OnTarget keeps tabs on school tech

In 1998, when Bob Marshall assumed chairmanship of Maryland's Committee on Technology in Education — an advisory board responsible for charting how schools should use technology — he found the data was out-of-date and not very detailed.

"We were basically flying blind," he said. "We had no ability to monitor effectively what technology resources were in place and how they were being used in the state."

So Marshall, who also is chief executive officer of AWS Convergence Technologies Inc. — a company that owns and operates the world's largest network of weather stations — dedicated some company resources to develop an online database tool called OnTarget to collect, analyze and report such education information.

"It walks [educators] through a series of questions and surveys so that they can then let us know what type of technology's in place, how many computers, what kind of Internet connections they have, what the knowledge and skill level of their teachers are, and most importantly how is the technology being used by the students on a regular basis...to really integrate it into mathematics and science and reading and writing," he said.

Marshall said he developed the Web-hosted service to meet a need, not as a product. However, in addition to Maryland (which receives the service for free), he said Mississippi signed on last fall and several other states have shown interest.

With recent federal laws mandating student assessment, Marshall said that "without a system like this, it's very difficult for states to demonstrate that their technology investments are making the impact that's desired."

In Maryland, he said the data is more current and more accurate than before and can specifically be used to rectify the digital divide, he said.

"We found when you can look at individual school data within districts, we would find that one school would have a 5-to-1 student-to-computer ratio, which was very close to the target that we set. Across the street, there'd be a school that had a 200-to-1 student-to-computer ratio," Marshall said. "And the decision-makers did not have access to information like that before, so this would allow people at either the district or state level to target funding to eliminate those gaps that existed."

Parents, educators and lawmakers have access to the public information on the site (www.aws.com/ontarget) and are able to see charts and graphs and compare one school with another, he said. When a state signs up for the service, he said it takes his engineers about six to eight weeks to design a Web site and then another six to eight weeks for schools to input data. The system can identify discrepancies and omissions to ensure quality control, and AWS handles any technical or other problems.

Development fees range from $25,000 to about a "couple of hundred thousand dollars" depending on the size of the state, the number of schools and the level of customization for the state, Marshall said, adding that a yearly fee is typically one-third to one-quarter the amount of the development fee.


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