Man sues Apple over potential hearing loss

The Associated Press reports that a Louisiana man brought a lawsuit against Apple, claiming that its iPod music player can cause hearing loss in users. The suit claims that the device is: “inherently defective in design and are not sufficiently adorned with adequate warnings regarding the likelihood of hearing loss.” Mr. John Kiel Patterson, who filed the complaint, wants the suit certified as a class-action…


Ed-tech takes huge hit

Despite reports that state budgets across the country are improving–state coffers are expected to grow by 6.3 percent in 2006, according to a recent survey by the National Governors Association–advocates of educational technology say a majority of states still rely on federal dollars to promote the use and advancement of technology-based programs in schools. That’s why recent developments in the nation’s Capital spell bad news for educators.

On Dec. 30, President Bush signed into law a federal education budget for 2006 that would cut overall education spending for the first time in a decade, including $221 million less for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) state block-grant program, the primary source of federal funding for school technology.

The bill provides a sobering reality for ed-tech proponents nationwide, many of whom had hoped to persuade Congress to restore funds to EETT and other technology-related initiatives after House lawmakers rejected an earlier version of the bill in November. But even with a 45-percent cut in EETT funding, to $275 million in 2006, the picture could have been worse: President Bush had asked Congress to dismantle the program completely.

Though improving fiscal conditions at the state level might at least soften the blow for general education spending, Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), contends state-level funding for technology programs remains low across the board.

Most states, she says, rely solely on federal dollars to promote educational technology programs, including one-to-one laptop initiatives, wireless computing projects, and remediation efforts intended to help struggling students meet the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

According to SETDA’s “2005 National Trends Report,” a nationwide survey that investigates general statewide trends in educational technology, 12 states–Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin–rely on EETT as their sole source of funding for educational technology, while an additional 50 percent of states report that EETT remains their “primary source” for ed-tech funding.

Without these funds, George and other proponents of increased federal ed-tech funding say, the future of many important technology-related programs is, at best, uncertain.

Fewer dollars isn’t the only factor likely to impact how EETT funds are used in 2006. New language in the measure also would, for the first time, allow states to distribute the money they receive from the federal government on a strictly competitive basis, if they so choose. That means states now can force districts that want these funds to write proposals and compete with other districts statewide in order to receive the money. Prior to 2006, the rules stipulated that EETT funds be distributed half by formula and half by competition, ensuring that eligible school systems across the state would receive a least a small portion of the money, depending on such factors as free or reduced-price lunches and overall population.

Whether states opt for a 100-percent competitive approach, or some other combination of formula and competitive grants, is up to them.

Though the new approach gives state leaders more discretion in how they appropriate funds, enabling decision makers to spend more money on programs they feel show promise and less on those that lack direction, critics say that, by cutting EETT, the federal government is asking schools to do more with less.

“Sure [the new funding allocation guidelines] give states a little more leeway, but it doesn’t change the fact that [lawmakers] have totally decimated the program,” George said.

Despite modest increases to a variety of rural health programs and some major education initiatives, including Pell Grants for disadvantaged students and additional monies to help establish a new teacher incentive fund, other ed-tech advocates who spoke with eSchool News said the final measure falls far short of the Bush administration’s promise to boost student achievement under NCLB and could prohibit schools from doing their part to prepare the nation’s students for success in an increasingly competitive global economy.

“While we understand that times are tough for the federal budget, we continue to believe that federal leadership and investment in educational technology remains necessary in order to close the achievement gap and prepare our students for the 21st-century workforce,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

“The move to reduce or eliminate federal dollars to support technology and related professional development in schools significantly reduces any expectation of meeting NCLB, and it creates severe, unfunded demands on school districts already strapped for funding,” added Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), whose organization–along with CoSN, the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), and SETDA–has formed an alliance to lobby on behalf of increased funding for school technology.

Still, it could have been worse.

“We were up against a challenging year,” said Mark Schneiderman, director of federal education policy for SIIA. Given that President Bush had wanted to scrap the EETT program entirely, Schneiderman said, the fact that House and Senate lawmakers voted to fund the program–albeit at a significantly reduced rate–is proof that advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and elsewhere across the country are working.

“The [ed-tech] community did more than it ever has this year to lobby on behalf of EETT,” he said. “And it’s a good thing … otherwise, the program might have been eliminated entirely.”

Other budget details

The leaner budget, which passed in the House on Dec. 14 by a vote of 215 to 213 and passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Dec. 21, slashes funding for domestic programs by $1.4 billion. The final version contains about $142.5 billion to be spent at lawmakers’ discretion, with the bulk of the rest of the funds reserved for payments to Medicaid and Medicare programs.

Overall, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will receive $56.5 billion in discretionary funds in the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. That’s about $59 million less than it received in 2005, but almost $300 million above what President Bush had requested. The White House said a more significant cut was necessary to rein in federal spending and shift the focus toward fiscal responsibility.

But lawmakers, in what has become an increasingly partisan Congress, rejected the president’s original blueprint, demonstrating a newfound independence that has thrown into flux a number of Bush’s plans in recent months.

The cuts, which represent the first major decrease in education spending in nearly a decade, promise to leave a number of long-standing programs strapped for cash heading into the new year. The figures do not reflect an additional across-the-board cut of 1 percent, which threatens to slash spending for major discretionary initiatives even further.

Not even the president’s signature No Child Left Behind law, which has enjoyed steady funding increases since its inception in 2001, was spared the result of fiscal belt-tightening by Congress this year. NCLB-related programs reportedly will lose as much as $780 million in funding in 2006.

Lawmakers also slashed overall funding for education for the disadvantaged (including Title I, Reading First, Literacy Through School Libraries, and other programs), taking it from $14.8 billion in 2005 to $14.6 billion this year. In his proposal, Bush had asked Congress to increase overall funding for these programs to $16 billion, and part of this increase would have been used to fund a new high-school intervention program intended to increase graduation rates. Congress cut that program entirely from its version of the bill.

