Plagiarism allegations jolt Illinois school

Illinois School District 203’s superintendent moved to reassign Naperville Central High School Principal Jim Caudill next school year, while student Steve Su is being asked to return his valedictorian’s medal, after each plagiarized portions of speeches they gave during commencement events last week, the Chicago Tribune reports. The news comes as memoir writers, university professors, and even a White House adviser have been engulfed in a growing wave of plagiarism allegations sweeping the nation. Many high schools and universities have responded by enacting tough standards against the practice, which is increasingly rampant in the internet age…

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School leaders get advice on ‘green’ computing

With energy costs soaring to record levels, taking steps to reduce energy consumption isn’t just good for the environment–it’s also essential for the fiscal health of schools. At a recent webinar on “green” computing, panelists discussed several ways school leaders can reduce the power consumption of their technology systems…and ways they can use technology to cut other energy expenditures, too.

“What’s going to happen to this world if we don’t change our behavior?” asked consultant Karen Greenwood Henke, who moderated the online discussion for the Consortium for School Networking, its host.

Switching a single light bulb to an energy-efficient bulb can save about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, Henke said–and if every family in the United States made the switch, carbon dioxide output would be reduced by more than 90 billion pounds.

“Even small changes can have a big impact,” she said.

Information technology (IT) energy usage “will double in the next four years, and there are some easy things in the world of IT that we can do to attack this problem,” according to Andrew Verdesca, marketing manager of energy-efficient technologies and services for IBM.

Verdesca used his company as an example of how a wide range of organizations can foster eco-responsibility. IBM offers a program, called Big Green Innovations, that helps school systems, corporations, and other enterprises design more energy-efficient data centers and reduce energy consumption. IBM also operates asset-recovery programs for buying back and disposing of used IT systems.

“eWaste can’t be ignored–1 billion computers will become potential scrap by 2010, and only 45 percent of U.S. companies have eco-friendly disposal plans,” Verdesca said.

He said diagnosing the power consumption of your current IT systems is the first step in figuring out which systems are taking up the most energy–and determining which systems can be placed in idle mode when they are not being used.

“Just understanding how much power is being consumed is a big part of [solving the problem],” he said.

It’s estimated that, in an entire data center, the actual IT systems account for 45 percent of energy use, and power and cooling apparatuses account for 55 percent, Verdesca said. It’s also estimated that only 20 percent of an IT system is being used, and the remaining 80 percent is not being used.

“Seizing control of the wasted spaces in systems” is a step in the right direction, he said.

There are things you can start doing right way to “go green” in your schools, said Darrell Walery, director of technology for the Consolidated High School District 230 in Illinois. He added: “A lot of the things, you’re already doing.”

Walery’s district makes use of conference calling and online meetings to save on gas consumption and paper costs, and the district is upgrading certain online communications channels to save on these expenses as well.

The district is using an intranet and Microsoft SharePoint technology for posting information, which helps reduce the amount of storage space employees need on their individual machines and cuts down on the number of eMail messages that are printed out, Walery said.

“We’re educating our users to…think about doing things a little bit differently,” he added.

Using server virtualization technology, the district has consolidated 11 servers onto two hard boxes, and all its computers are shut down at a specified time. In addition, all monitors go into “sleep” mode after 20 minutes to reduce power consumption.

“Many [solutions] have very little or no cost and just require behavior changes, so your district can start doing things in a slightly different way,” he said.

Converging various IT systems on a single district network can save on energy costs, said Jim Schul, chief information officer for the Harris County, Texas, Department of Education. And internet-based instruction is another “green” option for schools.

“Virtual delivery is now taking off, and not just in the professional development area, but also in classrooms, which we’re very excited about,” Schul said.

Opting for virtual instruction could prompt districts to reconsider their school construction and building-size needs, he said.

For example, a fully equipped school that houses 2,000 to 3,000 students can cost upwards of $100 million. “If we start to virtualize a lot of our instruction, we might not need a $100 million high school–maybe we need a $75 million high school, because all of our students might not be present at the same time, meaning [we could reduce our] heating and cooling, maintenance, bus, and other energy costs,” he said.

Rural schools in particular are affected by today’s high gas prices and energy costs, because some students might ride an hour or longer on their way to school. Provided that students have access to technology at home, virtual schooling can help cut gas and electricity consumption, Schul said.

