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Technology in Schools
NCES 2003-313
November 2002


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There are two prior Forum publications in the area of technology: Technology @ Your Fingertips (NCES 98-293) and Safeguarding Your Technology (NCES 98-297). Wherever terms in the current document appeared in these prior publications, the glossary definition used there is provided below and the source is noted.


Acceptable use policy (AUP) [SYT; T@YF]: A policy designed to limit the ways in which a computer or network can be used. Acceptable use policies usually include explicit statements about the required procedures, rights, and responsibilities of a technology user. Users are expected to acknowledge and agree to all AUP stipulations as a condition of system use, as should be certified on the AUP by the user's signature.

Adaptive technologies [TiS]: External support that can be used to enhance a person's ability to function within his or her environment, such as advanced voice recognition systems, Braille computer displays, and text-to-speech programs. See also assistive technologies.

Administrative software [SYT]: Computer programs that are used to expedite the storage and use of data and information. Examples of administrative software include student records systems, personnel records systems, and transportation mapping packages.

Administrative staff [TiS]: School personnel primarily engaged in administration, management, or support roles, as opposed to instruction.

Age grouping (of computers) [TiS]: Grouping computers by time elapsed between date of purchase and the present; see also up-to-date (computer).

Alignment (of software with curriculum standards) [TiS]: The process of determining the extent to which instructional software supports specific standards for teaching and learning in a curriculum area.

Assistive technologies [TiS]: Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities. See also Adaptive technologies.



Back up [SYT; T@YF] (Verb): To make a copy of a file or program for the purpose of restoring the data if the masters were to be lost, damaged, or otherwise unavailable for use.

Backup [SYT; T@YF] (Noun): A copy of a master file or program. To be most effective from a security standpoint, backups are frequently stored at off-site locations.

Bandwidth [TiS]: The speed (usually expressed in kilobits per second [Kbps] or megabits per second [Mbps]) of the telecommunications link between a computer and a local-area network and/or an Internet service provider (ISP), routing service, or other method of connection to the Internet. Example of bandwidth level ratings: 33.6 Kbps or under; 56 Kbps; 128 Kbps; 256 Kbps; 512 Kbps; 768 Kbps (.5 T1); T1; Ethernet; DS(1) or higher.

Bit [SYT; T@YF]: A binary digit. The smallest unit of computer memory, eight of which constitute a byte. The value of each bit, as limited by the "binary" code read by computers, is either 0 or 1. See also Byte and Megabyte.

Browser [SYT; T@YF]: See Web browser.

Byte [SYT]: Eight bits. The amount of computer memory needed to store one character (i.e., a number, letter, or symbol). See also Bit and Megabyte.



Cable modem [TiS]: Hardware that encodes and decodes computer-based communications for transmission over a cable television system.

CD [TiS]: See Compact Disc.

CD-ROM (Compact Disc-Read Only Memory) [SYT]: An optical disk capable of storing large amounts of embedded electronic programs or files that can only be read from the disk (i.e., data can not be written to the disk after it has been produced). Unlike diskettes, CD-ROMs can be read by any type of computer with a CD-ROM disk drive. See also Compact disc and Diskette.

Central processing unit (CPU) [SYT]: The main chip that controls the operation of the rest of the computer (i.e., the computer's "brain," where instructions are processed and information flow is managed). In a personal computer, a microprocessor serves as the CPU.

Classroom [TiS]: The location in a school in which instructional services are regularly provided to groups of students. See also Instructional setting.

Client [SYT]: The computer (user) in a client/server network that requests the files or services. The computer that supplies the services is the server. See also Thin client, Server, and Client/server network.

Client/server network [SYT]: A network configuration in which all users access files stored on a central computer or several central computers. Each central computer is a server, and each user (actually each user's computer) is a client. See also Client, Thin client, Server, Peer-to-peer network, and Network.

Commercial service provider [T@YF]: A company that will connect one computer to other computers for the exchange of information.

Compact Disc [SYT]: A 4.75-inch optical disk that can store computer files and data, audio signals, video images, and other digital files. Compact discs are published in a variety of formats, including a read-only format (which are then called CD-ROM for Compact Disc-Read Only Memory), but when not configured as such, can be written to as well. See also CD-ROM.