Other education-related initiatives, including several educational technology programs, also experienced a squeeze.

Among those most affected was the Community Technology Centers program, an effort to increase access to technology in low-income areas. That initiative, which received close to $5 million in 2005, was eliminated completely. Though lawmakers in the Senate had lobbied to keep the program, both President Bush and the House recommended cutting it in 2006.

The State Grants for Innovative Education program, which provides money to states for innovative educational practices, saw its budget slashed almost in half, from $198 million in 2005 to $100 million this year, while the Fund for the Improvement of Education saw its spending slip from $414 million in 2005 to $160 million in 2006. Even Start, a literacy program for migrant students learning English, was cut by $125 million, from $225 million in 2005 to $100 million in 2006.

Initiatives whose budgets remained flat from the previous year included the State Grants for Improving Teacher Quality program, which will get $3 billion in 2006, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, an after-school initiative to promote student achievement (in part through the effective integration of technology), which will get $991 million. Both of these programs are subject to the across-the-board cut of 1 percent, meaning their total funding likely will decrease when compared with the prior year’s levels.

Democrats in the House and Senate feared the bill would send lawmakers home for winter recess looking like Grinches.

“Merry Christmas! Hang your stockings! Congress is bringing you a big lump of coal!” proclaimed Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in response to the bill after it passed in the House. Harkin, along with his colleague, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., had vowed to kill the proposal on the Senate floor.

But Republicans countered those criticisms, saying the leaner budget would put the government on a path to fiscal responsibility, helping to offset other costs, including the rising price tag on Iraq and more than $60 billion in relief approved for hurricane damage in the Gulf Coast; not to mention chipping away at the mounting federal deficit, which reportedly has ballooned to more than $300 billion.

The only significant increase to an existing education program in this year’s budget came in the form of money for Pell Grants, which are slated to receive an additional $800 million in 2006, bringing their total to $13 billion. The maximum amount of money awarded for each grant would remain the same, at $4,050 apiece. Given the steadily rising cost of college tuition–enrollment fees reportedly have spiked by 30 percent or more in some places–many Democrats argued that the maximum amount for each grant should be increased.

One of the largest additions–$95 million–went to establish a new Teacher Incentive Fund, which seeks to reward educators for helping students meet the goals of NCLB.

Incentives aside, ed-tech advocates insist it will be hard to achieve the long-term goals of the law without more funding for programs such as EETT, which they contend are necessary to demonstrate leadership and an ongoing commitment to innovation at the federal level.

“Schools rely heavily on EETT funding to embrace the demands of NCLB, and they have been encouraged to do so as other federal programs supporting technology in schools have been systematically terminated,” said ISTE’s Knezek. “Removing funding from the EETT program constitutes a promise broken by this administration–a promise made as they negotiated support for passage of NCLB.”

CoSN’s Krueger agreed. “In short, everybody loses on this one,” he said.

See these related links:

U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee

U.S. House Appropriations Committee

Consortium for School Networking

International Society for Technology in Education

National Governors Association

Software & Information Industry Association

State Educational Technology Directors Association


Who wants to be a Conference Correspondent?

During the height of the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” craze, I used to get pretty annoyed when contestants would undervalue, and thus waste, their “Ask the Audience” lifeline. I personally thought it was the most valuable choice, because it seemed to me that if you ended up with a clear answer, you could be fairly certain the audience was correct. Compare that with the “Phone a Friend” lifeline, which depended on how much you trusted your designated “expert”–in other words, you were pinning all of your hopes on one person.

It’s this ability to tap into the collective wisdom of a given communal group that is, in my opinion, one of the chief and most powerful benefits of the internet. While the flaws of groupthink are well documented, the benefits, I believe, are frequently underreported.

In modern life, we are conditioned to respect the wisdom of the experts. Everywhere you turn, you have pundits and authorities weighing in on every conceivable topic. But the flip side is that no single person could possibly have the breadth and depth of knowledge that compares with the collective experiences and learning of an entire group. And that brings me to my point: Last year, eSchool News initiated the successful “Conference Correspondent” program, an extremely powerful resource for the education community because it taps into the aggregate wisdom of educators such as yourself.

The “Conference Correspondent” program employs volunteers from the education community to report on the various seminars and workshops they attend during industry conferences. We post these reports online as we receive them from the volunteers. In 2005, the program spanned seven major educational technology conferences, and eSchool News collected and posted more than 500 total reports. Nowhere else can you get the same breadth of coverage from ed-tech conferences; nowhere else can you tap into such a rich and comprehensive source of collective ed-tech wisdom.

This year, our conference coverage begins with the 2006 Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) annual conference in Austin, Feb. 6-10, and concludes with the National School Boards Association’s annual T+L2 Conference in Dallas, Nov. 8-10 (see our story about the change in venue for this year’s T+L2 Conference on page 6).

In between, we’ll cover the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in San Diego, Feb. 23-26; the Consortium for School Networking’s K-12 School Networking Conference in Arlington, Va., March 6-7; the Florida Educational Technology Conference in Orlando, March 22-24; the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s annual conference in Chicago, April 1-3; InfoComm 2006 in Orlando, June 3-9; and the National Educational Computing Conference in San Diego, July 5-7.

We at eSchool News encourage you to volunteer if you are planning to attend any of these conferences. Your commitment is minimal; we only ask that if you do decide to participate, you cover at least two sessions.

If you would like to volunteer as a Conference Correspondent for the TCEA conference this month, please visit:

If you’d like to volunteer as a Conference Correspondent for any of the other ed-tech shows we’ll be covering this year, please eMail me at The beauty of the program is that, as more educators participate, the better and richer our coverage is. This only makes for a stronger resource for you.

