Podcast lectures a hit on Ivy League campus

The University of Pennsylvania’s student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, reports that Penn is joining the growing list of universities that make professors’ lectures available online as podcasts. The Penn biology department is already distributing podcasts of its lectures, and other departments are expected to follow. “Podcasting is just a cute name for something that is essentially a very simple practice,” said John MacDermott, Penn’s Director of Instructional Technology, who added that Penn has been distributing audio cassettes of lectures for years.


PBS’s “Evolution” explores the human nature of scientific change

Divine intervention takes on the Big Bang Theory in this PBS-sponsored web site intended to help students navigate the thorny evolution dispute being waged in school board meetings and science classrooms nationwide. A companion to the seven-part PBS television series “Evolution: A Journey into Where We’re From and Where We’re Going,” which first aired in 2001, the site explores everything from the philosophies of Charles Darwin “to the vast changes that spawned the tree of life & to the power of sex to drive evolutionary change.” The series also explores the emergence of consciousness, the success of humans, and the perceived conflict between science and religion in understanding human life, according to a synopsis on the project’s web site. Several interactive features help bring the debate alive for students and teachers. For instance, a special section called “Learning Evolution” contains seven online lesson plans. With topics such as “What is the Evidence for Evolution?” and “Why is Evolution Controversial?” the content matter is sure to fuel intelligent, lively classroom discussions, and should provide students with a basic understanding of the issue from both sides of the debate. Other features include a library of instructional videos and a specially designed Teacher’s Guide created to help educators navigate the sensitive subject matter.


Ga. district names media specialist top teacher

The Rockmart Journal of Rockmart, Ga., reports that a local elementary school media specialist has been named Polk School District Teacher of the Year. Carol Thompson says she works hard to stay on top of the latest technologies and describes teaching as a “hands-on career.” She also said accountability is the most important issue in public education today.


Fla. Catholic school wants all-digital curriculum

The Ledger of Lakeland, Fla., reports on efforts by a local Catholic school to bring an all-digital curriculum to its ninth-graders. Santa Fe Catholic freshmen are given their textbooks in CD-ROM format for use with the tablet PCs as part of a one-to-one computing initiative. Santa Fe Catholic is Polk County’s only school with a paperless classroom and is aiming to become an entirely paperless school. Each laptop adds $1,750 to the school’s tuition, but the principal says most parents are buying into the program.


Older college students quick to learn new tools

The Northwestern of Oshkosh, Wis., reports that many adult students who return to college later in life initially have trouble coping with the computers and other technology that their younger classmates already use. In fact, many of these returning students come back to school without ever having used eMail. Ionically, however, once the returning students are exposed to these new tools, they tend to take better advantage of them than a younger generation which has never known life without them.


Opinion: Science/math apathy dooms U.S. kids

In a guest column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, University of Georgia senior Padmini Jambulapati recalls how the children in her immigrant family were always far more interested in school and learning than most other kids in her Georgia neighborhood. Jambulapati, whose parents came to the U.S. from India, says American culture does not have the respect for education that other countries have, and this is particularly true in the case of math and science. Jambulapati worries that if U.S. kids don’t improve their performance in this area, American business will have no qualms about going overseas for employees–thereby reducing the very opportunities that so many foreigners sought in America. (Note: This site requires registration.)


Study: Schools need improved IT security

A lack of funding and a shortage of staff time are the biggest obstacles to better information technology (IT) security in colleges and universities, according to a survey of higher education officials. Conducted by CDW-Government (CDW-G), a technology solutions provider, the survey also suggests a need for better network-security education for faculty members and students.

The Higher Education Security Report Card, released Oct. 24, was based on an informal survey of more than 100 school IT directors, staff, and executives nationwide. They were asked questions about the degree of computer and network security at their academic institutions, their comfort level with this security, and their perceptions of administrator, faculty, and student attitudes toward IT security.