Texas recently passed a law requiring school districts to reduce their energy bills by 5 percent, and the panelists urged school leaders to begin implementing energy-saving plans so they can lead by example and be prepared if, or when, other states begin imposing similar energy-usage mandates.

“Going green is a long-term investment. …Who knows how high energy costs will be 20 years from now?” Schul said. “Think out of the box for eco-friendliness.”

“It’s just a matter of education and letting people know there’s a different way to do things,” Walery said.

“Education is critical in this whole area,” Verdesca agreed.

Link:

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

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YouTube lawsuit tests copyright law

Educators are closely watching a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit challenging YouTube’s ability to keep copyrighted material off its popular video-sharing web site—a lawsuit that could have important implications for the future of Web 2.0 applications, observers say.

In court papers filed late last week, YouTube’s owner, Google Inc., argues that the lawsuit threatens how hundreds of millions of people exchange all kinds of information online. Judging from the responses of those who spoke with eSchool News, many educators would seem to agree.

“The success of a lawsuit such as this would have a chilling effect on any site that allows users to generate content, and would fundamentally undermine the gains our society has realized through the free flow of information and knowledge on the internet,” said Jim Klein, director of information services and technology for the Saugus Union School District in Santa Clarita, Calif.

“This would have a profound impact on education, where the benefits of Web 2.0 [technologies] are only just beginning to be realized. These sites offer myriad educational opportunities to reinforce key 21st-century skills, and their diversity offers educators a wide range of choices to include in their lessons and/or practice.”

Google’s lawyers made the claim in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, as the company responded to Viacom Inc.’s latest lawsuit alleging that the internet has led to “an explosion of copyright infringement” by YouTube and others.

In its filings, Google said it fully complies with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed by Congress 10 years ago to support and encourage the development of internet services.

“Legitimate services like YouTube provide the world with free and authorized access to extraordinary libraries of information that would not be available without the DMCA—information created by users who have every right to share it,” Google attorneys wrote in the court papers. “YouTube fulfills Congress’s vision for the DMCA.”

A Google spokesperson did not return messages left by eSchool News.

The back-and-forth between the companies has intensified since Viacom brought its lawsuit last year, saying it was owed damages for the unauthorized viewing of its programming from MTV, Comedy Central, and other networks, including such hits as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

In papers submitted to the Manhattan court May 23, Google said YouTube “goes far beyond its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works.”

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More superintendents blogging to keep in touch

When a quick Google search yields nearly 400,000 entries, it’s time to recognize that superintendent blogs are no longer a novelty.
 
From tiny Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District in New York to behemoths like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, top leaders are using blogs to "talk" to parents, employees, and other key constituents.

After reading several and cruising dozens more, the net effect makes me realize our public schools are in very good hands.

Whether written by the superintendent or ghost-written by a communications person or staff member, most blogs set the right tone, offering insight and wisdom in a more conversational tone than traditional "letters from the superintendent."

While it’s tempting to get long-winded, many blogs are short and sweet, featuring weekly–if not daily–entries.

Frank Morgan, superintendent of Kershaw County School District in Camden, S.C., blogs daily–typically to say congrats and thanks to staff members and students, or encourage parents to participate in forums and other district events.

Other superintendents take a more in-depth approach, posting well-researched and insightful blogs on more complex topics. 

Tackling tough issues from cyber bullying to the controversial new vaccination for HPV, Debra Kaplan, superintendent of Dobbs Ferry Union Free School District, writes with insight and warmth.

Often tapping news items for inspiration, Kaplan uses her blog to help parents and community members get to know her or to raise awareness about important issues facing the school district.

Quoting new research on the importance of sleep and her struggle in getting adequate rest, for example, Kaplan reminded parents that sleep impacts academic learning for students, too.

Local media outlets and the New York Times have taken note, using the blog as fodder for news stories.

"I’d rather write more in-depth and get a good topic, than do one every week just to get something out there," says Kaplan, who started the blog as way to introduce herself to the community.

"I think it has really helped me as a new superintendent, to let the community get to know me," says Kaplan. "You can’t be everywhere, see everyone, and know everyone. A blog is kind of a personal touch."

Parents and community members have responded well, according to Kaplan. "You get a lot of nice feedback from people, who eMail you to let you know what they’re thinking about," says Kaplan, noting this helps her keep abreast of community issues and concerns.

Kaplan only writes about topics she feels passionate about–a trait shared by other top bloggers, according to Debbie Weil, author of The Corporate Blogging Book.