Once the conferences start, continuing coverage can be accessed through our eSN Conference Information Center. This resource is updated about one month prior to each conference with information that includes the conference schedule, things to do, featured speakers, and so on. Then, we update this information daily for the duration of the conference, reporting on seminars, new products, and other news from the show. All of this coverage is archived for your continued benefit.

For continuing coverage of TCEA 2006 and other conferences, or if you are looking for our past conference coverage, please visit our Conference Information Center at:

In recent weeks, we have added a few Educators’ Resource Centers to our web site. These additions would not be possible without the generous support from our sponsors, and we thank them for helping us provide this comprehensive information in such a convenient location and format. Our new ERC topics are:

21st Century Learning (sponsored by Promethean)

Enhancing Your Curriculum (sponsored by netTrekker)

If you haven’t already done so, please take a few moments to avail yourself of these useful resources.


School Administration: Improved textbook management pays dividends

With school budgets stretched to their limits, educators are seeking every means to control costs without compromising the quality of education. Because textbook management is one of the areas in which expenses have soared, school leaders are looking at ways to control costs by minimizing losses from damaged or missing textbooks.

At the 1,500-student Bolsa Grande High School in Orange County, Calif., a bar-coding system for books and for student IDs was combined with software designed to ensure accountability by students for the books they received. The result? A substantial savings in textbook costs, according to Margaret Walton, the school’s accounting technician.

A number of textbook management software solutions are available. Virtually any would have been preferable to the triplicate paperwork system in use at Bolsa Grande prior to 1997. With the old system, Walton explained, there was a quagmire of paper, including three cards filled out for each book issued to a student: One was kept in a central card file by the textbook administrator for each student; a second was kept by the textbook administrator for each textbook; and a third card was kept by the teacher. Accountability was difficult to enforce, and reports on overall costs of lost and damaged books were virtually impossible to compile.

To solve the problem, Bolsa Grande searched for an automated system that provided flexibility and responsive technical support to help manage textbooks. The school selected a product from Salt Lake City-based COMPanion Corp., called Textbook Tracker ( Here’s how it works:

1. Books are bar-coded individually.

2. Students receive bar codes on their IDs.

3. As students check books out, bar codes on the books are matched to the student ID number/bar code.

4. Textbooks can be classified by condition.

5. Reports can provide information on textbooks damaged, textbook surpluses, and shortages.

6. Reports show which students have which books.

Using this system, students are held accountable for returning all books undamaged and are notified during registration of fines from the previous semester. “We zap the student IDs and zap the bar codes on the books,” says Walton. “We can check a student out now in a matter of minutes.”

Implementation of a textbook management system doesn’t need to be overwhelming. At Bolsa Grande, the Men’s League helped with this project during the summer of 1997 by bar-coding all textbooks. A catalog was then created of all students in the school. According to Walton, “Often, these data can be imported from the school’s existing [student] information system.”

Bolsa Grande’s database of textbook and student information includes the following data and features: Lost or damaged textbooks by a specific student; the ability to charge fines for overdue books; the ability to send out notices of fines; the ability to see easily which books students have and when they are due back to the school; the ability to bar-code and check out any educational materials in addition to books (musical instruments, science equipment, etc.); and the total value of lost textbooks.

This information would have been cost-prohibitive and perhaps impossible to obtain with a paper-based tracking system. What’s more, the payback on an investment in textbook management software often is achieved within a year. Depending on its size, a school can save from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Perhaps more importantly, such systems provide a means to cut educational costs without cutting the quality of education. “We never looked back,” says Walton.

Textbook prices are “below the tip of the iceberg” as a cost of education. More attention is given to controlling costs related to facilities, special programs, or teacher’s salaries. But improved management of textbooks is a painless way to reduce the cost of education. Sound textbook management tools provide the further benefit of teaching students accountability for their books and educational materials–which isn’t a bad lesson, either.

Ed McDonell is an author and freelance writer with graduate degrees in library science and business management/em>


Technology strikes a chord in music education

From elementary schools to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, a revolution is quietly taking place in music education. With the help of electronic music software, students who don’t even play an instrument now can compose songs or even an entire symphony–learning more about music theory in the process than ever before possible.

Electronic music software allows teachers to take music education to a whole new level of interactivity. Using programs such as GarageBand, which comes pre-installed on all Apple computers, and Reason, by the Swedish software company Propellerhead, students at all levels of instruction are laying down tracks that can be turned into full-fledged musical productions in just a few hours.

Today’s music software gives users access to thousands of prerecorded loops of various instruments and sounds, which can be manipulated and arranged into electronic music creations of all types and genres.

“It’s incredibly empowering to children, because they can express themselves in ways that you or I weren’t able to traditionally,” said Lee Whitmore, director of marketing for SoundTree Inc., which sells and installs learning systems for music education that integrate electronic music instruments, computers, and software.

These tools have transformed music education classes by individualizing instruction to a great degree, Whitmore said.

He said the labs SoundTree typically installs have multiple stations where students are working on computers with headsets, aided by music software.

“Instead of just giving lectures, teachers can teach a concept and students can illustrate that concept with their own stuff. The minute [students] put their headphones on, they’re working at their own pace,” Whitmore said.

Besides selling and installing electronic music composition tools, SoundTree also offers free lesson plans, projects, and training for teachers from elementary school all the way up to college.

Whitmore described one training session that incorporated a genre called Jongo, which is a West African style of creating music used for drum circles. Teachers at an elementary school used this compositional style to create music that came from another culture in Africa.

“We talked about and listened to a traditional drum circle recording and then turned on their stations, put the headphones on, and composed music using technology, but still using the same style and techniques,” Whitmore said. “So you sort of connect with other cultures [through] music history. Without technology, students wouldn’t have been able to experience that in real time and extend what they learn. A teacher can present a concept, and then a student can go farther with it.”

