One Laptop Per Child extends promotion

From the Associated Press: A promotion in which a customer buying a $188 computer in the U.S. and Canada automatically donates a second one to a child in a developing country has been extended until year’s end. The “Give One, Get One” program will now run through Dec. 31, instead of ending on Nov. 26, according to the One Laptop Per Child Program, a nonprofit spinoff from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In the past 10 days, we’ve experienced an outpouring of support from the public that is truly gratifying and encouraging,” said Nicholas Negroponte, the program’s founder…

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Technology helps reform large lectures

At Virginia Tech, students in most introductory math courses work through problems individually at one of 500 computer workstations in a giant room that is open 24 hours a day. And at hundreds of colleges nationwide, professors use personal response systems technology, or “clickers,” to gauge whether students understand important concepts before moving on.

These are just some of the ways colleges and universities are striving to transform large lectures into more personal experiences for students—and technology is playing a key role in such reforms.

It’s one of the fundamental challenges for colleges in the 21st century, experts say: how to make higher education serve an ever-growing student population without compromising quality.

On weekday mornings, the Cristol Chemistry Building at the University of Colorado is a hive of activity. Every hour, hundreds of laptop-toting students file in and out of its theater-style lecture halls, where classes are scheduled back to back.

In all, 33 courses at Colorado are each attended by 400 students or more. Three have more than 1,200 students. Most are broken into sections, but even those might have hundreds of students. One chemistry course is so big that the only place on campus where everyone can take the final exam at once is the Coors Event Center, Colorado’s basketball arena.

Such arrangements are all too common on U.S. campuses.

There already are 18 million American college students, and that number is expected to increase by 2 million over the next eight years, as the value of a college degree continues to climb.

To get everyone through the coursework, monstrous class sizes are unavoidable at most institutions.

That does not have to be a bad thing. At their best, giant classes can be effective and inspiring—a way to get the best teachers in front of the most students.

But according to Carl Wieman, who won the 2001 Nobel Prize as a physicist at Colorado, such successes are rare.

Students often tune out and are turned off. Charismatic lecturers get good reviews but, as the data show, are no more effective than others at making the most important concepts stick.

Most remarkably, when it comes to teaching not just “facts” but conveying to students the scientific approach to problem-solving, research shows that students end up thinking less like professionals after completing these classes than when they started.

“In a very real way, you’re doing damage with these courses,” Wieman, now a leading voice for reform, said in a recent interview.

Why are so many large lecture classes broken?

One reason is that faculty and departments closely guard their absolute power over teaching, and there is no central body nationally or even on campus to direct reform.

Many reforms also take money. If there were enough money, large classes wouldn’t exist in the first place.

But state and federal policy makers are clamoring for more accountability and better graduation rates from higher-education institutions, and if faculty members don’t step up, bureaucrats might step in.

Large classes are the obvious place to focus. The National Center for Academic Transformation, or NCAT, estimates that the 25 most common college courses—in subjects such as economics, English, psychology, and the sciences—account for 35 percent of four-year college enrollment nationally. That means a lot of people are taking a relative handful of courses.

Colorado, with a long tradition of innovative science teaching, is one of a number of campuses making significant changes in how at least some large introductory courses are taught and organized. Others include Maryland, MIT, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and the University of Alabama.

The reforms go beyond simply reducing class sizes or encouraging lecturers to speak with more animation, though those are elements. Details vary, but one theme is a shift from a passive model of absorbing a lecturer’s words to a more active one where lecturers guide and measure, but students learn the material more independently.

It’s not necessarily popular with students, but cognitive research says it is the best way to make learning stick.

“In a traditional course, the faculty are doing all the work and the students are watching,” said Carol Twigg, president and CEO of NCAT, which is working with hundreds of universities to improve giant courses. “In a redesigned course, students are doing the work and faculty are stepping in as needed.”

Wieman is at the vanguard of the reform movement, but it’s really his second career. In his first he was a researcher with a rare distinction: He produced a new state of matter. Most people know the three most common states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. But by cooling rubidium nearly to absolute zero, Wieman and Colorado colleague Eric Cornell formulated the first Bose-Einstein condensate, a state in which several thousand atoms align perfectly and behave as a single “super atom.”

After his Nobel Prize, Wieman could easily have focused on lab work or training a cadre of elite graduate students.

But Wieman uses his clout to secure invitations to talk to his fellow scientists—about teaching. He has become one of several physicists to take up the cause, along with Eric Mazur at Harvard, Edward Redish at Maryland, and Robert Beichner at North Carolina State.

