$10 million for improving foreign language instruction

This program from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will provide $10 million in grants to local educational agencies for innovative model programs providing for the establishment, improvement, or expansion of foreign language study for elementary and secondary school students. For 2003, preference will be given to proposals that establish, improve, or expand foreign language learning in grades K-8—especially Russian, Chinese, and Arabic—or proposals that establish a foreign language program in underserved schools. Preference also will be given to applications that make effective use of technology—such as computer-assisted instruction, language laboratories, or distance learning—to promote foreign language study. ED expects to make about 90 awards ranging from $50,000 to $175,000.


$9.9 million for tech-prep education projects

This $9.9 million U.S. Department of Education program provides grants to enable consortia described in section 204(a) of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998 to carry out tech-prep education projects authorized by section 207 of the Perkins Act that involve the location of a secondary school on the site of a community college, a business as a member of the consortium, and the voluntary participation of secondary school students. ED expects to make 14 awards ranging from $600,000 to $700,000.


$8.36 million to intergrate arts curricula

The Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination Grant Program supports the development, documentation, evaluation and dissemination of innovative, cohesive models that have demonstrated their effectiveness in (1) integrating arts into the core elementary and middle school curricula, (2) strengthening arts instruction in these grades, and (3) improving students’ academic performance, including their skills in creating, performing, and responding to the arts. The U.S. Department of Education expects to grant 33 awards ranging from $293,000 to $836,000.


Follow-up: Board OKs instruction by computers

In a clear validation of technology’s place in the classroom, the Connecticut Board of Education has ruled there is nothing illegal about a controversial program for at-risk students in Woodbury, Conn., that relies on computers instead of educators for instruction.

The May 7 decision was handed down in response to complaints from instructors at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, who argued the state’s Student Technology Education Program (STEP)—a computerized curriculum designed to guide potential dropouts through such core subjects as math, science, and English—violated state law by compromising the need for certified teachers in the classroom.

The Nonnewaug Teacher’s Association (NTA) took the line that the program’s computer-based instruction, which automatically calculates and assesses student performance, had been used to replace teachers with machines. But the board rejected those allegations in unanimous fashion, voting 7-0 to maintain the program despite educators’ criticisms.

Students who participate in the STEP program complete their lessons at desktop computers and receive automated assessments, which result in grades handed out by teachers and credits toward graduation, officials said.

But teachers opposed to STEP said they got little direction about what to do in the program and were asked to give grades to students with whom they had very little contact.

“Having observed the program in action, I can tell you that the program completely supplants the teacher in the instructional process,” said NTA President Tim Clearly, in an interview with eSchool News last October. (See “Teachers cry foul over instruction by computers,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4043.)

At the time, criticism of the program was so widespread among educators in Nonnewaug that the Connecticut Education Association (CEA)—the state’s largest teacher’s union—agreed to take up the fight on their behalf, requesting that the state hold a hearing to rule on the legality of the program.

CEA officials did not return calls from an eSchool News reporter before press time.

However, STEP’s staunchest supporters maintained the program did not violate any laws and that its methods were, in fact, approved by state education officials before its launch.

Following CEA’s initial complaint, Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Education, told eSchool News that department officials had monitored STEP closely, performing at least two site evaluations during the program’s inaugural run and finding very few problems.

Murphy did acknowledge some discrepancies concerning the presence of certified teachers in STEP classrooms, however. During the original evaluations, he said, teachers were out of the room for extended periods of time and—in some cases—were found in other buildings.

But district officials had agreed to address those problems, he said. Overall, according to Murphy, the program was working.

Bethlehem-Woodbury school district officials said the program was helping about a dozen teenagers for whom traditional classroom education had failed.

“I was especially pleased that the state Board of Education recognized our attempts to service students who were caught in a very difficult situation and needed alternatives now,” Region 14 Superintendent David Pendleton said in support of STEP.

