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The cellular-telephone industry launched a project last week to use cellular phones to help improve communications both within schools and between schools and the outside world.

The "ClassLink" project will provide 100 pilot schools nationwide with free access to cellular service and to all of the required equipment. The C.T.I.A. Foundation for Wireless Telecommunications, the philanthropic arm of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, will cooperate on the program with local wireless companies.

The foundation unveiled the program at a news conference at the J.O. Wilson Elementary School in Washington attended by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Reed E. Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

As the officials looked on, students used wireless modems donated by local cellular companies to connect to the global Internet computer network.

Speaking over a satellite link to C.T.I.A. members at a conference in February, Mr. Gingrich had called on the organization to "look at what you can do with your technologies to reach out to the poor of rural America, on an Indian reservation, or in the inner city."

Thomas E. Wheeler, the trade group's president, said last week that wireless communications bypass a major barrier to the Clinton Administration's vision of universal classroom access to telecommunications networks--the so-called "information highway"--by the end of the decade.

Unlike traditional networking systems, he pointed out, wireless modems do not require structural renovations. Such renovations, particularly in aging school buildings, can be costly and could disturb potentially harmful asbestos insulation. (See Education Week, 1/11/95.)

Though cellular service would save money in installation costs, usage costs for cellular phones are generally higher than for regular telephone service--a drawback for schools, industry officials say.

Cellular telephones have replaced a handful of rotary phones at O.J. Wilson Elementary, allowing the faculty and staff to communicate within the building. The system also includes voice mail, an electronic-message service available to only a fraction of educators, according to a recent study by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. (See Education Week, 4/12/95.)

But the pilot project also highlights a severe drawback to the wireless approach.

During the news conference, a handful of students clustered around nine high-speed computers, which were donated by local cellular companies.

But in the back of the room and in carrels along the wall, a bank of Apple II computers sat unnoticed by the television cameras, politicians, and beaming industry officials.

Such obsolescent machines, together with aging dos computers, represent half the inventory of computers in the nation's classrooms. But they are incapable of handling the volume of data required for Internet access.

A group of 25 education and library organizations, meanwhile, has petitioned the F.C.C. to reconsider a recent decision affecting portions of the radio spectrum.

The group hopes to insure that wireless technology remains an affordable option for providing educational access to the information highway.

The F.C.C. ruling allows companies that provide electronic tracking services to use an already busy portion of the spectrum, and places new limits on the equipment needed to utilize that frequency.

The Connectivity for Learning Coalition fears those changes will hamper school use of inexpensive wireless modems to access the Internet.

The Washington-based coalition includes among its members the Council of Chief State School Officers, the American Association of School Administrators, and the American Library Association. It filed a petition in late April asking the F.C.C. to reconsider.

Bucking a trend in the education-software industry, a California company plans to create multimedia products specifically for classroom use.

Fueled by record purchases of multimedia computers, the home market for education and "edutainment" products almost doubled in 1994, approaching the half-billion-dollar mark. (See Education Week, 4/26/95.)

But those figures mask the reality that "software not designed for schools can be difficult to adapt in the classroom," said Cheryl Vedeo, the founder of Tenth Planet Explorations Inc., based in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

"We intend to meet the teacher's need for curriculum that integrates technology into the classroom environment and inspires students," she added.

Ms. Vedeo, a former vice president and general manager of Apple Computer Inc.'s education arm, announced Tenth Planet's entry into the education marketplace late last month.

Partly from the perception that an enormous market exists for home buyers of education-related software, many corporations that traditionally have ignored education have recently made large investments in coming up with "edutainment" products.

To help develop its products, Tenth Planet has obtained $3.05 million from two companies and from Stanford University.

Ms. Vedeo said the company initially will offer a series of products under the name "Tenth Planet Explores K-2 Math," designed to be compatible with standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

A series of three geometry units is expected to follow later this year.

Rather than develop stand-alone products to compete in the $300 million school-software market, Tenth Planet is taking a broader approach. Reading materials, manipulatives, lesson plans, and teaching guides will accompany its software products.

Ms. Vedeo said the multimedia-centered curriculum will allow the company to compete in the $6.4 billion teaching-materials market, which is dominated by textbooks.

The Houghton Mifflin Company has opened an on-line education center that includes a service specifically for teachers, students, and parents.

The Boston-based publishing house this month inaugurated the "Houghton Mifflin/Global Network Navigator K-12 Education Center" on the Worldwide Web, a graphical gateway to the Internet.

The service includes a "virtual bookstore," where patrons can order works from the company's trade and reference division.

Also on the company's World Wide Web "home page," its Riverside Publishing test division offers middle school students access to "G.I.S. Junior," a version of the Guidance Information System, a career-planning tool that previously has been available only to guidance counselors and educators.

Houghton Mifflin's Worldwide Web address is: http://www.hmco.com/.

--Peter West

Edweek@cais.com

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