“I have ridiculous, grandiose visions,” Wieman said. “I want to change how everybody learns science. I won’t get into how this will save mankind, but it may.”

The problem, he said, is that scientists stop acting like scientists when it comes to their own teaching.

In their own research, scientists hypothesize, measure—then use data to figure out what works. But for teaching, “they’re immediately willing to make generalizations about the thousands of students who’ve been through their class based on the two [who] talked to them last week,” he said.

There’s no magic bullet, but measurement is the key.

“We’re in this new era of engaging in this as a scholarly enterprise,” said Noah Finkelstein, a young Colorado physics professor who has worked with Wieman to revamp a class he teaches. “Most faculty haven’t been taught education is a scholarly enterprise. Most faculty have been taught education is an art, not a science.”

One of the tools of this new science is “clickers,” handheld voting devices now used on at least 700 campuses nationwide, according to manufacturer eInstruction. They let teachers pose mid-lecture multiple-choice questions and instantly evaluate if students are grasping the material.

During a recent morning lecture in Colorado’s General Chemistry 1131, Professor Robert Parson spoke for a few minutes, then posed a multiple-choice question to the class of about 250. The question, like others he used, was designed by a team of science-learning experts with trick choices that signal if students are falling for common misconceptions.

The results of the “vote” popped up on an overhead screen. Then, before revealing the answer, Parson had students break into small groups to discuss the answer and vote again. The group did well, and he moved on. If it had performed poorly, he would have reviewed the material.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in college teaching is bridging the gap between an often brilliant expert and students new to the subject. Clickers help remind teachers how a novice sees their material.

“You realize how many people don’t know something you forgot you didn’t know 20 years ago,” said Barbara Demmig-Adams, one of four Colorado professors who teaches a general biology course with 1,300 students and who introduced clickers this year.

Other campuses are trying different ideas, but a common thread is making large classes more of a two-way street—and technology often is a key enabling component.

At Virginia Tech, for instance, most introductory math courses now take place in a giant room called the “math emporium,” in a converted department store just off campus. Students rarely, if ever, meet together. Instead, they come in any time, 24 hours a day, to work through problems on the 500 computer workstations. When they have a question, they flip over a red plastic cup beside their desk, and helpers—upperclassmen, graduate students, or professional staff—come by.

Despite the roomful of computer hardware, the emporium is a much less expensive way to teach—for one course about $24 per student, compared with about $77 through more traditional means.

Teaching assistants in Parson’s chemistry course and at the math emporium say they’re growing increasingly confident about such methods. But some students are still sour on them.

“I can’t do it very well with someone teaching me,” said Ian Millington, a Virginia Tech sophomore who failed a calculus class but got a B when he took the same course last summer at a local community college. “So how am I going to teach it to myself?”

His mother, Jennifer Millington, says the family loves everything about Virginia Tech—except how it teaches math.

“If they’re going to keep raising the rates, I shouldn’t have to be going to a community college to pay for my kid to take calculus,” she said. “I know it’s a huge school and there are so many students, but if you get so large that you’re neglecting the masses, [then] kids are falling through the cracks.”

Mike Williams, who oversees the emporium, concedes student reaction is mixed. “It turns out many resent they have to do more work,” he said. “They want to sit in a class like they’re watching the boob tube.”

But he says the popular option isn’t always the best way to teach. And it’s good for students to take on more responsibility for their learning.

Large lectures have their place, but it’s too easy for students to hide, said Lee Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Technology can help if teachers carefully study what works, as Wieman does. Otherwise, the latest gadgets will only further alienate students, as has happened with teachers who rely too much on tools like Microsoft PowerPoint.

Shulman invited Wieman to give his foundation’s centennial lecture last year.

“It’s not unusual for Nobel laureates to shift the direction of their work into a more socially and educationally focused kind of direction,” Shulman said. “What’s remarkably different about Carl is that he doesn’t just say, ‘I’m a Nobel Laureate, listen up,’ and then ask people to take teaching more seriously. He approaches it as a scholar.”

Frustrated with administrative turnover and funding, Wieman moved his base to the University of British Columbia (UBC) this year while continuing some of his work at Colorado. He says he was determined to continue his work at a large public university—the kind of place where future K-12 teachers are trained.

If Harvard were to revolutionize introductory science teaching, “people would look at it and say, ‘They’ve got more money than God, that doesn’t have any application to us,’” Wieman says. But if places such as Colorado and UBC can show measurable improvement, “it’s going to be a whole lot harder for people to argue they shouldn’t be doing it.”

