In yesterday’s feature, we began counting down what we believe are the 10 most significant educational technology stories of 2005–many of which will continue to make headlines in the coming year. Here’s the rest of our list.
5. Amid controversy, Google shelves its ambitious book-scanning project
Internet search giant Google Inc. had a busy year, announcing new features that included robust map-making abilities and extensive question-answering services. But it was Google’s Print Library Project, announced in December 2004, that made the loudest noise.
The idea, though ambitious, seemed simple enough: Google would scan millions of books from major public and academic libraries into its powerful internet search engine. To prevent the file sharing that has plagued the entertainment industry, the company set limits: Users wouldn’t be able to print materials easily or read more than small portions of copyright-protected works online. Google also said it would send readers hungry for more directly to booksellers and libraries, and publishers could opt out of the program if they still had concerns.
But that wasn’t enough to appease either publishers or authors, both of whom filed separate lawsuits to halt Google’s practice.
These lawsuits have broad implications for the future of copyright laws that have long preceded the internet. Their outcomes could determine how easy it will be for students, scholars, and other people with internet access to benefit from knowledge that is now mostly locked up in books sitting on dusty library shelves, many of them out of print.
Meanwhile, internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. has set out to build a vast online library of copyrighted books of its own–one that actually pleases publishers. In October, Yahoo announced the Open Content Alliance, which plans to provide digital versions of books, academic papers, video, and audio. Much of the material will consist of copyrighted material voluntarily submitted by publishers and authors, said David Mandelbrot, Yahoo’s vice president of search content.
See these related links:
Google to scan books from school libraries
Publishers protest online library project
Google Maps inspire creativity
Authors: Google infringing on copyrights
‘Intelligent’ tools lead to smarter web searches
Yahoo to upstage Google’s library plans
4. Globalization drives U.S. school reform efforts
The reports were heard over and over again in 2005: The United States now ranks 16th among developed nations in high school graduation rates and 14th in the percentage of students who go on to earn a college diploma; the U.S. faces increasing competition from rapidly developing nations such as China and India; if the current pace holds, within five years as many as 90 percent of all students studying engineering and science will reside in Asia.
The incessant drumbeat warning of America’s perilous hold as a world leader in science and technology served as a clarion call for reforming U.S. schools–and for using technology to prepare today’s students to succeed in an increasingly global society.
At the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association in Washington, D.C., last February, policy makers and captains of industry–including Microsoft chairman Bill Gates–called on educators to redesign America’s high schools for success in the 21st century.
Governors in attendance said they plan to work with educators in their states to raise expectations for student achievement, identify ways their states can transform high schools to create more options for struggling learners, and increase the quality of teaching and leadership in the nation’s secondary schools–all goals that technology is likely to have a significant impact on.
From building complex data-tracking systems to monitor student progress, to providing advanced online coursework for students or virtual professional development programs for teachers, technology’s implications for high-school reform abound, said Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.
“This summit is a major step forward in what I hope will be sustained momentum toward comprehensive reform in dozens of states across the country,” Warner said. “It’s time to turn rhetoric into reality.”
In Congress, lawmakers addressed the need to prepare today’s students for a more global society by introducing legislation that would encourage U.S. students to get to know their Chinese counterparts through online and face-to-face exchanges. And House Democrats in November unveiled an extensive plan to reclaim America’s position as a leader in innovation. The plan, which calls for affordable access to broadband technology for all citizens and incentives for students to pursue careers in science and technology, makes improved education a centerpiece of the effort to step up America’s global competitiveness.
Ironically, amid renewed calls for better science and technology instruction, Bush administration officials led a successful effort to cut federal educational technology funding significantly for 2006. The new federal budget cuts overall discretionary funding for education by some $59 million and reduces funding for Enhancing Education Through Technology grants–the primary source of ed-tech funding for many states–by nearly half.
See these related links:
Gates, governors: Upgrade high school
Opinion: What’s wrong with U.S. high schools–and how we can make them better
Ed ‘visionaries’: Schools must change
Ed-tech helps spur U.S.-China exchange
Democrats: Education is the key to reclaiming innovation
Education takes $59M hit in new federal budget
3. $100 laptop, if successful, could revolutionize school computing
Three researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) made quite a splash when they announced an ambitious plan to close the global digital divide: They’ve recruited corporate partners to join MIT in designing and mass-producing basic, durable laptops costing $100 or less that hundreds of millions of children worldwide–perhaps even U.S. students–could use at school and home.
The “one laptop per child” plan could give children internet- and multimedia-capable computers that would make laptops as ubiquitous as cell phones. If successful, the project has the potential to revolutionize school computing worldwide.
Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT’s Media Lab, and his colleagues Joe Jacobson and Seymour Papert unveiled a prototype of the device in November. The Wi-Fi enabled laptops will run on an open-source operating system, such as Linux, and will be lime green in color, with a yellow hand crank for providing electricity, to make them appealing to children and to fend off potential thieves. They are expected to start shipping in February or March, and Negroponte said he hopes to sell 1 million of them to Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, and Nigeria.
The $100 laptop project still faces many hurdles. Some worry that customer support in poor, rural areas could prove a big obstacle. Others are concerned about the disposal of millions of laptops in undeveloped nations. But here in the U.S., the idea of a machine as robust as a laptop at a price so low has some state government officials excited about the possibilities: Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reportedly is exploring whether his state might take advantage of the product to supply laptops to all 500,000 middle- and high-school students in Massachusetts when the machines become available.
