You’ve got storage space! AOL to give subscribers 100MB

cNet’s News.com reports that America Online will take a big step in the online storage arena by offering each of its subscribers a 100MB “digital locker” for storing music files, images and more. Users will also be able to make their digital lockers accessible to the others.

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Microsoft offers free virus-removal tools

Beginning Jan. 11, school technology leaders will have a new tool at their disposal to help rid their computer networks of nasty viruses: Software giant Microsoft Corp., whose popular Windows software is a frequent target for internet-borne attacks, is offering a free security program to remove the most dangerous infections from computers.

The program, with monthly updates, is a step toward plans by Microsoft to sell full-blown antivirus software later this year.

Microsoft said Jan. 6 that consumers can download the new security program from the company’s web site, and that updated versions will be offered automatically and free of charge each month. The program will be available starting Jan. 11.

Also, Microsoft on Jan. 6 offered a free program to remove “spyware,” a category of irritating programs that secretly monitor the activities of internet users and can cause sluggish computer performance or popup ads.

Microsoft said the virus-removal program will not prevent computer infections and was never intended to replace the need for traditional antivirus software, such as flagship products from McAfee Inc. or Symantec Corp.

But a senior Microsoft executive confirmed the company’s plans to sell its own antivirus software, which would compete against programs from McAfee, Symantec, and others.

Microsoft purchased a Romanian antivirus firm, GeCAD Software Srl., for an undisclosed amount in 2003. Industry rivals expect Microsoft’s formal entry into the market as early as the spring.

“We will have a stand-alone antivirus product that is one of the things you can buy from Microsoft, but we’re not announcing anything today,” said Rich Kaplan, vice president for Microsoft’s security business and technology unit.

The offers of free virus- and spyware-removal tools were intended to convince consumers that Microsoft is working to improve its software’s security, Kaplan said.

Microsoft and other companies occasionally have offered separate programs to disinfect specific viruses. Microsoft promised its new removal tool will target a variety of infections and will be updated each month to recognize new ones.

Microsoft is sensitive to criticism about the susceptibility of its Windows operating system software to computer viruses. It has responded by tightening security for its popular Outlook eMail software and improving the protective firewall utility for Windows. But its reputation largely has hinged on consumers’ effective use of antivirus products and other security programs outside Microsoft’s control.

Microsoft has proceeded more cautiously in recent years as it moves to compete against its one-time partners. European antitrust regulators last year fined the company $613 million over charges it abused its software monopoly. Microsoft is operating under restrictions from a U.S. antitrust settlement with the Bush administration until 2007.

Kaplan encouraged consumers to continue buying updated antivirus software from vendors such as Symantec and McAfee for now. He also expressed confidence that an industry organization formed to share details between Microsoft and leading antivirus companies about virus outbreaks would survive Microsoft’s decision to compete directly against those same businesses.

Antivirus vendors have warned investors about the fallout as Microsoft enters the market. McAfee, for example, said in its most recent annual report that its own products could become “obsolete and unmarketable” if Microsoft were to include antivirus protection in Windows software.

A Symantec executive, Vincent Weafer, said Microsoft’s success as an antivirus company at Symantec’s expense was not guaranteed. Weafer noted that some leading security companies have decades of specialized experience and skilled researchers.

“This is an area [in which] we certainly think we can differentiate ourselves from Microsoft,” Weafer said. “We’ve worked hard over the years to build trust with customers.”

Microsoft disclosed last month that it planned to offer software to remove spyware programs that are secretly running on computers. But in a shift from past practice, Microsoft said it might charge consumers for future versions of the new protective technology, which Microsoft acquired by buying a small New York software firm.

Kaplan said the free version of Microsoft’s new spyware-removal software will expire July 31, and pricing for future versions is still undecided. Rival anti-spyware tools, such as Lavasoft Inc.’s popular Ad-Aware product, offer similar functions to Microsoft’s, and many are free.

Links:

Microsoft Corp.
http://www.microsoft.com

McAfee Inc.
http://www.mcafee.com/us

Symantec Corp.
http://www.symantec.com

Lavasoft Inc.
http://www.lavasoft.com

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Opinion: Distance learning no threat to role of good teachers

In a column for The Christian Science Monitor, Melissa Hart, an English and history teacher at an online school in Ojai, Calif., talks about the challenges of teaching online. She says that because online school instructors must put the needs of the student first, distance-learning instructors are often able to help students learn in ways they might never have discovered in a traditional classroom.

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Mass. district proud of tech integration in elementary schools

In a guest column for The Winchester Star of Winchester, Mass., local elementary-school instructional technology specialist Patricia DeVries discusses the high level of curriculum-technology integration at Winchester’s elementary schools. She describes one fifth-grade social-studies class in which groups of “students produced electronic timelines of the life and a PowerPoint, or multimedia, presentation, of various early explorers, in a ‘guess who’ style.”

