Computer science losing its appeal to college students

The Los Angeles Times reports that college students’ interest in computer science programs has taken a major hit over the past year. Just as students were drawn to computer science during the tech boom of the late 1990s, they are now shunning the discipline as they see many programming jobs exported to India and Eastern Europe. (Note: This site requires registration)

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IT students help ag students document life on family farm

CentreDaily.com reports on a special project being conducted by students at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School of Agricultural Sciences and School of Information Technology. The students are teaming up to make documentary films about life on family farms in Centre County.

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Amber alerts benefit from advances in wireless technology

An Associated Press story, reprinted on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer web site, reports that advances in wireless technology will go a long way toward boosting the reach of Amber alerts. The new technology allows police to send notifications of child abductions through a highly-encrypted system, accessible from their own squad cars.

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Seagren chosen as Minnesota’s new ed commissioner

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports on Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s appointment of Rep. Alice Seagren as the state’s new education commissioner. Seagren, 57, is a six-term member of the Minnesota House of Representatives who has chaired the House Education Finance Committee.

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Students finding ways to view blocked web content

The Roanoake Times reports on the growing number of students who are finding ways to circumvent their schools’ eMail filtering devices. As a result, these students have access to the very sites their schools have attempted to block.

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Scaled-back Macworld endures Apple absence

In its return to Boston after a six-year absence, the East Coast version of the 2004 Macworld Conference & Expo largely resembled the U.S. economy in 2003: no Jobs, and a scaling back of corporate spending. But that didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of people–many of them educators or students–who made the trek to the brand-new Boston Convention and Exhibition Center July 13-15 to view some of the latest in products and services for the Macintosh platform.

Noticeably absent from the show were Apple Computer and its chief executive, Steve Jobs, who traditionally delivers the keynote speech. Jobs had declared his company’s intention not to participate after the show’s organizer, Framingham, Mass.-based IDG World Expo, announced plans to shift the event from New York back to Boston. (The East Coast version of Macworld had been held in Boston with Apple’s support until moving to New York in 1998.)

A West Coast version of Macworld also is held in San Francisco each year, and Jobs was at the 2004 California conference in January to launch several new Apple products, including new multimedia software and an update to Microsoft’s Office suite for the Mac. His absence in Boston–and Apple’s lack of participation as a sponsor–likely contributed to the smaller-than-usual turnout of exhibitors: Only 60 were present at the Boston show in July, and hardly any were what you might call household names.

Still, the undersized exhibit hall was abuzz with activity as a steady stream of attendees poured through. And though attendance also was down from previous years–IDG expected some 10,000 people in Boston, far fewer than the near-60,000 who attended the New York show just two years ago–a few education-focused companies in particular reported strong traffic at their booths.

Despite a decline in attendance, this year’s Macworld was an impressive show. (eSchool News photo by Dennis Pierce)

One of these companies, iScienceProject.com (a division of Bourne, Mass.-based Onset Computer Corp.), was giving out its HOBO data loggers for any K-12 teacher at Macworld to use for up to two months in their classrooms free of charge. The battery-powered devices, about the size of a matchbox, contain built-in sensors that can measure and record temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, light, vibration, voltage, and more.

The devices plug into a PC or Macintosh computer via a USB connection, enabling students to download the data they collect with the loggers for viewing and analyzing in an Excel spreadsheet. Onset also demonstrated new software at the conference for plotting and displaying these data in graph format. In addition, the iScienceProject.com web site contains more than 100 ideas for lab projects that teachers can use free of charge, the company says.

Software MacKiev of Cupertino, Calif., also reported a fairly strong user turnout. The company made the cross-country trip to Boston to display two new educational software programs for the Macintosh OS X operating system: “Dr. Seuss’s ABC” and “2005 World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia.”

The encyclopedia program includes a three-dimensional atlas that shows the earth’s cloud cover in real time, as well as time zones and the weather in any city, and it allows you to zoom in toward the surface. The program also takes advantage of OS X’s stunning visual capabilities to make images of sea creatures and other animals shimmer across the screen. By clicking on a creature, students can learn more about it.

Software MacKiev also demonstrated its Kid Pix Deluxe software for OS X. Tightly integrated with Apple’s iLife suite of software tools, the program makes it easy for students to put together animated projects with music imported from their iTunes playlists and backgrounds imported from their iPhoto albums.

