$60,000 to honor partnerships between schools and businesses

The National School and Business Partnerships Award recognizes successful partnerships between schools and businesses that support everything from mentoring, to after-school programs, to technology and teacher training. The Council for Corporate and School Partnerships will honor six exemplary partnership programs. Awardees will receive $10,000 to support continued partnership efforts. Partnerships involving K-12 public schools or districts and business are eligible to participate.

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Win a free, student-run help desk for your middle school

The Student TECH CORPS program provides middle school and high school students with technology training and tools needed to run a technical support and help desk for their school. Through a grant from Dell Inc., two middle schools will be selected as Student TECH CORPS sites to receive 30 hours of core technology training and testing for up to 25 middle school students; all the software, processes, and guidance to support implementing a student-run help desk; and a team of IT volunteers to assist. Eligible schools must have some Dell computers and be located within the United States.

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Security, assessment highlight Technology + Learning conference

Reeling from budget shortfalls from coast to coast and desperate for solutions that promise to save money while helping schools meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), education stakeholders arrived at the National School Boards Association’s annual Technology + Learning conference short on money and long on skepticism.

It didn’t help that the event–held Oct. 22-24 in Anaheim, Calif.–saw a sharp drop in attendance from previous years, with NSBA officials reporting 1,300 paid attendees and another 500 guests.

Even before the first wildfires ignited in southern California, organizers already were taking the heat for the show’s weaker-than-expected attendance. The effects of a difficult budget year could be seen clearly in the conference exhibit hall, where vendors tended to outnumber educators.

“Traffic was a little light,” acknowledged Ann Flynn, NSBA’s director of technology, especially when compared with previous years. Still, that’s to be expected in a time of financial shortfalls and reduced travel expenditures for schools, she added.

Despite a disappointing turnout, organizers along with many attendees and even some exhibitors voiced satisfaction with the show overall, which NSBA has shifted in recent years away from showcasing the latest whiz-bang solutions and more toward working with educators to establish a practical role for technology as it can be used to boost student performance under NCLB.

“This is a conversation a lot of schools still are needing help with,” Flynn told eSchool News. “Today, it’s really all about the end results, the proven results.”

Though the challenge of funding remained a popular topic in the hallways, over dinner, and throughout the exhibit hall, attendees for the most part did more than complain about their troubles. Instead, many turned their frustrations into action by touching off conversations about the importance of technology in the classroom and by weighing alterative sources of funding, including the use of public-private partnerships, to help prepare their students for life and work in the 21st century.

Online assessment: Problems and promise

At one such discussion, more than 100 chief technology officers, business leaders, and stakeholders from across the country turned out to examine technology’s role in assessment.

The joint forum–hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the State Educational Technology Directors Association–sought to confront the barriers presented by technology-based assessments in the classroom. Despite these barriers, proponents of online assessments believe they enable educators to make pedagogical adjustments based on real-time analysis of student performance data.

“This is an important topic, and it’s one not often talked about,” said John Bailey, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). During the forum, Bailey reminded participants that NCLB requires schools to be more proactive in identifying which students are falling behind–and online assessment advances the idea of data-driven decision making.

Creating policy is the easy part; it’s implementing the practice that often presents a problem, Bailey said. During the forum, technology leaders from Idaho, Utah, and Virginia outlined the successes and hurdles encountered by online assessment programs already under way in those states.

The state of Virginia, for instance, plans to deliver more than 100,000 online tests to students this year, according to Lan Neugent, assistant superintendent for technology at the Virginia Department of Education. By the end of next year, that number could climb to as many as 400,000, he said.

Neugent said educators are particularly fond of the online approach, because it provides test scores broken out in a variety of categories and subcategories for more accurate reporting, thus enabling teachers to better pinpoint the exact weaknesses of individual students.

Though online assessments can help schools meet the reporting elements set forth by NCLB, the high-tech approach is also heir to a number of pitfalls and potential security risks that many schools still are not quite sure how to deal with, according to panelists.

One problem is that schools have to spend both time and money to ensure stakeholders know exactly how to use the information culled from these tests. Although charts and statistics can greatly improve an educator’s understanding of his or her students’ comprehension rate, money spent on expensive systems is wasted unless both teachers and school decision makers are prepared to tap the full power derived from such investments, panelists said.

What’s more, some educators cautioned it would be a mistake to approach online assessment as a one-size-fits-all solution. Thanks in part to the varying degrees of technology available in classrooms and computer labs throughout the country, the different circumstances under which students might be forced to take online assessments could potentially skew the results of such tests, creating situations where educators are saddled with unreliable data.

Security also is a concern. For instance, panelists worried whether test data and other sensitive information would remain safe if they were made accessible to stakeholders via the web. According to Neugent, moving the Virginia state tests online has created some consternation among stakeholders in that state, many of whom question the level of protection of sensitive test material and personal student information.

Most participants concluded there would be an upside to providing formative testing to students through an online model. But others remained leery of the risks associated with bringing high-stakes tests to the internet, at least for now.

‘Cyber Security for the Digital District’

Educators at this year’s show also were abuzz with another concern: network security.

That topic was the focus of CoSN’s latest Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Forum. During an intense, two-hour discussion, CoSN invited educators, policy makers, and executives from leading security companies to ponder solutions to the growing security challenges facing mission-critical school infrastructures and their vulnerability to potentially catastrophic attacks.

“Security is one of those things that if you’re not worried about it, you should be having nightmares about it,” said Steve Miller, executive director of Mass Networks and a CoSN board member. Miller is helping to spearhead the organization’s “Cyber Security for the Digital District,” a multi-year initiative that aims to provide educational technology leaders and policy makers with strategies and tools they can use to ensure the privacy of data and the safe operation of technology within their school systems.

