4. Distance Learning

The same principles that apply to distance learning in the IT space also apply to education.

Teachers, for example, need training and to attend meetings, but schools can't afford for them to miss classes to do so; nor can they afford to pay substitutes. Distance learning is one solution. Thanks to a bill President Bush just signed into law,H.R.1, the elementary and secondary education act,it will soon be easier for schools to provide distance-learning capabilities for their teachers. H.R.1 will allot $450 million to states to bolster math and science curriculums and teaching techniques, including the use of technology in the classroom. Additionally, H.R.1 will help schools establish distance-learning programs for math, engineering and science teachers.

Ironically, many teachers need training on the very computers the schools have fought so hard to obtain. Through distance learning, they can get that training on their own systems without missing a day's work. Under Title II of the Higher Education Act, there is a program to aid in such training, "Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers To Use Technology."

"If a taxpayer goes [to the school for an open house, sees a system sitting there and the teacher doesn't know how to use it, that sends up red flags," says Ingram's Stegner. "Taxpayers complain that they paid for the equipment, and nobody knows how to use it." VARs, Stegner says, can provide equipment and the training to go with it.

"Sometimes the students are so tech-savvy that they are the ones telling the teachers how to use [the systems," says Marjorie Bynum, vice president of workforce development at the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), an Arlington, Va.-based organization dedicated to issues of global public policy in the IT industry. "You can't ignore that [the teachers need their own professional development time."

Another raison d'%EAtre for distance learning in classrooms is that students in rural districts need and deserve the same access to advanced coursework and specialized training that students in other areas of the country might take for granted. Distance learning,particularly if it's interactive,lets the school district make the most of its specialized instructors without having to shuffle them from school to school.

Mat Dziuba is the supervisor of wide area networks for Erie 1 BOCES. The consortium serves some 100 school districts with a quarter of a million students in western New York. Dziuba says BOCES currently has approximately 50 classrooms with distance-learning capabilities, including full-motion video that's live and fully interactive. The system currently in place is a bundled Verizon solution that's being used to offer advanced-placement coursework to a rural school district, college credits in other areas, and to allow community agencies that deal with children or teens (e.g., teen pregnancy centers) access to the schools. Dziuba says the broadcast quality the schools now have in their solutions works well; the challenge is expanding those capabilities to incorporate H.323 standards, which move the images over the data network to a wider audience. That can result in poor quality that some fear could cause students to lose interest.

5. Unified Messaging and Voice Over IP

6. Security