Another school-focused company, LEGO Education (a division of Pitsco Inc.), demonstrated its Robo Technology Vision Mac Pack, which includes LEGO gear for building a variety of robotic devices, as well as ROBOLAB programming software for the Mac OS X. The kits sell for $219 apiece.

Sound investment

Thanks largely to its iPod portable music player, as well as its iTunes software and online music store, Apple has positioned itself as a leader in digital music software and solutions. That focus was evident at the Macworld Expo in Boston, too, as several vendors were on hand to display their own music solutions that take advantage of Apple technology.

For instance, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Roku demonstrated its SoundBridge music player, which can stream digital music from a Mac or PC to any room via an Ethernet or WiFi network. The Berklee College of Music trumpeted its online music education program for full- or part-time students. And GuitarCentral.com occupied a large booth that featured Macintosh-based products from a variety of companies, including BIAS Deck 3.5 SE, a program from Lexicon Pro that can turn any Macintosh computer into a full-fledged recording studio; Cubase, a high-end music composition program from Steinberg Media Technologies; and BIAS Inc.’s Peak 4.1, described as “the [Adobe] Photoshop of audio” by one composer.

No longer just for storing and playing MP3 music files, the iPod is now finding its way into classrooms, too. Apple recently gave Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga., about 50 iPods as part of a pilot project to find innovative uses for the technology in education.

In one example, instructors of a course titled “War, Politics, and Shakespeare” had students record speeches from one of Shakespeare’s plays, then transfer the speeches of the entire class to their iPods for review. The course reportedly proved so popular that several students had to be turned away the next time it was offered.

A few exhibitors at the Boston Macworld Expo showcased products designed to complement or enhance an iPod user’s experience. Belkin Corp. of Compton, Calif., unveiled its Universal Microphone Adapter, which enables users to make high-quality recordings of conversations, lectures, interviews, or memos directly onto their iPod players, simply by connecting an external microphone to their iPod via the Universal Adapter. And Battery Technology Inc. displayed its rechargeable iPod Battery, which reportedly provides up to 40 hours of play per charge.

Other Mac solutions on display:

  • @Last Software introduced SketchUp 4.0, the tenth release of its 3D design software for both Windows and OS X machines. The software features new capabilities for intersecting complex shapes, pushing or pulling a surface along a path, stretching and manipulating photos and textures, and much more.
  • Avail Solutions demonstrated Integrity, a data backup and recovery solution for the Mac OS X platform that enables Macintosh servers to become the complete backup and recovery foundation for all-Mac environments or heterogeneous computer networks.
  • GeeThree showcased Volumes 7 and 8 of its Slick Transitions & Effects plug-ins for Apple’s iMovie software. The plug-ins offer new features and capabilities for editing digital video using iMovie, including an image-morphing effect and other eye-popping graphics.
  • Parliant Corp. unveiled its PhoneValet Message Center, which transforms an OS X computer into a telephone communications hub complete with voice mail, conversation recording, call logs, talking caller ID, fax switching, voice dialing, and more.
  • Redstone Software displayed Eggplant, a test automation tool that runs on a Mac OS X server and allows organizations of all sizes to test new or existing products on Macintosh, Windows, Linux, or Unix machines.
  • Links:

    Macworld Conference & Expo
    http://www.macworldexpo.com

    iScienceProject.com
    http://www.iscienceproject.com

    Software MacKiev
    http://www.mackiev.com

    LEGO Education
    http://www.legoeducation.com

    Roku LLC
    http://www.rokulabs.com

    Berklee College of Music Online
    http://www.berkleemusic.com

    GuitarCentral.com
    http://www.guitarcentral.com

    Georgia College and State University’s iPod Project
    http://ipod.gcsu.edu

    Battery Technology Inc.
    http://www.batterytech.com

    @Last Software
    http://www.sketchup.com

    Avail Solutions
    http://www.availsolutions.com

    GeeThree
    http://www.geethree.com

    Parliant Corp.
    http://www.parliant.com

    Redstone Software
    http://www.redstonesoftware.com

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    Idaho adds $5M to its PLATO Learning deal

    Over objections of state schools superintendent Marilyn Howard, Idaho’s Board of Education has inked a second component of a computerized-instruction program from PLATO Learning Inc., of Bloomington, Minn. The total package is worth nearly $22 million.

    On July 15, PLATO Learning snagged a new contract worth $5.03 million to provide Idaho public schools with a computerized program that will help struggling students pass the state’s mandatory high school graduation test. In January, Idaho signed a $16.8 million contract with PLATO Learning to provide software and support for Idaho’s statewide computerized student information system.

