students with disabilities, and has a
project manager to keep the workgroups moving along. The workgroups create
content; post that content online as they go along for review, comment, and
input from others; and, over the course of a year, create several units each
that add up to a complete, amazing, deep, rich online multimedia textbook.

Each year would see the completion of 50 textbooks. Over three or four years,
these Department-sponsored teams would create 150 to 200 textbooks for common,
key courses (e.g., Algebra I, Physics I, AP English, United States History, 5th
grade reading) that are present in nearly every school district nationwide.
Textbook content would be refreshed every three or four years to ensure content
relevance and usage of the latest digital technologies. If the textbooks were
wiki-based, much of the content could be revised and updated even before their
refresh cycle came due.

Once created, these textbooks then could be hosted by the Department, state
departments of education, and other entities or could be downloaded for hosting
on local school district servers. Federal provision of these textbooks would
free states and school districts to spend funds on laptops, classroom-level
high-speed wireless connectivity, and other technologies necessary to ensure the
global competitiveness of our students in the decades to come. All textbook
material would be free and openly accessible to our nation’s K-12 students and
educators.

I hope that you can see the instructional power of teachers and students
tapping into expert-created content delivered via the latest interactive,
engaging digital technologies. Although a few organizations (e.g., Wikibooks or
Curriki) are attempting to create free online textbooks or learning materials,
their reliance on volunteers has resulted in relatively little progress. A
strategic investment by the Department could make an extremely powerful
contribution to the K-12 educational landscape and would be a powerful lever
toward ensuring that all students had access to top-quality, engaging learning
materials.

Please consider instituting a national online textbook initiative. I believe
that this is an idea whose time has come and would welcome the opportunity to
discuss this further with you.

Sincerely,

Dr. Scott McLeod
Assistant Professor, Department of Educational
 
Policy and Administration
Director, UCEA Center for the Advanced Study
of
  Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE)
Affiliate Faculty, Law
School
University of Minnesota

Chart week – Internet access in public schools

Today kicks off Chart Week here at Dangerously Irrelevant. Today’s topic is Internet access in public schools and public school classrooms. All data are from the recently-released NCES report, Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2005.

Public schools with Internet access

Just over a third of public schools had Internet connectivity in 1994. Within six years that figure had reached 98% and today pretty much every public school is connected to the Web.

Nceschart01

Public schools with broadband Internet access

NCES started tracking in 2000 whether schools’ Internet connections were broadband or narrowband. Broadband is defined as T3/DS3, fractional T3, T1/DS1, fractional T1, cable modem, or DSL. Narrowband is defined as ISDN, 56KB, or dial-up. All but 3% of public schools now have broadband connections to the Internet.

Nceschart02

Public school classrooms with Internet access

It’s one thing for a school to be connected to the Internet. It’s another for the classrooms within the school to be connected. We have made a lot of progress in this area too. Only 6% of public school classrooms lack an Internet connection.

Nceschart03

We have made great strides in terms of getting schools connected. I think sometimes we forget what a massive task it was to get all schools wired.

Schedule for the rest of the week

  • Tuesday – percentage of public school classrooms with wireless Internet connections; percentage of public schools lending laptops to students
  • Wednesday – length of time public schools lend laptops to students
  • Thursday – technologies and procedures used by public schools to prevent student access to inappropriate material on the Internet
  • Friday - professional development for use of the Internet in public school classrooms

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