Only five percent of those surveyed said their network is very safe from attack. Forty-one percent, however, said they have a safe network, and 44 percent reported their networks are moderately secure, but require some improvement. Nine percent said their system is fairly vulnerable to malicious codes, and only one percent of those surveyed said their system is not safe at all.

“Stakeholders do feel secure, but they know they’re vulnerable,” said Dan Monahan, higher-education director for CDW-G.

Christopher Cramer, director of IT security for Duke University, told eSchool News that the complexity of a large educational institution–which must support a number of different platforms and research efforts, transmit large amounts of secure data, and host any number of other activities across its network–makes it impossible to have an institution-wide solution to protect against security threats.

“Duke University is a difficult IT environment,” Cramer said. “It’s not just a business; it’s not just an education place; it is also an ISP [internet service provider] for students. A campus-wide firewall is not feasible. We’ve got 50,000 or 60,000 network pieces here. There is no such thing as a firewall perimeter.”

He added, “Given all these factors, I’d say we’re in a reasonably comfortable place in terms of security. But there’s no such thing as a ‘secure’ network. Applications that are attached to that network need to be secure. My personal philosophy is that all applications should be secure enough to run on a hostile network.”

Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed reported security is a high priority for their school’s administration. But two-thirds of these IT professionals said they are able to dedicate only 25 percent or less of their time to security concerns. Half of the survey’s respondents said a lack of funding is the most significant barrier to improving IT security on campus–and a third said their administrations are not committed to enforcing security policies or funding training programs.

“Technology is evolving so quickly, it is hard [for school administrators] to build policies around it. Nobody is sure how to write policy around IT security,” Monahan said.

“The good news here is that higher education institutions do not have any inherent structural opposition to IT security initiatives, with 73 percent of faculty and 87 percent of administration executives reportedly ‘very supportive’ or ‘supportive’ of cyber security initiatives on campus,” he said. “The bad news is that, as the academic community increasingly relies on information resources to fulfill [its] mission, IT staffs are absolutely stretched to the limit to meet the growing needs. The perception is there is a certain level of security, but no one feels they are at the top level.”

Monahan said he believes higher ed administrators should be concerned with security not only for keeping student data safe, but also for attracting new students.

“From conversations I’ve had around campuses, it appears that students are starting to consider technology and high-speed wireless bandwidth in making [enrollment] decisions,” he said. “And schools known to have non-secure networks should be very concerned about attracting students.”

The survey found a need for greater student education about IT security, noting that 36 percent of those surveyed said students disregard security policies; 25 percent said students lack awareness of these policies. On the other hand, only 14 percent of those surveyed said peer-to-peer file sharing is a significant network threat, and only three percent reported attacks from students are a threat to their network.

“Schools are now embracing some of the very issues they have been fighting over the past few years,” Monahan said. “For instance, many IT officials have figured out that students are going to find a way to download MP3s and shareware [which can be a source of malicious code when downloaded]. So, instead of trying to keep MP3s and shareware off the network, many schools are now hosting–in a cleansed and secure environment–say, the top 20,000 files that students are looking to download.”

Despite the survey’s findings, schools do appear to be taking action to better educate their students and faculty about network security, it was reported.

“This is the second year of our security-awareness campaign,” Cramer said. “We’re still struggling to find out what works and how best to reach students.”


CDW-Government Inc.

Duke University


Phoenix Techathalon helps bridge digital divide

The Arizona Republic reports on the third annual Techathalon, staged at a Boys & Girls Club in Phoenix. The event brought 247 local students together to compete in contests that showcased their computer skills. Among the competitions were a PowerPoint presentation event, a computer construction contest, and a commputer trouble-shooting challenge. The Techathalon was designed to combat the digital divide, as many of its participants are immigrants and first-generation Americans.


Aussies speak out against intelligent design

The Age of Melbourne, Australia, reports that a coalition of 70,000 scientists, researchers, and teachers has come out against the teaching of “intelligent design” theory in Austrialian schools. The group sent an open letter to newspapers across the country, arguing that intelligent design instruction would “make a mockery of Australian science teaching and throw open the door of science classes to similarly unscientific world views.”