Links:

Virginia Tech

University of Colorado

National Center for Academic Transformation

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

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Facebook users complain of new tracking

Some users of the online hangout Facebook are complaining that its two-week-old marketing program is publicizing their purchases for friends to see. Those users say they never noticed a small box that appears on a corner of their Web browsers following transactions at Fandango, Overstock and other online retailers. The box alerts users that information is about to be shared with Facebook unless they click on “No Thanks.” It disappears after about 20 seconds, after which consent is assumed.

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Feds call for higher seat backs on school buses

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters proposed new rules on Nov. 19 to improve the safety of school bus seats and expand the use of shoulder belts—but she declined to order that all new buses include seat belts.

Peters rode a packed school bus to Morrisville Elementary School in Morrisville, N.C., which is among the first schools in the country to equip some of its new buses with seat belts, then said she wants to increase the height of seat backs on all school buses from 20 inches to 24 inches to help protect children during accidents.

Peters also proposed a new requirement for short school buses—the style more prone to rollover accidents—to begin using shoulder straps. For longer buses, however, she instead proposed giving states the option of using federal highway safety funds to purchase new buses with seat belts.

But she didn’t promise that any new money would be added to those funds to help cover the costs.

“We want school districts to make that decision,” said Peters, noting that smaller buses don’t carry as many students. “They’ll make the decision about how to protect the most children within their areas.”

A new bus with seat belts costs about $10,000 more than one without the devices, said Derek Graham, a transportation services official for North Carolina schools. North Carolina puts about 800 new buses on the road each year, meaning the seat belt buses would cost the state an additional $8 million each year.

The federal government gives out about $220 million in highway safety funds annually, based on a formula of population and road miles. The country has about 474,000 school buses, Peters said.

Schools have increasingly gone to higher seat backs. Peters said that taller children are prone to flying over the seats if the backs are too short.

“It’s like putting an egg in an egg carton,” she told Sarah Omwenga, a 7-year-old who sat next to Peters on her ride to the Morrisville school.

They buckled up in the new bus fitted with tall seat backs.

School districts would have three years to begin having the small buses, which already use the lap belts, equipped with the shoulder restraints under Peters’ proposal. Districts would have to begin using the taller seat backs on new buses one year after the rules are approved.

The department will decide whether to adopt the proposal after a 60-day public comment period.

Links:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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Perfect harmony

Empire Union School District in Modesto, Calif., is a K-8 district serving 3,500 students, with seven sites and a district office. It employs 192 full-time equivalent (FTE) certificated staff, 150 FTE classified staff, and 25 managers. In 2001, facing a need to manage attendance tracking as well as position control, Empire began investigating new technology solutions. Today, the district has successfully created a system that brings HR and the school business office into harmony.

“Our legacy system was [based on] manual staff sign-in through monthly time sheets. Accountability became an issue with unexplained absences, late sign-ins, and late sign- ins when absences had occurred,” said Donald Kiger, Empire’s assistant superintendent of business.

“We were losing 5 percent of unreported or unexplained absences, as we had no way to verify or cross-check information. The business office could not verify positions—how many were filled and how many vacant. When we built the budget, we didn’t have a comfort level with the exact positions being funded. We were in a declining enrollment, laying off staff, and we needed to control positions and manage the budget [carefully],” Kiger added.

District efforts focused on identifying a position control and tracking system that would check absentee records, cross-check with substitute listings, and verify the information against sick leave and other attendance records.

“Our efforts led us to Digital Schools and its Digital Schools Suite, including online attendance and position control,” Kiger said. “We recognized its ability to integrate data and provide management with a technologically advanced accountability program.”

Managing the change process

The hardest task for the district was to manage the change process. There were members of staff and management who were very resistant to implementation and continuously found roadblocks to halt progress. Change is frightening to those who aren’t comfortable with it, or with technology in general. Because the solution absolutely required a marriage between the business office and human-resources department, and required site-level cooperation, Empire faced a significant challenge.

The implementation process, which typically is managed with a point person from the district in a few short months, was dramatically extended in this case.

It was a complex internal problem. Empire officials realized the only way change would occur successfully was with a top-down mandate that this system would be used, accompanied by internal changes.

It was about this time that Michael Gonzales was hired as the assistant superintendent of human resources. He quickly assessed and understood the value and importance of this services-driven application.

“Neither of us [business office or HR] can work in a vacuum,” Gonzales explained. “The nature of the relationship is such that it must be cooperative; every technology tool at our disposal must be employed. In short, harmony and cooperation to resolve issues and work through solutions must exist between our two areas in order for the entire district to benefit.”

With change managed internally, Empire was positioned to implement the system on an efficient and thorough basis.