Computer [T@YF]: An electronic device that stores, retrieves, and processes data, and can be programmed with instructions. A computer is composed of hardware and software, and can exist in a variety of sizes and configurations.

Computer laboratory [TiS]: An instructional setting in which computers are clustered; usually used by a group of students or a class and reserved in advance for teaching such topics as word processing or computer programming.

CPU [SYT]: See Central processing unit.



Data [SYT]: Raw information that lacks the context to be meaningful (e.g., "34" is data because it has no meaning unless some context is provided; "34 degrees Fahrenheit" has meaning and therefore becomes information). The terms "data" and "information" are often used to differentiate between computer-read (i.e., data) and human-read (i.e., information) figures and text. See also Information.

Data element [TiS]: A single entry of recorded information in a database. For example, the date of purchase for a computer is a data element, and the current date is another one. A "data element" may also be regarded as the "answer" to a survey question. See also Indicator, Key question, and Unit record.

Database [SYT]: A large collection of data that is developed and maintained for quick searching and retrieving. See also Data and Database software.

Database software [SYT; T@YF]: Computer programs designed to store large amounts of data and that allow for quick and efficient searching, retrieving, sorting, revising, analyzing, and ordering. There are two common types of databases, flat file databases and relational databases. See also Data and Administrative software.

Decision support tool [TiS]: Software that organizes information to support planning, budgeting, or other priority-setting activities.

Diskette [SYT]: A thin plastic disk on which computer programs and data can be saved outside of a computer. The two types of diskettes, also called floppy disks, are 3.5-inch disks that come in a hard plastic case and 5.25-inch disks that come in thin, pliable, cardboard-like cases.

Distance education, distance learning [TiS]: Any of a number of technologies involving course-taking or educational participation at a distance, with synchronous or asynchronous communication, between student and teacher.

DSL (Digital Subscriber Lines) [T@YF]: This technology uses existing copper pair wiring that exists in almost every home and office. Special hardware attached to both the user and switch ends of line allows data transmission over the wires at far greater speed than the standard phone wiring.

DVD-ROM (Digital Video Disc-Read Only Memory) [T@YF]: A disc like a CD-ROM that has more storage (4.7 gigabytes) and can provide digital video.



Educational technology [TiS] [From ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS)]: "Educational computing and technology encompasses knowledge about and use of computers and related technologies in (a) delivery, development, prescription, and assessment of instruction; (b) effective uses of computers as an aid to problem solving; (c) school and classroom administration; (d) educational research; (e) electronic information access and exchange; (f) personal and professional productivity; and (g) computer science education."

Electronic data interchange (EDI) [SYT]: The exchange of routine education (and business) information transactions in a computer-processable format.

Electronic mail (E-mail) [TiS]: Asynchronous (time-independent) messages sent from a user to one or more recipients over computer networks. Contrast with synchronous (time-dependent) messaging systems such as Internet chat.

E-mail address [T@YF]: An identifying address for a user's mailbox; characters identifying the user are followed by the @ symbol and the address of the mailbox's computer.

Electronic mail (e-mail) software [T@YF]: The computer programs that facilitate computer-to-computer communications among users in any location.

Extranet [T@YF]: The part of a company or organization's internal computer network that is available to outside users; for example, information services for customers.



File [SYT]: In technology systems, a file is a block of data stored on a magnetic medium such as a floppy disk, hard disk, or tape. A file may contain a computer program, a document, or other collections of data and information.

Firewall [SYT; T@YF]: An electronic boundary that prevents unauthorized users and/or packets of data or information (e.g., files and programs) from accessing a protected system.

Flat file database [T@YF]: A database where information is stored in a single table (e.g., a table in which there is a list of employees, where data about each employee follow the name).

Floppy disk [SYT]: See Diskette.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) [T@YF]: A listing of questions typically asked, along with the answers to the questions. This list is prepared to help novice users as they begin to use computers or software.