According to Miller, attacks on school computer systems– from unintentional breaches to malicious viruses–are doubling every year. During the forum, security took on new importance as many participants pondered what might happen if the data schools now are required to collect under NCLB were compromised or, worse, stolen as the result of an unsuspected cyber attack.

“Technology has expanded our opportunities, but as everything becomes more sophisticated, so do our vulnerabilities,” Miller pointed out.

To address the problem, participants identified several potential holes that could be exploited by hackers and others within a school system who might feel inclined to poke around where they shouldn’t.

At the top of the list was the proliferation of mobile devices in schools, which allow faculty and students to remove hardware from the network for use off-site.

Once this disconnect occurs, however, it becomes increasingly difficult for technology leaders to ensure that the machines are still secure. Whether a user downloads a virus by mistake or does so intentionally, the results can be catastrophic once that machine is reconnected to the system, officials said.

The use of wireless networks in schools presents yet another problem. Though many schools that use wireless access points already have taken great pains to close down wireless “hot spots” and other gateways that allow intruders to piggy-back on their open-air networks, the potential for new breaches persists as more and more schools begin to experiment with the technology.

CoSN’s latest security program is considered vendor-neutral, but the organization says it will work with such leading security companies as SurfControl, SonicWALL, Symantec, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft to help identify problems and close holes before new breaches occur.

From their end, educators contend the key to a secure digital society lies in the formation of well-designed security policies that identify these risks and clearly state the various responsibilities of users and administrators who work on the network.

In schools, where the free exchange of information is critical to the education of students, educators say the worst they could do is to lock down their networks entirely. “We are not the police. We need to trust our users,” Miller said.

The CoSN initiative already has won the support of ED officials, who contend increased vigilance is necessary to help schools meet the demands of President Bush’s National Cyber Security Plan, which calls on technology leaders to batten down their networks and prevent critical infrastructures from being used as a launching ground for cyber attacks.

“President Bush has made it a priority to provide safe schools for our nation’s children. In our digital world, we must also secure our school networks to keep children safe,” said ED’s Bailey. “Working with state and local governments, school districts, and the private sector–together we can identify specific ways to improve network security from administration down to the classroom.”

He added: “You can’t learn if your school environment is not safe.”

The digital workforce

To address the need for technology-savvy workers in the 21st century, ED announced it has joined forces with the U.S. Department of Commerce, as well as several visionaries from the corporate world, to explore how emerging technologies can be used in the classroom to help push students toward digital competency.

The Interagency Working Group on Advanced Technologies for Education and Training was designed to explore ways technology could boost the productivity of learning while at the same time lowering its costs and helping to make the U.S. workforce more competitive globally.

“America’s competitiveness in the knowledge-based economy depends on the skills and abilities of our workforce,” said Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology Phillip Bond. “In the face of intense global competition, nations around the world are competing for jobs and economic growth by developing a world-class workforce. To compete and win, our workers need broad and rapid access to high-quality knowledge and skills development from K to gray,” he said, referring to everyone from kindergarteners to older adults.

Bond’s point is that a changing economic climate means both students and adult workers must approach learning as a lifelong process–one that starts early and continues well after a student receives a high school or college diploma.

The current working group is founded upon the principles of a September 2002 Commerce report entitled “Visions 2020: Transforming Education and Training Through Advanced Technologies.” The document discusses how emerging technologies might be harnessed in schools to change the way children learn. (See “Visions of learning in 2020 will help shape future ed-tech policy,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=3983.)

One of the emerging technologies the group already is considering is haptics–a sophisticated new training tool that enables students and educators to experience the sense of touch online (see “Researchers simulate sense of touch online,” http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=4606). Other possibilities include the use of nanotechnology, or microprocessors so small they can be imbedded into paint on a wall, and the use of video gaming for educational purposes–a movement that has seen significant attention recently with the unprecedented popularity of interactive gaming systems, including the Nintendo Game Cube and Sony Playstation devices.

Bond said the federal government also plans to work closely with companies in the private sector to help eliminate market barriers and other hurdles that might prohibit new technologies from making their way into schools and homes sooner.

During the announcement, however, officials failed to say how long it might be before schools begin to see the results of the group’s efforts. Right now, according to Bailey, the project’s leaders are focused on collecting information about the various emerging technologies that are available. As of yet, there is no set timetable for a release of their findings, he said.

But whether the results take two months or two years, the announcement could be significant to the future of education, because it marks a rare instance of cross-agency cooperation between two of the largest federal agencies–not to mention an uncommon alliance between government officials and private-sector business leaders with regard to the formation of education policy.

ED isn’t the only group saying it’s time for the private sector to take a more proactive role in education. Following the announcement, several special interest groups publicly announced their support of the initiative.

The National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF) tipped their hats to the project.

“This is excellent news,” said Molly Broad, president of the University of North Carolina and co-chair of the BHEF working group on learning and technology. “With the pending retirement of the baby-boom generation and the continued expansion of jobs requiring college-level learning, higher-education institutions must develop and adopt bold new approaches to teaching and learning.”

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a public-private partnership for the advancement of education, also supports the initiative. “We applaud the federal government’s efforts to foster advanced technologies for education and training,” said Amelia Maurizio, partnership chair, in a statement. “We believe there needs to be a strong dialogue between government, business, and education to develop a consensus, vision, and work plan in these two areas.”

In fact, many who spoke during this year’s conference seemed keenly interested in exploring what value private corporations might hold for the advancement of public education.