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Schwarzenegger seeks massive cut in his state’s ed funding

The Los Angeles Times reports that Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing to announce a plan that cuts $2.2 billion from the state’s spending on K-12 education and community colleges. California educators were already upset with Schwarzenegger for a plan to weaken the state’s education-friendly Proposition 98, and this move won’t help him in the popularity department.

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Schools use web to deepen tsunami study

In the aftermath of the deadly tsunami that devastated parts of South Asia and the east coast of Africa on Dec. 26, educators and their students are using online resources to help explain the geological, geographical, cultural, and political elements of the disaster.

Kathy Schrock, technology administrator for the Nauset Public Schools on Cape Cod, Mass., said she received many eMail messages over the holiday vacation from teachers asking for resources on the subject. “Teachers who wrote to me seemed to be more interested in first explaining how such a disaster occurs so in my [weekly eMail discussion group for educators] I listed sites at all levels that dealt with the geologic and safety forces behind the event,” she said.

Among Schrock’s recommendations: The Discovery Channel web site features interactive maps that plot the geographic events that led to the deadly tidal waves. The maps also familiarize students with the South Asian region. The British Broadcasting Corp.’s web site includes a Macromedia Flash animation demonstrating how tsunamis occur. And the National Geographic site has a feature called Forces of Nature, which includes case studies of specific earthquakes throughout history. At press time on Jan. 6, the content of these case studies had not been updated beyond the 2004 earthquake in Bam, Iran. Given the destruction wrought by the Dec. 26 tsunami, teachers can expect these materials to be revised in the near future.

Lace Hardwick, a social studies teacher at Spring Valley High School in Huntington, W.Va., is using the internet to study the distribution of American aid to the affected areas.

“We used the CIA World Fact Book to study how much [economic] aid the countries affected by the tsunami receive from the United States annually,” he said. His class then discussed those figures against recent criticisms that the U.S. has not given enough money to the tsunami disaster relief effort.

Hardwick said internet resources often provide up-to-the-minute information on current events, where perpetually outdated textbooks and print newspapers cannot.

As with most far-reaching world events, major news outlets such as the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting Service, CNN, the BBC, and others have devoted special sections of their web sites to comprehensive coverage of the tsunami and subsequent humanitarian efforts. In addition, most major news sources have developed in-depth reports on relevant cultural and economic issues. Many also include specific sections on pedagogy. The New York Times Learning Network features writing assignments for students, a lesson plan for teaching about natural disasters, a list of related web sites presented with children in mind, and a science Q&A. The BBC’s web site includes an expert’s guide on how kids can cope with frightening news.

Educators also are increasingly using web logs (blogs) in tandem with traditional news sources to provide students with additional perspectives on issues. Blogs are proving to be invaluable for getting first-person accounts of situations as they develop.

The Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog, for example, features multiple entries from the ground in affected countries. The entries are organized by date and include content about everything from local relief efforts, damaged property and infrastructure, and economic reports to related crime stories and a variety of other topics. The site also has sidebars that link visitors to a database of photographs of missing persons, aid organizations, other useful resources, and alternative language options. As a recent New York Times article noted, there is some controversy about the journalistic integrity of blogs. Given the blog’s just-in-time nature, the information contained is often not fact-checked or edited. Additionally, the personalized nature of the format lends itself to gross editorializing, speculation, sensationalism, and outright lying.

But in a Dec. 28 Ed-Tech Insider entry at eSchool News Online, Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, N.J., defended the use of blogs in the classroom.

“How can the Times stable of maybe 20 reporters compete with thousands of writers, photographers, videographers, compilers, and researchers who are hell-bent on sharing information with the world?” Richardson asked. “This is the future of news, and I’ll be showing more examples of how this all works in the year ahead.”

Links:

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators

The Discovery Channel

BBC News: How Earthquakes Happen

National Geographic Online

“Forces of Nature”

CIA World Fact Book

New York Times Learning Network

BBC News: What to Do if the News Upsets You

Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog

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Free online calendaring service aims to get parents involved

To help bridge the home-school connection and get parents more involved in their children’s classes, global children’s publishing and media company Scholastic Inc. and Trumba, a provider of digital communication services, have joined together to give America’s teachers a new online tool. The companies are providing free access to Trumba’s new calendar tool, OneCalendar, for every classroom teacher in the country. This new online calendaring and communications program was created for teachers to connect simply and quickly with each of their students’ parents about homework assignments, parent volunteer schedules, important school dates, and other issues likely to arise throughout the school year. With Trumba OneCalendar, teachers can send regular eMail messages to parents with a list of upcoming events, homework assignments, and other important reminders. Parents and families can receive timely information about what is happening in the classroom and can correspond directly with the teacher if they have any questions, developers say. The joint campaign also features in-school materials, including a 12-page Teacher Guide with teacher planning and organizational tools, among other resources.

