Ithaca College student wins CellFlix Festival

PRNewswire reports that Ithaca College Junior Mike Potter won the first-ever CellFlix festival. The triple-major’s work was selected from among 178 entries by a panel of professional judges. The contest featured movies entirely shot on cell phone and was sponsored by Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications and invited high school and college students to film a thirty second movie on their cell phone for a chance to win $5,000…


Gates envisions computing by phone

The New York Times reports that Microsoft founder Bill Gates demonstrated a mock-up of his proposed cellular PC last month at the Consumer Electronics show. Gates believes that these types of cellular phones may be the answer to getting internet access to the poor in developing nations. The plan is an alternative to the $100 laptop plan proposed by the founder of MIT’s Media Laboratory, Nicholas Negroponte. At a meeting at the World Economic Forum, Gates mentioned that his plan is a cheaper alternative to traditional PC’s and laptops… (Note: This site requires free registration)


Study: ‘Power Users’ drive pedagogy

A new survey of teachers and instructors at the high school and post-secondary levels has found that students who excel in the use of information and communications technology (ICT) are driving change in classroom instruction.

Dubbed “Power Users,” this “emerging group of youth distinguished by their self-directed, long-term, extensive experiences with technology” influence what and how teachers teach, have positively affected the way instructors learn about and use technology, and are generally helpful toward their classmates, the survey said.

The study was carried out by Certiport Inc., a provider of technology training, certification, and assessment solutions, and the Education Development Center Inc. (EDC), an international nonprofit organization that researches and implements best practices in health and learning in 50 countries. The survey of 444 teachers and instructors was conducted in 382 Certiport testing centers over a seven-day period.

The survey is a part of a larger, four-year EDC study being carried out in cooperation with Certiport. The research is designed to help educators better understand the strengths of these tech-savvy students and the implications of their presence in education and the workforce.

“The economic health of all nations depends on healthier educational systems,” said David Saedi, president and CEO of Certiport. “We are working to identify the critical nature of [Power Users’] contribution to education and the economy at large.”

Power Users, as defined by EDC, are the savviest of the “digital natives,” a demographic of 10- to 15-year-old students who have grown up with digital technology as a part of their everyday lives. According to EDC, these students have technical acumen beyond any previous generation. They are characterized by their ability to “leverage the internet to the highest degree conceivable” and are energized by technology well past the point of most digital “immigrants”–that is, older learners forced to adapt from the analog age.

“The Certiport survey validated many of our observations that, among digital natives, there is a group of ‘Power Users’ of ICT,” said Joyce Malyn-Smith, director of strategic initiatives for education, employment, and community programs for EDC. “This group [is] in tune with what is needed for success in the 21st century, exhibiting many of the collaborative learning, analytical thinking, and problem-solving interests that are sought by today’s employers.”

Malyn-Smith said those who operate as Power Users exhibit “engineer-level thinking that we don’t normally expect [students] to have until they enter post-secondary engineering programs.”

As part of the survey, respondents were asked to read the definition of a Power User and then were told to complete the survey. Researchers aimed to establish the learning style preferences of Power Users, the influence of Power Users on their peers, and their influence on their teachers.

Among the survey’s findings: 69 percent of respondents believe Power Users influence what is being taught in the classroom, and 66 percent said they influence teaching methods.

Looking to tap into the technology know-how of their students, an increasing number of classroom teachers are forming partnerships with these students, turning to Power Users for research and to help better integrate technology into their lessons, the survey indicates.

“Once these students discover how innovative they can be, they will help to redesign the learning ecosystem to embrace their skills and abilities,” Malyn-Smith said. “They are revolutionizing education.”

According to the survey, 48 percent of respondents said Power Users exhibit helpful behavior, and 55 percent said these students facilitate the learning of other students.

Teachers, meanwhile, are pairing these students with other, less technically advanced classmates in hopes that they will assume more of a leadership role and are encouraging them to share their breadth of knowledge with their peers.