According to keynote speaker Juan Enriquez, director of the Life Science Project at the Harvard Business School, the future of education has been revolutionized in the digital age. Today, he said, technology is responsible for transforming the way people around the world do business. “We’re building a knowledge economy by coding and transmitting information,” Enriquez said.

According to Enriquez, recent technological discoveries such as those associated with the exploration of the human genome have opened nearly infinite possibilities in medicine, industry, and research. Sadly, he said, the United States struggles to remain a leader in these fields. That’s because today’s schools have not prepared tomorrow’s workers to enter what has become an increasingly technology-driven economy, he warned.

“The most important language in the world today is Microsoft and Linux,” Enriquez told an audience of more than 100 school leaders. “You make money with brains. That’s why the single most important institution is education.”

News from the exhibit hall

Though policy and progress seemed to dominate the discussions at this year’s conference, there were plenty of products and solutions on display in the exhibit hall:

AAL Solutions, offering enterprise management planning for student information systems, displayed its eSIS product, a tool designed for progressive statewide enterprises and regional service agencies across North America. eSIS, according to AAL Solutions, provides information management for everything from student records and attendance to fees management. “Because eSIS is a web solution,” AAL Solutions said, “you have improved access to real-time data–up-to-the-minute statistics and information, accessible from any computer, anytime, anywhere. That translates into major costs savings and improved data management. Plus, eSIS can be customized to meet the special needs of your school district.” http://www.aalsolutions.com/home.asp

AOL@SCHOOL demonstrated the latest additions to its free online learning service for teachers and students. Most notable might be the addition of customizable content from the Discovery Channel and a new feature for young job-seekers courtesy of VirtualJobShadow.com. This interactive, multimedia tool lets students watch videos and interviews with professionals in various fields to get a sense of what different careers are like. AOL@SCHOOL also announced expanded partnerships with BrainPOP, a producer of online, animated educational videos for schools, and Tom Snyder Productions, a leading supplier of educational software. The latest version of AOL@SCHOOL also provides a free, customizable search engine, which enables educators to surf the web for content relevant for classroom use. http://www.aolatschool.com/

Apple Computer unveiled a new series of iBook notebook computers featuring the company’s PowerPC G4 processor. Apple is calling these latest editions “the most affordable G4 notebooks ever.” A device with a 12-inch display can be purchased for $1,099, executives said. That price includes wireless capability and 256 megabytes of Double Data Rate memory. Each machine also is equipped with slot-load Combo drives for burning CDs and watching DVDs. The devices run on Apple’s latest Mac OS X version 10.3 (“Panther”) operating system. The company also announced lower prices on its popular eMac desktop computers. The all-in-one, SuperDrive-equipped machines also are selling for $1,099. http://www.apple.com/education/

Executives at Aspire Learning Corp. discussed some of the latest capabilities of Aspire, the company’s online suite of teaching, reporting, and communication tools. With the focus on data reporting and student achievement as required by NCLB, schools now can use Aspire’s new grading and reporting features to judge student progress and coordinate lesson plans with state standards, among other things. Plus, a new version of the product’s Quiz Builder feature enables educators to take advantage of a nationwide move toward more formative online assessments by providing a tool that builds customizable quizzes for students. Aspire now is compatible with the Schools Interoperability Framework, a standard to ensure that software applications can share and communicate data seamlessly across systems. http://www.aspire.com

Century Consultants, a firm specializing in K-12 administrative solutions, told attendees all about the Star Base Student Management School Suite, a family of web-based software applications that comprise the back-office data needs of school districts. The suite consists of student information, curriculum and assessment, financial and human resources, hand-held products for the Palm OS, an internet community portal, and an interactive voice-response system. http://www.centuryltd.com/home.html

CTB/McGraw-Hill, a leading provider of assessment solutions, announced a new strategic alliance with TurnLeaf Solutions Inc. to enhance CTB’s i-know family of online assessment products and student achievement reporting systems. Its alliance with TurnLeaf enables CTB to offer three new additional reporting systems to meet the needs of states, districts, schools, and individual classrooms as required by NCLB, executives said. http://www.ctb.com/

eZedia Inc. recently received one of Technology and Learning magazine’s Awards of Excellence for its multimedia web authoring software eZediaQTI, the company said. Students and teachers can use the tool to create web sites, do online presentations, build internet banners, direct interactive videos, and more. http://www.ezedia.com

Follett Software Co. demonstrated how its new Destiny Library Management tool is saving users money. The new tool runs from district servers over a wide-area network, the internet, or both. Because the product enables users to access interactive library databases and other resources via a web browser, and because it allows schools to house their library media resources in a single, centralized location, advocates of the tool say it can dramatically reduce the amount of time and money schools and library personnel must spend to update their online library systems. The result, they say, is that librarians can spend more time doing what it is they do best: teaching. After investing in the system, Information Technology Director Mike Ingram of the Orange County Schools in Hillsborough, N.C., said his district saved more than $100,000 in technology costs and that staffers were able to reduce their support time by some 98 percent. http://www.fsc.follett.com/

