Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Opening the Door to Access

Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Opening the Door to Access

Article excerpt

A Boston-area district takes full advantage of educational materials delivered via the portal computing method.

OK, Bill, we're going to mate some butterflies." Thus tech specialist Anita Robitaille introduced the wonders of lepidopteran cybersex to a technophobic biology teacher. She was showing him "Biology Explorer" software from Riverdeep Interactive Learning, and her colleague at Lowell High School in Massachusetts was utterly fascinated and completely won over by the dynamic and beautiful demonstration of butterfly genetics in action.

Lowell is a post-industrial city with a large, diverse population. The school system's administrators, technology specialists and teachers are developing strategies to prepare Lowell's student's for a world that is both challenging and highly unpredictable. With a student population of nearly 4,000, administrators faced a challenge to bring high quality learning materials to students, while saving both the cost and time associated with administering current technology.

It was Robitaille who revived the languishing purchase order at the school for Riverdeep software. A former special education teacher at Lowell for 17 years, she returned to Lowell as a tech specialist after a year's sabbatical, during which she took a master's degree in education with a concentration in instructional technology.

"Technology gives us the ability to teach to different learning styles and multiple intelligences," she says, "not just among special education students but in the general student population as well." She adds, "And I have always loved playing with and taking apart computers." Robitaille has attained A+ certification for troubleshooting PC operating systems and is both a Microsoft Professional and a Cisco Systems certified instructor.

The Riverdeep software arrived at Lowell High School in the form of CDs and was loaded onto the school's servers. (The school has seven servers in all, along with more than a thousand PCs in labs and individual classrooms.) It soon became clear, though, that there would not be enough space on the servers to handle all the simulations and student portfolios.

So Riverdeep set it up so that the school could run the software off Riverdeep's server, requiring only that the school install a simple Web browser. By choosing this method, the district's administrator's, faculty and students have access to these educational programs and services seamlessly via the Web. Robitaille loaded the browser on the school's individual computers. "It's neat," she says, "because I create individual student accounts, and the teachers can log on, give kids assignments and check those assignments-from anywhere."

Portal computing takes The "techie" out of educational technology This kind of Internet-based delivery of services and content is called "portal computing," where a Web site serves as a doorway, or portal, to a wide range of resources based on the Internet. It is particularly amenable to the educational domain.

Despite ever-increasing budgets for computer hardware and software, schools will constantly be playing catch-up to be on the cutting edge of technology. Technology should be a tool that helps schools do what they're really supposed to do: provide the richest possible learning environment for their children. The software upgrades, the endless tinkering with patches and programming, the network headaches is best left to the companies that provide the technology to the schools.

Portal computing takes the techie out of educational technology. In portal computing's purist form, there is no need for buying, loading or upgrading software, or adding technical staff to troubleshoot elaborate new school intranets. Instead, the school pays for the total package of services and software on a subscription basis.

Lowell High School is not quite at that point. Although the school does subscribe to the SchoolTone portal model, Robitaille still likes having the software on hand as a backup. …

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