Full-time equivalent (FTE) [TiS]: Translation of hours of labor into equivalent units of full-time work, usually at the rate of eight hours to one full-time day.

Functional specifications [T@YF]: A document that states in detail what a new (or upgraded) computer system should be expected to do, i.e., what services it delivers to those who will use and maintain it. This listing of a computer system's capabilities can be compared to what can be bought from a commercial vendor or built by developers.

Functions [SYT; T@YF]: The tasks or actions that software is intended to perform. See Software functions and System functions.



Graphing calculator [TiS]: An electronic calculator that has the capability to compute and display functions in graphical form.



Hacker [SYT]: An unauthorized user who attempts to access a system and its information.

Hardware [T@YF]: The computer equipment used to do the work (i.e., operate software programs). It consists of the items you can touch, such as the computer case and the peripherals (e.g., monitor, keyboard, mouse) that are attached to the computer.

Help desk [SYT]: A source from which computer, network, or software users can receive assistance. Access to a Help desk is usually offered to users via telephone, fax, or e-mail.

Home page [T@YF]: The introductory page on a web site that usually contains a table of contents for the site and hot links to other pages. See also World Wide Web (WWW).

HTML (Hypertext markup language) [T@YF]: The formatting language used to create Web pages and specify how a page will appear on screen.

Hub [T@YF]: A device that links all client computers to the server.

Hypertext [T@YF]: Text that contains links to other parts of a document or to documents held on another computer.



Indicator [TiS]: The meaning or value assigned to a variable (i.e., the measure of a condition) in terms of its ability to demonstrate/show something. In handbooks relating to the collection of educational data from the National Forum on Education Statistics, indicators are quantitative measures that answer key questions.

Information [SYT]: Data that are meaningful (i.e., they are presented in a context that allows them to be read by a human as opposed to being read by a computer). See also Data.

Instructional management software [T@YF]: The computer programs that serve as tools to be used by teachers to prepare for instruction and maintain records. Some typical instructional management applications include gradebook programs and curriculum builders such as crossword puzzle generators.

Instructional setting [TiS]: Any setting in a school in which regular instruction is provided, such as a classroom or laboratory. See also Classroom.

Instructional software [SYT]: Computer programs that allow students to learn new content, practice using content already learned, and/or be evaluated on how much content they currently know. These programs allow teachers and students to demonstrate concepts, perform simulations, and record and analyze data. Sometimes application software such as database programs and spreadsheets can also be used within the instructional context to help analyze and present data and information. See also Administrative software.

Instructional support applications [TiS]: Software or computer-based systems that support instruction or instructional management. Examples include lesson planning software and student attendance systems.

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) [SYT]: An international set of telecommunication standards that allow voice, video, and data to be digitally transmitted over wire or optical fiber lines.

Internet [T@YF]: A world-wide network of computer networks through which people can exchange data and communications.

Internet connection [TiS]: A telecommunications link between a computer or a local-area network and the global Internet. Examples of connection types: dial-up via modem; wired LAN and router; wireless LAN and router; cable modem; satellite/modem hybrid link; full satellite (two-way) link.

Internet phone, voice-over-IP (VoIP): Telephone communications, usually long-distance, using the Internet as part of the communications link.

Internet Service Provider (ISP) [SYT]: An organization that provides access to the Internet. Commercial providers, nonprofit organizations, and schools can serve as ISPs. See also Internet.

Intranet [T@YF]: A localized network of computers that is used to communicate electronically within that specific area.

ISDN [SYT]: See Integrated Services Digital Network.

ISP: See Internet Service Provider.



Key question [TiS]: Those questions that become central and organizing inquiries that reflect the concerns of policy makers and decision makers, school administrators, researchers, or the interested public. Questions whose answers are of particular interest to decision makers. See also indicator and data element.

Kilobit: 1,024 (210) bits.

Kilobyte: The amount of memory required to store 1,024 (210) characters.



LAN [SYT]: See Local area network.

Laboratory (computer) [TiS]: See Computer laboratory.

Laptop [SYT]: A portable personal computer that is small enough to fit on a person's lap (i.e., it weighs less than eight pounds). Laptops are usually capable of being powered by rechargeable batteries. See also Computer.

