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IBM eyes Web – Tackling social problems

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By Todd Cohen

IBM this year will launch Web-based tools to expand its efforts to boost the performance of students and teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The company, based in Armonk, N.Y., also is refining a new tool to give senior citizens and people with disabilities easier access to the Web, and is expanding initiatives to boost early-childhood computer learning and help science and technology museums use the Web.

“We are applying technology to social problems,” says Stan Litow, IBM’s vice president for corporate community relations.

IBM announced in June it would spend $25 million on its Reinventing Education initiative over the next two years in addition to $45 million it has invested since launching it in 1994-95.

New efforts include making available to teachers-in-training online tools used by classroom teachers; creating an “educational operating system” providing access to IBM’s full suite of online education tools; and launching a “change-management toolkit” to help school leaders adopt IBM’s online education tools for their school systems.

IBM, which in 2002 expects to match the estimated $130 million in corporate giving it contributed in 2001, will select teacher-training institutions, school districts and state education departments as partners to make available to prospective teachers Web-based tools developed as part of its Reinventing Education initiative.

Those tools are designed, for example, to help teachers plan lessons, assess student work, evaluate digital student portfolios of their work and identify best teaching practices.

The company also is developing a single “Wired For Learning/Learning Village” platform to bring together Reinventing Education tools it has developed to help teachers carry out a broad range of tasks such as finding educational data, making decisions, assessing student and classroom needs, holding online conferences with parents, contacting mentors online and identifying best teaching practices.

Working with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, IBM also has developed an online toolkit to help school leaders manage change.

The toolkit, to be tested in selected states this year, aims to help leaders of national, state and district education systems navigate the process of changing their strategies on topics ranging from training and assessing teachers to scheduling classes and getting parents more involved in their children’s education.

IBM also plans to refine a “transcoding” tool it has developed to make the Web more accessible to groups such as senior citizens and disabled people who may face hurdles in using it.

The tool, which IBM piloted in 2001 with San Francisco-based SeniorNet, can perform a range of tasks, such as summarizing written text or converting it to voice, resizing type, and reformatting pages and paragraphs.

IBM also will launch a Web site for – and double — its Kidsmart initiative that has donated 6,000 early-learning computer centers in the United States and 2,000 abroad.

And it will donate online kiosks to more than 100 science and technology museums participating in tryscience.org, a virtual-museum that targets youngsters eight years old through middle school.

The kiosks will let the museums build the virtual site into their own exhibits. Created by a partnership involving IBM and an association representing 450 museums, tryscience is available in six languages and lets museums team up to create exhibits and share materials.

The Reinventing Education initiative recently landed IBM the 2001 Annual Excellence in Corporate Citizenship Award of the New York-based Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy.

The company also was cited in a new study by The Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College as a “particularly strong leader in international corporate community involvement, with well-developed strategies, management processes and programs.”

By gearing its technology to social needs, Litow says, IBM has adapted its corporate strategy of applying technology to business problems.

The key, he says, is “getting people in the community involved in this process.”

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