Study: Female chat room names subject to 25 times more abuse

A new study finds that using a female screen name such as Cathy, Melissa, or Stephanie is much more likely to elicit threatening or sexually explicit messages in online chat rooms. The study’s findings suggest that students should use ambiguous screen names when engaging in online chat.

In the study, automated chat-bots and human researchers logged on to chat rooms under female, male, and ambiguous screen names, such as Nightwolf, Orgoth, and Stargazer.

Bots using female names averaged 100 malicious messages a day, compared with about four for those using male names and about 25 for those with ambiguous names.

Researchers logging on themselves produced similar results.

Michel Cukier, the study’s author and a professor at the University of Maryland’s Center for Risk and Reliability, said the findings show the risks of placing personal information on the internet, “even disclosing just your first name.”

Cukier said the difficulty of writing computer programs, or scripts, that can tell the difference between males and females online shows the menacing messages were not generated automatically.

“These are real users who seem to look for female names,” he said, adding that parents and educators should “consider alerting children to these risks, and advising young people to create gender-free or ambiguous user names. Kids can still exercise plenty of creativity and self-expression without divulging their gender.”

The results were published in the proceedings of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ International Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks in June.

Home broadband use soars as prices fall

Middle- and working-class Americans signed up for high-speed internet access in record numbers over the past year, apparently lured by a price war among phone companies. For educators, that means more students and their parents now have broadband internet access in their homes–which expands the kinds of educational services and outreach efforts that are available to them.

Broadband adoption increased 59 percent from March 2005 to March 2006 among U.S. households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $50,000, according to a survey released May 29 by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It increased 40 percent in households making less than $30,000 a year. Among blacks, it increased 121 percent, according to the study.

Middle- and lower-income households still lag behind higher-income households when it comes to broadband adoption. Among the $30,000 to $50,000 households, 43 percent now have broadband, compared with 68 percent of those making more than $75,000 per year.

Overall, 42 percent of adult Americans–or 84 million people–have broadband, compared with 30 percent a year ago.

Phone companies last year started slashing prices for broadband service that uses regular phone lines to establish a digital subscriber line, or DSL. Both Verizon Communications and AT&T Inc. introduced $14.99-per-month offers.

“It seems like the aggressive pricing strategies have had some effect for DSL providers in those middle-income segments,” said John Horrigan, associate director for research at Pew.

Pew surveyed 4,001 adults by phone between Feb. 15 and April 6. The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Minnesota to experiment with online tests beginning this fall

The Minnesota Department of Education will begin online tests for English-language students in some schools this fall and wants to move all state assessments online by 2009. Next spring, Minnesota students will test a new online statewide science test. In addition to students’ knowledge, the test should show whether all schools are technologically ready to move to online exams.

A state task force recently questioned whether Minnesota will be ready to switch over to online testing by 2009. Minnesota placed second to last in a recent national report ranking states’ ability to integrate technology and education.

The study by Education Week put Minnesota at about the national average with fewer than four students per computer, but it put the state’s ratio of students per classroom computer at 10 to 1.

Trying to test hundreds of students in a school’s computer lab, rather than having enough classroom computers for testing, could slow the state’s efforts to move all testing online. Tim Vansickle, director of assessment for the state Department of Education, said the state will ease its way into online testing and considers the early tests a practice run.

All school districts are being asked to try out the new tests during the 2006-2007 school year and to test at least half of their English-language learners next fall.

Field testing for the new science test, which will be given to students in the fifth, eighth, and, probably, 11th grades, will begin next spring.

Betty McAllister, who directs special programs for the Worthington, Minn., public schools, said she thinks the district is ready to give online tests to nearly 100 English-learners in elementary, middle, and high school.

Steve Schellenberg, assistant director for research, evaluation, and assessment for St. Paul’s public schools, has doubts.

“There are a lot of technical problems. Right now, I don’t think we have the physical capability. But there’s a little time yet,” Schellenberg said. “I have mixed feelings. I want to make absolutely the best effort possible to do it. But I don’t know where the push to get online comes from.”

20 South Dakota schools chosen for pilot laptop program

Twenty South Dakota school districts will get laptop computers for each high school student under a pilot program that Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, hopes to expand to schools statewide.

The 20 high schools were chosen from 30 applicants and have 5,046 students.

Through the South Dakota Classroom Connections project, the state will provide $1 for every $2 invested by the local school district toward the purchase of the laptops. The state’s funding is made possible by a $4 million Citibank donation designated for technology-based initiatives.

Districts will buy laptops directly, and the state will reimburse them for one-third of the cost. Districts will pay $1,207 per laptop, which includes the hardware, software, and teacher training.

“The classroom of the future will–and should–require that technology be immersed within lessons. That day is coming, whether it’s two years from now or 10 years from now,” said Rick Melmer, state secretary of education.

“By providing laptops to students, South Dakota is providing its young people with a competitive edge as they prepare to enter today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced world.”

Training will be offered in three phases–one for the districts’ technology coordinators, another for teachers, and a third for both groups combined.

The governor’s office said the 20 schools selected were chosen based on their ability to demonstrate a funding source; provide a plan for ongoing training of teachers; and show the commitment of their staff, school board, and community to the project.

The selection committee consisted of representatives from the Department of Education and Bureau of Information and Telecommunications.

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