Grant brings wireless laptop labs to three Rochester schools

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that three local elementary schools have each been awarded $32,500 wireless laptop computer labs from the Beaumont Foundation of America. The labs feature 15 laptops with Microsoft Academic Office software, digital cameras, a data projector, and more.

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California district picks up $785,035 in EETT grant money

The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, Calif., reports that the local Palm Springs Unified School District is one of 29 U.S. districts that will share in $24 million worth of Enhancing Education Through Technology grants. Palm Springs will get $785,035 to spend on high-tech tools for teachers as well as the professional development needed to properly train them.

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New research shows human brain doesn’t work like a computer

cNet’s News.com reports that a study by a professor of psychology at Cornell found that the human brain does not function in the computer-like way that many researchers believe. By tracing the mouse movements of 42 undergraduate students, professor Michael Spivey found that people faced with ambiguity are forced to study limited data before making a decision, rather than automatically choosing the right answer when it’s one they clearly should know.

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NECC speakers: Listen to the ‘natives’

Student voices are key: This was the main theme that girded many of the sessions and keynote speeches at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Philadelphia June 27-30.

From student showcases, or student-led sessions in which kids demonstrated how they are using technology to enhance learning in their classes, to a Student Voice Film Festival sponsored by Philadelphia public television station WHYY, this year’s conference featured many opportunities for attendees to hear students’ perspectives on a variety of issues.

And that’s increasingly important in today’s digital age, many speakers and show organizers said, because this generation of students has a whole new set of needs and skills that most schools so far have been slow to address.

In a highly creative and entertaining keynote speech on June 29, titled “The Natives are Restless,” actress and educational technologist Deneen Frazier Bowen urged educators to ask questions and listen to what their students have to say about their instruction.

Her point: Listening to students will help educators understand the disconnect that often exists between students’ expectations for their education and what they’re actually getting from school, so educators can begin to help bridge this gap.

Bowen got her point across by assuming the roles of four characters on stage: Dr. Priscilla Normal, a research “expert” who believes all the answers teachers need about this new generation can be found in the demographic data; Edy, an eighth grader who discovers her voice and her best place for learning by writing a web log, or blog; Maria, a fifth grader who leads a school-wide effort to find out what the students in her school think about technology; and Joanne, an 11th grader who takes a journey around the world to get involved in her own community.

From the stories of each of the three student characters, it was evident that today’s educational system needs to reach students who learn in vastly different ways. Edy is most comfortable expressing herself via a written blog, while Maria prefers more verbal forms of communication, such as her cell phone and podcasts.

What’s also clear is that technology–whether a blog, or a podcast, or a digital story–can help students find or express their voice.

In her persona as Dr. Normal, Bowen revealed some compelling statistics about today’s digital “natives,” including these: 78 percent of students in grades K-3 know what the internet is; 58 percent of students in grades 7-12 know their friends’ screen names better than they know their friends’ phone numbers; and 18 percent of kids in grades 7-12 have four or more screen names.

“An administrator’s job is to protect the system,” Bowen told eSchool News in an interview following her speech. “But administrators sometimes forget that it’s the students who drive the system.”

Links:

eSchool News Conference Information Center
http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic

Video coverage of NECC 2005
http://www.eschoolnews.com/vrc/video.cfm

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Student producers honored at NECC

For the winners of the first-ever eSchool News Student Video Discovery Awards (SVDA) program, being behind a camera is second nature. Last night, the students found themselves in front of the cameras as they were honored in a ceremony at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Philadelphia.

The six students and their educational advisors received trophies, free software, and other prizes for their outstanding creations using video technology. The ceremony marked a break from the rigor of their responsibilities producing video news reports of NECC events for the eSchool News web site (see http://www.eschoolnews.com/vrc/video.cfm).

“Video journalism plays an increasingly critical role in our society today, and it is one of the fastest-growing areas of study in schools and colleges. At all levels in education nowadays, video is used both as a learning experience and a communications tool for students,” said Gregg W. Downey, editor and publisher of eSchool News.

“Recognizing this trend, [we] created this award to honor excellence in student journalism and video production, while also providing a meaningful learning experience for the winners.”

Sponsored by Discovery Education, with additional support from Cisco Systems, Apple Computer, Avid Technology, Macromedia, and NEC, the SVDA program is intended to give students international visibility for their work–and some professional experience to boot.

The winners traveled to Philadelphia with the eSchool News editorial team to cover NECC and produce video news segments of conference focal points. Under the expert tutelage of professionals from Discovery, Apple, Avid, and local television station PBS 39, as well as their academic advisors, the students worked late into the night shooting film, editing clips, and producing professional-quality videos highlighting the key people and presentations at this year’s conference.

“I’ve had friends who have done college internships, and they’ve ended up pushing paper and having no control. This program is great, because students are really getting hands-on experience with video editing in a real-life news setting,” said Mike Dumont, an instructor at South Burlington High School (SBHS) in Vermont.

Dumont was the academic advisor on site for SBHS students Kyle Kelley and Brian Stevenson, who were among the winners of this year’s inaugural SVDA program. The others were Erik Archibald, Doug Waters, and Charles Horne from Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa., and their advisor, Marilyn Stinebaugh; and Jen Campbell from Northeast High School in Oakland Park, Fla., and her advisor, Sandy Melillo.