Library [SYT]: See Media library.

Local area network (LAN) [SYT]: An interconnected system of computers and/or peripheral equipment (e.g., printers) that is confined to a limited area, such as a room, building, or campus, and enables connected users to communicate and share information and resources. See also Wide area network (WAN).



Maintenance contract [SYT]: An agreement with an outside service or agency (e.g., the vendor who sold the equipment) to maintain or repair a computer system (and its peripheral equipment).

Media library [SYT]: An on-site location that serves as a repository for archived files and software, and allows for security measures to be concentrated and even intensified. Note that a media library is not a substitute for off-site storage of backups. See also Off-site storage.

Megabit: 1,048,576 (220) bits.

Megabyte (MB) [SYT; T@YF]: The amount of computer memory needed to store 1,048,576 (220) characters (which is roughly equivalent to a novel of average length). Megabytes are used to describe the amount of memory on a diskette, hard disk, or in random access memory (RAM). See also Bit and Byte.

Megahertz (MHz) [SYT; T@YF]: A measure of the clock speed of a central processing unit (CPU) expressed in millions of cycles per second. See also Central processing unit (CPU).

Modem [TiS]: Originally short for "modulator-demodulator," a device that converts digital signals to analog ones (and vice versa) suitable for transmission over telephone lines. A device used to connect computers to one another via telephone lines, television cable, or other forms of connection such as ADSL.

Monitor [T@YF]: A device similar to a television screen that receives video signals from the computer and displays the information for the user.

Mouse [T@YF]: A handheld pointing device (used on top of a desk) that gives directions to the computer and moves information around on a monitor screen.

Multimedia [T@YF]: A computer capable of utilizing more than one communication medium such as CD-ROM, DVD, speakers, etc.

Multimedia computer [TiS]: Computers capable of running Windows 95 or Macintosh OS 8.0 or later operating systems, with chipsets such as the Intel 486 or Motorola 68040 or better, with at least 16 MB of random-access memory (RAM), with CD-ROM or DVD player, and with a sound card, manufactured in the five years prior to data collection.

Multitasking [T@YF]: The concurrent execution of several jobs.



Needs assessment [SYT]: The process of determining the system functions and software functions that an organization or user will require of a computer or network (i.e., what the system will be "needed" to do). The product of a needs assessment is initially a list of functional specifications and, ultimately (when completed and combined with the system's technical requirements), a needs statement. See also System functions, Functional specifications, Technical requirements, and Needs statement.

Needs statement [SYT]: A description of the functional specifications, technical requirements, and security standards that dictate the selection of a technology solution. Accurate needs statements usually require input from a range of potential users and are the product of a needs assessment. See also Functional specifications, Technical requirements, and Needs assessment.

Network [SYT]: A group of computers (technically, two or more) connected to each other to share software, data, files, and peripheral equipment. Also, the hardware and software needed to connect the computers together. See also Local area network (LAN), Wide area network (WAN), Client/server network, Peer-to-peer network, Intranet, Internet, and World Wide Web (WWW).

Node [SYT]: A point of access on a network (i.e., a point of connection). See also Network.



Off-site [SYT]: A location other than an organization's primary work site or place of business. See also Off-site storage.

Off-site storage [SYT]: A location for the storage of backups that is physically independent of the primary site of file use. The purpose of off-site storage is to decrease the likelihood of a single catastrophic event damaging or destroying both the master files (originals) and any backups. For example, if a fire were to break out in a building, it is conceivable that the entire structure could be destroyed. If backups were maintained in that building, they would probably be lost with the master files; but if the backups were at a different location (i.e., in off-site storage), they would be much more likely to survive the event.

On-line [SYT]: The status of being connected to a computer or network or having access to information that is available through the use of a computer or network. See also Remote access.

Operating system software [T@YF]: The electronic instructions that control the computer and run the programs. This software is generally specific to a type of computer (e.g., Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT).



Peer-to-peer network [SYT]: A network configuration in which each user stores files on his or her own computer for other network users to access. See also Client/server network and Network.