The state board, which stepped into the fray in January after talks between Pendleton and the teachers union reached an impasse, made this statement in its ruling:

“We find that this matter has less to do with teacher certification and more to do with the role of the classroom teacher…It is the responsibility of a person with an educator certificate to be accountable for the delivery of [the] instruction, but this regulation is not intended to limit those people or technology tools that can participate in providing instruction to a student.”

The board continued: “The decision to utilize other resources should not be driven by a shortage or reduction in funding, nor by the employment interests of educators. The primary interest in determining the use of instructional tools must be thoughtful regard for the interests of the student learner.”

So far, both the district and its teachers agree the alternative program has improved, with teachers spending a minimum of 10 hours per week with each student and assigning more work.


Connecticut State Department of Education

Connecticut Teacher’s Association

Nonnewaug High School


Student puts new technology to the test

Forest City, Iowa, high school sophomore Liv Anderson isn’t using any paper for classroom notes or assignments for four weeks. Instead she’s using the latest in portable computer technology, a Compaq Tablet PC T1000 from Hewlett-Packard Co., as an experiment.

The Tablet PC can be used as a laptop with a keyboard or as a slate with a special digital pen to navigate and take handwritten notes. A portable document scanner allows Anderson to transfer homework assignments and reference material handed out in class into the computer.

The experiment was born when Anderson’s father, Rolf Anderson—a technology speaker, consultant, and author—brought home a Tablet PC in February. Liv Anderson asked what it would take for her to earn one.

Her father challenged her to use the computer in class for four weeks, keep an online journal of her experiences, and write a summary review and conclusions to be published on his web site.

“This is not an experiment to prove a ‘paperless world’ is possible,” he said. Instead, the idea is to “test to see if this new breed of computer that has been welcomed by businesses will find a niche in the educational system.”

Anderson began using the Tablet PC in class on April 22. “It’s been interesting,” she said.

With the special pen, using the Tablet PC to take notes in class “is pretty much like writing on paper,” Anderson said. Because she isn’t using the keyboard, the Tablet PC also doesn’t disrupt class the way an ordinary laptop would.

Taking notes on the Tablet PC also helps Anderson when she is studying for tests. Instead of flipping through a paper notebook to look for the information she needs, “I can look through my files, pop it up, and there it is.”

The Tablet PC comes with a built-in wireless modem, which allows her to do research on the internet right in the classroom.

Anderson said some of her teachers are really interested in what happens with the experiment. They are curious to see if it will work for her to scan in tests and complete them on her Tablet PC.

As for her classmates, “They think it’s really cool,” Anderson said. They enjoy trying it out.

Anderson, 16, is already a veteran when it comes to using technology.

“My dad has been speaking about and testing new computer technologies for over 18 years, and I always asked for his old equipment when he got new [stuff],” she said. “Over the last six years I’ve had several laptops, many digital cameras, and had wireless internet at home. My dad always called me his ‘techno-geek daughter.'”

Anderson asked Dwight Pierson, superintendent of the Forest City School District, for permission to use the Tablet PC in class.

“We are also very interested in how it plays out,” Pierson said.

As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, “We will have to address the issue of high school students wanting to bring a computer into the classroom,” Pierson said. “We will have to take a new look at the issues and rewrite or write policies to govern their use. Will it cause a split in the students’ classes of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’? We’re not sure.”

On the other hand, if teachers, students, and administrators could communicate by computer, “maybe, just maybe, the savings of paper cost and staff time to prepare and distribute information by paper could pay for the school providing a Tablet PC to every high school student,” Pierson said. “A bold statement, but it may not be far down the road.”

In April, eSchool News reported that Bishop Hartley High School—a 600-student private Catholic school in Columbus, Ohio—could be the first school in the country to provide Tablet PCs for an entire grade level of students when it issues the devices to seniors this fall. (See “Tablet Computing: The ‘next big thing’ in school computing has arrived,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/resources/reports/TabletSpec403.)

Public schools have been slower to adopt the technology, probably because it costs more than handheld computers and most laptops. The Compaq Tablet PC T1000 starts at $1,781 for a unit with built-in wireless internet access.


