Four technology heavyweights in the Triangle are working with North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation to develop means of improving education and spreading access to technology across North Carolina.

SAS, Cisco, IBM and Nortel are contributing hardware, software, technical expertise and networking technology to the effort, which was unveiled on Wednesday.

A point of emphasis for the project is to utilize technology and networking in ways that enable schools from across North Carolina to get access to the latest and best educational applications.

“Access to curriculum enhancing content and classroom management tools should not be limited on the basis of geography or economy,” said Ed Paradise, Cisco’s Research Triangle Park site executive. “Cisco’s vision for education is that the Internet is an equalizer, allowing ubiquitous access to content that will enhance learning and achievement. Cisco’s partnership with the Friday Institute and North Carolina State University is a step in realizing this vision of universal access in education.”

The project will include creation of applications for use by educators.

“Through collaboration with the world’s leading technology companies and the nationally renowned engineering, computer science and information technology expertise at the university, we have the opportunity to approach educational challenges in new and innovative ways,” said Hiller Spires, senior director of the Friday Institute. “Technology alone is not the answer, but innovation through sophisticated technologies can be a catalyst to drive educational transformation for the 21st century, inspiring children to learn and succeed.”

The Friday Institute is a public-private education research partnership based at NCSU’s Centennial Campus. It is named after William and Ida Friday. William is president emeritus of the University of North Carolina system.

IBM has been working with NCSU’s Department of Computer Science and the Information Technology Division on a virtual computing lab since 2004. IBM helped underwrite the cost of the lab with a research grant. The lab includes 30 IBM BladeCenter servers.

“Through our long-standing partnership with N.C. State, we were able to collectively create this innovative, and easy-to-use solution that expands the resources available to our state’s teachers and students,” said Sue Horn, IBM vice president and site executive of the Software Group in the Triangle. “This project shows how both IBM software and hardware can be used to enhance the learning experience, thereby helping to foster math and science skills, to ensure the next generation of students are prepared when they enter the job market.”

Cisco already offers high-speed wireline and wireless capability for access to the lab.

Nortel plans to offer multimedia collaboration services. Nortel also provides Voice over Internet Protocol telephony service for the Friday Institute and is working with NCSU to deploy a wireless network for Centennial Campus.

“The relationship that Nortel has with the Friday Institute serves as a model demonstrating the power of partnership between business and higher education to deliver cutting edge resources to students of all ages anywhere,” said Bill Donovan, senior vice president of Nortel. “The goal of this project is to enable students in rural areas to take advantage of high-quality learning opportunities as if they were physically located at the Friday Institute, breaking through the boundaries of geography and access.”

SAS, meanwhile, is supporting application development with its analytical software.

“Education is a powerful pathway to possibility for individuals, organizations and communities,” said Mark Milliron, Ph.D., vice president of the SAS Education and Medical Practice and a lifelong educator. “It opens doors to economic opportunity and individual empowerment in a way no other force can. Our partnership with the Friday Institute exemplifies not only what technology companies should do to help drive innovation in education, but what we must do to ensure that today’s students are equipped to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

The Institute said it would make the lab and new applications available to schools across the state as a service, thus requiring the schools to provide less technical support at the district level.

“The technology platform will deliver services based on a utility model,” said Phil Emer, director of technology at the Friday Institute. “Like we use electricity, teachers and students in schools anywhere in the state can tap into a grid of new services. The services are virtual — available wherever they are needed regardless of where they originate. They are also transparent — the complex computing, data and networking infrastructure works behind the scenes. Through the portal, teachers and students simply request the services, which are available on demand, whenever they need them. Because the technology platform is managed at the university, schools do not have the burden and cost of purchasing, operating and maintaining the enabling technology.”

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