Music software titles run the gamut from inexpensive–Apple’s GarageBand is part of the iLife suite of software that comes pre-installed on new Macintosh computers–to high-end programs such as Finale or Logic, another Apple program.

Whitmore recommended Harmonic Vision’s Music Ace Maestro, a product targeted primarily toward elementary and middle-school students that covers the musical staff, ear training, pitch recognition, scales, tempo, and harmony. Each lesson contains games to reinforce what has just been learned.

“Music Ace Maestro includes a full breadth of the curriculum and is very good for teaching the fundamentals of music,” Whitmore said. “You can do a little composing, and it is good across a fairly large age spread. It’s interactive, and it has an application to help with assessment information so that, as a teacher, you can look into what each of your students is doing in the way of progress.”

Teaching the basics

Patricia Foy, chair of music and pedagogy at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., has been a Music Ace user since the mid-1990s.

After learning about Music Ace at a national conference, Foy enlisted a number of the music majors at her school to evaluate the software. Their reviews came back thumbs-up, and since that time, she has incorporated Music Ace into a number of instructional programs at Converse College.

One way she uses the software is to help music majors in sharpening their basic music theory skills. “Many of the voice majors that entered our music programs needed some assistance in honing their theory skills,” said Foy. “Music Ace allowed them to do that in a focused, yet entertaining way.”

She also uses Music Ace to provide self-paced music theory to general education majors. This is a diverse group of students, she said–some with extensive music backgrounds, some with very little–so the need for something that accounts for varying degrees of knowledge is important.

“In this environment, we’re able to let students progress at their own pace through the music theory component of the curriculum, relying heavily on the games at the end of each lesson as a key assessment tool,” Foy said. “Before Music Ace, students would express a negative reaction to the structured class format, in which everyone worked at the same pace. Music Ace has been a boon for these students.”

Foy also uses a notation program from Sibelius Software that allows users to input music and print out a full sheet of music. Users can compose full symphonies with the professional version, but Foy said the student version would be useful for elementary teachers.

As founder and director of the Converse Music Technology Institute, Foy has received grants of more than $214,000 from the South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina Arts in Basic Curriculum Project to train South Carolina music teachers in the use of music technology. She also organizes and conducts music technology workshops for her state’s education department.

Teachers accepted into these workshops are awarded a computer, MIDI keyboard, and software. “These workshops are a great

way to expose educators to the benefits of using technology to help teach music,” she said.

More than 5,000 school systems across North America use Music Ace to teach the basics of music theory, while motivating and entertaining students at the same time, said Harmonic Vision spokeswoman Michelle Moody. In many schools, Moody said, the software is used to teach students the basics needed to play an instrument.

“Beginning students frequntly give up because music theory can be difficult,” she said. “Harmonic Vision developed its curriculum to make the hard stuff fun, and to take students to the point of enjoying playing an instrument.”

Inspiring students

For Debra Barbre, music education specialist for Roland Corp., which is best known for making electric keyboards and percussion instruments, the enjoyment students get from making music electronically has a very important side benefit.

“It’s all about getting kids into your music program,” said Barbre, noting that budget cuts have forced many schools to cut their music education programs in recent years. “If you have tons of kids in a music program, and if you have a waiting list and you need to turn students away each year, that program isn’t going to get cut. Music technology is a way for [these programs] to survive.”

Roland helps schools through a step-by-step process that begins with equipment installation and includes teacher training and curriculum development.

“We try to take the fear out of it for the teachers,” Barbre said. “We’re there to help that process.” As teachers become more comfortable using technology routinely, there is less fear and less resistance to using it, she added.

“In this instance, it’s all right when your kids come into the classroom knowing more than you do,” she said. “It’s a new way to teach. You’re facilitating the kids as they learn on their own. It’s the coolest thing, and you’re just watching as the kids create their own magic.”

Besides its keyboards, guitar synthesizers, and V-Drums, Roland also makes a line of computer peripheral interface products for recording and editing audio and MIDI data, including controllers and speakers. Last month, the company paid to bus 1,200 Southern California high school music students to a musical performance and product demonstrations at a local music technology show. As part of that experience, students learned what skills are necessary to be a musician in today’s world.

“We want kids to keep playing music, and if we leave them excited about being a musician, then we’ve done our job,” Barbre said.

From abstract to ‘very real’

David Mash, vice president of information technology at the Berklee College of Music, says his school has been using technology to teach music since the 1980s.

Three years ago, Berklee school officials decided technology was so essential to the learning and music-making process that each student should have his or her own computer and software.

“All 4,000 of our students have an Apple Powerbook, and they come pre-loaded with the Apple iLife suite, which includes GarageBand, and they also get Logic Express, Finale, Reason from Propellerhead, and other software,” he said.

“Students also get a small MIDI keyboard so they have something they can carry around in a small carrying case that is, in effect, a full music production studio,” Mash said. “Every entering freshman has an introduction to music technology course where they learn to use those tools–so from that point on, they can write music, create CDs, post MP3 files, and so on.”

He explained, “The professional music world has changed drastically over the years, and there’s a huge change in how people get their music. Our college’s mission is to prepare our students for successful careers in the music industry, and without these technology tools, you can’t be successful in the current world.”

Music technology benefits learning, Mash said, in various ways.

“Twenty years ago, I might be teaching students in a harmony class, and we might be learning about core progressions and cadences. I might ask my students to go home and write an eight-bar example using the techniques we learned in class. Those students, very mechanically, would create the exercise and bring it into class the next day. When I’d play it on the piano, nine out of 10 students wouldn’t recognize what they’d written, because they hadn’t heard it before. This was a theoretical exercise that was disconnected from sound, and music exists in sound. With the old tools, you had to express sound in a code–music notation–that the general public doesn’t understand. It’s a set of directions for musicians to turn into sound,” he said.

