Cablevision Systems Corp. this spring is playing host to students, teachers and parents from a few New York-area schools to test its redesigned "Power to Learn" Web site, which relaunches in July.
The idea is to give educators involved in the MSO's educational initiative time to navigate through new features of the site (www.powertolearn.com) before the start of the new school year.
Through the education initiative, Cablevision aims to wire the 5,000 schools and 500 libraries within its service territory with broadband Internet access, and to provide teacher training and online educational content.
"We've trained over 3,000 educators in the New York metropolitan area," said Cablevision vice president of education Lee Whitmore. One challenge posed by technology stems from the fact that students are often more adept with the Web than their teachers are.
In revamping powertolearn.com, Cablevision was looking to make the Internet more meaningful to teachers, so they would become accustomed to using it regularly. Providing teachers with an easy way to publish homework assignments online is one way to do that, Whitmore said.
School administrators can also publish online newsletters for their students and families.
This summer, Cablevision will host extensive teacher training sessions about the new site, Whitmore said.
The revamped Web site will include a portal to commercial-free educational content, including some that's unique to Cablevision, Whitmore said. It will also feature teacher reviews of online educational content found elsewhere, as well as training for educators and an annual scholarship program for high school seniors. Last week, the program was finalizing its scholarship winners for 2002.
A portion of the site informs students about potential careers with local businesses. Whitmore said the content is tailored to be age-appropriate for different groups of students, from elementary through high school.
The site's home page also has links for parents, teachers and students. The new site will also note the geographic area that a user logs in from, and, in future sessions, will tailor the opening page with content specific to the local school or neighborhood.
"We've built the site so that we can have regionally focused content," Whitmore said. The "hyper-local content" can be relevant to teachers interested in field trips on Long Island, rather than New Jersey, for example.
Although all the content online is ad-free, Power to Learn does maintain relationships with a number of cable programmers. This past spring, Cablevision and C-SPAN partnered to bring a class of Brooklyn students to a question-and-answer session at the U.S. Supreme Court. Related content was posted to the Web for students who couldn't attend.
Cablevision's education division is funded through the company's community and government-affairs initiatives. And while it doesn't operate as a traditional for-profit business, Power to Learn does receive some revenues if schools decide to hook up more than 25 computers for high-speed data service.
The MSO provides deep discounts for that additional access, which schools can often pay for with funding from the U.S. Department of Education's E-Rate program, Whitmore said.
Under its five-year plan, Cablevision expects to afford 65 percent to 70 percent of targeted schools with broadband access.