Army setting up world's largest education portal

Army setting up world's largest education portal

By Susan M. Menke

and Bill Murray

GCN Staff

JULY 11'Army Secretary Louis Caldera yesterday announced that the service will begin handing out notebook computers and printers to thousands of soldiers as early as December for online study at what he said will become 'the largest education portal in the world.'

Soldiers will take courses through the Army University Online Access portal at their barracks, which will be wired with broadband optical fiber, as well as at times during the duty week. The Army has earmarked $50 million for the project in fiscal 2001, plus $550 million over the succeeding five years.

Caldera said the portal will offer bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees as well as skill certifications. He said the education and training will have 'low or no cost to those on active duty.' Spouses of Army personnel will eventually be eligible to take the courses, he said.

Bids for the program will be solicited through CBDNet, the Commerce Business Daily online. After meeting with industry representatives on Aug. 2, Caldera said, the Army will issue a draft request for proposals on Aug. 11, a final RFP in September and the contract award in December 'to a single contractor or a consortium.' The winning bidder will manage the technology and partner with universities for course material, he said.

Next year, Army officials will roll out the Army University Access Online program to two or three installations that have yet to be determined, though bases with fiber optic network wiring will receive first consideration, Caldera said. By 2006, as many as one million soldiers will have access to the system. Classes may also be offered to the Army National Guard and Reserve, he said. He gave credit to Army National Guard officials for 'figuring out how to wire the armories and make them assets to the community' by allowing local groups to access the Guard's asynchronous transfer mode network for distance learning.

Caldera, speaking in Washington at an E-Gov trade show ceremony honoring agencies that have shown leadership in electronic learning, said the education portal eventually will become 'a nervous system for the Army.' He would not say what types of notebooks will be acquired, except that they must be highly durable and portable. He said he has deferred decisions on barracks wiring, Internet providers and computer choices to Lt. Gen. William H. Campbell, the Army's chief information officer, who is retiring this month.

Working with a reliable Internet service provider that can offer worldwide access and getting 'equipment that's durable and deployable,' are primary concerns of Army officials, Caldera said. The winning vendor will also provide maintenance services and help desk support.

T. Kevin Carroll, the program executive officer for Standard Army Management Information Systems at Fort Belvoir, Va., manages the Total Army Distance Learning Program, which Army University Access Online has grown from. Caldera said he hasn't determined what Army organization will manage the education portal.

More information about the Army University Access Online program is available at www.eArmyU.com.

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