“Now, with technology, we have that same class, and the students write the same eight-bar example, but as they write it, they play it back, and they hear it; and by hearing it, they’re making musical decisions. They’re learning much more effectively about that harmonic progression, and they recognize their work and everyone gets to hear it the way they intended it to sound, because the students produced it themselves, rather than the teacher playing it at the piano,” Mash said.

“It goes from abstract to very real,” he concluded. “It helps the teacher be more effective and coach better, and things are more musical … when you’re actually hearing everything all the time.”

Mash compared the evolution of music composition and instruction to the progression from a typewriter to word-processing software.

“With a typewriter, you had to be careful and retype if you made an error, but with a word processor you can write as you go and read everything at once,” he said. “The whole editing and revision process has a direct correlation to the music world. With a music processor, you get to experience the music as you’re writing it in sound. Instead of moving sentences, you can move musical passages.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

See these related links:

Converse College

Berklee College of Music

Technology resources for music educators is a free web site from Morton Subotnick, a pioneer in electronic music composition. The site gives children an opportunity to play with creating music–they learn, but still have fun.

GarageBand is part of the iLife suite of software from Apple Computer. The program lets users record, create, and perform their own music. It’s a good starting point for students, and GarageBand files will open and translate into Apple’s Logic Express and Logic Pro software. GarageBand has multi-track recording and displays notation in real time.

Harmonic Vision is a developer and publisher of music education software for the home, school, and studio. The company’s software products, which include Music Ace Maestro and Music Ace, introduce beginning and intermediate students of all ages to the joys of music, the company says.

The National Association for Music Education (MENC) sponsors an annual contest in electronic music composition; for information about the contest and to meet this year’s winners, see the video clip titled “Electronic Music Maestros” at

Roland Corp. is a leading manufacturer and distributor of electronic musical instruments, including keyboards and synthesizers, guitar products, electronic percussion kits, digital recording equipment, amplifiers, and audio processing devices.

Sibelius Software offers music education software for students of all ages and abilities, from beginning to professional-level products. The company’s latest release is Groovy Music, a series of three programs for elementary and middle school students that teaches the basics of sound, rhythm, pitch, and composition using captivating graphics and animation.

SoundTree sells and installs learning systems for music education that integrate electronic music instruments, computers, and software. The company also offers staff training, advice and planning, and free lesson plans for teachers from elementary school through college.

The Technology Institute for Music Educators (TI:ME) is a nonprofit organization that offers resources and professional development in using music technology for teachers. TI:ME develops course materials for using technology in music instruction and offers workshops on topics such as advanced notation, electronic instruments, and integrating technology into the music curriculum.


Emerging wireless technologies

This year promises to be big for wireless computing. Already present throughout many college and K-12 campuses nationwide, wireless technologies are poised to make even greater breakthroughs in 2006.

At the forefront of these developments is the news that a proposed new standard, 802.11n–which is expected to nearly triple the fastest speeds currently available through Wi-Fi–might actually be approved at the next meeting of the standard-setting body, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). In addition, developers are working on new technologies that will allow for the convergence and interoperability of various wireless devices that run on different platforms, such as cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and laptops.

Add up these developments and you get the potential for extended coverage and increased opportunities for learning to take place wherever students are, using devices they might already own.

Schools and universities are working to expand their wireless coverage campus-wide. Duke University Senior IT Analyst Kevin Miller noted that wireless usage on Duke’s campus nearly doubled last year. What’s more, student expectations for wireless coverage are high.

“We ran a survey in December after doing a pilot deployment in one residence hall,” Miller said. “We found that 100 percent of respondents wanted complete wireless coverage in residence halls and libraries. About 90 percent wanted campus-wide coverage to include academic buildings.”

Miller said Duke officials have discussed the topic of wireless deployment with a number of other universities, all of which are planning similar ubiquitous or near-ubiquitous wireless coverage.

“Given everything we’re seeing, it’s time to move forward,” said Miller.

‘n’ development

Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing for Gartner Consulting, said a wide variety of approaches and technologies will be deployed in schools this year, with an ultimate goal of total wireless coverage and near-total convergence of use for wireless-enabled devices. Though that goal is not expected to be attainable for a few years, steps are being taken along the way to ensure interoperability.

The most widely recognized set of wireless standards is the 802.11 series, the latest of which, 802.11n, reportedly could be made final by the end of the first quarter of 2006.

The term “802.11” refers to a family of specifications developed for wireless local-area network (LAN) technology by the IEEE. It specifies an over-the-air interface between a wireless client and a base station or between two wireless clients. The 802.11 specifications have made three evolutionary leaps since the original 802.11 standard was established in 1997–b, a, and g. Each revised standard has increased broadcasting capabilities.

The new 802.11n standard will see the broadband capacity of wireless meet or exceed speeds comparable to a wired network, with an estimated top transmission rate of 100 megabits of data per second (Mbps). Though the “a” and “g” standards have a theoretical top speed of 54 Mbps, engineers report that transmission rates around 30 to 35 Mbps are more likely to be seen in the field.

Industry insiders have been skeptical that the 802.11n standard would be ready this year, but at press time, reports indicated that opposing groups in the IEEE standards-setting body might have reached an agreement for how the proposed standard should look. If the reports are true, products complying with the newly certified 802.11n standard should begin arriving by the end of this year and in early 2007.

“With the greater speeds that this new standard is going to enable, it becomes more appealing to different kinds of vendors,” said Amy Martin, a spokeswoman for Intel Corp., an IEEE member and wireless solutions provider. “For instance, Motorola and different cellular vendors have put Wi-Fi into some of their phones, but [the practice] has not been widely adopted. But with greater speed, it will become more appealing to put Wi-Fi on phones–for example, to check eMail on your smart phone in a hotspot. School audiences will finally have the ability to really just pop open their laptops and quickly download multimedia materials.”