"Good blogs have a viewpoint and a voice," writes Weil in "Top 7 Tips to Write an Effective Business Blog," a free PDF available through her web site. "They reveal something about the way the blogger thinks–as well as what he or she thinks about."

In addition to focusing on topics that you feel passionate about and sharing your personal viewpoint, Weil also recommends concentrating on writing shorter and more frequent entries.

Like Morgan and Kaplan, Weil urges bloggers to use an informal, "Dear Mom" approach when writing.

Weil also recommends keeping entries short and linking to other articles to keep things fresh. "The fact that you noticed the article and have an opinion about it is what counts," she says.

Subheads, bullets, one-sentence paragraphs, and other graphic organizers can help readers skim the contents quickly, according to Weil–an important consideration, given the notoriously short attention span of most web surfers.

Keep readers in mind when writing headlines, she urges. Clever blog titles that don’t clearly convey the subject matter might lose, rather than attract, online readers.

By crafting titles with care and including specifics, key words, brand names, and experts, bloggers will increase clarity for their readers and the likelihood of search-engine pickup, according to Weil.

Just because blogs represent a form of new media doesn’t mean educators can ignore grammar and spelling.

An educator who can’t spell, can’t seem to handle simple declarative statements, or can’t manage the right subject-verb agreement is going to send the wrong message, which is why Weil and other experts recommend never serving as the lone proofreader on this and other critical communications.

Because regular postings help build readership and search-engine success, Weil also recommends posting at least weekly.

"The more you post, the more content you are creating," writes Weil. "Since each new post or entry is its own web page, you are increasing the chances that search engines will find your blog. I can’t emphasize frequency and consistency strongly enough."

Given the interest among parents, employees, and other stakeholders in what school leaders have to say in most communities, less frequent blogs might work for some districts.

"This year I haven’t had as much time to [blog], and people really seem to miss it," says Kaplan, who usually takes about two hours to get her all her thoughts on paper once she has a topic in mind. "Finding topics that are interesting, valuable, and that I’m personally interested in is what takes me the most time. About once a month is all I can manage."

Links:

"Top 7 Tips to Write an Effective Business Blog"

Kershaw County School District Blog

"School Ties" (Debra Kaplan’s blog)

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10 tips for writing winning grant proposals

It should come as no surprise that the content of a grant proposal is critical. Obviously, if you don’t have a strong project to propose, chances are you won’t receive a grant to implement it. However, just as important to the grant-writing process is your ability to "sell" your project to grant reviewers–that is, to craft a winning proposal through strong writing skills.

So, how do you "write" the "right" proposal? Here are 10 tips and suggestions to help you with the writing part of the proposal process:

1. If you want to understand what reviewers are looking for in terms of a writing style or ability, look at copies of previously funded proposals. Studying the writing style of successful applicants will give you a good idea of how your own proposal should be written. (Is the proposal written as if directed toward a Ph.D. scholar, or is it written at a high school or college level? Is it written in a formal style, or one that is more conversational in tone?)

2. Another clue to writing style can be found in the RFP. Carefully examine the style of writing and the formality of the language used in the instructions for applying, and try to mirror this style in your proposal. If you read the instructions for a National Institutes of Health research grant, for example, it becomes clear that a certain level of writing is expected in the proposals. More than likely, the researchers who are submitting proposals write at a high, scholarly level using complicated research terms that most of us do not use in our day-to-day writing.

3. You should never make any assumptions about the reviewers. They might, or might not, be experts in the field. Consequently, do not use terms that are specific to education or technology without defining these terms the first time they appear in your proposal. Beware of using "education speak," or jargon those outside the field have no frame of reference to understand. The same applies to acronyms: These should always be spelled out the first time you use them.

4. One of the best ways to decide if you’ve written complete sentences that make sense is to read your proposal aloud to someone who is not familiar with your project before you submit your application.

5. Use active verbs and sentence constructions, rather than passive ones. Instead of writing, "The district finds that the students show low achievement scores in math," say: "Students in our district have low math achievement scores."

6. Do not use equivocal language, such as, "We hope that if we receive funding, we might be able to meet our goals." Write with authority and conviction. Approach the proposal-writing process as if you already know that your project will be funded, and you’re writing to tell the reviewers what will happen when you receive the grant award.

7. Use everyday words unless you are writing a technical proposal. Don’t try to impress reviewers by using sophisticated words when the everyday version will do just fine.

