RealTime IT News

AOL Goes to School

America Online Inc. Wednesday ushered in a teaching tool designed to provide state-of-the-art communications features for K-12 schools.

Dubbed AOL@School, the comprehensive online program offers a variety of age-appropriate educational content, as well as teacher and administrator resources all accessible from any existing Internet connection.

The AOL@School portal is available at no cost to all interested K-12 schools, since most schools already have Internet access through local service providers.

Internet enabled schools can install the free software on computers and register each student with individual screen names and passwords. When students sign on to the Web, they will be taken directly to specially designed portals for K-2, 3-5, middle school, or high school.

Students registered with the AOL@School program have access to e-mail, instant messaging, and chat capabilities at the discretion of school officials. Teachers and administrators get access to Web content in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, a law crafted to restrict Web sites from collecting individually identifiable information from kids under 13 years of age, without first obtaining parental consent.

Steve Case, AOL chairman and chief executive officer, said the governments have made Internet access at schools a priority, now AOL is providing a virtual safe haven for U.S. educational Web content.

"AOL's commitment to building a medium we can all be proud of must include a strong commitment to making the online world an effective part of our children's education," Case said. "Getting schools hooked up to the Internet has been an important national priority, now it's time to help them make the most of this technology to help students learn more."

Industry analysts view AOL's move into the nation's classrooms as a virtual coup de grace capable of instilling brand loyalty in K-12 students.

Homework helper sites have been popular with online students since their inception, but the educational program is an entirely new breed of AOL-branded Web entities capable of gathering generations of new customers inexpensively for the nation's largest interactive service provider.

Although the AOL@School program possesses the capacity to tap into a national captive audience, the student-side of the Web portal does not contain any advertising or e-commerce components. However, the teacher and administrator portals will provide opportunities for purchasing school supplies and other related items and represents a potential major e-commerce initiative for America Online.

America Online developed its educational programs in conjunction with parents and teachers, and has obtained approval from the American Association of School Administrators, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

National Center for Education Statistics research reports that 95 percent U.S. schools are connected to the Internet, but only 20 percent of U.S. teachers believe they are well-prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction. More than 79 percent of teachers said that they do not get enough help using technology in the classroom.

The AOL@School program provides student portals that have been chosen by educators as the best educational content for that grade level, making it easier for teachers to get to know the Net.

AOL's Web collections include access to many of the world's great museums and libraries, as well as education-specific destination sites and content from leading textboo