Martin said the throughput standard for 802.11n has basically been agreed upon, but the range of service that the standard will facilitate had yet to be determined.

To increase throughput and range, .11n will standardize MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) technology. MIMO combines low-level analog and digital signals to aggregate power for high-speed transmission over a single medium.

Dave Morrison, director of product marketing for Airgo Networks, a semiconductor manufacturer that has pioneered the development of MIMO technology and currently manufactures the only MIMO-based chips available on the market, said the use of MIMO in wireless devices will greatly increase broadband capacities, range, and reliability.

“Most industry insiders expect that MIMO will become big in 2006, eclipsing legacy single-radio devices,” said Morrison. “Manufacturers are very interested in doing voice and video over Wi-Fi.”

Morrison explained the advancements made possible by MIMO’s use of multiple radio frequencies.

“While competitors have single [wireless] radio frequencies on a/b/g products, we have three,” he said. “The use of multiple radio signals gives us faster speed, longer range, and better reliability. [MIMO] is the next-generation radio standard … In terms of deployment today, basically it offers all the benefits of today’s interoperability [among existing a, b, and g standards] and hints of next-generation reliability.”

Airgo and Intel reportedly have led groups that were at odds over the use of MIMO in the 802.11n standard. Late last year, the IEEE forced these groups into a committee to hammer out an agreement. Intel’s Martin confirmed that the joint proposal team voted to bring the specifications for the standard to the IEEE for a vote in a meeting scheduled to take place during the week of January 16 in Hawaii.

Airgo’s Morrison said that, from a performance perspective, single-signal radio transmissions cannot handle as much information, and single-signal transmissions can become confused under some circumstances when interference becomes too great.

“MIMO leverages [transmission] echoes that can confuse the single-thread radio stream,” Morrison said. “MIMO radio architecture collects multiple radio signals, reprocesses the information, and rebuilds it to create a stronger single signal. Two transmitters can cut the amount of data in half, and transmit it on the same channel, at the same time. [The technology] increases the throughput per megahertz, per spectrum, cramming more data on the same wireless channel. It’s effective at larger distances, and [it] reduces dropped connections.”

Gartner’s Dulaney said the approved 802.11n standard would likely combine MIMO technology with other techniques to maximize the amount of available bandwidth.

“In 2006, we will also have the capability to double a channel’s bandwidth–so if you’re getting 20 gigahertz now, you’ll be able to use 40,” he said. “I could use MIMO alongside an increased channel width and get even better results.”

Wireless mesh networks and WiMAX

The 802.11n standard reportedly will demand complete compatibility with earlier 802.11 standards, enabling interoperability among different generations of devices, which will be very important for wireless implementations currently under way.

Duke’s Miller said that his university’s coverage will be campus-wide by the end of the year.

“Today, we have about 600 wireless access points that provide hotspot coverage across Duke’s 1,000-acre campus. We maintain wireless network connections in 100 or so buildings. We have hotspot coverage in common areas,” Miller said. “We’re trying to [assemble] the resources to really pull together full wireless coverage. We are looking to go toward an a/b/g environment. A full wireless environment would be a little over 2,000 access points.”

Miller said Duke also would be interested in working out a deal with the city of Durham, N.C., where the university is based, to blanket the whole city in wireless coverage, a trend that’s being played out in a number of different ways around the nation in cities such as Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

“We would be interested in exploring ways in which wireless could be deployed in the city of Durham in a way that will provide a fairly consistent user experience,” he said. “There is a lot of activity around the university hospital and the university. Lots of students living in the town do not have [consistent wireless coverage]. In the next step, it’s about meeting with local government and seeing about having what is at least a compatible wireless experience [on and off campus], if not a seamless one.”

To do so, Duke might utilize wireless mesh technologies that IT administrators currently are investigating for larger, outdoor areas on the campus.

A number of vendors are providing and developing mesh networking technologies, in which devices are connected with many redundant interconnections between wired network access points. In a complete wireless mesh network, every access point has a connection to every other access point in the network, ensuring that a network connection is made, even if the most direct connections are blocked.

“At some point, every wireless technology must make a connection to the network through a wire. You either connect to the wire via your access points, or you use wireless techniques to get back to your wire. Mesh does that in a fairly sophisticated way,” said Gartner’s Dulany. “If you were to draw the thousand access points on a piece of paper, and connect all the different access points between them, you would see that it would form a mesh.”

He continued, “If you go through Path A, and Path A is blocked, then [a wireless mesh] uses a different wire through a different access point. Any wire connects to an access point through any other one. You put up a [point of access] outside, and that hops back to another [access] box, which hops back to another one that has access to a wire.” Mesh networking thus provides an effective way to extend wireless coverage across a large area.

Companies offering these increasingly popular wireless mesh network solutions include Tropos Networks, BelAir Networks, Firetide Inc., and Cisco Systems Inc.

Another proposed technology for extending wireless coverage across long distances, the long-anticipated WiMAX technology from Intel, is expected to gain momentum in 2006, even if product offerings will be in short supply.

“Progress is being made on WiMAX. Late last year, a standard was approved,” said Intel’s Martin.

The WiMAX technology, based on the IEEE 802.16 Air Interface Standard for wide-area wireless deployments, involves a point-to-point broadband wireless signal that can be broadcast over several miles and offer coverage over large areas. Testing on WiMAX has produced mixed results (see story:

“The WiMAX Forum [a nonprofit organization formed to advance the technology], which will certify various vendors’ offerings for interoperability, counts 343 companies as members and has started testing products expected for release next year,” Martin said.

‘Converged’ wireless

While WiMAX offers wireless across long distances, a Wi-Media standard for personal-area network (PAN) wireless technology reportedly is nearing completion. The Wi-Media standard uses an ultra-wide band (UWB) radio signal at short distances to permit the high-speed transfer of bandwidth-intensive multimedia applications. Wi-Media is designed to facilitate the high-speed wireless exchange of data among computers, peripherals, PDAs, cell phones, and other personal devices, and to facilitate greater convergence of those devices and WiMAX, Wi-Fi, and other long-distance wireless network technologies.