According to eRate specialist Funds for Learning LLC, cash-starved schools and libraries could lose millions of dollars in approved eRate discounts if they fail to follow up with the required paperwork by two fast-approaching deadlines. The latest Funds For Learning analysis showed that as of Oct. 1, schools and libraries whose discounts were approved before the start of the 2003 funding year last July 1 had not yet taken the first step required to make use of up to $208 million in approved discounts for telecommunications services and internet access. Assuming that applicants were using these services when the funding year began, they faced an Oct. 29 deadline to notify the program administrators that these services had begun. Schools–or their vendors–also might be failing to complete the necessary paperwork specifying the precise discount payments they are owed, the company said. To help schools better adhere to the rules and floating deadlines of the program, Funds for Learning demonstrated its E-Rate Manager, a free, web-based tool that allows districts to keep track of eRate filing deadlines and to make sure they are spending their money accordingly. Executives hope the tool will keep schools from getting shut out of valuable eRate discounts. http://www.fundsforlearning.com/

During one of the most highly attended presentations given in the exhibit hall this year, Gateway Inc. invited conference attendees to participate in a mock version CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman, in which an impressionist flipped note cards and interviewed members of a live “studio audience,” all the while plugging products such as the Gateway Tablet PC. This device is being offered to schools for $2,099, or $200 off the list price, for a limited time only, the company said. http://www.gateway.com/work/ed/index.shtml

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Educational Testing Service (ETS) have come together to launch the Discourse Challenge, a competition that calls on schools to try ETS’s new computer-based assessment tool, then submit an essay about how the product helped improve teacher productivity and student outcomes in the classroom. Five finalists will receive airfare and hotel accomodations for next year’s National Educational Computing Conference in New Orleans. The winning educator also will receive a Discourse-equipped HP Tablet PC Mobile Classroom, courtesy of HP. The runners-up each get free Discourse software licenses and training. http://www.ets.org/
http://welcome.hp.com/country/us/en/solutions/pub_sector.html

InFocus Corp. , a maker of digital projectors and presentation systems for schools, demonstrated its latest wireless projection devices for the classroom, including the recently announced LP840 and LP850 large-screen projectors for use in auditoriums and board rooms. Both machines allow users to project their ideas from a PC to anywhere in the room for use in collaborative or interactive presentations. According to the company, each projector is easy to use and operates with simple menus that are accessible by remote control. The company also showcased its family of portable projection devices, including the lightweight InFocus X1. Priced at just under $1,000, the 6-pound machine can go just about anywhere and is capable of projecting everything from interactive PowerPoint presentations to MPEG and DVD video applications. If you’re concerned about the security of your wireless projectors, InFocus also markets a product called ProjectorNet 2.0, which enables administrators to remotely monitor the status of every projector on the network. http://www.infocus.com/

InfoTech Strategies, the information and communication technology consulting firm behind the CEO Forum on Education & Technology and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, announced the addition of Terry Crane as a senior education adviser to the firm. Crane will join InfoTech Chairman Ken Kay in leading the organization’s technology practices. Crane, formerly at the helm of AOL@SCHOOL, says she plans to ensure the organization’s clients “apply learning technologies to the challenges of educators.” Crane will play a critical role at InfoTech as it strives to prepare schools for working and learning in the 21st century, the group said. http://www.itstrategies.com/

Point-of-instruction assessment and remediation were being emphasized by Kaplan K-12 Learning Services. Most notable among the firm’s offerings might be the Kaplan Achievement Planner, a tool the company says can turn actual state test data into improved student results. The product is a web-based teacher tool that aggregates state test results into a valuable portrait of specific class needs. It gives teachers an easy way to incorporate focused, standards-based review into classroom instruction. According to the company, the Kaplan Achievement Planner: analyzes actual state assessment data and reports on students’ skill gaps, prescribes proven Kaplan lesson plans with student activities that close skill gaps, and three assesses student progress with ongoing benchmark assessments that mirror state exams. http://www.kaptest.com/K12_home.jhtml

Learning.com, a maker of technology curriculum and integration tools, announced plans to offer a new professional development product by November 2003. The program will include on-site workshops, regional conferences, and training certification academies to help educators more skillfully and confidently integrate technology within their core curricula. A total of 13 full-day professional development workshops will be offered in cities throughout the nation. Individual workshops will cover topics such as high-stakes testing, technology integration, and technology and English-language learners. Additional topics will focus specifically on meeting ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards for Students and Teachers. All workshops are aligned with the National Staff Development Council’s Standards for Staff Development, and in many states, professional development hours are available for workshop participation. http://www.learning.com/

Macromedia Inc. announced the availability of new education solutions to assist educators in teaching digital skills through project-based curriculum and professional development resources. The company’s latest curriculum and training materials for K-12 education support a variety of courses, from teaching web design and development to integrating technology into the curriculum. The new Digital Design curriculum for high schools and the new Digital Design Staff Development Guide aim to help students and teachers build basic IT skills using Macromedia’s MX 2004 software. Digital Design Curriculum Guide is a year-long course focusing on design, communication, project management, and web technology. http://www.macromedia.com/

The National School Boards Foundation and Microsoft Corp. announced a joint initiative to provide the nation’s 95,000 school board members with tools and resources to help them better understand the issues surrounding NCLB. Project LeadersLearn is a series of online training videos designed to provide school leaders with the background and information necessary to interpret the rules of NCLB and enable them to serve their districts better and more efficiently. NCLB places significant requirements on school systems in the areas of data collection and reporting, student assessment, professional development, and parental notification. To help schools meet these requirements, Project LeadersLearn will provide state school boards associations with resources to conduct NCLB training seminars. http://www.nsbf.org/
http://www.microsoft.com/education/?ID=K12Savings

netTrekker, a customizable, educator-tested search engine for schools, said it will join forces with Sagebrush Corp. to help deliver a new library search tool called Pinpoint. Through the agreement, Sagebrush will resell the netTrekker search engine as part of its Pinpoint product. Pinpoint is a unique library search tool designed to help librarians, teachers, and students access the best resources for teaching and learning by e

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Tap into this ASCD-sponsored guide to talking about No Child Left Behind with stakeholders

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has joined with a number of education organizations to publish this “Practical Guide to Talking with Your Community about No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Schools in Need of Improvement.” The free, web-based guide is intended to help school and district administrators, parents, and teachers understand, explain, and discuss NCLB, its requirements, and its implications for local schools and districts. The materials give special attention to those schools labeled “in need of improvement” and are intended to assist local efforts to rally community support for school improvement-and not to advocate for or against specific provisions in NCLB. The materials are provided by the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of ASCD and 11 other education organizations representing parents, teachers, principals, administrators, local and state boards of education, and schools of education.