Managing the implementation process

The district first started with position control and then proceeded to staff attendance. Because the solution is services-driven, as opposed to “software in a box,” Digital Schools provided a dedicated resource in Machelle Melville, client services manager. Melville trained business staff and worked with the district in jointly presenting workshops for site secretaries, who were instrumental to a successful implementation.

To develop a good control group, the district piloted the solution with its Head Start and maintenance and operations divisions. The internal process was to implement online attendance within these two groups, meet with them to discuss issues and concerns, and then fine-tune the application to meet specific district needs.

Because measurement is an essential tool for both the business office and human resources, the district conducted an evaluation, made final adjustments, and then implemented the system for all schools and all departments.

“It really was a simple process. Machelle had the implementation set forth in a manner that was easy for us to manage and implement,” said Gonzales. “It also is a great help that the system is so easy to use.”

District superintendents realized that both the business office and HR had respective responsibilities to fulfill, so they selected an individual with fiscal knowledge and interest in learning about and being trained on the HR side. This person was identified and trained as the focal point to be responsible for the site attendance.

When there is an absence, it is immediately coded by the sites. This eliminates the guess work. The business office can electronically match absences with substitute use, by area, and generate the validated reports that enable solid management and control.

On the resistance side, management identified those who continuously threw up roadblocks by asking Digital School’s assistance in identifying the person(s) and areas with consistent issues and/or help requests. District officials were proactive in intervention by enforcing the top-down rule. “This was our issue to resolve, and we didn’t want this to create unreasonable demands on and expectations of Digital Schools,” said Kiger.

Additional areas of benefit

Eliminating paper, minimizing general fund expenditures while maximizing expenditures from the categorical fund, and tracking of absences, substitutes, and credentials are among some of the benefits the district experienced.

Now, having fully implemented the system for the past several years, Empire has set a standard for the essential interrelationships that must exist between HR and the business office. Complementing this harmony is an array of benefits, including:

  • Increased productivity;
  • Full accountability;
  • Streamlined processes;
  • Improved budgeting against open positions;
  • Curtailing of unauthorized position changes and additions; and
  • Clear revenue savings.

“Any well-run district knows that there must be harmony between the human resources and business offices. Our new system has become an essential tool for linking what traditionally have been disparate, and—in some districts—conflicting, activities,” Kiger said. “Our good working relationship was further enhanced with the ability to integrate essential data to generate accurate and accountable budgets and payrolls.”

He concluded: “Administrators may not want hear this, but they need to: Business does payroll, HR does hiring, and this must be a harmonious blend—not a competition.”

For more information about Empire’s system, contact Don Kiger at dkiger@empire.k.12.ca.us.

Links:

Empire Union USD

Digital Schools

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IBM links researchers, African students

IBM Corp. has launched a mentoring program for college students in Africa. The project, called Makocha Minds, using the Swahili word for “teachers,” puts 250 of IBM’s top researchers in regular contact with engineering, math and computing students at universities in 10 sub-Saharan countries: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria. The participants chat mainly by e-mail or phone, but in-person meetings could happen eventually. The students usually want general guidance on becoming successful or pursuing advanced degrees.

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New Amazon reading device doesn’t need a computer

Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon.com, is hoping that Kindle, an ambitious $399 e-book device recently introduced, will avoid the fate of previous attempts at the technology. Kindle, which Amazon spent three years developing, lets users wirelessly download best sellers for $9.99 each, and it is designed to be simple to use and comfortable to hold. Most significant, Amazon has made it easy to shop for and buy books through Kindle without using a computer. The device connects to a high-speed wireless data network from Sprint, and wireless delivery is included in the cost of books and other products. Downloading a book takes less than a minute.

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Cyber intimidation and the art of bullying

In Australia, cyber bullying is a relatively new type of harassment but the federal government says it is not unusual. According to 2007 statistics on the government’s NetAlert web site, 16 per cent of children say they have been bullied online and 14 per cent have been bullied using a mobile phone. Worse still, cyber intimidation pushes the frontiers of bullying–it can take place any time, anywhere. This has led to a broadening of the definition of bullying. …

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Conference highlights latest in educational technology and best practices

Orlando, FL – November 20, 2007 School districts around the country are facing tighter budgets and wrestling with ways to improve curriculum, while effectively using technology to meet the educational needs of today’s digital generation. Educators and administrators will have an opportunity to find solutions to these and other issues when they convene in Orlando for FETC 2008, January 22-25, at the Orange County Convention Center.

FETC 2008, one of the largest conferences in the nation devoted entirely to educational technology, offers educators – from kindergarten through college – opportunities to learn how to integrate technology into their curriculum. More than 200 concurrent sessions will provide professional development and demonstrate how products, applications and best practices can be used in the classroom.