Besides daily news clips on the eSchool News web site, the student video journalists also produced a 10-minute highlight reel of the conference, to be shown during the NECC closing ceremony on June 30.

At the June 29 awards ceremony, the winners–selected by a panel of professional journalists and video experts, including an Emmy-award-winning executive producer for the Discovery Channel–received free video equipment and prizes worth more than $50,000 for themselves and their schools, donated by corporate sponsors. The prizes, which will be divided among the winning schools, include:

  • Six copies of Macromedia Flash MX Professional 2004;
  • Three copies of Macromedia Studio MX 2004 with Flash Professional;
  • Nine Avid Xpress Pro software packages;
  • Three 17-inch iMac G5 1.8Ghz with SuperDrive, including an Apple Memory Module 256MB DDR400 PC3200 DIMM;
  • Nine copies of Apple’s Production Suite Academic software; and
  • Cisco Systems is flying winners to its corporate headquarters in San Jose, Calif., to show them its multimedia studio.

Even more valuable to the students than these generous prizes, however, was the experience they gained reporting on the conference.

“I came here primarily with editing skills, and I’ll leave with a lot more reporting and lighting experience,” said SBHS’s Kelley. “I’m really excited that I now feel equipped with the tools to do more than just edit film.”

Links:

NECC video coverage
http://www.eschoolnews.com/vrc/video.cfm

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Students accused of late-night bid to steal school computers

The Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif., report that three high school students broke into their school early Monday morning and attempted to steal computers. Police responding to a burglar alarm caught the students attempting to remove 23 pieces of property from the school. This included computers, keyboards, and DVD equipment.

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California district ends up with smallest of 29 EETT grants

The Santa Cruz Sentinel of Santa Cruz, Calif., reports that Pajaro Valley Unified School District has earned an Enhancing Education Through Technology grant, but the total of only $11,024 is rather disappointing for the district. Only three of the 29 schools awarded EETT grants in this latest round of funding are scheduled to receive less than $100,000, and Pajaro Valley Unified School District received the smallest amount of all 29.

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Consultants suggest doubting board heed district tech director

The Chronicle-Tribune of Marion, Ind., reports on a recent study of the technology situation in the local Madison-Grant district. The study, conducted by an outside consulting firm, found that the district’s greatest need is new computers, even though the school board had questioned the district technology director’s assertion that the school should lease 262 new computers over the next three years.

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Got an IT job in ed? Hang onto it!

Schools and colleges might soon have an easier time recruiting and retaining high-tech help if the latest trend in IT jobs continues on its current trajectory.

Consider the case of Andrew Mo.

As an eager freshman in the fall of 2001, Mo’s career path seemed preordained: First, he’d learn C++ and Java languages while earning a computer science degree at Stanford University, then he’d land a Silicon Valley technology job.

The 22-year-old Shanghai native graduated last month with a major in computer science and a minor in economics. But he no longer plans to write code for a living, or even work at a tech company.

Mo begins work in the fall as a management consultant with The Boston Consulting Group, helping to lead projects at multinational companies. Consulting, he says, will insulate him from the offshore outsourcing that’s sending thousands of once-desirable computer programming jobs overseas.

Mo’s experience reflects a subtle but significant shift in the market for information technology (IT) employees. Up to 15 percent of tech workers will drop out of the profession by 2010, predicts research firm Gartner Inc., not including those who retire or die. Most will leave because they can’t get jobs, or they can get more money or job satisfaction elsewhere.

Within the same period, Gartner says, worldwide demand for technology developers–a job category ranging from programmers to people who maintain everything from mainframes to employee laptops–is forecast to shrink by some 30 percent.

The change would have significant implications for schools, which traditionally have struggled to compete with the private sector in recruiting and retaining high-tech help. Those struggles might diminish as IT workers begin to see education as a more stable and reliable career path. School computer science departments, meanwhile, could be forced to rethink their approach to teaching high-tech skills.

“One of the great K-12 education myths of the 1990s was that the ideal IT director for a school district was a teacher who liked computers, memorized the specs on the hottest new peripherals, and kept current with trends that appeared to be just around the corner,” said Raymond Yeagley, former superintendent of the Rochester School District in New Hampshire, who is leaving Rochester for a post with the Northwest Evaluation Association. “During those times, public education generally couldn’t afford people who had a ‘ground-up’ understanding of networking, system maintenance, and security, because most were seeking their fortune in the esoteric world of coding and mega-system management.”

But, as Mo’s story suggests, the paradigm has shifted.

“With the coding world saturated and the industry continuing to move forward, schools and districts can begin to find the kind of tech support they really need–people who can configure, secure, and maintain industrial-strength databases; consultants who can help the superintendent, principals, and teachers understand how technology can … make them more effective and efficient; and the rare individuals who can translate classical ‘Geek’ into standard English for people who need to use technology rather than create it,” Yeagley said.

Gartner researchers say most people affiliated with corporate IT departments will assume “business-facing” roles, focused not so much on gadgets and algorithms but corporate strategy, personnel, and financial analysis.

