May 17, 2000; Wednesday
AOL Offers Free Service To Schools
By Paul Tolme
America Online Inc. will offer a free service to schools that company officials say will make it easier for students and teachers to use the Internet in the classroom.
Critics said the venture could be a cash cow in the future because it will help build brand loyalty and perhaps create a generation of future AOL customers.
AOL@School, being launched today, will have separate portals for elementary, middle and high school students that will help pupils reach the best educational Web sites, officials said.
Students will see no ads other than the AOL logo will not be able to purchase goods online and will be blocked from accessing pornography or other offensive material, officials said. Students will be able to send e-mail and instant messages to encourage group online activities or to establish pen pals in faraway schools.
The only revenue, which will not cover the cost of providing the service, will be from ads targeted at teachers and administrators in separate areas inaccessible to students, they said.
''We don't think of this as a business opportunity,'' chief executive Steve Case said in a conference call.
Others said the initiative sounds good but raises concerns.
''I'm suspicious,'' said Andrew Hagelshaw, executive director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, based in Oakland, Calif.
Schools spend vast sums on supplies, textbooks and other goods, so a company like Amazon.com or an office supply chain could negotiate exclusive rights to market their goods to school administrators, he said.
''I would tell school boards: Before you sign up for this, make sure to approve a commercialism policy that lays out what activities are acceptable,'' he added.
Alex Molnar, head of the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said AOL@School sounds like an improvement over ventures such as Channel One, which provides free television service to schools by featuring ads targeted at youths.
''The fact they have made a decision to keep it clear of ads is good,'' he said. ''But we'll have to keep our eyes on this.''
Case declined to give the cost of building and providing the service and stressed that it is a contribution to the nation's schools.
No marketing information would be gathered on students because they only use their first name and a password to access the service, officials said.
About 95 percent of schools are connected to the Internet, although most educators feel their already hectic schedules make it difficult for them to use its full potential in the classroom, Case said.
AOL, based in Dulles, worked with education groups representing school boards, administrators and teachers to find the Web sites to be accessed by students. Among the sites featured are the Library of Congress; Ask Dr. Universe, a site run by Washington State University where scientific questions are answered; and webmath.com which gives step-by-step solutions to math problems, from decimals to dreaded word problems.
Schools will be notified in newspaper ads and through various education associations. The program was launched now to give schools time to install the software and have it operating for fall classes.
Critics of the commercialization of America's schools have complained about ads that appear in some textbooks and the exclusive contracts Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola have negotiated with education officials to put their machines in schools. Other companies put company logos in hallways or on buses.
On the Net: AOL@School: www.school.aol.com
Center for Commercial-Free Public Education: www.commercialfree.org
|[Top] - [Home] - [Press Room] - [Become a Member]|