Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this first week of November:
- New Web sites for teachers
- Web News Briefs: Filtering alcohol & tobacco; Chat with the Prez; Porn spam; E-malls & teens; E-valuating schools; Rating e-shops….
- Privacy in the news (a lot!)
- Feeding the hungry via the Web
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Meaty Web stuff for educators
Web resources for teachers are all the rage right now. That was brought home to us at a recent "Interactive Kids" conference. At a gathering all about Web publishing for children we kept hearing from presenters about their new sites for teachers. And these sites seem to represent a new phase for Web content targeting the classroom. Web publishers, it appears, are doing their homework. Some of them even talk about technology integration, standardized tests, and state requirements, acknowledging the increasing demands on teachers. We think you'll be seeing more and more "accountability" in this category of Web resources - material based on market research, tailored to curriculum requirements, learning standards, and even teachers' busy schedules.
Parents, you'll find many of these Web sites have sections dedicated to you - there is also a lot of talk about how the Web can support the home-school connection.
Each of the following sites has one or two things it does best. In our interviewing, we tried to sift through to those "differentiators" for you. Here are the highlights:
- FamilyEducation.com's TeacherVision: Launched in time for the new school year, this service's strength is that it's "powered by teachers." There's free Web site hosting for teachers; a strong emphasis on teacher community (discussion boards); and advice, product reviews, lesson plans, and idea swapping by teachers, for teachers. A monthly email newsletter, "Great Stuff for Teachers," really is about "stuff" - e.g., free computers, software, posters, nutrition kits. And, in partnership with the New York Times and the Bank Street College of Education in New York City, there's a daily lesson plan for grades 6-12 (on the Web, or sign up for email delivery email), tied to specific national content standards for those grade levels. Examples: "Using Search Engines Designed for Kids: A Technology Lesson" and a lesson tied to news coverage on how to create an anti-smoking campaign for fellow students. You'll find more lesson plans under math, geography, health, language arts, and many other headings.
- Homeroom.com has added a whole new dimension to the expertise of its parent company, The Princeton Review, which helps students prepare for standardized tests. These are the people who know the language of test questions - those unique questions you can only find on the likes of SATs. The new dimension is an understanding of learning standards and standardized test requirements in individual states throughout the US, and bringing that to the Web, accessible from school and home.
"Accountability" is where this Web-based resource will shine if Homeroom.com achieves its goals: helping both parents and teachers to help students learn what states require them to learn. [For the parents among us, we're told that accountability - keeping students up with reading levels and other requirements - is very important to teachers.] The program will help teachers and parents 1) figure out individual students' strengths and weaknesses (based on state requirements) in math and reading, for example, and 2) provide resources on the Web that directly address the weaknesses. For example: 4th-graders and fractions. Using fraction questions in the site just like those on the state test, a teacher can find out that five of her 20 students are having trouble, go to a page of hand-picked links to fraction-practice resources, and pick an assignment for each of her five only temporarily fraction-challenged students.
The site, which basically markets the program right now, is very much in development. Homeroom.com just last month launched for grades 3-8 in its first state, Texas. Marketing director Lisa Moy told us their goal is to cover 50-60% of the US by next fall. Right now they're working directly with schools - a school's subscription makes the program available to all teachers, students, and parents involved with that school. Sometime next year, if parents find that their child's school doesn't subscribe, they can sign up for the child and work with him on their own at home.
- Learning Company School: The Learning Co. (TLC) says that over 90% of US K-12 schools are using its software. So what this company does best for teachers is provide supreme support for using its products in the classroom. That's the goal. TLC's other big thrust, according to Peter Contino in online marketing, is to "migrate" their classroom content from CD-ROM to the Web, specifically to "subscription-based online products." This makes sense to us, in view of teachers' concerns about what should be on all the computer screens their students now have access to (see our "Tech in School" report last month). With subscription-based educational services (in addition to some free ones), publishers can afford to keep content fresh and relevant. What educators are willing to pay for, the Learning Co. says, is content that's safe, time-saving, and integrated with the curriculum they have to teach.
"Learning Company School" - the new version that launches in just a week or two - begins to represent that migration. Instead of marketing CD-ROMs it will have more and more Web-based teaching tools. Examples: online penpal clearinghouse; Classroom Webivore (hand-selected educational Web sites); Maps 101; teacher discussion boards; tools, lesson plans, and tricks for using Learning Co. software; and the Online Classroom Flyer. That last item is a free daily email newsletter for teachers that has gone from about 5,000 inaugural subscribers last May to 22,000 now.
- National Geographic says its new site for teachers will launch later this month. Did you already guess that it will focus on "bringing the world into the classroom"? That effort, they say, will include downloadable maps and lesson plans that adhere to national learning standards and leverage the National Geographic Society's resources in an educational sort of way. Map-type resources will include the brand-new Map Machine, an interactive atlas, and a mini-encyclopedia. There will also be discussion boards and a calendar of relevant conferences for teachers.