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Students claim legal alternative to music file sharing

Keith Winstein and Josh Mandel soon might be the most popular guys on campus. They say they’ve discovered a way to give their fellow students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and elsewhere dorm-room access to a huge music library without having to worry about getting slapped with a lawsuit from the recording industry.

On Oct. 27, the pair debuted a system they’ve built that lets MIT students listen for free to 3,500 CDs over the school’s cable television network. They say it’s completely kosher under copyright law.

Lawyers who have reviewed their program agree, but a spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which is suing hundreds of music lovers including students, refused to comment.

The MIT students will share the software with other schools, who they say could operate their own networks for just a few thousand dollars per year. They call that a small price to pay for heading off lawsuits like those the recording industry has filed against hundreds of alleged illegal file-swappers.

Here’s the catch: The system is operated over the internet, but the music is pumped through MIT’s cable television network. That makes it an analog transmission, as opposed to a digital one, in which a file is reproduced exactly.

The downside is the sound quality: better than FM radio, but not as good as a CD.

But the upside is that because the copy isn’t exact, the licensing hurdles are lower. The idea piggybacks on two things: the broad, cheap licenses given to many universities to “perform” analog music, and the same rules that require radio stations to pay songwriters–but not record companies–to broadcast songs.

It also can broadcast any CD–even ones by popular artists like Madonna and the Beatles who have resisted making their songs available even to legal digital download services.

“I think it’s fascinating. As a copyright lawyer, I think they’ve managed to thread the needle,” said Fred Von Lohmann, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They’ve basically managed to cut the record labels out of the equation altogether.”

Conceivably, the system could be replicated by the cable system of a city or town, the students said.

But it seems ideally suited for universities, which often operate internal cable networks and already have these broad performance licenses. College students are among the most enthusiastic file-swappers, and universities are exploring ways, such as fee-based systems, to give their students legal access to music.

This is in contrast to what [RIAA] and music vendors are opposed to, said Jim Bruce, vice president of information systems at MIT, who says this service is akin to a cable music channel except the music is available on demand.

We believe this will meet some of the demand of students for a larger collection of music than they have bought, he said.

The MIT project is called “Library Access to Music,” or “LAMP,” and here’s how it works: Users go to a web page and “check out” one of 16 cable channels in the MIT system, which they can control for up to 80 minutes. The controller then picks songs from among 3,500 CDs–all suggested by students in an online survey over the past year–that Winstein, 22, and Mandel, 20, have compiled.

The music is then pumped into the user’s room on that channel and played through a TV, a laptop with an audio jack, or external speakers.

Only one person controls each channel at a time, but anyone can listen in. Anyone can also see what selections are playing on other channels as well as the user names of the controllers. (Winstein acknowledges potential privacy concerns, but there are upsides: He once got a romantic proposition from a user who admired his taste for Stravinsky.)

If all 16 channels regularly fill up, MIT could make more available for a few hundred dollars each. Users can listen to, but not store, the music.

The students built the system using part of a $25 million grant to MIT from Microsoft Corp., some of which was set aside for student projects.

“We still wanted to do it over the internet, but MIT’s lawyers were not willing to chance that,” Winstein said.

Their solution required navigating an alphabet soup of licensing groups. A big challenge was confronting two sets of copyrights: those held by the songwriters on the songs, and those held by record labels on the recordings of the songs. Under the latter, it wasn’t clear MIT could simply make available the thousands of CDs MIT already owns in its library.

Instead, the students waited for the National Music Publishers Association’s licensing arm to authorize a Seattle company called Loudeye to sell the students MP3s of the 3,500 CDs their fellow students had suggested. The students then paid Loudeye $8 per CD for the MP3s (they plan to expand the collection as students request more music).

A RIAA spokesman, Jonathan Lamy, was provided with a description of the project and, after consulting with RIAA colleagues, declined comment on it.

The students say that because they’ve done the licensing legwork, other schools could easily follow. All it would take is about $40,000 to cover hardware and a CD collection.

Von Lohmann said that if record labels would grant blanket licenses, as songwriters have, systems like MIT’s could handle digital music and solve the peer-to-peer controversy.

“The students get access to a broad array of music, and the copyright owners get paid. This is where we should all be heading,” Von Lohmann said. “I hope the record industry takes note and realizes this is a whole lot more promising than suing people.”

Links:

MIT’s Library Access to Music Project
http://lamp.mit.edu

Recording Industry Association of America
http://www.riaa.org

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As school budgets tighten, laptops are often first to go

Budget shortfalls are calling into question the future of school laptop programs in some forward-looking states–one of which now appears poised to scale back its ambitious plans to equip all sixth-graders with the machines before the program even gets off the ground.

In July, Michigan approved spending $22 million in state funds and $17.3 million in federal funds to give wireless laptops or handheld computers to all sixth-graders across the state, possibly by this winter. But now Gov. Jennifer Granholm says she intends to cancel state funding for the program in light of a $900 million deficit.