Peripheral [T@YF]: A device that is attached to a computer, such as a monitor, keyboard, mouse, modem, CD-ROM, DVD, printer, scanner, or speakers.

Peripheral equipment [SYT]: Any of a variety of devices that are attached to a computer, including monitors, keyboards, modems, printers, scanners, and speakers. See also Monitor and Modem.

Project management software [T@YF]: Software programs that provide tools to help manage projects, such as integrated calendars, report generators, scheduling, charting, tracking, prioritizing, etc.

Project team [T@YF]: The group of persons responsible for carrying out the successful implementation of the technology solution.

Protocol [T@YF]: The set of standards and rules, such as Ethernet or token ring, that lets networked computers communicate or share information.



Relational database [T@YF]: A database where data are stored in more than one table, each one containing different types of data. The different tables can be linked so that information from the separate files can be used together.

Remote access [SYT; T@YF]: The act of accessing a computer or network from a location that is removed from the physical site of the computer or network. Remote access is often accomplished via the use of a modem. See also Modem.

Resources [SYT]: See Technology resources.

Resolution [T@YF]: The clarity of the images produced on a monitor screen.

Router [T@YF]: A device that regulates network traffic as its enters another network, and makes sure that messages go to the correct network site.



Scanner [T@YF]: An input device that takes in an optical image and digitizes it into an electronic image represented as binary data. This can be used to create a computerized version of a photo or illustration.

Screen saver [T@YF]: A computer program that automatically displays a moving image or pattern on a monitor screen after a pre-set period of inactivity.

Search engine [T@YF]: Software that searches for specific information or files on the Internet using search criteria that you enter.

Security [T@YF]: Protection from threats to the equipment, functioning, and contents of a technology solution.

Security audit [SYT]: A methodical examination and review of system and user activity.

Security policy [SYT]: Clear, comprehensive, and well-defined plans, rules, and practices designed to protect and regulate access to an organization's system and the information that comprises it. The security policy describes the ideal status toward which all organizational security efforts should lead.

Server [SYT]: The computer in a client/server network that supplies the files or services. The computer (user) that requests the services is the "client." See also Client,Thin client, and Client/server network.

Software functions [SYT]: The tasks, activities, or operations that a piece of software is intended to perform. See also Functional specifications,Needs assessment, and System functions.

Spreadsheet software [T@YF]: Computer programs (e.g., Excel, Lotus) that have efficient and accurate methods of working with numbers. They are used to perform a wide variety of simple to complex calculations, and offer charting and graphing capabilities.

Standards [TiS]: Guidelines for developing curriculum and guiding teacher and student behavior. Standards define a common agreement on what ought to be taught or learned.

Standards for technology competency [TiS]: Guidelines that specify what a teacher or a student ought to know and be able to accomplish with technology.

Steering committee [T@YF]: A group of persons who meet periodically to evaluate the progress and success of the implementation of the technology solution.

Storage media [SYT]: Any of a variety of agents or mechanisms for storing electronic data or files, including disks, tapes, and compact discs. See also Diskette and Compact disc.

Student [TiS]: Person enrolled in a school, whether part or full time.

Surfing [SYT]: The act of exploring locations and browsing contents of World Wide Web sites on the Internet. See also Web browser.

System [SYT; T@YF]: A group of elements, components, or devices that are assembled to serve a common purpose. In a technological system, this refers to all hardware, software, networks, cables, peripheral equipment, information, data, personnel, and procedures (i.e., all technology resources) that comprise a computer environment. See also Hardware,Network, Information,Data,Technology resources, and System functions.

System functions [SYT]: A list of the specific capabilities a computer or network should be able to perform (or staff should be able to do when using the system). Examples of possible functions include storage and retrieval capabilities, calculation and processing capabilities, reporting and output capabilities, and telecommunications capabilities. See also System,Functional specifications,Needs assessment, and Software functions.



TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol over Internet Protocol) [SYT]: The de facto standard communications protocol used for networking. See also Network and Protocol.

Teacher [TiS]: Instructional leader in a school setting.

