As schools and districts incorporate technology into their overall operations and curriculum, finding the funds to support the growing infrastructure becomes more and more of a challenge. Increasingly, schools are looking to students to fill the gap when it comes to technical support, but often without the means to provide them with formal — and expert — instruction or mentoring. IT academies developed by large technology companies such as Cisco and Oracle offer one response to this dilemma. These academies improve the quality of tech support through sophisticated training for students while also allowing them to acquire valuable industry-recognized certifications that will prepare them for future careers.
Whether they're called "IT academy," "network academy," or "Internet academy," these programs are all designed to supply schools with a start-to-finish, in-house curriculum they can employ in a classroom setting. The majority target high school students and are available internationally, with some offering more advanced certification options at the college level. And most programs include a training component for the instructor running the academy — which usually tends to be a school's technology coordinator or computer teacher (see "The Certified Educator" below, for additional opportunities).
Each of the IT academies listed below has some unique characteristics. Microsoft, for example, tailors its materials and certification exams to show mastery of Microsoft technologies, while 3Com's program is platform neutral. All offer some form of online assistance, from technical data libraries to e-mail correspondence with a professional. Costs for schools vary, ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. The Student TECH CORPS is an exception, with the fee supported by the community or local companies. Read on to learn more.
3Com NetPrep is designed to train high school students to build and maintain computer networks; and prepare them for careers in network administration (A program targeting colleges is also available).
Courses, generally taught in sequence throughout the school year, cover four main areas: networking fundamentals, local-area networks, wide-area networks, and network architectures. In addition to textbooks, lab exercises, and Web-based materials, the curriculum includes an online message board that lets students obtain real-time feedback and support in their studies. Once they've completed the program, they're eligible to go on to take industry-standard certifications such as Network+, i-Net+, and Security+ via a third party. Educators interested in becoming NetPrep instructors must be certified through a 3Com Authorized Regional Training Center.
The cost is $45-$50 per student per course; $1,000 enrollment fee for schools (part of which may used as an advance on student training materials); $125 for instructor certification. Students may also purchase licenses to participate in online-only courses, which are between $23 and $30. A free 120-day evaluation kit is available. (888) 452-6902; www.3com.com
Cisco Networking Academy
Cisco Networking Academy, in partnership with Sun Microsystems, prepares students for Cisco-specific certifications, as well as a variety of vendor-neutral professional certifications ranging from Cable Communications Specialist to Wireless LAN Design Specialist.
Combining face-to-face lectures, online learning, and hands-on laboratory exercises, the academy's secondary school curriculum is four semesters in length and culminates in a Cisco Certified Network Associate certification exam. The learning environment is facilitated by "e-learning centers" where students can log in and converse with peers from around the globe, and access online industry news and white papers.
Cisco has a hierarchy of regional academies, with each regional academy training and supporting up to 10 local programs. To participate, schools are required to have a dedicated classroom, no more than a 3-to-1 student-teacher ratio, and a sufficient Internet connection to support all computers. Instructors must be Cisco-certified to teach the academy's courses.
Annual participation costs range from $700 to $1,000; instructor certification requires three training courses for a total cost of $2,100. In addition, schools are required to buy a software bundle for $1,850. (800) 553-6387; cisco.netacad.net
Microsoft IT Academy
Microsoft's IT Academy program offers students training in Microsoft products, from desktop productivity to networking. Schools can select one of three available packages. The most basic package, Office Specialist, geared for grades K-12, develops proficiency in programs such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft FrontPage, and prepares students for Microsoft Office Specialist certification. The second package, IT Pro, is available only to high schools and includes entry-level training in networking and software development, one faculty training program, and preparation for the IT Pro (Microsoft Certified Professional) certification. IT Pro Plus membership expands on the IT Pro package by offering additional faculty training and a TechNet subscription, among other benefits.
All of these packages include online support: a forum for students to view seminars and post questions; study tools and reference guides; a career center highlighting various IT jobs; and a testing center for taking practice exams.