    Through the agreement, PLATO Learning will provide K-12 language arts, mathematics, and reading curriculum aligned to the Idaho Achievement Standards and Idaho Student Achievement Test (ISAT). The system will be known as the Idaho PLATO Learning Network. The technology-based program will allow each school district in the state to import individual student scores from the ISAT exam. The program will then identify a personalized learning path that prescribes appropriate curriculum to remediate or advance skills. This program also provides standards-based educational curriculum for independent study, subject-matter remediation or acceleration, and project-based activities to promote higher order thinking and metacognitive skills, the company said.

    “This project implementation gives Idaho school districts additional tools to help students achieve,” said State Board Executive Director Gary Stivers. “Districts have asked for this type of service to supplement instruction. This contract provides a consistent curriculum aligned to our state test and standards. We are excited to take the lead as a state to put powerful, custom resources directly in the hands of our students, teachers, and parents with the end goal of improving student performance.”

    Districts will have the option to use the PLATO Learning system, and the purchase of the software will be funded via federal dollars through the State Board of Education, the company said. The delivery of the curriculum can accommodate each district’s technology infrastructure for local area networks, client-hosted web, or web delivery via the ISIMS (Idaho Student Information Management System) data center.

    Said John Murray, chairman, president, and CEO of PLATO Learning: “Idaho is a forward-looking state whose education officials and policy makers are taking a proactive approach to meeting accountability mandates and ensuring that each student and teacher has access to the resources and data needed to drive instructional decisions and impact student success.”

    But Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Howard opposed the program. As the state board was concluding the deal, Howard’s chief deputy, Robert West, renewed the state superintendent’s objections to relying on the computerized study program as the primary means of helping students fill in the knowledge gaps that had prevented them from passing the ISAT, which will be mandatory for graduation next year.

    The PLATO system can help but is not the full solution for remedial education, West said.

    “It takes the skills of a teacher, however supplemented by computer-aided instruction, to understand the teaching and learning needs presented by students facing academic difficulties,” West said.

    Idaho is the first state in the nation to sign a contract with PLATO Learning for a computer-based curriculum spanning kindergarten through 12th grade, officials said. Idaho also is the only state that permits teacher certification solely on the basis of passing a computerized test.

    Not all Idaho educators share the misgivings of the state superintendent’s office about the new program.

    Teresa Fabricius, the testing coordinator for Idaho’s Fruitland School District, called the program invaluable. Her district contracted on its own three years ago for the program on a limited basis, and the state deal will provide dramatically expanded access, she said. Forty-three other Idaho school districts are in the same situation.

    Because the program is individualized and self-paced, Fabricius said, it has not only helped those who have had problems learning in traditional classroom settings but also those gifted students who become bored because they have progressed much more rapidly than the rest of their classes.

    “We have seen students graduate who I don’t believe would have been able to graduate had they not gained access to this program,” Fabricius said.

    Under the terms of the January agreement, PLATO Learning will provide software and support for a new student information management system. That agreement was funded in part by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

    The software will be used for ISIMS–a system designed in part to help teachers create lesson plans and review students’ disciplinary history, attendance records, and grades. Eventually, the network will connect all the schools to provide data for parents, teachers, students, administrators, lawmakers, and the public, officials said.

    A pilot project is scheduled to start in August, and all Idaho public schools are scheduled to have the software by the 2006-2007 school year.

    A publicly held company since 1992, PLATO Learning posted a $3.2 million loss on $32.3 million in revenue during the February-April quarter this year, the second straight quarterly loss.

    Its stock closed up 23 cents a share at $8.74 on the Nasdaq stock exchange on July 15.

    Links:

    PLATO Learning Inc.
    http://www.plato.com

    Idaho State Board of Education
    http://www.idahoboardofed.org

    Idaho Department of Education
    http://www.sde.state.id.us/dept/

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    Superintendents’ recent consulting trip raises questions

    The Dallas Morning News reports on a recent consulting trip that many school superintendents took to Rancho Mirage, Calif. The superintendents received free travel and a $2,000 consulting fee for meeting with potential vendors. The newspaper says the consulting trip raises some concerns for business ethicists. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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    Louisiana district responds to need for more technical help

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on the growing use of computers in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish public schools, and how it has forced schools to begin hiring more computer technicians so that teachers aren’t required to shoulder the burden of technical problems.

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