Making the Grade With Palm-Based Products


A virtual university recently has been accredited by the respected North Central Assn. of Colleges and Schools, giving a boost to both the online scholastic venture and similar Net-based efforts as a whole.

Jones International University, based in Colorado and founded in 1995, offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business communications. North Central Assn., one of six regional accrediting groups in the U.S., is responsible for colleges and schools in 19 states.

The accreditation means that Jones International now joins the ranks of other North Central-approved institutions, including Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan.


“Among other things, this means our students now can apply for federal financial aid and employer tuition reimbursement for taking classes with us,” said Sherrie Lotito, a corporate spokeswoman for Jones International. “That means a lot for our students, mostly people who have dropped out of college at one point and now want to continue their education.”

A spate of online learning ventures has popped up in the past year, making the Internet the hot new lecture hall for both collegiate and graduate courses. One of the earliest programs was the California Virtual University, where hundreds of California universities and colleges--from Stanford University to UC Irvine--offer scores of courses and programs.

There are many others. London-based Semple Piggot Norrie Aquino, a legal education company, has launched a British law-degree program taught entirely on the Internet. And Kaplan Educational Center’s new Concord University School of Law launched a four-year juris doctorate program last fall that is offered entirely online.

But such projects, though popular with consumers, have raised questions about whether electronic learning can truly replace the campus variety.

“It’s a really hot area right now,” said Kristina Ellis, manager of intranet resources at the nonprofit trade association 21st Century Teachers Network. “But it will never replace the real thing. Most teachers are resistant to education [going] completely online, because students miss out on the physical action.”


When teachers at St. Mary and All Angels School take roll, they reach for their Palm Pilots.

Flying into the future of high-tech education, this small parochial school in Aliso Viejo relies on an innovative software application developed by SchoolSoft.Net to eliminate the need for attendance and grade books.

The company’s products let teachers at the K-8 school store and track student information. Instructors quickly type grades, homework assignments and progress reports either into the desktop computer or their hand-held device. The software then feeds this data into the school’s computer server, which synchronizes the information.

SchoolSoft.Net, a Cupertino-based firm with offices in Westlake Village, specializes in educational software that works both on hand-held devices and PCs. About 330 schools in the United States use the SchoolSoft programs, said company co-founder Jim Weldon.

Like these education products, a host of software applications have sprung up around the popular Palm line of devices by 3Com Corp., which dominates the hand-held-computer market. Enthusiasts have developed numerous tools for the tiny devices, ranging from database software to games of geek-speak Yahtzee.

“We’ve got some schools that are using the [products] to let parents access this data on the Web,” Weldon said. “The key is to help parents and teachers work together, and make sure the child succeeds at school.”

Teachers at St. Mary plan to put some of their school records on the Net, so parents can get to it at any time of the day. Once the system is in place, say administrators, families will be able to find out about upcoming tests and update health records and emergency contact information.

The system is password-protected to ensure that parents can get data only about their own children.

“So many of our parents are technically savvy, and they want to do a lot of their interaction with the school electronically,” said Betina Pang, director of technology for St. Mary. “Security obviously is an issue. But so is building the ties between parents and teachers.”

P.J. Huffstutter covers high technology for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at