Rolf Anderson Seminars

Hewlett-Packard Co.


IDC: K-12 shifts spending to wireless, handhelds, notebooks

Anticipating smaller budgets, school officials are spending their technology dollars more carefully, according to new research from International Data Corp. (IDC).

“A lot of disposable or short-term investments are not being done,” said Ray Boggs, author of the report “U.S. K-12 Technology Profile 2003: Changing Investment in Personal Computer, Network, and Online Resources,” which was released May 7.

“School officials are saying, ‘We know we can’t do this next year, so let’s not even bother with it this year,'” Boggs said.

The news isn’t all bad, though. Nearly 28 percent of respondents said the current fiscal climate will have no significant impact on their overall technology spending.

Instead, some school officials are scaling back computer labs filled with desktop computers and shifting their priorities to portable, wireless computing to help reduce costs.

“Stuff that is hot, like wireless networking, is continuing to grow,” Boggs said.

While desktop computers remain the most significant hardware expenditure, school officials are spending more than they have in the past on notebook computers, handheld devices, and wireless networking, according to the report.

“These really are pockets of growth,” Boggs said

For this study, researchers surveyed 205 technology directors online about what they plan to spend on computer hardware, application software, wireless networking equipment, digital and internet-based curriculum, and distance learning. The report is directed at technology companies and costs $10,000.

The trend in K-12 technology spending, which has increased steadily the last few years, is reversing direction in light of state budget shortfalls and the economic downturn, Boggs said.

“Spending changes are coming in two areas—stuff and staff,” he said. “Equipment purchases are being delayed or refined, and IT support professionals are either not being added as planned or not being replaced if they leave.”

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they plan to delay equipment purchases, and half (49 percent) said they plan to delay spending on services. Thirty-seven percent said they’ve put a freeze on hiring technology support personnel, and another 13 percent said they plan to reduce IT staff.


International Data Corp.

“U.S. K-12 Technology Profile 2003: Changing Investment in Personal Computer, Network, and Online Resources”


Forum: Simplifying eRate rules will prevent abuse

Simplifying the rules and educating applicants will strengthen the $2.25 billion-a-year eRate program and help prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) learned at a public forum held May 8 in Washington, D.C.

FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy organized the forum to hear specific, concrete suggestions for reforming the eRate program, which has provided 66 percent of U.S. public schools with discounts on their telecommunications services, internet access, and internal wiring since its inception five years ago.

“While the program has been successful, like all government programs it can be improved,” Abernathy said. “Today we have the opportunity to discuss some of the harder questions that have been raised—questions that the commission did not address at the April 24 hearing.”

Owing to increased publicity over instances of eRate fraud and abuse, the FCC recently has stepped up its efforts to improve the program. At the aforementioned hearing in late April, the FCC adopted new rules, clarified others, and issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to invite public comment (see “FCC moves to ban eRate ‘bad actors,’ approves wireless,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showstory.cfm?ArticleID=4371).

At the May 8 forum, participants representing schools, libraries, service providers, and consultants shared their ideas about how to streamline the program so it can succeed in the future. Representatives from the Schools and Libraries Division (SLD) of the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC), which administers the eRate program, also attended.


“The program must be made more simple,” said Greg Weisiger, eRate contact for the Virginia Department of Education, who spoke on behalf of the Council of Chief State School Officers’ eRate Alliance. The 31 members of the alliance met for three days in Washington, D.C., last week to make recommendations for this forum.

Each year, approximately 20 percent of eRate applications are denied. Many of these denials are for procedural errors or confusion over eligible services—not waste, fraud, or abuse, Weisiger said.

“Whatever can be done to simplify and streamline the eligible services list, the application process, and the rules on the SLD web site will go a long way to improving applicant participation and reducing confusion,” he said. He also suggested that eliminating the Form 470, eliminating Block 3 from Form 471, and allowing Form 486 certification on the Form 471 for certain services would help.

