Middle schools trying online tool

Three Broward County, Fla., middle schools are testing a new Internet-based

education network that enables students to post and store assignments online

and lets teachers conduct virtual meetings with parents. Developed by Broadform

Inc., a New York-based Internet education provider, the "holistic" system

is designed to increase collaboration between students, educators, administrators

and parents.

"Our challenge is to help [teachers] integrate technology in their classrooms,"

said Rick Reichenbach, vice president of education and training at Broadform.

To help implement the system, the three schools — with an enrollment

totaling about 3,500 students — received $450,000 from the Annenberg Foundation,

a philanthropic group. Broadform, which is also negotiating with other school

districts, would charge schools a yearly fee per student, but Reichenbach

did not specify the price. Similar to what companies use, Broadform supplies

schools with a package of applications and programs, such as word processors,

spreadsheets, drawing tools, calendars, that can be calendars, that can be viewed and operated via the Web. Broadform also supplies Web-based hard drives for every

student, live daily news feeds and communication tools, such as e-mail,

chat rooms and bulletin boards.

Using the online network:

* Students can check homework assignments and projects, hold group study

sessions, research education Web sites, write papers and prepare presentations.

* Parents can track and monitor their children's progress, check grades

and attendance, view upcoming homework assignments, and hold conferences

with teachers.

* Administrators can track enrollment, post school calendars and monitor

overall school performance.

* Teachers can prepare lessons, communicate with other faculty members

and administrators, schedule virtual tours of museums or give demonstrations,

or invite experts into the classroom via the Web.

Reichenbach said Broadform will provide computer training to teachers,

administrators and parents.

The system also conforms to the Children's Online Privacy Protection

Act, which defines an operator's responsibilities in collecting children's

personal information and protecting their safety online.

Jayne Hall, principal of Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School, one of

the three participating schools, said that if the test is successful, the

school plans to expand the network to its elementary and high schools.

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