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Pennsylvania Goes To AOL@School

America Online Inc., the largest Internet service provider in the world, is continuing its philanthropy interests with this week's announcement to provide free Internet content to Pennsylvania public schools.

AOL@School gives potentially 6,000 Pennsylvania schools access to resources like dictionaries and encyclopedia's, and a portal catering to the subjects schoolchildren learn every day, ranging from math to reading.

John Bailey, director of Pennsylvania's office of educational technology, said AOL's content is a perfect match for the initiatives set forth by Governor Tom Ridge to bring technology to the school.

"The governor's committed a huge amount of money for technology to schools," Bailey said. "Corporate partnerships have allowed us to make that technology really more valuable to teachers by providing educational content, tools and resources."

Pennsylvania officials have been beefing up the educational system's infrastructure the past couple years to accommodate the rising need for computers and Internet access in the classroom.

This year, the governor has given out almost $17 million in grants to fund technology initiatives in the public schools. Ridge has also proposed another $25 million for 2001-2002.

The efforts have paid off, it seems. All of the school districts are connected to the Internet, while 90 percent of schools in the state are virtually wired. Of that 90 percent, 75 to 80 percent of the classrooms have a computer and an Internet connection.

But getting the computers and bringing the Internet to the classroom is only half the battle, Bailey said. Many teachers are novice Internet users and AOL's service addresses the problem.

"The real value for teachers is that (AOL@School) simplifies the Internet," Bailey said. "They don't necessarily have to go out and have to go out and try to make sense of a search on a science resource that goes out to 5,000 kids. It simplifies the Internet by providing them links to other resources that teachers around the country have said is a good resource."

According to AOL, content is determined by group of educators and schoolchildren around the country. If a particular state has a problem with the content available on the site, they are asked to bring it to the attention of AOL officials.

To avoid complaints from parents or consumer groups, AOL went educational associations like the National School Boards Association and the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development for content selection.

"We haven't had anybody challenge the content so far," Nixon said. "The reason we haven't is because they know we are trying to put something useful on the Internet. What teachers tell you, more than anything else, is that they don't have time to find the best resources."

Mark Nixon, AOL executive director of education, pitched AOL@School to Steve Case, AOL Time Warner chairman of the board, and Bob Pittman, AOL-TW co-chief operating officer, last year, predicated on three values:

  • Building on the power of the medium
  • Respect
  • Brand recognition

"To be one of the most respected companies, you have to give back to the community," Nixon said. "So, if you want to give back to the community, what better place to start than education. And from the selfish side of this, if you want to propagate the brand of AOL, so that at some point in the future, if these kids, teachers and parents have a good experience with AOL, maybe they'll be interested in our brand."

It must have been a good speech, because Case and company signed off on the AOL@School project in May, 2000. Pennsylvania is the fourth to sign up to AOL's education portal, behind Virginia, Florida and Maryland.

AOL plans to make more announcements with other states throughout the year.



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