The study also found that more than four in five teachers (84 percent) believe Power Users have positively influenced their own learning and knowledge of ICT.

Certiport and EDC say they will expand on the original key areas of study to examine the human-behavior impact of Power Users, their performance and roles in the workplace, ideal learning environments and solutions, the sustainability of Power Users’ characteristics through life changes, and their impact on learning outcomes across the core curriculum.

Malyn-Smith said the survey’s results offer many leads in the study of digital natives. “More investigation is needed to help develop recommendations that will help nurture the talents of all youth who have access to technology in schools and community settings,” she said.

“As observers, and as trainers, [Certiport is] in a good position to look at the sea change that could happen [in education as a result of the influence of Power Users],” Certiport’s Saedi said. “We can determine what practices should be preserved and predict the outcome of their influence on the academic system.”

A synopsis of the report is available at the EDC web site, along with other materials related to the four-year Power User study. To get a copy of the full report, readers should contact EDC.


Certiport Inc.

Education Development Center Inc.


BlackBerry competitors muscle in

Reuters reports that as RIM (Research in Motion) faces a patent battle over its popular BlackBerry device, competitors are muscling into the email market that RIM dominates. While experts doubt that BlackBerry will face a total shutdown, the uncertainty surrounding the service has opened up the possibility for alternatives…


Cities’ wireless plans hit snags

There’s a battle brewing in cities across the country, one with important implications for schools.

On one side are municipal governments that want to extend wireless internet access citywide. On the other side are local cable and telecommunications companies fighting to block such efforts, fearing these will cut into their broadband business.

Caught in the middle are educators, students, and other stakeholders who would benefit greatly from the promise of instantaneous, always-on, citywide wireless access. How these skirmishes play out could decide how quickly ubiquitous computing and the evolution of anytime, anywhere learning in these communities can be realized.

Citywide wireless access projects are now being deployed in several cities, including San Francisco, Anaheim, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Portland, and Philadelphia. “The number of [public wireless communications] systems that are up and running, under consideration, or in development has grown geometrically over the past two or three years,” said Dave Baller, senior principal for the Baller Herbst Law Group, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that specializes in telecommunications issues.

Despite such efforts, recent research suggests the United States still lags behind other industrialized nations in terms of wireless access.

According to 2005 figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation, an international nonprofit group that supports free-market economic development, the U.S. currently ranks 12th internationally in access to broadband internet services per 100 inhabitants–though some figures, including those cited in the U.S. Senate, rank the country as low as 16th.

Baller and other experts attribute much of this sluggishness to the reluctance of local cable and phone companies to embrace wireless connectivity at a citywide level.

“Telecoms have mounted ferocious battles at the local level, and numerous lawsuits have been filed against municipalities,” Baller said.

State legislation blocking or severely restricting the municipal deployment of wireless broadband has been passed in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Such legislation also is being considered by lawmakers in at least seven states: Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Despite these roadblocks, Baller and others say the educational benefits of low-cost, citywide wireless deployments are obvious.

“My son was recently preparing for a debate on gun rights. We have broadband [internet access] and a computer in the home. Within five minutes, he was able to download 40 reasons for and 40 against gun ownership,” Baller said.

“Compare his story to one about the migrant student, or anyone who doesn’t have convenient access. Who is going to get the better grade? Who’s going to graduate, get the better job?”

Colleen Kosloski, director of IT services for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), anticipates a plan by city government officials to build a citywide wireless network in Minneapolis will greatly benefit students by extending digital communication networks beyond the classroom and into their homes and off-campus lives.

In 2005, MPS implemented a $2.2 million upgrade of technology services, which included hardware updates and a 45 megabit-per-second internet connection. The district plans to offer complete wireless mobility on all school campuses by 2007, with hot spots in at least 21 individual schools already.

According to Kosloski, a survey recently conducted by the district found that about 77 percent of Minneapolis students already have some sort of internet access at home. Kosloski said those numbers are heavily weighted toward middle- and upper-class students, however, and do not account for connection speeds and other variables.