Instructors must be Microsoft Certified Trainers or hold certification in the specific product areas they teach. School faculty can go to regional centers for training or take online courses.
Office Specialist is $550; IT Pro is $1,500; and IT Pro Plus is $5,000. IT Academies also receive vouchers for 40 percent off the cost of certification exams, which cost $125-$130. (800) 508-8454; www.microsoftITacademy.com
Oracle Internet Academy
Oracle's two-year Internet Academy program targets high school students ages 16-19 and focuses on database management and Java programming. The first year of the training covers the fundamentals of database systems, followed by database programming using SQL. In the second year, students learn the elements, design interfaces, and applications of Java. Throughout the program, Oracle incorporates resume building and other career-oriented activities. Upon completion, students are prepared for the Advanced Placement Computer Science Exam and have the opportunity to be Oracle certified.
To house the Oracle Internet Academy, schools must have a dedicated T-1 Internet connection, access to NT workstations, and an Oracle-certified instructor who has attended the Oracle Academy Instructor's Institute and passed its exam. Oracle recommends that students have a ninth grade reading and writing level, have taken Algebra I, and have some prior knowledge of a programming language other than SQL or Java.
Participation fees are based on the number of Oracle Internet Academy Instructors. The Database Management/SQL Programming and the Java curriculum each have a "Year One" fee that covers training and is $3,000 per instructor. Once an instructor is certified as an Academy Instructor, there is an annual renewal fee of $500. (650) 506-9616; academy.oracle.com
Student TECH CORPS
Student TECH CORPS, a new program from the nonprofit TECH CORPS, offers basic technology training from hardware repair and software applications to customer relations for better tech support. The TECH CORPS staff delivers online training designed for middle and high school students in a 6-8 week course offered either as an extracurricular activity or as a class during school hours.
When students have completed their training, the program offers online and performance-based testing, requiring a score of 80 percent or higher to receive TECH CORPS's Pre-Professional Technology certification. Modeled after proprietary professional certifications such as Microsoft's Certified System Engineer, TECH CORPS's certification is not vendor specific. The program also provides the procedures, training, and call tracking software for implementing a student-run help desk.
Unlike other programs aimed at developing student technical skills, TECH CORPS entails no cost to the schools. (978) 897-8282; www.techcorps.org/student
Clinton Sands is a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where he received a research award from the National Association for Information Technology Professionals.
The Certified Educator
While most IT academies include a certification component for educators, the following is a sampling of additional training options available.
Apple currently provides two certifications: Apple Certified Technical Coordinator and Apple Certified System Administrator. The ACTC trains IT professionals to provide effective OS X support and maintain the Mac OS X Server platform. The ACSA is aimed at full-time professional system administrators who manage complex multiplatform deployments. Apple also offers specialization exams on selected technical topics. train.apple.com/cert
Certiport has several offerings, including Microsoft Office Specialist certification; World Organization of Webmasters certification; and Internet and Computing Core certification, which tests basic use of computer hardware, software, networking, and the Internet. www.certiport.com
Element K's training courses range from Oracle-specific courses such as SQL and SQL Plus programming to classes offering Cisco CCNA and CCNP certification. CompTIA A+ certification is also available, providing training in computer components and troubleshooting issues associated with tech support. www.elementk.com
Microsoft offers a wide variety of courses in preparation for certification, from training in Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows XP to Microsoft's SQL Server. All training and certifications are offered through Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers. www.microsoft.com/traincert
Sun Microsystems provides professional IT certification in several of their product areas, including Java Technology, Sun ONE Middleware, the Solaris Operating Environment, and Network Storage. Training is conducted by regional testing centers with some support and preparation assistance offered online. suned.sun.com/US/certification
Help for the Help Desk
While not geared toward certification like the IT academies covered here, Generation TECH from Generation YES offers a comprehensive curriculum for developing students' technical and communication skills so they can provide tech support for their school. Courses include Computer Construction, Component Identification, and Computer Networking. For more information, see www.genyes.org/products/gentech.
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