Tech Companies, Friday Institute to Advance Education Skills

By Nicole Hemsoth

April 10, 2006

Four of the world's leading technology companies — SAS, Cisco Systems, IBM and Nortel — are collaborating with North Carolina State University's Friday Institute for Educational Innovation to help design and deliver the future of education to teachers and students in North Carolina classrooms today.

Imagine eighth grade students using computer simulations to design an airplane wing or assuming the roles of characters in a video game to discover environmental hazards and eliminate sources of disease in a virtual city.

The Friday Institute, in collaboration with the technology companies, is bringing this type of innovation into classrooms to enhance teaching and learning, and to inspire students at all grade levels to compete in the 21st century global economy.

The companies are contributing software, hardware and expertise to develop new educational tools and practices. In addition, as a lead supporter of the Friday Institute, SAS will sponsor communities of practice, innovation grants, and large scale projects on the use of analytics in education. IBM will be sponsoring research projects with the Friday Institute in support of the development and delivery of educational material to several North Carolina K-12 school systems.

The alliances are enabling the creation and delivery of a new breed of educational tools and resources for classrooms throughout North Carolina and beyond using a next-generation technology service delivery platform to share information and computing resources.

The Friday Institute, co-located with the Centennial Campus Middle School on N.C. State University's Centennial Campus, is a public-private education research partnership created to advance education through innovation in teaching, learning and leadership. With a focus on enriching education in North Carolina K-12 schools, the Friday Institute is collaborating with educators, students, research scientists, businesses, government and community leaders to develop, assess, validate and share new practices to enhance education throughout the nation.

New, technology-based learning tools will enable interactive, collaborative and engaging learning experiences that boost creativity and self-directed learning skills. The public-private alliances will integrate technology that professionals use for business and children use for entertainment with educational content designed for the classroom. Technology typically used in company and university research labs, including scientific modeling, computer visualization and advanced analytical tools, will be infused into educational tools for K-12 schools.

“Through collaboration with the world's leading technology companies and the nationally renowned engineering, computer science and information technology expertise at the university, we have the opportunity to approach educational challenges in new and innovative ways,” said Hiller Spires, senior director of the Friday Institute. “Technology alone is not the answer, but innovation through sophisticated technologies can be a catalyst to drive educational transformation for the 21st century, inspiring children to learn and succeed.”

An example of public-private collaboration is a project that extends the capabilities of the university's Virtual Computing Lab through the development of a technology service platform to serve schools throughout North Carolina. The technology company alliances will expand the suite of services available through the technology platform.

The Virtual Computing Lab was initiated through an IBM research grant in 2004 and developed by the Department of Computer Science and the Information Technology Division. Through a high-speed wired and wireless network infrastructure provided by Cisco, teachers and students in schools beyond the university campus can share the Virtual Computing Lab's resources and services. New services will include real-time, multimedia collaboration services from Nortel. Cutting-edge analytics from SAS will power projects for data-based decision making, integration of analytics into new teaching and learning methods, and resources to measure and assess new educational practices and policies. IBM will assist in the development of an Internet-based portal for students and teachers to easily use the services.

New, innovative services to enhance education will be developed and delivered through the service delivery platform. Educators across the state will be able to share best practices, collaborate with other educators and researchers, and participate in the development of innovative teaching and learning initiatives.

The technology platform enables video, data, software applications, scientific equipment and computing resources managed by the university and the Friday Institute to be shared by teachers and students throughout the state using an advanced network design called a service-oriented architecture.

“The technology platform will deliver services based on a utility model,” said Phil Emer, director of technology at the Friday Institute. “Like we use electricity, teachers and students in schools anywhere in the state can tap into a grid of new services. The services are virtual — available wherever they are needed regardless of where they originate. They are also transparent — the complex computing, data and networking infrastructure works behind the scenes. Through the portal, teachers and students simply request the services, which are available on demand, whenever they need them. Because the technology platform is managed at the university, schools do not have the burden and cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining the enabling technology.”

An educational crisis in North Carolina, with low high-school graduation rates and high teacher turnover, is indicative of challenges throughout the nation — all happening at a time when the proliferation of technology and economic and political reform in many developing countries are leveling the global playing field for economic opportunity. In the new global marketplace, quality education is directly related to the quality of life and economic opportunities for individuals, communities, states and nations.

The Friday Institute's technology partners have developed many of the tools for sharing and analyzing information that are pervasive in today's business environment. Children already embrace technology for entertainment and communication outside of school with video games, mobile phones, instant messaging and handheld music players.

“Technology has shifted global business markets and the way we communicate and entertain ourselves. Children have developed new learning styles and communication skills that need to be integrated into classrooms,” Spires said. “A 21st century education motivates students to learn how to learn, actively seek information, create new ideas, make discerning judgments, and apply knowledge to complex challenges. Infusing educational content with tools and expertise from our technology partners has the potential to transform education, cultivate a passion for learning, and inspire innovation in our children.”

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