Orin Heend, president of eRate consulting firm Funds for Learning LLC, agreed. “Simplify the rules, make them less ambiguous, and don’t change them in the middle of an application year,” he said.


Participants agreed that applicants’ knowledge of the program and its rules is essential to preventing waste, fraud, and abuse.

“A lack of education on the part of applicants invites wasteful practices, because vendors come in with eRate expertise saying, ‘We know all about the program, you don’t understand it, let us take care of the paper work and just sign the bottom line,'” Weisiger said.

Informed applicants are far less likely to hand over the responsibility to the service providers, he said.

George McDonald, vice president of USAC, said SLD’s education and outreach efforts to date have included its web site, eMail address, toll-free number, fax number, and annual train-the-trainer workshops. Although SLD no longer provides annual training, applicants can download a free video of the workshop from the SLD web site.

“Disappointingly, only 54 people have [downloaded] that training after three or four months of when it first became available,” McDonald said. “We have to find a way to really reach people.”

Heend, of Funds For Learning, suggested that the SLD could use distance learning tools to educate applicants.

“I’m hoping USAC will be able to allocate a significantly larger portion of its budget to training and education,” he said. Unused or unclaimed funds could help pay for USAC’s increased education efforts, he added.

“USAC has projected in the third quarter alone it will earn $4.8 million in interest on undisbursed funds from the school and libraries program. Certainly some small portion of that can be designated to educational and outreach activities,” he said.

Heend also suggested requiring applicants to undergo training, such as downloading the SLD’s web-based training video, as a prerequisite to be entitled to funding.

“Applicants need to wake up and realize that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. If they are going to receive the benefit of this wonderful program, they have certain obligations, too,” he said.


Publicizing instances where vendors, applicants, or consultants abuse the eRate program would deter others from doing the same, forum participants agreed.

“Applicants will be well served if they knew that failure to follow program rules leads to negative publicity,” Heend said.

Last December, when eRate service provider Connect2 Internet Networks of New York was criminally charged with fraud in connection with the eRate, neither the SLD nor the FCC issued a press release. “We believe SLD staff should have been proud to make that announcement,” Heend said.

(See “New eRate tool IDs questionable vendors” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4072 and “Follow up: Connect2 executives charged with eRate fraud” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4149).

Furthermore, when the SLD currently releases information about the eRate, the focus is on numbers—such as how many applications were processed and dollars committed—instead of explaining how the funds were used. This sets precedence for schools and libraries to do the same.

“We’ve seen many applicants gauge their ‘success’ by the size of their funding commitment and not by how far their money went or where they even used it,” Heend said.

Recalculating the discount matrix

The FCC asked for feedback on whether to change the discount percentage applicants receive to ensure that schools and libraries purchase only what is necessary. Currently, a school at the 90-percent discount level must pay only 10 percent of the cost of approved services. Funds for Learning supported a change.

“We agree: By increasing applicants’ co-pay, those applicants could become more careful shoppers,” Heend said. “We think it’s appropriate to adjust the discount matrix.”

The eRate Alliance supports reducing the maximum discount for internal connections to 70 percent. “What [this] will do is reduce the temptation, if you will, to ask for those gold-plated services, now that applicants have to chip in 30 percent,” Weisiger said.

Funding in alternate years

The FCC also sought comments on whether to limit an applicant’s eligibility for internal connections to every other year, to prevent the same select few schools and libraries from benefiting every year at the expense of other applicants.

“I think we all expected that once a school was wired, it would not return again for funding,” said Margaret Greene of BellSouth Corp. “But because there are no current rules addressing this, we think either a useful life approach or something like an every third year funding rule for internal connections would be appropriate.”

The commission also could require that applicants more rigorously align their needs with their technology plans, Greene said.

Geoff Craven, of Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit 16, which represents a consortium of 40 schools in Pennsylvania, said, “We support funding internal connections for up to two years in a row and then requiring schools to wait an additional three years before reapplying.” He explained, “Since the average lifespan of network equipment is at least three years, this will ensure more districts will have an opportunity to secure discounts on that equipment.”