8. Keep your sentences short and concise. Reviewers can lose interest quickly when reading long, rambling sentences.

9. As you are writing, convey your passion and enthusiasm for the project, so that reviewers become excited as they read your proposal.

10. Be careful about using creative writing when crafting a grant proposal. For some funders, creative writing might be appropriate, especially if they’re interested in hearing about teacher and/or student stories. Use previously funded proposals and the RFP as your guides when making this determination.

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Study: Reading First program hasn’t helped comprehension

The $6 billion reading program at the center of President Bush’s signature education law has failed to make a difference in how well children understand what they read, according to a study by the program’s own champion–the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

The program, Reading First, was designed to help boost student performance in low-income elementary schools, but it has failed to improve reading comprehension, says the study from ED’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

There was no difference in comprehension scores between students who participated in Reading First and those who did not, the study found.

The findings, released May 1, threw the program’s future into doubt.

"We need to seriously re-examine this program and figure out how to make it work better for students," said California Democratic Rep. George Miller, chair of the House education committee.

Reading First was created as part of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which aims to get all children doing math and reading at their proper grade level. President Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings have championed the reading program as an important part of the law.

IES Director Russ Whitehurst said the study focused on reading comprehension rather than other aspects of reading, such as whether kids grasp phonics, because comprehension is the ultimate goal when teaching reading.

The study did find that Reading First led to more time being spent by teachers on the various aspects of reading judged to be important by a federal reading panel.

The study also found that among schools participating in Reading First, higher levels of funding led to some improvement in scores.

Congress recently cut funding to the program–over Bush’s objections–owing to budget constraints and controversies surrounding it.

"It’s no surprise that Reading First has been a failure," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., who led the fight to cut the program’s budget following reports about management problems and potential conflicts of interest in the program.

Spellings hailed the program as a success last year when she released data showing scores in Reading First schools were up. However, those scores weren’t compared with schools where Reading First wasn’t in place. The new study compares those using the program to those not using it.

So, while elementary school students appear to be improving in reading across the board, there’s no difference in the gains being made by students participating in Reading First and those who are not, according to the study.

Amanda Farris, ED’s deputy assistant secretary for policy and strategic initiatives, said Reading First remains popular.

"Secretary Spellings has traveled to 20 states since January. One of the consistent messages she hears from educators, principals, and state administrators is about the effectiveness of the Reading First program in their schools and their disappointment with Congress for slashing Reading First funds," she said in a statement.

Jim Herman, Tennessee’s Reading First director, said he thinks the program works. He said one potential flaw with the latest study is that it doesn’t measure the degree to which schools not receiving Reading First money might be using Reading First practices.

This isn’t the first time supporters of the program have been dealt bad news.

Congressional investigators and ED Inspector General John Higgins previously found that federal officials and contractors didn’t adequately address potential conflicts of interest. For example, federal contractors that gave states advice on which teaching materials to buy had financial ties to publishers of Reading First materials, according to the investigations.

Higgins also testified to Congress that the department didn’t comply with the law when setting up panels that would review grant applications and in establishing criteria for what teaching materials could be used.

Miller said those problems could be behind the findings of the latest ED report.

"Because of the corruption in the Reading First program, districts and schools were steered toward certain reading programs and products that may not have provided the most effective instruction for students," he said.

The new study examining Reading First’s impact has itself been the subject of conflict-of-interest questions, because a contractor that worked on it also was among those that helped implement the Reading First program.

RMC Research Corp. was the contractor hired by the federal government to help with Reading First at the outset of the program under three contracts worth about $40 million. The contractor was subsequently criticized in an inspector general’s report for failing to adequately address conflict-of-interest issues. For example, it did not sufficiently screen subcontractors for relationships with publishers of reading programs, the report said.

RMC also was involved in the study released May 1, developing ways of measuring what was taught in classrooms and training classroom observers. Critics have said the company was, in effect, involved in judging its own work.

Whitehurst said he didn’t think the contractor’s involvement in the study resulted in an actual conflict of interest but perhaps created the appearance of one.

"If we had to do it all over again," he said, "we would have avoided the appearance issue."

The report released May 1 was an interim report. The final version is due out by the end of the year.

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Court upholds New York City’s cell-phone ban in schools

In a ruling that could have implications for school systems from coast to coast, a New York state appeals court has upheld a ban on cell phones in the nation’s largest school system.