Wi-Media might find competition with Bluetooth-enabled wireless devices, which provide a similar means of communication among other Bluetooth-enabled devices. Though Bluetooth does have the advantage of an already established market presence, it uses a different technology from Wi-Media, and Bluetooth-enabled devices are not interoperable via Wi-Fi and WiMAX.

Another company, CoCo Communica-tions, reportedly has developed a software solution that increases interoperability between a wide range of communications devices that school systems already have–including cell phones, two-way radios, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and even video cameras. The CoCo protocol software was designed to improve emergency preparedness by creating secure, multi-platform lines of communication between school campuses and first responders in emergency situations (see related story below). The CoCo technology is being tested in schools in Seattle and northern Virginia for security purposes only.

Greater interoperability among disparate mobile devices might not come fast enough to suit some educators. With increased wireless access and better interoperability between legacy and leading-edge wireless devices, educators are beginning to see a world in which better convergence among disparate devices can facilitate huge advances in how educators can instruct students. Such convergence is coming to be seen as increasingly important in cash-strapped public school systems, where one-to-one student-to-computer ratios have still not been realized, and educators are searching for ways to better leverage the wireless devices their students and schools might already possess.

“In an ideal world, all education is individualized,” said Dan Gohl, principal for the McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. “But you have to extend mobility beyond the traditional walls of the school. Can we scale the function to be the same on the iPod, the laptop, the cell phone, and the district’s network computer?”

Gohl described education as a “fiscally conservative enterprise” that does not tend toward investing in the latest technology. “The margin for error is too thin to risk real failure,” he said. “If you look at the operating procedures of schools, payroll systems, et cetera, they tend to be 10 years or more behind the business community.”

Greater interoperability among disparate wireless devices that students already possess, Gohl explained, would allow students to transform their own environment outside the classroom into the object of study, while allowing for the use of a wider array of existing devices.

“Once we [have true convergence], and we have the ability to do it wirelessly, we can better examine the way we analyze data and [reinterpret] homework as the gathering of data,” Gohl said. “Teachers still are not using their capability to text message, blog, and have kids document their lives outside of school as school-based activities–to direct, in a pedagogical fashion, how they use wireless and other technologies to further their education outside class.”

This glimpse of the future of wireless in today’s classrooms might not be entirely available yet in 2006–but the coming year likely will prove pivotal in bringing schools another step closer to these goals.

See these related links:

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Gartner Consulting

Intel Corp.

Duke University

Airgo Networks

Tropos Networks

BelAir Networks

Firetide Inc.

Cisco Systems Inc.

WiMAX Forum


CoCo Communications Corp.

McKinley Technology High School


CoCo helps diverse devices talk to each other

Virginia’s Prince William County Public Schools are piloting a new type of software that aims to permit communication across a wide range of devices that school systems already have–including cell phones, two-way radios, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and even video cameras. If the software works as intended, it could improve emergency preparedness by creating secure, multi-platform lines of communication between school campuses and federal, state, and local first responders.

The purchase of the CoCo protocol software from CoCo Communications Corp. was funded by a one-time grant of $246,661 earmarked by Congress and funded through the U.S. Department of Justice (JD).

The pilot project is meant to demonstrate that wired, wireless voice, and data network hardware already in place in public schools and used by first responders in emergency situations can be cost-effectively modified with software to become interoperable. The CoCo network–named for the Cryptographic Overlay Mesh Protocol (COMP) on which it is based–is intended to enable better real-time communication among school administrators, staff, and emergency first responders via a secure network that uses a school system’s existing communications infrastructure.

The deployment of the CoCo software is expected to make Prince William County a national model for facilitating first-responder communications with schools. The pilot is intended as a first step toward establishing a National School Protection Network as proposed by JD. Federal government officials hope the project will encourage schools around the country to improve their emergency preparedness and campus security through new advanced communication technology.

“The security of our students is our most important charge, so deploying the technology endorsed by [JD] was an easy decision once we understood its utility and benefits,” said Prince William County Superintendent Steven Walts. “This technology made possible by CoCo Communications gives schools the ability to ensure secure links between schools and public safety officials.”

The company says the CoCo protocol that permits secure cross-platform interoperability of communications devices was developed as a response to solving the communications problems encountered at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States.

The communications are processed through a dedicated server in Prince William County. Device-specific versions of the CoCo software are loaded onto district and emergency communications devices and are used to carry out a protocol translation that enables communication among these various devices. The underlying protocols of each device become mute if the enabling networks are loaded with the software overlay.

“Access to the system can be granted by the district to any organization or individual,” said Steve George, director of information technology for the Prince William County Public Schools. “At that point, the user can pick up a PDA and make a secure connection to the video server through the application running on the device.”

George said first responders in an emergency can use their own hardware devices loaded with the CoCo software to view video from cameras inside the school building and to communicate with school officials.

CoCo says its protocol does not conform to conventional “stack” or open system interconnection (ISO) programming models, which allow for security breaches on the network level and do not lend themselves easily to protocol interoperability. The CoCo protocol instead was engineered using cryptography to command nearly every system, according to the company. The software reportedly allows for quality-of-service controls, network scaling properties, and programming that prioritizes access to the network.

CoCo Communications’ software is similar to technologies collectively known as mesh, ad-hoc, or peer-to-peer networking, but the company says the programming that defines the CoCo protocol is distinct. Like peer-to-peer technologies, instead of depleting the network’s operating capacity when you add new devices, the software creates a mesh in which every device that accesses the network adds to its infrastructure, acting as its own router. The company says the network gets larger as more users come online. Traditional networks have capacities that eventually are filled as users log onto the network.