Charlie Parker, of the State Library of Florida, suggested that applicants should be permitted to apply for internal connections twice every five years and should be able to support multi-year projects. He added, “We support the idea of adjustment, but we encourage you to do no harm to those that need the discount most.”

In contrast, Funds for Learning does not support funding every other year. “If the commission believes the poorest applicants should only be entitled to funding for internal connections every other year, then it must believe such applicants are requesting more than they really need, and that, we suggest, is where the commission should direct its attention,” Heend said.


Replacing the temporary workers that currently review eRate applications with full-time employees who would become intimately knowledgeable about the program would reduce program abuse, some participants said.

“These employees could be used as part of an enforcement team, for an applicant help desk, or other duties,” Weisiger said. “More importantly, they will significantly streamline the review process in future years with invaluable institutional knowledge.”

Eligible services list

“We applaud the decision to allow SLD to create an online list of eligible internal connections [services] and to create a formal review process to get products on that list,” Heend said. “However, we see no reason today that the SLD could not post a simple PDF file of the eligible services list that its reviewers are using today to approve and reject 2003 funding requests.”

Setting connectivity benchmarks

The FCC commissioners asked whether it was feasible to set a minimum benchmark for connectivity. The participants said setting a benchmark like this would be difficult to do.

“It is intriguing, and it deserves a closer look,” said Weisiger, explaining that some remote, rural, or poor schools have greater needs for high-cost connectivity to support distance learning, which may be their only means of providing high-quality education. “Government will always be trying to keep up with the changed technology, and finding a definition that would suit all newcomers is a very problematic situation,” Greene said.

Craven added another reason setting a benchmark is a problem: The connectivity services available, such as DSL or cable, vary widely from community to community and so do the costs.

Competitive bidding

Alan Whitworth, of the Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky, suggested doing away with Form 470, because it has never resulted in a viable bid. John Mitchell, eRate coordinator for the Seattle Public Schools, agreed. But this form may be the only competitive-bidding process that exists in some areas, warned Gary Rawson, eRate coordinator for Mississippi’s Department of Information Technology Services.


Federal Communcation Commission

Schools and Libraries Division


Stitch together high-quality space science lesson plans with this NASA site

Sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, this interactive and easy-to-use web site provides age-appropriate activities and lesson plans for teaching about the solar system in K-12 classrooms. Each lesson included on the Space Science Curriculum Standards Quilt meets National Science Education Standards. To use the site, you simply choose an appropriate grade level, then choose from any of the illuminated squares on the interactive patchwork quilt. There are 16 subject areas arranged in vertical columns, including the sky, planetary objects, apparent motion, patterns, size and scale properties, stars, and more. Each subject area can be cross-referenced with one of five scientific concepts arranged in horizontal rows: Science as an Inquiry, Technology Connections, Personal Social Connections, Nature and History of Science, and Unifying Concepts and Processes. Once you choose a square, each lesson that pertains to the given topic will appear in a box under the quilt. Teachers then can read summaries of these lessons or view the lessons in their entirety by double-clicking on the highlighted link.


Lawsuit could threaten open-source movement in schools

SCO Group, which owns the Unix operating system, is suing IBM Corp. for allegedly trying to tank the value of Unix on the open market by illegally embedding strands of the operating system’s code into its open-source Linux platform. Though IBM denies the allegations, the billion-dollar lawsuit threatens to derail the open-source movement just as it has begun to catch on in schools.

Because the source code for Linux is shared freely among users, who are allowed to add to or change it at will, the copied lines of Unix code now reside in the very heart of the Linux kernel owned by millions of users and distributed by other companies, SCO contends.

Although the lawsuit names only IBM, intellectual property lawyers say other companies that distribute Linux could be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and lost profits if the suit is found to have merit.