The New York City Department of Education passed rules in September 2005 barring students from having their phones in public schools.

School officials, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have called the phones a distraction and say they could be used for nefarious purposes, including cheating.

Parents insist they need to stay in touch with their children in case of emergencies, like what happened Sept. 11, 2001. They call the ban irrational and unsafe and say it intrudes on their right to determine what is best for their children.

City lawyers argued that education officials had the right to make policy decisions–"the kind government officials make all the time"–about devices students may have at school.

The state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division agreed. In an April 22 ruling, the court said that nothing about the ban interferes with any of the rights claimed by the parents, nor does it prevent students and their parents from communicating before and after school.

"The cell phone ban does not directly and substantially interfere with any of the rights alleged by the parents," wrote Justice Angela Mazzarelli in the unanimous opinion. 

"If adults cannot be fully trusted to practice proper cell-phone etiquette, then neither can children," she wrote.

The judges said that while they understood parents’ concerns, the ban is a reasonable one because cell phones are disruptive in classes, and past incidents show that students have used cell phones to cheat on tests.

"We are extremely disappointed," said Norman Siegel, lawyer for the parents and students. "We strongly believe the ban is unconstitutional and illegal, and we will not rest until the prohibition is reversed."

The ban came about as New York stepped up its scrutiny of what gets in and out of schools–a policy aimed primarily at finding weapons. Along the way, schools confiscated thousands of cell phones. Students responded by sneaking phones inside their lunches and under their clothes, or paying neighborhood stores small fees to hold their phones during the day.

"We believe that the court correctly concluded that the objections to the cell-phone policy raised issues for the chancellor’s consideration, rather than for the courts," said Michael Cardozo, the city Corporation Counsel, in a statement. "Moreover, the policy does not violate the constitutional rights of students or parents. It is an important and ‘reasonable’ measure to ‘maintain order in the schools,’ as the court found."

"The Department of Education is gratified that the policy, which encourages a productive learning environment among students, will remain in place," the statement added.

New York City has more than 1,400 schools and 1.1 million students.

The decision came a few months after Joel I. Klein, the city’s school chancellor, launched the "Million" Motivation campaign, an initiative designed to help students internalize connections between education and success.

Participating students in the pilot program, which will operate in seven middle schools, will receive a free cell phone, with opportunities to earn minutes and other rewards if the students achieve academic goals established by school principals.

At the same time, the phones will be used as a platform to communicate directly with students by teachers and administrators and to "re-brand" achievement through a messaging campaign and mentoring program.

The messaging campaign will spotlight successful professionals in a range of occupations who can serve as role models to students who might never have considered a viable profession or way of life. Students will get workplace experience, life coaching, and academic help through a mentoring program that cements the core messages of the campaign, officials said.

Some parents have questioned the message the program sends, when phones are banned from the city’s schools.

Although the April 22 ruling comes from a New York state appeals court, it could affect how courts in other states decide similar cases challenging school cell-phone bans, experts say.

Link:

Cell-phone ruling

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Contribuir a los “blogs” ayuda a estimular la escritura entre adolescentes

Una nueva encuesta que midió el impacto de la tecnología sobre las habilidades de escritura de los adolescentes sugiere que contribuir a los blogs está ayudando a muchos adolescentes a ser escritores prolíficos.

La encuesta fue realizada por el Pew Internet and American Life Project (Proyecto sobre el Internet y la Vida Americana de Pew) con el apoyo del College Board y su National Commission on Writing (Comisión Nacional sobre la Escritura). La encuesta investigó los vínculos entre la escritura ‘formal’ que los adolescentes hacen para las tareas académicas y la comunicación electrónica que intercambian informalmente a través del correo electrónico y los mensajes de texto.

Según el estudio que salió el 24 de abril, los adolescentes que se comunican frecuentemente con sus amigos y los que tienen más herramientas tecnológicas como las computadoras y los teléfonos celulares, no escriben más a menudo para la escuela o para sí mismos que los jóvenes que no se comunican tanto con los demás o los que tienen menos aparatos tecnológicos. A cambio, los adolescentes que contribuyen a blogs (los bloggers) escriben con más frecuencia, estando conectados al Internet o no.

El 47 por ciento de los bloggers escribe fuera del ámbito escolar por razones personales varias veces por semana, comparado con el 33 por ciento de los adolescentes que no tienen blogs. El 65 por ciento de los bloggers cree que la capacidad de escribir es esencial al éxito en la vida; el 53 por ciento de los que no contribuyen a blogs dice lo mismo.