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Kentucky to launch online testing pilot

This spring, Kentucky will join the growing number of states implementing computer-based testing of students. A state pilot program will offer online testing to more than 3,000 students in more than 30 high schools across Kentucky.

Select students at the schools will take 10th-grade reading or 11th-grade social studies tests on computers, while the rest of the students will continue to take pencil-and-paper tests.

Students in the pilot program will take the tests on a secure server, and their answers will be transmitted to an out-of-state contractor for grading. It’s Kentucky’s attempt to broaden the online testing that it already uses for students with learning disabilities or who have limited English skills.

More on assessment from eSN:
  • SPECIAL REPORT: Informed Instruction
  • U.S. students lag behind in math
  • Courseware boosts reading achievement
  • Ga. launches practice assessment site
  • Analysis: Time for a change in direction
  • Grassroots web site challenges NCLB
  • Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit said the ultimate goal is to put all of the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, or CATS, online. Gov. Ernie Fletcher has said he wants to use technology to track student progress yearly.

    “In general, all states are moving in this direction,” said Roger Ervin, a senior systems engineer in the department’s division of validation and research, who is also managing the pilot.

    Each April, students in Rebecca Nicolas’ English class are tested to see if they meet the state’s academic expectations. But Nicolas has to wait six months to see the test results–too late to help students who have long since left her class.

    “It’s frustrating,” said Nicolas, who teaches at Doss High School in Jefferson County, Ky. “We have to plan our school year and make our professional development plans and our instructional plans, and we don’t really know how our students have performed on the test.”

    Education experts say using computers to administer exams offers advantages that include obtaining scores more quickly, the ability to electronically transfer test results, improved security, and potential long-term financial savings. It also helps states meet federal rules requiring parents to receive test scores before school starts, which Kentucky has struggled to achieve.

    Leisha Gosling, whose daughter, Megan, is a freshman at Doss, likes the idea of getting test scores sooner and that her daughter will be using technology.

    “I think it’s the way of the future,” Gosling said. “They might as well get used to it.”

    Kentucky is not the only state exploring online testing. Indiana already has moved beyond the pilot stage and is administering end-of-course assessment tests in algebra I and 11th-grade English via computer. Idaho, Oregon, and Virginia are among the other states to have begun testing students online.

    About 91,000 Indiana students took tests online last year, and their schools received the results within 48 hours. Indiana plans to start putting biology I and algebra II online this spring, said Michael Roach, Indiana’s end-of-course assessment coordinator.

    “It has a lot of potential. It’s going to take us a while to realize all that potential,” Roach said. “It just makes a huge difference in the ways that schools can use the data.”

    A study in March 2003 by the Southern Regional Education Board, an Atlanta-based nonprofit group that studies education, found several states have started online testing.

    Virginia has been more aggressive, already requiring all public high schools to have the capability to use online testing. About 226,000 online tests were taken by Virginia students last year.

    The few studies that have examined whether students do better taking tests on computer or on paper suggest there is no difference on multiple-choice questions, but there have been mixed results on essay questions.

    For all its promise, online testing is not without its problems.

    Ervin said data transmission lines in the state might be insufficient, especially in rural areas, to handle the large amounts of testing data that must be transferred to contractors who grade the tests.

    For districts such as Walton-Verona Independent in Boone County, Ky., the potential problems in participating in the pilot online testing were too much of a risk.

    “There’s just too much at stake,” said Gene Kirchner, the district’s deputy superintendent.

    Links:

    Kentucky Department of Education
    http://www.education.ky.gov/KDE/Default.htm

    Southern Regional Education Board
    http://www.sreb.org

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    District builds room for tech growth into its long-term budget

    The Kansas City Star reports on the growth of broadcast technology programs at local schools. These programs have grown so much that the district in question has had to put $5 million of “elbow room” money into its budget to cope with arising technology demands over the next five years. (Note: This site requires registration.)

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    Principal: Technology redefines high school industrial arts classes

    In a column written for The Citizen of Laconia, N.H., high school principal Ken Wiswell discusses the changing face of technology education in high schools. Wiswell notes that programs such as woodshop and metals are now part of more comprehensive courses aimed at matching up students with the modern job market. Within two years, hiss school hopes to have courses titled Energy and Power Technologies, Information and Communications Technologies, Transportation Technologies, Manufacturing Technologies and Construction Technologies.

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