The suit, filed March 7 in the U.S. District Court of Utah, accuses IBM of misappropriating trade secrets, unfair competition, and breach of contract relating to a 1985 agreement IBM entered into with AT&T—then owners of the Unix source code—to help build IBM’s Unix-based AIX operating system.

The agreement allegedly stated that the Unix source code was to be held in strict confidence and prohibited IBM from distributing or transferring the code for use in other projects outside its development of AIX.

But SCO, which acquired the rights to Unix and UnixWare from AT&T in 1995, says IBM failed to live up to its end of the bargain—and, in some cases, has made public admissions of contractual breaches and other legal missteps.

Lindon, Utah-based SCO, which is in the process of changing its name from Caldera International, claims IBM executives committed several breaches of contract, publicly admitting a willingness to disclose proprietary Unix code in the interest of pursuing open-source opportunities for its Linux-based services program.

SCO spokesman Blake Stowell said the formal complaint filed with the court cites several examples of public statements made by IBM executives that prove Big Blue knowingly and willingly violated the terms of the agreement.

In one such document filed with the court, IBM Vice President Robert LeBlanc allegedly addressed Linux as part of IBM’s long-term vision by saying, “We’re willing to open source any part of AIX that the Linux community considers valuable.”

Because proprietary Unix source code was used to create the AIX operating system, “open-sourcing AIX would be a direct breach of [IBM’s] contract with us,” Stowell said. “Either they didn’t care, or they were just unaware of their contractual obligations.”

Stowell even went as far as to suggest that the original contract was nothing more than a ruse orchestrated by IBM executives to learn Unix trade secrets and later use this proprietary information in IBM’s construction of a competitive 64-bit Linux platform.

“SCO is in the enviable position of owning the Unix operating system,” said Darl McBride, president and chief executive of SCO. “It is clear from our standpoint that we have an extremely compelling case against IBM.”

But IBM doesn’t see it that way. The claims, it says, are unfounded.

“While IBM has endeavored to support the open-source community and to further the development of Linux, IBM has not engaged in any wrongdoing,” the company said in a formal response to the allegations. “Contrary to [SCO’s] unsupported assertions, IBM has not misappropriated any trade secrets; it has not engaged in unfair competition; it has not interfered with [SCO’s] contracts; and it has not breached contractual obligations to [SCO].”

Beyond that, the company revealed little about its defensive strategy, except to say, “IBM has the irrevocable, fully paid-up, and perpetual right to use the ‘proprietary software’ that it is alleged to have misappropriated or misused.”

IBM also lashed out at SCO, branding the lawsuit as a self-righteous attempt to stifle development in the open-source market.

“By its lawsuit, [SCO] seeks to hold up the open-source community—and development of Linux in particular—by improperly seeking to assert proprietary rights over important, widely used technology and impeding the use of that technology by the open-source community,” the company said.

SCO—which also distributes a version of Linux but derives a large chunk of its revenue from its Unix-based systems—candidly admitted that the rise of Linux in recent years has contributed to waning profits and huge financial losses for the company.

According to Stowell, SCO has watched its profits fall since the mid- to late-90s—when the company was raking in more than $200 million a year in Unix-related sales—to just around $60 million today.

“The Unix source code has an extremely high value,” Stowell said. According to him, companies such as Sun Microsystems have paid more than $100 million to license parts of the code for commercial use. Other companies that have shelled out money for use of the Unix source code include Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Graphics.

Whether or not SCO is able to prove IBM unlawfully copied its Unix source code into Linux remains to be seen. Still, the lawsuit raises the question of whether other companies that market their own brand of Linux might be vulnerable to similar charges of intellectual property theft in the future.

International open-source provider SuSE Linux AG of Germany certainly isn’t losing any sleep over it. “There is very little concern,” said company spokesman Joseph Eckert. “We certainly do not feel that there is any proprietary code in our Linux distribution.”

SuSE is part of UnitedLinux, a four-member consortium dedicated to developing the industry standard in Linux operating systems. SCO also is a member.

