Pennsylvania schools add AOL

Pennsylvania has become the fourth state after Virginia, Florida and Maryland to partner with America Online Inc. to provide students with AOL's educational software.

As a result of the partnership, all public schools in the state will be provided with a special Pennsylvania-oriented version of AOL's free AOL@School software.

The software alone offers a range of services, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, reading and math resources, and e-mail and instant messaging capabilities. It also has age-appropriate safety tools to keep minors from accessing inappropriate materials on the World Wide Web.

But the version of the software for Pennsylvania is special because it is the first version to include a "state focus" feature that provides locally oriented information selected and programmed by state education officials.

AOL provides the technology necessary to enable all Pennsylvania schools to have access to the program's unique live content windows. The live content windows are AOL pop-ups that provide links to information sources at the state's Department of Education Web site.

Teachers and administrators will now have online access to specific, tailored information, such as state standards, staff development initiatives, state education news and teacher-certification facts.

"Many states want the ability to link all their schools with their departments of education, and we're giving them that through the pop-up windows installed on the software," said Billy Kenny, a spokesman for AOL. "The schools and states can do whatever they want in terms of the information available; we're just providing the parameters."

"With this new version of the software, we're bringing together new resources that have never been marketed before," said Al Bowman, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. "AOL is looking at this endeavor as philanthropy, but what is it going to cost our school districts? Zero."

AOL already partners with Dell Computer Corp., the leading provider of computers to K-12 schools, to prepackage its AOL@School software on computers sold to schools. The company recently partnered with TestU, an online standardized test preparation service, to jointly provide a comprehensive online Scholastic Assessment Test preparatory course.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge has been supportive of technology for educational purposes. In 1998, Ridge introduced his "Link-to-Learn" program, which provided grants to help students achieve state academic standards in reading, writing and math through the use of technology.

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