“Home and community access is always an issue for us,” Kosloski said. “Thanks to the eRate, we’ve been able to have our own wired pipelines into and wireless access [in the areas surrounding] the schools. But we’re very excited to be partners with the city in making certain students and their families have greater access to broadband. It will be great to have on field trips and will benefit students … by more fully integrating learning into students’ lives outside the classroom.”

Kosloski said the project also will ensure that all Minneapolis teachers and other school employees have more complete access to communications networks. She said support staff members who have to travel between schools–community liaison officers, social workers, and others who move between schools–now will have access to the internet and the district’s network from the road, under the city’s plan.

Minneapolis has just issued a request for proposals for vendors to deploy its wireless project and has yet to run into any difficulties with telecommunications providers. Philadelphia, however, was not so lucky.

In a highly publicized case, Philadelphia in 2004 announced plans to roll out a citywide wireless network (see story: Philly strives to be No. 1 U.S. ‘hot spot’). The system was intended to offer low-cost wireless solutions to the city’s 1.5 million citizens, and it would have subsidized solutions to those who qualified for economic assistance.

But Verizon Communications Inc., the largest telecom provider in Philadelphia, objected to the plan. Verizon noted that it already provided subscription-based wireless access to the city’s citizens and said that a public project would result in unfair competition.

The company even went as far as to draft (and lobby for) a Pennsylvania state bill barring communities from building their own wireless networks, unless certain conditions were met. The measure, signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendall in November 2004, included a grandfather clause stating that any municipality with a citywide wireless network installed prior to Jan. 1, 2006, would be allowed to maintain service, as long as it had at least one paying customer by that date. Philadelphia officials, however, said that date was untenable for their own network, forcing them to reach a compromise with Verizon.

Under this agreement, the terms of which weren’t made public, Verizon waived its rights of first refusal, thereby allowing Philadelphia to offer the service to its citizens for a fee.

Philadelphia later reached a deal with Earthlink Inc., in which Earthlink would pay for the city’s wireless infrastructure–not the city, as originally planned. The company then would offer wireless access to Philadelphia residents at a reduced cost of $20 a month to most citizens, or $10 a month to those who qualified for financial aid. Earthlink said it hopes to profit from the offering by giving local businesses resale rights to their own wireless services through the network. City officials expect the network to be finished by the end of this year.

According to Vincent DeTolla, executive director of educational technology for the School District of Philadelphia, the delays in the city’s WiFi Philadelphia plan have not directly delayed any school initiatives. Within the physical buildings of Philadelphia schools, students have solid access to wired and wireless services. A program also exists through a district-led organization to provide “a fairly robust refurbished computer” to families in need, and dial-up internet service for $4 a month.

In addition, the district’s new online family outreach program to parents in the area, FamilyNet, is ready–on schedule–to expand availability from 55,000 students and their families to 200,000, or every family in the district, DeTolla said.

The outreach program for parents, which offers student grades, parent-teacher interaction, day-to-day student curricula, and other online services to parents, also delivers multimedia learning programs aimed at extending learning directly into the homes of at-risk students. Unfortunately, DeTolla says, those students who most need the program likely will not have the bandwidth to access it until the city’s wireless infrastructure is in place.

“I’m concerned about home access to that learning material,” DeTolla said. “We need a larger pipeline for homes that are using [the discounted dial-up service]. Many of the parent and student resources available through FamilyNet require a larger pipeline.”

DeTolla said that, even with the amount of connectivity currently available in Philadelphia, the school system still has a difficult time reaching many parents–and that programs like FamilyNet are intended to help fill this long-standing gap.

“Our district has a high poverty rate. It’s difficult to use technology to penetrate our homes,” DeTolla said. “WiFi Philadelphia will give us the opportunity to have a large enough [internet] highway to begin to have a greater effect on those homes.”