For many Linux users—including schools—the fallout from the ensuing legal battle could have serious implications for the open-source community, which proponents say is based almost entirely on the underlying principle of trust.

“This situation, more than any other, points out how important it is to us as a society, as a community, and as decision makers in public agencies to promote the use of free software,” said Paul Nelson, founder of K-12 Linux Terminal Server Package, a Linux distribution for schools. “In a digital age where information is our currency, the software that makes it happen needs to be owned by all of us rather than one company that can hold us hostage in the courts.”

A technology coordinator at Riverdale High School in Portland, Ore., Nelson said the implementation of Linux—along with the integration of thin-client machines—already has saved his school enormous amounts of time and money.

“Our motto is, ‘It works. It’s free. Duh…’ The SCO story is just another example of the importance of freedom and how more and more people are starting to understand ‘duh,'” he said.

SCO officials declined requests to disclose exactly which lines of Unix code allegedly were copied into Linux, citing proprietary interests in maintaining trade secrets. Some members of the open-source movement said SCO’s refusal made it impossible to assess the validity of its claims.


SCO Group

SCO’s IBM law suit page

IBM Corp.


K-12 Linux Terminal Server Package


New ultra-thin screen could lead to electronic paper

In another huge step toward electronic textbooks with the look and feel of real books, scientists have created an ultra-thin screen that can be bent, twisted, and even rolled up and still display crisp text.

The material, only as thick as three human hairs, displays black text on a whitish-gray background with a resolution similar to that of a typical laptop computer screen.

The screen is so flexible it can be rolled into a cylinder about a half-inch wide without losing its image quality.

Although it’s not quite the dream of single-sheet electronic newspapers or books that can display hundreds of pages of text, its creators said it’s the first flexible computer screen of its kind. “I think it’s a major step forward. We have cleared a big obstacle in electronic paper development,” said Yu Chen, a research scientist with E Ink Corp. of Cambridge, Mass.

E Ink is one of several companies working to develop electronic “paper” for eNewspapers, eBooks, and other possible applications—even clothing with computer screens sewn into it. The new screen is described in the May 8 issue of the journal Nature.

Aris Silzars, the past president of the San Jose, Calif.-based Society for Information Display, said one of the technology’s first applications could be something like an electronic tablet lawyers could use in place of bulky laptops. But Silzars said the best uses of the new screen, which E Ink is still developing, might not be evident. “It’s very hard to predict where this thing may go,” he said.

One possibility is electronic textbooks that can be refreshed with new content instantly, saving schools on the cost of textbook purchases. A common complaint about the current generation of eBook reader devices is they don’t replicate the experience of reading from an actual book.

Electronic paper could change that some day.

Chen and his co-workers made the 3-inch wide display screen flexible by developing a stainless steel foil topped with a thin layer of circuits that control an overlying film of electronic ink. That “ink,” developed in 1997 by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist, contains tiny capsules with black and white particles with opposing electrical charges floating in a clear fluid.

When a negative voltage is run through circuits behind these capsules, the positive white particles move to the capsule’s top. A positive current does the same to the negative black particles.

The human eye blends these resulting patterns of black- or white-topped capsules into text displayed in a traditional column.

Currently, information and power is fed to the screen through a wired hookup. But Chen’s team is working on a self-contained system that could receive data through a wireless connection. They also hope to boost the speed at which the screen switches to a new “page” of text, from the current quarter of a second to at least 10 times as fast, so it can display video.

Another goal is making the screen display a full range of colors.

Robert Wisnieff, senior manager of IBM Corp.’s Advanced Display Technology Laboratory in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., said E Ink’s flexible screen is something many futurists believe is crucial to making electronic screens part of every day life.

He envisions such lightweight, thin screens being used for a credit card that could display the available balance or recent purchases. Another possible use is a jacket with a screen sewn into its sleeve to allow its wearer to read eMail while on the run, check stock prices, or access maps in an unfamiliar city.

“This is a peek at the future,” Wisnieff said of the technology.



E Ink Corp