Bradley A. Hammer, un profesor en el programa de escritura de Duke University, dice que el tipo de escritura que los estudiantes hacen en los blogs y en otros formatos digitales puede ser mejor que el estilo de escritura que aprenden en la escuela, ya que es más apropiado para los fines intelectuales que el tipo de escritura que se mide en el Scholastic Aptitute Test (SAT – Examen de Aptitud Escolar).

"En realidad, participar en blogs y otras formas de debate virtual fomenta el tipo de intercambio intelectual, análisis y escritura argumentativa que las universidades valoran," escribió él en un artículo de opinión en agosto.

Según el informe, los adolescentes escriben por varias razones: como parte de una tarea académica, para mantenerse en contacto con los amigos, para compartir su creatividad con otras personas, o simplemente para registrar sus pensamientos. Además los adolescentes dicen que están más motivados a escribir cuando pueden escoger temas que son relevantes para sus vidas y sus intereses y que disfrutan más de escribir para la escuela cuando tienen oportunidades de aplicar su creatividad. Ellos también dicen que saber que alguien va a leer lo que escriben les motiva a escribir mejor y con más frecuencia–los blogs son una manera de conseguir esa audiencia.

A pesar de los esfuerzos de mantener la formalidad de la escritura que se hace en la escuela, el 64 por ciento de los adolescentes dice que utiliza los emoticones, las abreviaturas y otros estilos más informales en su escritura.

"Esto representa una oportunidad para enseñar," dijo Amanda Lenhart, especialista senior en investigación de Pew. "Si [un maestro] ve estas cosas en lo que un estudiante escribe, hay una oportunidad de tocar el tema de las diferencias entre la escritura formal e informal. Así aprenden hacer distinciones…al igual que aprenden que no se debe usar frases coloquiales en la escritura formal."

En contra de la opinión ortodoxa, el estudio también encontró que la generación digital opta por no usar las computadoras en la mayoría de las tareas relacionadas a la escritura. Casi dos-tercios de los adolescentes dicen que típicamente escriben a mano sus tareas académicas. Y cuando están escribiendo algo por motivos personales, la escritura normal es aún más popular–casi tres-cuartos de los adolescentes lo prefiere.

Esto podría estar relacionado al hecho de que la mayoría de los trabajos de escritura que los estudiantes hacen son cortos: típicamente las tareas académicas varían entre un párrafo y una página, dijo Lenhart.

Sin embargo, según el informe, a los adolescentes les gusta tener la posibilidad de editar y revisar su escritura con una computadora. El 57 por ciento de los estudiantes dice que hacen cambios a lo que escriben con más frecuencia cuando están utilizando una computadora.

Los adolescentes que usan computadoras cuando están escribiendo cosas que no están relacionadas a la escuela creen que la tecnología tiene mayor impacto sobre la cantidad de cosas que escriben que sobre la calidad de su trabajo. Aún así, hay mucha ambigüedad con respecto al impacto de las computadoras en cada uno de estas áreas.

Entre aquellos adolescentes que utilizan computadoras para escribir cosas personales, el 40 por ciento dice que las computadoras permiten que escriban más, mientras el mismo porcentaje piensa que escribiría la misma cantidad usando una computadora o no. En comparación, sólo el 30 por ciento de estos adolescentes cree que a veces las computadoras les ayudan a escribir mejor–mientras el 63 por ciento dice que la calidad de su escritura no depende de las computadoras.

La mayoría de los estudiantes (82 por ciento) cree que su escritura mejoraría si la escuela les diera instrucción adicional y pusiera mayor énfasis sobre la escritura. El 78 por ciento piensa que el uso de tecnologías como juegos educativos, multimedia y software y sitios Web dentro del aula podría mejorar su escritura.

La encuesta fue realizada por teléfono el otoño pasado. Participaron 700 residentes de los Estados Unidos entre las edades de 12 y 17, y sus padres. Tiene un margen de error de más o menos 5 puntos percentil.

Vínculos:

"Writing, Technology, and Teens" survey

 

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Los expertos dicen que el aprendizaje en línea puede ayudar a los estudiantes pertenecientes a grupos minoritarios

A medida que el aprendizaje en línea se vuelve un recurso estratégico que permite a las escuelas K-12 y las instituciones de educación superior suplementar sus cursos tradicionales, algunos líderes académicos están discutiendo la forma en que este tipo de aprendizaje pudiera apoyar a las necesidades educativas de los estudiantes pertenecientes a grupos minoritarios.

