Demonstration Sites Seek To Help Schools Make Technological Leap
When officials of the Sanborn (N.H.) Regional School District began weighing how to spend their limited funds for technology and software, they decided their first step should be to get some consumer information.
So Steve Kossakoski, the technology coordinator for the 1,800-student rural district, and Tana Lewis, a teacher at the district's middle school, visited the Software Preview Center at the Regional Laboratory for Educational Improvement of the Northeast and the Islands in Andover, Mass.
There, they logged on to the Internet computer network's World Wide Web and downloaded free "shareware" programs. They also got to test equipment and hear some advice from the staff members on how to buy computers and related technology.
The pair left with a year's worth of math, social-studies, and other software, Mr. Kossakoski said last week. And, unlike a trip to the local software store, they were able to browse for exactly what they needed without any pressure to buy a specific program.
Which is the whole idea behind the center, according to laboratory officials.
"I'm just here to show people where to look, what to look out for, what will be effective in the classroom, and where the shortcuts and freebies are," said Ray Rose, the director of the software-preview center.
The center, which opened roughly a year ago, is one of a dozen technology-demonstration sites the U.S. Department of Education's regional labs operate in partnership with the Eisenhower Clearinghouse for Science and Mathematics Education at Ohio State University in Columbus.
In conjunction with the clearinghouse's database of software and curriculum materials, which can be accessed through the Internet, the centers attempt to meet a growing demand from educators who are under pressure to incorporate technology into the curriculum but are unsure how to go about doing so.
The Internet Connection
Although each of the dozen sites is well equipped with computers and telecommunications equipment, the Internet connection serves as a valuable alternative for educators who live too far away to visit in person.
For example, Mark Klawitercq, a physics and chemistry teacher at Ladysmith (Wis.) High School, was planning to team teach a course on the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan to hasten the end of World War II. But he had no idea where to find effective, proven classroom materials.
Teaching in a rural Wisconsin town--by his own estimation roughly 50 miles from the nearest traffic light and more than 200 miles from the nearest research university--Mr. Klawiter turned to his laptop computer and dialed into the Eisenhower clearinghouse in Columbus.
Searching the center's database for software, curriculum modules, and other related materials, he quickly found what he needed.
"I think we had three or four pretty decent hits," he said. "There were two things that were just perfect."
On another occasion, he used a friend's access to the Internet's World Wide Web, a service that provides electronic links to a host of resources around the world, to search the Eisenhower database for documents on how to formulate an effective districtwide technology plan.
Through an electronic link on the clearinghouse's "home page," he was directed to a resource at Mississippi State University's web site.
"It was neat, because it focused right in on the kinds of things that educators would use," he said.
Mr. Klawiter added that the toll-free telephone number the clearinghouse makes available to access the database can mean the difference between choosing to use the service or not.
"We have a lot of micromanaging that goes on here," he said. Using the toll-free number "means that nobody's going to be breathing down my neck about making long-distance phone calls."
School Use Growing
Through the network of local technology centers as well as through district connections to the Internet, the use of the software database has risen rapidly, said Tom Gadsden, the associate director for outreach at the Eisenhower clearinghouse.
He estimates that the electronic database has received as many as 1 million inquiries so far this year.
In many cases, schools have only limited Internet access, called Gopher, which allows them to retrieve text-based information. But school use of the World Wide Web is growing, officials added.
Unlike Mr. Klawiter, most teachers do not have access to telephone lines in their classrooms.
Even so, Mr. Gadsden said, two factors have helped fuel the interest in the services of the clearinghouse and the regional labs.
"It really has exploded, especially as various states have begun to commit to providing Internet resources," he said. "And we now have more and more classroom teachers who connect to us, classroom teachers who are interested in curriculum development."