DeTolla said programs such as FamilyNet, in tandem with those like WiFi Philadelphia, will help to bridge the digital divide in Philadelphia. He added that similar programs could help at-risk families in other cities, too, if the bandwidth becomes available.

Federal legislation in the form of an amended version to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 could set clearer boundaries for the responsibilities and rights of cities and corporations as broadband access becomes increasingly necessary for education and economic competition.

The Telecom Act has regulated the internet market since the law’s inception, but is now considered a roadblock to continued digital progress in the United States. Critics of the 10-year-old law say its provisions are old and have failed to keep up with the constant evolution of newer, more powerful communications technologies.

In response, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have proposed amendments seeking to address the power municipal governments have in establishing broadband access. One bipartisan version co-sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., seeks to amend the law to protect the rights of municipalities to deploy their own telecommunications systems, as long as anti-discrimination safeguards are in place to ensure that all applicable rules and ordinances are applied equally to municipalities themselves and competing entities.

In the House, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, has proposed a bill that is an exact opposite of the McCain-Lautenberg bill. Called the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005, Sessions’ bill proposes a federal barrier to “any municipal governments offering telecommunications, information, or cable services except to remedy market failures by private enterprise to provide such services.”

That bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The committee recently released its own draft of proposed revisions of the Telecom Act and is holding hearings to address the debate between private broadband companies and municipal providers.

Until more federal guidance is available, it is likely that states and municipalities will continue to look to places like Philadelphia and elsewhere for guidance on how to approach the planning and eventual deployment of these and other large-scale communications projects.

“There are all sorts of business models,” said telecom expert Baller. “Some are solely operated by local governments, some are public-private partnerships.”

He added: “The implications of this kind of program for education are huge. [It creates the possibility for] parents and teachers to better collaborate on student success … This technology is available to parents, but it is often at the mercy of a broadband connection”–one that might not be affordable to all parents in a community.

Kosloski of the Minneapolis Public Schools said she strongly hopes that Minneapolis officials can avoid any entanglements with telecoms that would delay making wireless access available to students in that city.

“Hopefully we can learn about the pitfalls of this process from the cities that have [implemented municipal wireless programs] before us, so we don’t have those kinds of problems with the telecoms as we move forward,” Kosloski said.


Baller Herbst Law Group

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

Minneapolis Public Schools

Telecommunications Act of 1996

Senator John McCain, R-Ariz.

Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas

Verizon Communications

Earthlink Inc.

Philly strives to be No. 1 U.S. ‘hot spot’


Group seeks bids for wireless network

The Mercury News reports that Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network announced that it is seeking bids to essentially transform Silicon Valley into one huge wireless network. Joint Venture is a coalition of businesses, education, and government officials. If the effort is successful, it will bring wireless internet access to thousands of valley residents, and cover 1,500 square miles of territory…


Chicago approves first virtual public school

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Chicago Board of Education approved the creation of the Chicago Virtual Charter School, the city’s first virtual public school. The district wants to open the school next fall, but it still faces some hurdles, most notably, the opposition of the Chicago Teachers Union. The nation’s third-largest school district proposed the new school under the Renaissance 2010 program, which provides for the closing of underperforming schools and the creation of new schools in their place which are free from many district controls…


Public schools score as well as private in math

The New York Times reports that a government-financed study has found that in terms of math performance, students of public high schools score as well as or even better than their private-school counterparts. The study compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of over 340,000 students in 13,000 public, private and charter schools. The 2003 survey assessed 10 times more students than any previous test… (Note: This site requires free registration)


Alumnus rescinds offer to buy lecture tapes

The New York Times reports that conservative alumnus Andrew Jones of UCLA has withdrawn his offer to pay students to tape-record lectures of left-leaning professors. Mr. Jones was informed by university officials that this was in violation of school policy. While Jones feels this is a violation of “newsgathering” rights afforded by the First Amendment, he withdrew his offer in order to save students from possible legal action… (Note: This site requires free registration)


ED mainly mum on Gulf relief

Nearly five months after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the Gulf Coast and destroyed or damaged hundreds of schools and colleges, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) official responsible for Mississippi and Louisiana relief efforts could not say how much damage schools and colleges sustained in those states, could not say how much money will go to education recovery in the affected areas, and declined to comment about ED’s master recovery plan.