The CoCo technology is being tested in four schools in the Manassas, Va., area. A deployment of the software also is underway at Seattle’s Franklin High School.

See these related links:

Prince William County Public Schools

CoCo Communications Corp.

U.S. Department of Justice


Make scientific concepts come alive with these free 3D images

Teachers and students looking for images to make scientific concepts come alive can take advantage of Zygote Media Group’s free 3D clip art at, an online marketplace and community dedicated to scientific visualization. Visitors to the site can see various visual depictions of medical and scientific phenomena, including the Avian Bird Flu virus and the HIV virus. The site’s low-resolution images are available free of charge and are well suited for use online or in PowerPoint presentations. High-resolution images, ideal for reproduction in print media, are available at a discounted rate for educators. “Educational institutions across the globe … want the best resources available to provide the highest quality education possible at an affordable cost structure,” said Bryan Brandenburg, chief executive officer of Zygote Media Group. “ hopes to help by continuously providing the best human anatomy and scientific visualization to educators and students at the lowest prices.” Through a new academic licensing program, schools and other learning institutions also will receive a 30-percent discount on Zygote’s 3D human anatomy collections, the company said.


Minn. schools get $55M tech windfall

Thanks to a court settlement with Microsoft Corp., Minnesota schools will share $55 million they can use to buy new computers and software, Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced on Jan. 30. And if Minnesota is any indication, schools in as many as 14 other states soon could have similar windfalls of their own.

While Minnesota schools have known since 2004 that they had some money coming their way, the final amount was up in the air until recently. Pawlenty said that the technology vouchers have just started going out.

“With the fast-paced changes in the field of technology, it is often difficult for schools to keep pace,” he said. “This money will allow them to update and–in many cases–expand their technology, which in turn will help students learn and achieve at higher levels.”

Pawlenty’s announcement is among the first from a string of states awarded substantial settlements as the result of a highly publicized class-action lawsuit, in which U.S. customers and businesses claimed Microsoft was violating antitrust laws by overcharging for its Windows operating system and its Excel and Word software programs. The company had denied the allegations, saying the prices on its products had dropped. Montana also reportedly has distributed settlement money to schools, though those figures were not available at press time.

In total, Microsoft reached similar agreements with consumers in 15 states–Arizona, California, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia–as well as the District of Columbia.

As part of these agreements, customers were to receive vouchers from the company that would allow them to purchase new software and hardware products of their choice. Though each state has a slightly different agreement, the consensus was that a large portion of any unclaimed vouchers–as much as two-thirds in some places–would be distributed to schools to upgrade aging technology components. The rest would be returned to Microsoft.

The announcement in Minnesota is significant, because it provides the first indication of just how much money schools in these states are likely to see as a result of the settlements.

In total, Minnesota consumers received $174.5 million worth of vouchers from the company, $110 million of which went unclaimed. Under the state’s settlement agreement, half the value of all unclaimed vouchers–totaling $55.2 million–is to be distributed to schools.

If the apparent lackluster response from consumers holds true in other states, schools in places such as California–where settlement agreements exceeded $1 billion–could be in line for a major financial windfall.

In Minnesota, the amount each school gets depends on the concentration of poverty in its district. Some will receive only a few thousand dollars, while others, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, are in line for more than $6 million each. To get the money, each district in the state was asked to submit a blueprint for how it planned to use the funds. Districts have until 2012 to use the vouchers.

“It’s definitely going to give us a much-needed shot in the arm, there’s no question about that,” said Mary Mehsikomer, a senior planner with the Minnesota Department of Education, in an interview with eSchool News about Pawlenty’s announcement.

Not only will the funds help schools upgrade aging technology throughout the state, Mehsikomer said; they also should help soften the impact of recent cuts to federal grant initiatives, such as the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant program, which Congress cut by 45 percent in its 2006 budget.

In 2005, Minnesota received $3.5 million as a result of the EETT program. Though Mehsikomer could not say how much money the state would receive in 2006, she said the budget cuts are a good indication that Minnesota’s share will be significantly less this year.

More than offsetting the pain of federal budget cuts, she said, the majority of the funds will be used to bolster and extend existing ed-tech programs–not, as EETT is intended, to start new ones.

“We don’t use a lot of EETT funds for equipment,” she explained, adding that the way the Microsoft settlement is set up, schools are required to use the funds to replace or upgrade existing technology, such as hardware, software, and infrastructure.

Mehsikomer said schools likely will use the money to purchase a variety of hardware and software products, including instructional software titles, productivity software, and infrastructure equipment.

At the elementary school where Pawlenty detailed the payout, Principal Patricia Steingruebl was ecstatic to learn her school would be getting $55,000. She said the school now spends about $2,000 a year on new technology.

“We don’t plan to spend that all at once,” Steingruebl said. One priority, she said, will be new software to help teach reading.

The vouchers automatically will go to districts, which will be able to shop from a list of 1,500 approved hardware and software products, said Richard Hagstrom, an attorney with a Minneapolis law firm involved in the case. He said the offerings go beyond Microsoft products.

Mehsikomer said the claims administrator already informed all but 46 districts in the state regarding the amount of money each school will receive and that the remaining 46 districts should expect to get word soon.

Because the settlement represents more or less a one-time investment for schools, Mehsikomer stressed that schools “need to be very careful” in how they choose to use these funds.

But, she added, if schools use the money responsibly, the upside potential for technology in Minnesota’s schools will be huge.


Minnesota-Microsoft settlement page

Microsoft consumer class-action settlement information


Researchers warn of file-destroying worm reports that the new Kama Sutra worm will begin attacking infected computers on February 3rd, and then on the third of every following month. Windows Office documents, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PDFs are among the files that will be overwritten by the worm. The data will be changed and the originals will no longer be accessible. The software tempts users through sexy pictures sent through email, and user interaction is necessary to enable the infection…