- PBS's TeacherSource: The Public Broadcasting Service's mega-site recently relaunched with "neighborhoods" - news, technology, indie film, arts, kids, adult learning, shopping, etc. TeacherSource makes PBS's massive bank of resources manageable (i.e. useful?) for teachers. One way they do this is with a remarkable resource called the Standards Viewer, part of the site's Search & Standards Match search engine. With it, you pick a subject (we picked "social studies") a grade (fifth), a topic ("state and local history"), and a particular state's standards ("Michigan Curriculum Framework"). Then you pick a requirement and click on "See all PBS resources that match this standard." Our search turned up 11 PBS resources like "Line-Up Time" in Carmen Sandiego and "Snowboarding Women Making History" in the US Olympic PBS Cyber School. The downloading's a little slow (with a fast connection), but we're still amazed they're doing this.
- TeacherUniverse.com - It's part of the $1.4 billion, 10,000-employee Knowledge Universe family of education-focused companies formed in 1996 by Lowell Milken, Michael Milken, and Larry Ellison "to address the changing needs of today's information society through education." Teacher Universe, which got started just last January, is all about integrating technology into existing curricula, including in-school professional-development training in this area. The Web site offers links to Web sites useful in teaching (science, history, robotics, girls & tech, early childhood, global projects, etc.), as well as some great ed-related resource sites (grants, professional development, technology planning, etc.). Teacher Universe partners with Galaxy Classroom, a K-5 program that, with the use of video, fax, computers, and the Internet, has created a kind of national classroom where students engage in interactive "learning adventures."
- Bonus.com's Teacher resource: Bonus's mission is simple: Web fun for kids. They claim to have the largest collection of Java games on the Web. That's why, editor-in-chief Lucy Rector says, they were pleasantly surprised to discover that Bonus is very popular with teachers. At educator conferences they found out teachers are always looking for fun things for kids to do on the Web. "Teachers tell us Bonus is the reward," Lucy said. "The kids have to learn a little about John Glenn, then their teacher lets them play an alien game." Thus Bonus's new dedicated teacher area, logically headed, "Teachers Look Here." Bonus doesn't even try to tie its content to state curricula or core requirements; it lets teachers do that. But the teacher area does provide interactive games of a more educational nature - e.g., map puzzles, ecology crosswords, math games, and links to educational Web sites.
- Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators on Discovery.com - Not new but also not to be left out, the Guide is basically a list of links to sites that Kathy, a teacher and tech coordinator herself, has found useful "for enhancing curriculum and teacher professional growth." Links categories include everything from school subjects to search engines and teachers' tools. She updates it daily, and teachers can choose to receive the updates via email. Kathy started doing this in 1995 and recently joined up with Discovery Channel School. The latter includes lesson plans for grades K-6 and 7-12, a weekly email newsletter of its own, and discussion boards for teachers, moderated by teachers.
- Microsoft's TechNet for Education: For the technically minded among us, it's hard to ignore the formidable resources of Microsoft. If your school uses Microsoft technology, and it quite possibly does (we just heard that Dell computers just overtook Apple's in US schools), there are probably some useful resources here. Do tell us what you think, though. Examples are the semi-monthly TechNet Flash technical-how-to email newsletter; the latest developments in school tech; software upgrades delivered en masse via CD-ROM; product reviews; etc.
Educators, we'd love to hear your thoughts on any of these resources, what you've read here, or - better - your own experiences with these sites. What we wonder about:
- Are Web sites beginning to "get" what teachers really need on the Web?
- What would your dream teacher-support Web site be like?
- Is a daily email newsletter too much for your busy schedules?
- Do you have time to participate in discussion boards and, if so, what's your favorite?
- If we've missed a new Web resource you've discovered and use, do tell us about it!
Please email us - via email@example.com.
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Web News Briefs
- Focus on alcohol & tobacco
The Center for Media Education sent out another one of its "wake-up calls" this week: Net filtering tools are not doing the job they should in protecting kids from alcohol and tobacco marketing on the Web, CME said. The nonprofit watchdog organization released a major study on the subject this week, "Youth Access to Alcohol and Tobacco Web Marketing: The Filtering and Rating Debate" (a link to a press release about is right at the top of CME's home page).
"A lot of attention and resources are going toward protecting children from pornography on the Web," said CME president Kathryn Montgomery, "but alcohol and tobacco sites continue to woo young future consumers with clever games and spokespeople, recipes for sweet-tasting alcohol drinks, instructions on how to blow smoke rings - and the filtering and rating systems aren't blocking them out."
Besides a lot of background on the issue itself, the 134-page report is packed with general online-safety information useful to parents, teachers, tech coordinators, and anyone else watching over online kids. Appendix II alone (pp. 52-70) provides a comprehensive list, dated August '99, of filtering and blocking software, filtered ISPs, browsers for children, child-friendly search engines, ratings systems, and monitoring software - complete with category and individual product/service descriptions and links to their Web sites for further information. Another appendix has the results of tests done on the six most popular filtering-software tools. The report itself includes histories and descriptions of various filtering technologies and arguments on both sides of debates about these technologies, including the recently renewed ratings debate. (The Center for Democracy and Technology recently released its analysis of - and argument against - the Bertelsmann Net ratings initiative this past September).