Granholm instead will propose a scaled-down version of the program that will use only the $17 million in federal funding, she told the Detroit News Oct. 23.

“I’m sure I will recommend that we not use state dollars this year for the laptops,” Granholm told the Detroit newspaper. “We can start to roll out [the program] with federal funding.”

It’s unclear at this point how a scaled-down version of the program would work, or how many of the state’s 130,000 sixth-graders would get the devices. But House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy, who first proposed the initiative, said he intends to keep the laptops in the state budget.

“The speaker believes this is an opportunity for kids that we can’t let pass,” Johnson spokesman Matt Resch told the Detroit News. “The conversation is not over yet.”

Even in Maine–which pioneered the concept of supplying laptop computers to students statewide–funding is uncertain after the state’s four-year laptop program ends in 2005. Gov. John Baldacci is proposing $5.7 million in 2005 to keep it running, spokesman Lee Umphrey said. The appropriation would require legislative approval.

Talk of expanding Maine’s laptop program into high schools has been all but abandoned because of the tight budget, however.

Social studies teacher Eric Chamberlin has seen a big change in his students since laptops were introduced into his middle school classroom in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

“Stuff will go wrong,” he said, “but in the end … learning is infinitely better than from a static page in a book.”

Most Maine educators and legislators agree the $37.2 million program, which outfits the state’s 34,000 seventh- and eighth-graders and 3,000 teachers with laptops, makes the grade. Absenteeism has dropped, and students have shown significant improvement in paying attention to schoolwork.

But few states are able to follow Maine’s example.

In just a few years’ time, state budget surpluses that soared during the dot-com era have vanished, and laptops suddenly seem extravagant for states grappling with tight budgets, said Steve Smith, senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

No other states have attempted a program as ambitious as Maine’s, but some are moving forward with their own initiatives.

In Illinois, each fourth- through sixth-grader in suburban Chicago school district 54 will receive an Apple iBook by next fall. The $6.6 million project is funded through local property taxes.

New Hampshire seventh-graders in up to five schools will get laptops next year through a privately funded pilot program, and Virginia’s Henrico County is paying $18.5 million to lease iBooks for its high school students.

Former Maine Gov. Angus King, who announced plans for the Maine program in March 2000 amid widespread skepticism by lawmakers and others, envisioned the program as providing laptops to every middle and high school student. At the time, lawmakers were deciding what to do with a $350 million budget surplus.

While the budget surpluses are gone, King still believes in the feasibility of his original vision and said the state needs to secure federal funding to help expand the program into high schools.

“The good news is it seems to be a resounding success,” he said. “The bad news is we’ve got to keep it going.”

Some school districts are looking for private funding to expand the program into high schools, but none of those efforts has succeeded, he said.

Most middle school teachers have embraced the laptops, and it’s not unusual for their students to create multimedia presentations instead of turning in traditional reports.

Last year, Chamberlin’s students created a web site focusing on whether the United States should attack Iraq, with opinions for and against. “There are no textbooks they can use to look that up,” he said.

Two years ago, Boothbay Middle School was one of the first schools in Maine to outfit seventh-graders with laptops. Last fall, seventh-graders statewide got them. This fall, the program expanded to include eighth-graders.

That means Boothbay students who had laptops in both seventh and eighth grades are now without them in the ninth. It’s proving to be a difficult and disappointing transition that even more students will face next year.

Eighth-grader Julie Higgins said she can’t imagine learning without a laptop next year when she enters high school. As it now stands, she’ll have to give up her computer.

“It will be hard because we’re going to go back to how we were [before laptops],” the 13-year-old said.

Ninth-grade social studies teacher Joyce Sirois said she’s eager to integrate laptops into her classroom and hopes Boothbay Harbor will pick up the cost, whether through town money, state funds, private fund-raising, or all of the above.

“I absolutely think it’s essential,” she said. “I’m disgusted we don’t have them in the high school. To stop them halfway when they’ve had them for two years is just silly.”

Links:

National Conference of State Legislatures
http://www.ncsl.org

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A rocky debut for Hollywood’s anti-piracy campaign

As part of its campaign to thwart online music and movie piracy, the movie industry is reaching into school classrooms with a program that denounces file-sharing and offers prizes for students and teachers who spread Hollywood’s message about internet theft. The program’s debut drew sharply mixed reviews, especially in one San Francisco classroom.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) paid $100,000 to deliver its anti-piracy message to 900,000 students nationwide in grades 5-9 over the next two years, according to Junior Achievement Inc., which is implementing the program using volunteer instructors from the business sector.

Civil libertarians object that the movie industry is presenting a tainted version of a complex legal issue–and the National Education Association (NEA) is concerned about the incentives the program offers.

“What’s the Diff?: A Guide to Digital Citizenship” launched last week with a lesson plan that aims to keep kids away from internet services like Kazaa that let users trade digital songs and film clips: “If you haven’t paid for it, you’ve stolen it.”

“We think it’s a critical group to be having this conversation with,” said MPAA spokesman Rich Taylor, suggesting online piracy might not have peaked yet. “If we sit idly by and we don’t have a conversation with the general public of all ages, we could one day look back at October of 2003 as the good old days of piracy.”

The effort doesn’t stop in the classroom. Beginning Oct. 24, public service announcements are being released to approximately 5,000 theaters nationwide, profiling people in the movie industry and arguing that digital piracy threatens their livelihoods.

Indeed, Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA, told Penn State University faculty members and students recently that his industry is in “a state of crisis” over digital theft.