"FETC is a great opportunity for educators from around the country to experience the latest in educational technology through workshops, speakers and hands-on experiences," said Michael Eason, executive director of FETC. "Not only do attendees have the opportunity to learn about best practices from national experts, but they can also see and purchase the latest innovations in classroom technology from more than 500 exhibitors."

This year’s conference will feature keynote speaker, Jeff Corwin, host of Animal Planet’s "The Jeff Corwin Experience" and "Corwin Quest." Corwin will speak at the Opening Session on Wednesday, January 23.

Education issues are hot topics these days. Budgets for schools are tightening more each year, and teachers are battling the "video game" era with students that require innovative teaching approaches and technologies to keep them engaged. Teachers and school administrators have the task of looking for ways to stay on the cutting edge to keep pace with the introduction and application of new technologies.

About FETC

FETC is a resource that helps educators meet these increasing demands. For the past 28 years, FETC has been providing the educational community the chance to experience new teaching techniques and technologies from leading experts, while providing technological and educational businesses from around the nation an opportunity to showcase the latest hardware, software and teaching strategies available.

Each year, nearly 9,000 people from across the country attend FETC to participate in ticketed workshops, attend speaker sessions and visit the 250,000 square-foot exhibit hall featuring more than 500 companies displaying their products.

For more information on FETC 2008, including a detailed list of sessions, exhibitors and ticketed workshops, visit www.fetc.org.

FETC is owned by 1105 Media, Inc., a leading provider of integrated information and media in targeted business-to-business markets, including specialized sectors of the information technology community; industrial health, safety and compliance; security; environmental protection; and home healthcare. 1105’s offerings span print and online magazines, journals and newsletters; seminars, conferences and trade shows; training courseware; and web-based services. Formed in 2006 and based in Chatsworth, Calif., with offices throughout the U.S., 1105 Media acquired FETC in January 2007 and is committed to continuing FETC’s mission of advocating and supporting the use of technology in education by providing an annual, world-class conference and other initiatives for the education community.

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St. Petersburg College AS Veterinary Technology Distance Program delivers Sloan-C award-winning program with the ANGEL Learning Management Suite

Indianapolis, IN – November 20, 2007 ANGEL Learning, recognized innovator of enterprise elearning software and services, is pleased to congratulate ANGEL client St. Petersburg College (SPC) and its AS Veterinary Technology Distance Program for winning the prestigious 2007 Sloan-Consortium Award for Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program. The award recognizes the program’s excellence, effectiveness and exceptional leadership in advancing online education.

"This award validates the years of hard work, innovation and commitment by the faculty and staff of the School of Veterinary Technology," said Dr. Richard M. Flora, dean, School of Veterinary Technology, St. Petersburg College. "The ANGEL system has allowed us to provide the opportunity for students in all parts of the country to complete an accredited Veterinary Technology program. ANGEL is easy for our students to use, and allows our instructors to use innovative methods and tools for course delivery."

The first distance Veterinary Technology program fully accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Saint Petersburg College program demonstrates excellence from every perspective:

Pass Rates Above National Average: Pass rates of graduates of the online program on the Veterinary Technician National Examination have been above the national average for more than 3 years running.

High Student Satisfaction: 97.6% of graduating students report satisfaction with the program.

High Employer Satisfaction: Employers of recent program graduates report a satisfaction level of 6.2 on a scale of 7.0.

One of the largest postsecondary institutions in the State of Florida, St. Petersburg College is a comprehensive, public institution with ten learning sites throughout Pinellas County, Florida. The college adopted the ANGEL Learning Management Suite in 2004 to serve its more than 60,000 students enrolled in associate and bachelor degree, technical certificate, applied technology degree and continuing education programs.

About ANGEL Learning
ANGEL Learning, Inc. develops and markets enterprise elearning software. Our flagship products are the ANGEL Learning Management Suite and the ANGEL ePortfolio system. Our products have been honed by use – with millions of students and instructors served from K to corporate. We enjoy a reputation for creating products with exceptional ease of use, excellent vision into learner progress and for keeping our commitments. ANGEL LMS won the Software & Information Industry Association CODiE award for Best Postsecondary Course Management Solution in both 2006 and 2007 and is the only product to win the award two years in a row. Educators ranked ANGEL first in customer satisfaction in the IMS GLC Learn-Sat awards. Having emerged from the academy ourselves, our core values reflect those of our customers well. ANGEL world headquarters are in Indianapolis, Indiana. To learn more about the ANGEL difference, visit us at www.angellearning.com.

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