The ability of cable modems to connect users to the
Internet at warplike speeds is dazzling educators and creating a rosy public-relations
picture for the cable industry.
For years, school districts have strained to train teachers
about life on the Internet, often in a modem-scarce environment with lackluster computers.
The result: a hodgepodge of technologies, with rural schools generally last in line.
Enter webTeacher, a
cable collaboration of the High-Speed Education Connection program and Tech Corps, a
nonprofit organization established to integrate advancing technologies into the learning
The two groups recently settled on rural Texas schools as
the first classrooms for a series of comprehensive "train-the-teacher" programs,
designed to raise awareness about high-speed-data services.
What makes the project unique is its focus on nonmetro
schools. Teachers in that environment cited prohibitive equipment and service costs,
coupled with a lack of training, as daunting challenges to most educators and schools,
many of which have yet to actually see cable modems at work.
That's why more than 20 Texas cable operators and 20
educators representing school districts throughout the state are learning how to train
others in the use of cable modems, which, they hope, will hasten the deployment of modems
into K-12 schools.
"We want our system people to train the educators and
to take that knowledge back to their school districts. As we do our rebuilds in school
areas, we'll push to get modems into the schools," said Margaret Mosley, manager of
government relations for Marcus Cable Co. L.P. in Dallas.
Marcus, along with the Texas Cable Association, cohosted
the first webTeacher training seminar July 31 in Fort Worth, using 40 Bay Network Inc.
cable modems connected to two hubs.
"Cable representatives were there to learn just like
the teachers, and we all had @Home [Network's] software to access the webTeacher site.
Now, our responsibility is to let teachers know that this is available," Mosley said.
The webTeacher program is an 80-hour, interactive, online
training tutorial designed to instruct teachers about the Internet, Internet safety and
the benefits of cable-modem technology. It also guides teachers to educational Web sites
and other resources provided by cable operators and programmers.
While webTeacher is available via standard, dial-up
Internet connections, the real draw in Fort Worth was the unshackled speed of the
50-times-faster cable modems.
"Speed is an issue in the classroom," said Karen
Smith, executive director of Tech Corps. "We call a kid's attention span in class the
Referencing the Fort Worth seminar, Smith called it
"incredible to see the teachers' response to the cable-modem speed."
In step, the National Cable Television Association embraced
webTeacher as the newest component on its growing list of educational services being
provided to school districts nationwide.
Specifically, webTeacher will become part of the NCTA's
High-Speed Education Connection program, which is being developed to empower teachers with
a better understanding of the Internet and cable modems and to define educational sites
and curricula, according to NCTA officials.
With cable's growing participation in education, and with
more educators now owning personal computers, teachers have greater access to educational
resources such as webTeacher in the classroom and at home.
Ann Meyn, community liaison for technology at Tech Corps in
Fort Worth, said, "We want business and industry to help where they can to get
technology into schools, and the local cable operators have been very responsive. But
where will the rural teachers get training? With the inception of webTeacher, it
definitely fills a need."
TCA Cable TV Inc. in Tyler, Texas, is a strong proponent of
modems in the classroom and, as a webTeacher partner, it is developing a program for it.
"There's a real synergy for cable operators
here," said Linda McGuire, director of training for TCA, "because they'll most
likely be the [Internet-service provider], especially in rural school districts."
Some larger MSOs -- including Cox Communications Inc.,
MediaOne and Lenfest Communications Corp. -- also committed to partnerships with Tech
Corps and webTeacher as they enter the cable-modem business.
"More operators [most recently Falcon Cable TV Corp.]
are telling us that they want to be involved ... Cable is unique in that it has a national
umbrella and a local presence at the grassroots level," Smith said.
Plus, MSOs are quickly learning the value of
high-speed-data services as public-service tools that build cable's image.
"We considerate it a public service that we want to
provide to our schools," Mosley said. "From a marketing standpoint, many of the
teachers live in our service areas."
Although it is not on a fast track to enter the cable-modem
business, Buford Television will push the concept of modems in schools through its
partnership with webTeacher, said Lee Ann Pittard, the Tyler, Texas-based operator's
director of education and public relations.
"We're not going down the cable-modem road yet because
we have hundreds of small, rural systems. But our schools will eventually benefit from
modems and webTeacher simply through the training that teachers would receive,"