En un webinar (seminario en línea) presentado por el North American Council for Online Learning (Consejo Norteamericano para el Aprendizaje en Línea), los panelistas Ray Rose, director de programas de MentorNet; Sharnell Jackson, jefe de eLearning (aprendizaje en línea) para el sistema de escuelas públicas de Chicago; y Themy Sparangis, jefe de tecnología para el Unified School District (Distrito Escolar Unificado) de Los Ángeles, discutieron cómo las escuelas pueden aprovechar los programas de aprendizaje en línea para proveer oportunidades educativas de alta calidad para las poblaciones de grupos minoritarios.

"Estamos intentando asegurar acceso equitativo para todos los estudiantes," dijo Sparangis. "Tal vez algunos cursos no tengan suficientes estudiantes matriculados [que justifiquen ofrecerlos], pero sí podemos ofrecerlos en línea. Quizás algunas escuelas no tengan suficientes maestros para enseñar ciertas materias, pero también podemos ofrecer éstas en línea."

Jackson cree que el aprendizaje en línea también puede ayudar con la recuperación de los estudiantes que abandonaron la escuela o que se encuentren en reformatorios de menores.

"[El aprendizaje] en línea puede ser una alternativa en el caso de que físicamente no puedas asistir a la escuela o cuando un ambiente escolar tradicional no responde a tus necesidades. A través del aprendizaje en línea un estudiante puede cumplir con los requisitos para graduarse del colegio, puede completar los créditos necesarios y enriquecer el currículo tradicional," dijo ella.

Los panelistas enfatizaron que el éxito de los cursos en línea depende de la capacitación que se dé a los estudiantes y a los maestros sobre este tipo de aprendizaje . También notaron que, con respecto a la población de estudiantes de grupos minoritarios, es importante proveer acceso equitativo a computadoras, banda ancha y otras tecnologías necesarias para poder aprovechar los cursos en línea.

Además de ofrecer becas y cursos en tecnología básica a los estudiantes y maestros, Sparangis sugiere hacer todo lo posible para poner las computadoras a la disposición de los estudiantes.

"Ofrecer programas durante y después del horario escolar, permitir que los estudiantes usen las computadoras durante sus períodos libres, o pedir que los bibliotecarios escolares aparten tiempo [para el aprendizaje en línea] fuera de los horarios tradicionales," especificó Sparangis.

Aunque un curso en línea de alta calidad dará oportunidades a los estudiantes a comunicarse con el maestro para hacer preguntas y responder a problemas, Jackson cree que es buena práctica apoyar esta instrucción con la presencia de un maestro o un moderador [dentro del aula].

"Deben estar disponibles algunos maestros que hacen de moderador para los cursos en línea. Esto no sólo facilitará la comunicación y el aprendizaje, sino también ayudará con los estudiantes que no tengan mucha capacidad retentiva, o los que no empleen buenas prácticas de estudio …el maestro puede asegurar que sigan trabajando," ella dijo.

Según Jackson, varios estudios del aprendizaje en línea realizados por el sistema de escuelas públicas de Chicago demostraron que el 70 por ciento de los estudiantes pasó las materias cuando no estaba presente un maestro para supervisar y controlar lo que acontecía en el aula. Pero cuando sí estaba presente algún maestro o moderador, esa taza subió al 83 por ciento.

"Tener un maestro dentro del aula cuando los estudiantes están haciendo un curso en línea también permite que el maestro marque lista y verifique quién está tomando el curso y completando los créditos," dijo Jackson.

Jackson también recomienda que los educadores que están ofreciendo cursos en línea se comuniquen con los maestros de los cursos tradicionales para que puedan conocer–y así atender–las necesidades de los estudiantes.

También es importante recopilar y analizar datos demográficos y del desempeño de los estudiantes.

"Nosotros utilizamos esta información para mejorar continuamente el proceso de aprendizaje," dijo Sparangis. "Podemos ver cuánto tiempo un estudiante ha estado conectado, si este estudiante estaba trabajando independientemente o en grupo, cuánto demoró para terminar una sección, cuántas veces el estudiante entró y salió …[los datos cubren] todos los aspectos."