But some copyright-law experts aren’t pleased that the MPAA is the only sponsor for such classroom discussions. They worry that the lesson plans don’t address “fair use” constitutional protections for digital copying for personal or educational use.

“This is really sounding like Soviet-style education. First they’re indoctrinating the students and then having students indoctrinate their peers,” said Wendy Seltzer, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The takeaway message has got to be more nuanced. Copyright is a complicated subject.”

NEA spokeswoman Melinda Anderson says it’s unsettling when a corporate campaign for the classroom comes wrapped up with sponsored incentives.

In this case, Junior Achievement is offering students DVD players, DVD movies, theater tickets and all-expenses-paid trips to Hollywood for winning essays about the illegalities of file-sharing. Teachers, too, can win prizes for effectively communicating the approved message in class.

“What it speaks to is kind of a new era in commercialism emerging in classrooms where the attempts to connect with students are becoming more and more sophisticated. Schools that are often strapped for cash are more tempted to partner with these organizations,” Anderson said.

The program got a rocky start during its first presentation, to some relatively cyber-savvy teens at Raoul Wallenberg High School in San Francisco.

Andrew Irgens-Moller, 14, buried his head in a backpack on his desk and rolled his eyes as the guest instructor warned of computer viruses and hackers that could take control of a user’s desktop via file-sharing programs. The youngster objected that antivirus software could scan downloaded files and that only sophisticated hackers could pull off a computer takeover.

Then the guest instructor cut him off.

Bret Balonick, a tax accountant on loan from PricewaterhouseCoopers to teach the anti-piracy class, was arguing that some downloaders have been affected by malicious activity. Besides, he said, it’s illegal to upload and download unauthorized content online.

“If it’s illegal in America, host it in Uzbekistan,” snapped the 14-year-old.

Balonick then had the freshmen role-play as singers, actors, producers, computer users. But even the “producers” quietly acknowledged that they too share song files over the internet.

“It’s not illegal if you decide to give it away,” said Wilson Cen, 13, regarding burning copies of music CDs for his friends. “They don’t want you selling them. It’s a gift; you’re not selling it.”

Brenda Chen said she uses Kazaa at home: “I just want certain tracks from the CD, not the whole CD. It’s a waste of money.”

David Chernow, Junior Achievement’s chief executive, said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press that the explosion of peer-to-peer activity among young people is a ripe topic for public school classrooms.

“We’re really trying to teach young people to be responsible and to obey laws that they may not understand,” Chernow said.

Links:

The Motion Picture Association of America
http://www.mpaa.org

Junior Achievement Inc.
http://www.ja.org

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Colleges offer degrees in computer security, video game design

Colleges and universities across the nation are developing highly specialized degree programs to attract new students and exploit changes in the job market. Among the fastest-growing areas of study are fields that reflect the growing importance of technology in society, such as computer security, forensic computer science–and even video game design.

“We’ve become a much more specialized society,” said Michael Baer, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “And colleges and universities have tried to be much more responsive to the needs of the work force market.”

The strategy also increases enrollments of students who normally would not attend a four-year college.

For instance, Meg Haufe studied business at a community college and worked as a data-entry clerk before deciding to try to turn an obsession of her youth into a career. The 30-year-old is now working toward a bachelor’s degree in video game design at the Art Institute of California.

“I’ve always wanted to get into the video game industry. I grew up with them. I play them constantly,” said Haufe, who specializes in developing characters.

At the San Diego campus of the Art Institute of California, Christian Bradley, academic director of game art and design, is always concerned that a sudden shift in consumer demand could affect the job prospects of students who graduate in video game design.

“I’ve got a ton of people holding me responsible for keeping track of this,” he said. “It keeps me up nights.”

The degree program began in January with 57 students. Enrollment had swelled to 122 students when the fall term began Oct. 6.

“There’s a huge market out there, so it made sense,” Bradley said.

Students are taught to design and illustrate games, with an emphasis on character animation such as lip movement and muscle flexing. They also play video games to see what makes them fun.

As a player, Haufe, of Knoxville, Tenn., likes fantasy, role-playing games such as Star Wars Galaxy, EverQuest, and Baldur’s Gate. Players create and design their own characters and then interact with others online.

As a designer, she hopes to land a job with a big company like Sony Corp. when she graduates in 2005.

Twenty-four-year-old Matthew Musselman, a student from Roanoke, Va., said he expects plenty of opportunities for a job because the industry is growing.

“But even if I don’t end up in video games, I still retain the skills to work in special-effects departments or films or cartoons,” he said.

The video game industry employs about 30,000 people in the United States, with the number of jobs expected to increase by about 5,000 a year, said Jason Della Roca, director of the International Game Developers Association. Salaries vary from $49,000 for designers with a few years’ experience to $300,000 for veterans.

As director of the new school of video game making at Southern Methodist University, David Najjab plans to attract students by using some of the area’s game luminaries–including members of id Software Inc., maker of the famed “Doom” and “Quake” games–as teachers and speakers.

But Najjab has plenty of competition from schools around the country.

Formal game education remains a relatively untapped area, but the emergence of video game schools makes sense in the 30-year-old industry, said Della Roca.

Gaming’s traditional training ground, a mentoring system where the self-taught pass on knowledge to like-minded tech-savvy gamers, is no longer enough given the myriad of skills needed to create a modern game, he said.

Jay Horwitz, industry analyst with Jupiter Research in New York, said making games requires many talents, from art and music to math, computer science, and physics. Pulling these disciplines together is increasingly common as the industry matures into a mainstream form of entertainment, Horwitz said.