“If you’re only interested in deep coding and you want to remain in your cubicle all day, there are a shrinking number of jobs for you,” said Diane Morello, Gartner vice president of research. “Employers are starting to want versatilists’–people who have deep experience with enterprise-wide applications and can parlay it into some larger cross-company projects out there.”

Career experts say the decline of traditional tech jobs for U.S. workers isn’t likely to reverse anytime soon.

The U.S. software industry lost 16 percent of its jobs from March 2001 to March 2004, the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute found. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that IT industries laid off more than 7,000 American workers in the first quarter of 2005.

“Obviously the past four or five years have been really rough for tech job seekers, and that’s not going to change–there are absolutely no signs that there’s a huge boom about to happen where techies will get big salary hikes or there will be lots of new positions opening for them,” said Allan Hoffman, the tech job expert at career site Monster.com.

The erosion of “deep code” and other technology jobs in the next decade is creating a high-stakes game of musical chairs for computer savants, Silicon Valley recruiters say.

Dimming career prospects have been particularly ego-bruising for people who entered the profession during the late ’90s, when employers doled out multiple job offers, generous starting salaries, and starting bonuses that included stock options and Porsches.

“The current situation is getting back to the ’70s and ’80s, where IT workers were the basement cubicle geeks and they weren’t very well off,” said Matthew Moran, author of the six-month-old book “Information Technology Career Builder’s Toolkit: A Complete Guide to Building Your Information Technology Career in Any Economy.”

“They were making an honest living but weren’t anything more than middle-class people just getting by,” Moran said.

Thousands of U.S. companies have opened branches or hired contractors in India, China, and Russia, transforming a cost-saving trick into a long-term business strategy. So-called “offshoring” might be a main factor in eroding enthusiasm for engineering careers among American students, creating a vast supply of low-wage labor in eastern Europe and Asia and driving down worldwide wages.

The average computer programmer in India costs roughly $20 per hour in wages and benefits, compared with $65 per hour for an American with a comparable degree and experience, according to the consulting firm Cap Gemini Ernst & Young.

According to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation, 1.2 million of the world’s 2.8 million university degrees in science and engineering in 2000 were earned by Asian students in Asian universities, with only 400,000 granted in the United States.

U.S. graduates probably shouldn’t think of computer programming or chemical engineering as long-term careers–but it’s “not all gloom and doom,” said Albert C. Gray, executive director of the National Society of Professional Engineers.

He says prospects are good for aeronautic, civil, and biomedical engineers, the people who design and build artificial organs, life support devices, and machines to nurture premature infants.

“In this country, we need to train our engineers to be at the leading edge,” Gray said. “That’s the only place there’s still going to be engineering work here.”

At Stanford, career experts are urging engineering and science majors to get internships and jobs outside of their comfort zones–in marketing, finance, sales, and even consulting.

They suggest students develop foreign-language skills to land jobs as cross-cultural project managers–the person who coordinates software development between work teams in Silicon Valley and the emerging tech hub of Bangalore, India, for example.

Stanford listed 268 job postings in its computer science jobs database in the spring quarter–roughly double the number from last year.

But that doesn’t necessarily indicate a plethora of traditional tech jobs. About half of the new postings would prefer applicants who speak at least two languages, and many were for management-track positions, said Beverley Principal, assistant director of employment services at Stanford.

“When they’re first hired at the entry level, just out of school, people can’t always become a manager or team leader,” Principal said. “But many employers see these people moving into management roles within two years. They need to know how to step into these roles quickly.”

Some schools already are considering ways to teach a more holistic approach to technology.

Sandra Becker, director of technology for the Governor Mifflin School District in Shillington, Pa., said she encourages students to view technology as a tool for solving larger, more complex problems, not simply as a means to process code.

“I rarely hard-code anything,” acknowledged Becker. “I use applications that require ‘soft’ programming, so the applications are customized to the needs of my district.”

Links:

Cap Gemini Ernst & Young
http://www.capgemini.com

Gartner Inc.
http://www.gartner.com

Governor Mifflin School District
http://www.governormifflinsd.org

Monster.com
http://www.monster.com

National Science Foundation
http://www.nsf.org

National Society of Professional Engineers
http://www.nspe.org

Northwest Evaluation Association
http://www.nwea.org

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Fiscal Responsibility 101: Lessons from the Federal Reserve

At a time when the nation’s students are graduating college and, in some cases, high school while buried under mounting credit-card debt, the Federal Reserve has launched a newly redesigned web site intended to help teach greater fiscal responsibility among school-age children. For younger students, the enhanced site features a variety of online games and puzzles meant to stress the importance of smart spending. Older students are invited to take part in several role-playing scenarios that encourage them to consider what it’s like to be a bank examiner or even sit in on a meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as he works with the Federal Open Market Committee to set interest rates. The site also contains a specially engineered search engine designed to guide educators in finding materials to help increase students’ understanding of economics. A personal finance section aims to encourage more informed decisions on such topics as consumer banking, buying a home and getting a mortgage, interest rates, loans and credit, and more.

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