Technical requirements [SYT]: Straightforward statements that describe the necessary parameters of a technology solution. These parameters should address topics such as the number of people who will use the system at a single time; where users are located; the numbers and types of transactions that need to be processed; and the types of technology components that need to interact. See also Software functions,System functions, and Needs assessment.

Technical support staff [SYT]: Those persons who support and maintain an information system once it has been established. See also Technology resources.

Technology in Schools [TiS]: The collection of electric and electronic devices, and related institutional and individual behaviors and practices, that are used in support of administrative and instructional applications in public and private educational settings in the United States. See also Educational technology.

Technology resources [T@YF]: The hardware, software, networks and networking capability, staff, dollars and context which together can be used in the implementation of a technology solution.

Telecommuter [SYT]: An individual who works at home or at another location that is physically removed from a place of employment via the use of technology (e.g., computers, modems, and fax machines). See also Remote access.

Thin client [SYT]: A networking system in which the client (i.e., the user's computer) in a client/server network handles very little of the processing because the majority of processing is managed by the server. See also Client,Server,Client/server network, and Network.

Tool skills [TiS]: The basic abilities needed to operate computers and computer-based applications.



Unit record [TiS]: A collection of data elements for a given object. A row in a database. For example, to define a computer, various data elements are needed (e.g., speed, CPU, network card, etc.). The unit record (or elements from it) may be proposed as the answer to a question (e.g., How many multimedia computers are in the school?). See also Data element.

Up-to-date (computer) [TiS]: Computer manufactured within five years prior to data collection. See also Age grouping (of computers).

Upgrade [T@YF]: To install a higher version or release of software on a computer system, or to add memory or newer types of equipment to a computer system.

URL (Uniform resource locator) [T@YF]: A World Wide Web address composed of several parts, including the protocol, the server where the resource resides, and the path and the file name of the resource. Example:

User [SYT]: In information and technology systems, a user is a person who accesses a system. Education organization users typically include (1) instructional staff who provide instruction or perform instructional management tasks using technology and (2) administrative staff who use technology to manage the routine and non-routine administrative activities of an organization as efficiently as possible. Students, parents, and community members can also be users.

Utility software [T@YF]: Computer programs that help to manage, recover, and back up files.



Variable: A basic term in the social sciences, one of a number that helps give specific definition to entities in the social sciences. A concept associated with an operation of observation or measurement; the essence of its definition is that it takes on different values for members of a group. In the present document, the term indicator corresponds most closely to the usual definition of a variable in the social sciences.

Version [SYT]: A major edition of a computer program. The version number changes when a software developer makes major alterations to the software (e.g., significant new features are added). The version number is a whole number following the name of the software, in contrast to the release number, which is the decimal number after the version number. For example, when Software 2.0 undergoes minor changes, it could be re-released as Software 2.1. When it later undergoes significant revamping, the new version would be Software 3.0. See also Upgrade.

Videoconferencing [TiS]: Interactive video-based communication. Two-way (or multi-way) videoconferencing involves video links between all participants; one-way videoconferencing involves video in one direction, with audio links in the other.



WAN [SYT]: See Wide area network.

Web [SYT]: See World Wide Web (WWW).

Web browser [T@YF]: Software that allows a user to locate, view, and access information from World Wide Web sites via the use of a graphical interface (e.g., Internet Explorer, Netscape).

Wide area network (WAN) [SYT]: An interconnected system of computers and networks (including local area networks) that surpasses local area networks in scope (e.g., WANs can span building to building, city to city, across the country, and internationally). These data communications linkages (e.g., dedicated lines and radio waves) are designed to allow large numbers of users to communicate and access information. See also Local area network (LAN).

Wireless [SYT]: A network system in which there is no physical connection between two pieces of equipment (i.e., instead of a wire or fiber optic links connecting computers, they communicate via radio waves). See also Network.

Word processing software [T@YF]: Computer programs that allow documents to be typed, revised, formatted, and printed quickly and efficiently (e.g. Word, WordPerfect).

World Wide Web (WWW) [T@YF]: A system that allows access to information sites all over the world using a standard, common interface to organize and search for information. The WWW simplifies the location and retrieval of various forms of information including text, audio and video files.