Educational technology expert Tom Hoffman, who contributes to the Ed-Tech Insider blogs at eSchool News Online, believes the impact of MIT’s project will be profound.
“Does anybody really think that, once the $100 laptop genie is out of the bottle, there will be any way to keep it from taking over educational computing in the U.S.?” Hoffman wrote in a Nov. 20 blog post, titled “Releasing the Genie.”
“I don’t necessarily mean the exact MIT-anointed version,” Hoffman wrote. “We may end up using something slightly more capable and more expensive, but really, can you imagine standing in front of a school board meeting in four years and trying to justify spending six or eight hundred dollars apiece for bottom-of-the-line business laptops when others are getting rugged tablet/eBook/laptops at a quarter the price or less? & What percentage of presentations at [the 2011 National Educational Computing Conference] will be in some way based on or implemented with $100 laptops and their clones? I’d bet 25 percent.”
See these related links:
MIT team creating $100 laptops
“Releasing the Genie,” Nov. 20 blog post by Ed-Tech Insider Tom Hoffman
Rebounding state budgets boost laptop plans
2. Eighty years after Scopes, science instruction again goes on trial
No less than the definition of science instruction itself was at stake as communities from Pennsylvania to Georgia to Kansas debated whether, and how, to integrate the theory of “intelligent design” (ID) into the curriculum. The debate raged on even as the nation’s high-tech sector urged U.S. schools to improve science education or risk forfeiting America’s position as a global leader in science and technology.
In a landmark ruling last month, a federal judge barred a Pennsylvania public school district from teaching about ID in biology class, saying the concept is simply creationism in disguise. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones–a Republican appointed to the bench by President Bush–delivered a stinging rebuke to the Dover Area School Board, saying its first-in-the-nation decision in October 2004 to insert ID into the science curriculum violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
How Jones’ ruling will affect the debate in other parts of the country remains to be seen. Legal scholars note that Jones’ ruling applies only to schools in part of Pennsylvania–but the scope and forcefulness of his decision could give it a much broader impact nationwide.
“This is such a thorough, well-researched opinion that covers all possible bases in terms of the legal arguments that intelligent design advocates present, that I think any school board or state board of education thinking about adopting an intelligent design policy should think twice,” Kristi L. Bowman, a law professor at Iowa’s Drake University, told the New York Times for a Dec. 22 story.
Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex, they must have been created by some kind of higher being. Its proponents promote it as an alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution, which they say contains inexplicable gaps. Even President Bush has weighed in on the subject, saying that schools should “teach the controversy.”
But for the vast majority of the scientific community, there is no “controversy” about whether evolution is a valid scientific theory. In contrast, ID–which cannot be tested through scientific methods–does not fit the basic definition of science, most scientists and educators agree.
Regardless of where you stand in the debate over ID’s place in schools, one thing seems clear: Its forcefulness notwithstanding, Jones’ ruling surely won’t be the final word on the topic.
See these related links:
Evolution hearings put science on trial
‘Intelligent design’ court battle begins
Opinion: How should schools handle evolution? Debate it
Opinion: One side can be wrong
Voters oust anti-evolution school board
Judge: ‘Intelligent design’ has no place in class
Text of Jones’ ruling (conclusion only)
1. Hurricanes ravage Gulf Coast schools
The biggest news story of 2005 was also the most significant story in educational technology. Of course, health and sheer survival–not academics–were the foremost concerns of families affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But as residents evacuated those areas hardest hit by the storms and found temporary shelter elsewhere, complex schooling issues awaited them.
Finding schools for students whose families were displaced or whose schools were destroyed, communicating plans with local school leaders and stakeholders, accounting for the whereabouts of all students in their jurisdictions, transferring academic records to students’ new or temporary schools, rebuilding schools that were damaged or leveled by the storm–these were just some of the challenges facing education officials on the Gulf Coast, neighboring states, and in states thousands of miles away. And technology would be called on to play a key role in nearly every facet of the response.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling started an online message board for updates on college conditions and options for displaced students. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced a new web site, Hurricane Help for Schools, aimed at funneling school supplies to schools that had taken in students displaced by Katrina. The Software and Information Industry Association banded together with other organizations to form a consortium, called vSKOOL, to provide online classes, tutoring, and other ed-tech solutions to displaced hurricane victims. And numerous other technology companies also announced donations.
The storms leveled many school buildings, but they also left others without adequate technology infrastructures. To help rebuild Gulf Coast schools with 21st-century technologies, Intel Corp. invited several educational technology companies and nonprofit organizations to join in a massive disaster recovery effort. Cisco Systems and BellSouth Corp. are among the other technology providers with major school-restoration programs under way.
The Gulf Coast recovery efforts will continue for some time. To follow the progress of these efforts and other new developments in the storm-ravaged areas, eSchool News will be launching a special section of its web site soon. This section also will contain information intended to help school leaders prepare for future emergencies. Keep watching eSchool News Online for more details.
See these related links:
Educators rally in Katrina’s wake
Schools, firms helping displaced students
Hurricane Katrina shows power of eCommunications during crisis
Storms highlight need for data backup
eRate rules relaxed for schools hit by Katrina
Ten sources of funding for hurricane-affected schools
Crisis management and communications in a post-Katrina world
Tech companies lead Gulf Coast school restoration
One district’s Katrina experience
Senior Editor Corey Murray, Assitant Editor Robert Brumfield, Assistant Editor Laura Ascione, and material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.