“It’s still a pretty immature media, but a discipline for actual game development is starting to make sense,” he said. “Today you have a very rich environment.”

Southern Methodist University’s new Guildhall school of video game making is an 18-month, $37,000 program that will offer specializations in art creation, level design, and software development. Classes began in July.

Nationally, there are several well-established programs, including the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Wash., and Full Sail in Orlando, Fla.

Even traditional schools such as MIT and the University of Michigan have incorporated game-specific classes and programs into existing curriculum.

Fairmont State Community and Technical College in Fairmont, W.Va., began offering a bachelor’s degree in computer security in August. Courses include network security, vulnerability, and code reading, with one of the instructors specializing in detecting hackers and viruses.

“Is this market driven? A little bit,” Alicia Kime, coordinator of the computer science department, said with a chuckle. “If you want to run a [computer] system, you have to have a security expert. There’s a big demand for it.”

Students learn how to respond to a hijacking, how to contain a chemical release and determine the evacuation area, how to react under conditions of a terrorist attack, and how to identify possible terrorist targets.

At Iowa Lakes Community College, students are learning to track crime by computer in a new criminal justice program that started this fall. Students take core courses in criminal justice and additional classes that involve computer investigations, forensic computer science, and other specific computer courses.

“Computer crimes are growing in society today, and law enforcement needs to rise to meet this challenge,” said Russell Slight, assistant professor at Iowa Lakes. “With computers virtually touching every aspect of our daily lives, criminals have found new opportunities to victimize society.”

Instructors received additional instruction this summer to make sure they had training in state-of-the-art aspects of cybercrime. One of the instructors is Doug Elrick, a former Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminologist and one of the foremost experts in the Midwest on computer forensics.

The program already is proving to be popular, with more than a dozen students enrolled.

Links:

American Council on Education
http://www.acenet.edu

Art Institute of California
http://www.aica.artinstitutes.edu

Guildhall
http://guildhall.smu.edu

Fairmont State Community and Technical College
http://www.fscwv.edu/fsctc

Iowa Lakes Community College
http://www.ilcc.cc.ia.us

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FCC adopts rules for “millimeter-wave” wireless broadband

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) adopted rules Oct. 16 to promote the development of a new wireless broadband–called “millimeter-wave” or “wireless-optics” technology. This emerging technology can be used for a wide variety of services, the FCC said, including high-speed internet access and point-to-point local area networks.

Schools and colleges, for instance, could use millimeter-wave technology to send large amounts of information between buildings without the need to dig up streets to lay cables.

This technology, which is still under development, is the wireless equivalent of fiber-optic cables, said John Muleta, chief of the FCC’s wireless bureau. He said the technology broadcasts in narrow beams to avoid interference problems.

The technology would operate in a large section of airwaves originally set aside for government use. The spectrum in question–consisting of 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz, and 92-95 GHz bands–is the highest ever licensed by the FCC. Recent advances have made consumer and educational uses possible.

“The highly advanced technology used here may encourage a broad range of new products and services,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

Powell said companies might eventually use this technology to compete with high-speed internet services such as cable modems and broadband delivered over telephone lines.

Andrew Kreig, president of Wireless Communication Association International, which represents the wireless broadband industry, said many “great opportunities” will arise from the FCC’s decision to make the spectrum available.

“This is extremely high capacity. It’s basically fiber optics through the air,” Kreig said. “It’s aimed at people who need great quantities of throughput.” For instance, last January ABC TV used this technology to transmit the Super Bowl over high-definition television, he said.

In addition to providing broadband wireless capability equivalent to fiber-optics, this spectrum is ideal for local area networks (LANs) in densely populated areas where wireless interference is a problem, the FCC said.

In lower spectrum bands, the beam is wider so the potential for interference is greater. In the higher spectrum, the beam, with “pencil-beam” characteristics, is narrower and more focused, which means transmitters and receivers can be placed in closer proximity without interference.

This is a line-of-sight technology that transmits signals within a six mile radius, so it is ideal for LANs, experts said.

The FCC plans to issue nationwide licenses to companies seeking to deploy the new service.

The licenses for this spectrum are not being auctioned, the FCC said. Instead, everyone who qualifies under the FCC registration guidelines will be granted a license. Each link that will be used needs to be registered to avoid overlap and interference. The registration process is still under development.

Links:

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

Wireless Communications Association International
http://www.wcai.com

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New IBM laptops feature crash-protection technology

Today’s cars come equipped with sensors that can detect danger and automatically deploy air bags. Now laptops, too, are getting a similar defense mechanism.

Two new models of ThinkPad notebook computers, unveiled earlier this month by IBM Corp., come with a chip that can detect when the laptop is accelerating–such as when it has been accidentally nudged off a table and is plunging to the floor.

If the hard drive happens to be reading or writing data at the time, the chip tells the drive to temporarily stop. Hard drives are at their most vulnerable when reading and writing data, so IBM believes the crash-protection chip will help guard against such losses of important information.

IBM says the technology is particularly apt for use in schools, where laptop computers often are subjected to abuse by students.

At least one school technology leader who spoke with eSchool News described IBM’s new crash-protection system as promising.

“I find the concept to be interesting,” said Sandra Becker, director of technology for the Governor Mifflin School District in Pennsylvania. “We’ve had a few users drop their laptops. They were not reading or writing data, … [but] I had one hard drive fail to boot afterward.”

The crash chips are found in IBM’s new ThinkPad R50 and T41 models, which start at $1,529 and $1,649, respectively.

Links:

IBM’s ThinkPad site
http://www.ibm.com/thinkpad

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