The CME report recommends that software developers put more resources into identifying alcohol and tobacco-promoting sites, make their filtering criteria available to customers, and broaden their definition of "objectionable" content to include "other intrusive categories, such as marketing and advertising. Here's a Newsbytes News piece on the CME study via USAToday. We'd welcome your comments on this initiative and issue - via firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Online chat with Clinton
It'll be the first live Net appearance by a US President. From 7 to 8:30 pm Monday night (11/8) President Clinton will take real-time questions in an online-chat format that will allow users to watch his responses on live video. According to ComputerCurrents.com, 15,000 users will be able to "fit" into the chat room on Excite. ComputerCurrents.com says the President "will respond verbally, not at a keyboard, but those whose computers lack video or audio capability will be able to read an up-to-date transcript."
- Porn spam
This week Rep. Gary Miller (R) of California and some other members of the US Congress unveiled a report showing that 30% of spam (unsolicited commercial email) is pornographic. According to USAToday, Representative Miller used the report to stump for passage of H.R. 2162, the "Can Spam Act" that he proposed earlier this year. The survey was done by the Spam Recycling Center, run by the for-profit ChooseYourMail.com, which allows users to choose what companies can send them email marketing pieces (like picking who can send you junk mail).
- The power of the mall
E-commerce sites targeting teens are scrambling to duplicate the mall experience online. In "E-biz races to lure kids", Wired News says one way they're trying to match the very social mall experience is by adding chat and discussion boards - to their sites. But some researchers say the strategy could be tricky because teens are wise to marketers. They don't appreciate being "fooled" into buying. See the Wired piece for data on the size of the teen e-commerce market and links to sites trying the community-plus-shopping equation.
Much bigger numbers are being assigned to the "Internet economy" over all. According to USAToday, fresh research by International Data Corp. shows that the size of the worldwide Internet economy will exceed $1 trillion by the end of 2001 and reach $2.8 trillion by 2003. As for the US, the Center for Research in Electronic Commerce at the University of Texas estimated the size of the Internet economy (based on revenues) would reach $507 billion this year and already provides jobs for 2.3 million people.
- E-valuating schools
It's another Internet milestone, we think: Parents in the Los Angeles Unified School District - one of the largest in the US - can now use the Web to evaluate schools. According to Wired News, the range of options within the LA school district's boundaries is tremendous. Now, with the help of what Wired calls the district's "online school performance meter", users can readily look up test scores, number of credentialed teachers, the amount of money spent per students, etc.
- Rating e-shops
Consumer Reports, the magazine published by the non-profit Consumers Union, has begun rating Web sites today, the AOP Bulletin reports. "The first ratings, of the Web sites of 30 popular printed catalogs, found the highest scores of Web sites were four out of five points. Four-point sites included those of J. Crew, Land's End, Eddie Bauer, J&R Music and Computer World, Hammacher Schlemmer and REI." Sites are rated on ease of use, product information, privacy policies and disclosure of shipping costs, etc. On the next four Mondays the magazine will add new review categories, and the results will be published at Consumer Reports Online.
Privacy in the news (a lot!)
A whole passel of privacy stories broke this week, starting with a flap about a RealNetworks consumer-privacy snafu. According to the AOP Bulletin, "Privacy advocates and security experts voiced outrage this week over the revelation that RealNetworks, producer of the RealJukeBox software, has been monitoring the listening habits of users." RealNetworks apologized and released a "patch" on its Web site that stops its music player from collecting information about its users without their knowledge. AOP added, "Apology aside, the real loser in the incident may be TRUSTe, the privacy certification company whose logo the site carried."
Also on the subject…
- FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle issued a statement that Net users shouldn't expect the FTC to step in every time a Web site like RealNetworks commits a privacy snafu, according to ZDNet. Swindle is one of four commissioners at the agency dealing with consumer protection law, supports Net industry self-regulation, ZDNet says.
- The New York Times reports that "a group of leading Internet advertising and data-profiling companies have agreed to adopt policies that allow consumers to find out what information is collected by the marketers and to turn off the data-gathering technology. "
- In a story that's more about control of electronic data than privacy on the Web, Wired News published a background report on President Clinton plans to propose "broad new medical privacy regulations controlling access to electronic information." The regs will control how hospitals, physicians, and health care plans may collect and disclose personal records stored in electronic form.
- Nua Internet Surveys cited a Forrester Research survey showing that 90% of users want to control the use of their personal information once it's been collected by e-commerce sites.
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Feeding the hungry
A friend passed along an email praising The Hunger Site, which works with the United Nations World Food Program to distribute food to the world's hungry: "This is a really neat Web site. All you do is click a button, and somewhere in the world some hungry person gets a meal to eat at no cost to you. The food is paid for by corporate sponsors. All you do is go to the site and click. But, you're only allowed one click per day, so spread the word to others…. A link from the site's home page to the UN's World Food Program confirms that the site gives its donations to that program."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend.
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