ED has developed a web site. Chad Colby, a spokesman for ED’s press office, said that Hurricane Help for Schools, an ED-run hurricane relief web page, would serve as the foundation for the department’s master recovery plan.

That web site offers a forum for schools to post what they need and for organizations to post free materials they are willing to give, such as computers, textbooks, and chairs. It also gives users a handful of links and resources for information on hurricane assistance funds and other information to help children deal with traumatic events.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has designated certain ED officials as contact persons for local education authorities in the affected states. But, as of press time, it appeared Spellings had not assigned a single department official to oversee and coordinate ED’s entire hurricane relief operations.

Henry L. Johnson, assistant secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, was assigned as the contact person for schools in Mississippi, and later Louisiana. In an interview with eSchool News, Johnson said he could talk in general terms about federal aid to hurricane-ravaged schools, but he refused to address questions about the extent of ED’s master recovery plan.

“We don’t know for sure how much money will ultimately go to each state, but Congress allocated $1.6 billion, and the expectation is that the money will go to those areas that need it,” Johnson said. He said the department could not yet estimate the total cost of all education-related hurricane recovery efforts.

Asst. ED Secretary Henry L. Johnson.

ED staff members are in daily contact with officials in the four states directly affected (Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama), Johnson said. Those staff members are collecting data and gathering damage estimates for public and private schools, but do not have any final figures yet, he said.

Staff members in his Office of Elementary and Secondary Education are in charge of administering the aid, according to Johnson: “It’s my understanding that all federal agencies are involved in this in some way, but I don’t know the particulars of those.”

Johnson is scheduled to speak today as part of a $249-per-connection virtual roundtable discussion sponsored by the Heller Reports, an education research and reporting firm owned by Quality Education Data. During the for-fee audio program, Johnson reportedly will further outline what the affected schools in the Gulf Coast need and will describe his own initial impressions of the devastation. Before coming to ED last summer, Johnson was Mississippi’s State Superintendent for Education.

“I’ve heard, very loudly and very clearly, the need for dollars and the need for flexibility,” Johnson said. He added that schools still need curriculum materials, computers, software, hardware, textbooks, and–in some cases–chalk, paper, and pencils.

“One local superintendent’s friend came up to me, with tears in her eyes, and said, ‘We’ve got to get help for students and teachers, to get school going, and to bring normalcy into their lives,'” Johnson said of this first visit to Biloxi, Miss., about a week after Katrina hit.

“Teachers lost their homes, and they were thinking about how to get school back going,” he said.

As of late January, many affected school districts still do not have even damage and recovery cost estimates, let alone federal assistance for rebuilding. Even as schools are reopening and students are slowly returning to their homes, educators still are struggling to make ends meet, calling on the federal government to step up its hurricane relief efforts and provide more guidance for the long road ahead.

In early January, Spellings announced that $253 million from the Hurricane Education Recovery Act was immediately available to restart schools in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. By the end of the month, no federal funding could be confirmed to have reached individual schools.

Of the $1.6 billion that Congress allocated for hurricane relief for schools and colleges in the waning days of 2005, $750 million was intended for restart money, $645 million was to go to help those schools that are absorbing displaced students, and $200 million was intended for colleges and universities. Spellings later announced an additional $30 million would be available for higher-education institutions.

According to ED, storm-ravaged schools that received financial aid before Katrina, but did not use this aid, will be allowed to keep the funds, which reportedly total about $100 million.

Xavier University of New Orleans will be allowed to keep $11.7 million, it was reported; Southern University of New Orleans, more than $9 million; and Delgado Community College in Louisiana, more than $16 million.


U.S. Department of Education

Hurricane Help for Schools

Federal Emergency Management Agency