BitTorrent file-sharing program causes new bandwidth headaches

Reuters reports that the wildly popular file-sharing program BitTorrent has been monopolizing internet bandwidth. The underground network allows people to illegally download copyrighted music, video games, TV shows and movies. A British study found that BitTorrent accounts for 35 percent of all internet traffic.


Louisiana high school teaching students to build own computers

WBRZ-TV of Baton Rouge, La., reports that a local high school opened a new technology center that includes a classroom and two computer labs. Among the school’s course offerings is a popular elective class in which students learn to build, repair and service computers.


Abundance of online degrees might not be best for all involved

The Boston Globe reports that online education is booming in the U.S., and more students are willing to earn degrees at schools whose campuses they have never even visited. Some higher-ed administrators are concerned that this large number of choices is making it harder to distinguish the legitimate academic programs from diploma mills.


Students caught trying to sell stolen computers on eBay

The Los Angeles Times reports that two students from Palos Verdes High school were arrested on suspicion of stealing $50,000 worth of computers from a classroom in their school. The students were identified when teacher Alan Evans followed a hunch and checked to see if the 10 computers were listed on eBay. They were there, and the evidence led to the arrest. (Note: This site requires registration.)


Group touts free eLearning platform

A handful of leading universities have developed a new consortium to raise awareness and increase the use of a free, open-source software platform for managing courses, content, collaboration, and online learning.

The software, known as .LRN (“dot-learn”), was originally developed for use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is a completely free, open-source application suite and development platform reportedly capable of: managing course syllabi, calendars, and class lists; offering community support tools such as surveys, polls, bulletin boards, and file storage; and managing learning and content with assessment tools and testing modules.

“Any institution, whether a K-12 school or institution of higher education, that is unable to get or unable to afford what it needs from a commercial [product] should look at .LRN,” said Cesar Brea, a member of the board of directors for the .LRN Consortium.

MIT’s Sloan School of Management embraced the open-source .LRN platform, which has been used to enroll more than 10,000 students.

Through a largely grassroots effort, 25 major universities and 250,000 students worldwide use .LRN so far to support the learning process.

“The consortium is a formal, not-for-profit program to raise awareness and to raise money to develop the software faster than a pure grassroots process,” Brea said. By establishing a formal consortium, organizers hope to reach more people sooner.

The MIT Sloan School of Management, which has been using .LRN since 2001, runs nearly all of its classes and clubs on .LRN under a project known as SloanSpace. SloanSpace has become Sloan School’s primary means of providing class management and community support. It receives about 1,250 log-ins per day and has enrolled more than 10,000 student and faculty users.

Although MIT has spent roughly $500,000 to deploy and maintain .LRN, the project reportedly has cost only one-quarter of the total price that would have been charged by a commercial software provider.

“We have benefited tremendously by utilizing .LRN as a central element of our educational technology infrastructure in the MIT Sloan School,” said Steven D. Eppinger, a professor, deputy dean, and chair of the Educational Technology Task Force at the MIT Sloan School.

“It integrates course management with collaboration support for online communities. We have been pleased with the flexibility and cost-effectiveness that .LRN has afforded us so far,” Eppinger said. “We look forward to seeing its further innovations.”

In addition to the online communities, Sloan’s professors use .LRN as their platform for publishing course content, posting events, collaborating in team areas, and running simulations.

Cost and flexibility are the top reasons schools should consider using .LRN, said Al Essa, chief of the information office at MIT Sloan School of Management.

“.LRN provides tools and capability to meet the needs of an entire community. Equivalent commercial systems are cost-prohibitive. .LRN is the largest and most successful open-source project that delivers [community learning],” Essa said.

Nearly 40 application modules of the .LRN system are reportedly deployed at two dozen universities and research organizations on five continents. Some of these applications include content aggregation, content syndication among universities, learning simulations, bulletin-board discussion groups, assessment, web logs, and class notes.

The University of Bergen in Norway, for example, uses .LRN to power its student portal–an online place where students can access their schedules, store files, and read and post messages for their courses. Galileo University, in Guatemala, chose .LRN for its ability to scale and grow with the school’s needs. At Galileo, .LRN handles all aspects of assignments, grading, discussion groups, bulk eMail, and calendaring.

Built on OpenACS (Open Architecture Community System), .LRN runs on Linux, but it could also run on a number of applications, Brea said. Schools can change and adapt the software specifically to their needs–and it’s also available and used in multiple languages.

Enterprise versions of .LRN, such as those made by WebCT Inc. and Blackboard Inc., tend to be more expensive because they have to balance profits with development costs. “Institutions here are not trying to make a buck. They are trying to develop what they need,” Brea said.

.LRN is an initiative separate from another MIT-related eLearning program that eSchool News reported on in April. (See “MIT develops free course-management platform.”) There are some small firms that offer support for .LRN in the same way RedHat and other firms support Linux, Brea said.


.LRN Consortium

MIT’s Sloan School of Management


iPod gets religion: Company’s free Bible download a huge hit

cNet’s reports that large numbers of iPod owners have been downloading passages from the Bible, thanks to a company called BiblePlayer, which is offering three different text versions for free. Since the software launched last month, the free version has been downloaded some 7,000 times — proving the iPod’s capability as a delivery method for full-length texts.


Texas’ high-stakes tests turning spotlight on science education

The Dallas Morning News reports that a local elementary school is looking to raise test scores in science by making classroom experiments more fun for its students. Because of the assessment issues surrounding science, Texas districts are focusing on the subject more than ever at the elementary school level. (Note: This site requires registration.)


Despite Gates’ push, Washington voters snub charter schools

The New York Times reports that for the third time in 10 years, Washington State voters have rejected a proposal to allow for the creation of charter schools. Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, has been pushing for charter schools in his home state, but nearly 60 percent of the electorate gave the measure a thumbs-down. (Note: This site requires registration.)


New Pennsylvania ed-tech report serves up mixed reviews

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Pennsylvania schools have dramatically increased their spending on technology, but some districts still lag behind in terms of access — according to data released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. More than $300 million was budgeted for technology during the 2003-04 school year, but 12 percent of the state’s students still lack broadband internet access in their schools. In addition, some districts have been far more creative than others at integrating technology in to the curriculum.


Technology to have big role in classrooms on military bases

Stars and Stripes, the newspaper delivered to Americans serving in the armed forces, reports that children of military personnel will be exposed to revolutionary new technology in their classrooms on military bases. The Department of Defense intends to create an environment of paperless classrooms, wireless access to textbooks and one-to-one computing. Dr. Joe Tafoya, the Department of Defense Education Activity director, said the full technological shift might take 10-15 years.