Sobre todo, los panelistas dijeron que los educadores deben entender que los estudiantes de grupos minoritarios pueden llegar a los mismos niveles de desempeño que los otros estudiantes–y que el aprendizaje en línea no representa una versión menor del aprendizaje tradicional.

"Hay que animar, retar y motivar a los estudiantes de grupos minoritarios. Están siendo privados de su derecho a la educación. Necesitamos estimularlos, y ayudarlos a atender sus necesidades. El aprendizaje en línea puede ayudarnos a lograr esto," terminó Jackson.

Vínculos:

North American Council for Online Learning

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Cursos “híbridos” prometen ofrecer beneficios a la instrucción

"Cursos híbridos"–cursos que ofrecen una combinación de lectura dentro del aula con actividades en línea–son cada vez más populares entre las escuelas y las instituciones de educación superior. Los defensores del concepto dicen que los cursos híbridos ofrecen los beneficios de ambos tipos de aprendizaje (en línea y tradicional)–y ahora existen evidencias de que estos cursos pueden ayudar a los estudiantes a aprender más efectivamente.

Brian McFarlin, un profesor en el Laboratory of Integrated Physiology (Laboratorio de Fisiología Integrada) de la Universidad de Houston, decidió hacer un experimento en uno de sus cursos para investigar las fortalezas y debilidades de los cursos híbridos. El proyecto fue financiado en parte por un subsidio para el desarrollo profesional de los profesores que ofreció la oficina de tecnología educativa de la universidad.

McFarlin descubrió que las notas finales de los estudiantes eran 9.9 por ciento más altas cuando el curso tenía un formato híbrido (equivalente al aumento de una letra en una escala de evaluación normal).

Un total de 658 notas estaban incluidas en el análisis del efecto del formato de la instrucción sobre el desempeño académico de los estudiantes. Todos los exámenes utilizaron la misma fuente de preguntas, sin importar el formato del curso.

"Cuando empecé, sólo quería asegurarme de que los estudiantes aprendieran lo mismo en un curso híbrido que en una clase tradicional. De pronto aprendí que la tecnología tiene mucho poder cuando está empleada de una forma apropiada," dijo McFarlin.

Aunque la muestra fue demasiado pequeña como para poder llegar a conclusiones firmes, [los resultados del estudio] levantan algunas preguntas interesantes que deberían ser exploradas en más detalle.

La gente a favor del uso de la instrucción híbrida cree que el combinar la instrucción tradicional entre maestro y estudiantes con reflexión y discusiones en línea puede llamar la atención de los estudiantes más efectivamente. Además, los cursos permiten atender a las necesidades personales de los estudiantes y fomentan la interacción entre ellos–cosas difíciles de lograr en un aula tradicional.

Estos beneficios potenciales fueron los que inspiraron a McFarlin a probar un formato híbrido.

"Los estudiantes …tenían diferentes niveles de conocimiento antes de empezar la clase, por lo que yo tenía que dar más asistencia a [algunos] estudiantes cuando estaba enseñando las materias básicas, lo cual significaba que algunos estudiantes estaban aburridos mientras los otros estaban beneficiando de la instrucción," él explicó.

Otra razón por la cual él quiso probar un curso híbrido tiene que ver con el creciente número de estudiantes matriculados en su curso–en un momento tenía 200 estudiantes.

Esta clase se llamaba Physiology of Human Performance (Fisiología del Comportamiento Humano). Entre el 2004 y el 2005, 346 estudiantes estaban matriculados en una clase que empleaba el formato tradicional de lectura. Entre el 2006 y el 2007, 312 estudiantes tomaron una clase que tenía un formato híbrido. El curso híbrido incluía 1.5 horas por semana de trabajo en línea, y 1.5 horas por semana de lectura.

En el curso tradicional, cuando era posible, las lecturas estaban presentadas con el programa PowerPoint de Windows y con ilustraciones hechas por Flash. Dado el gran número de estudiantes matriculados, hubo poca interacción entre el profesor y los estudiantes.

Una combinación de WebCT Vista con varias tecnologías de instrucción fue empleada en el curso híbrido.

Utilizando WebCT, McFarlin hizo un sitio Web especialmente para su curso, creando banners con contenido específico y un avatar SitePal interactivo para dar anuncios a los estudiantes.

Una vez que creó el sitio en WebCT, McFarlin tuvo que desarrollar, producir y organizar el contenido del curso. Con ello quería ofrecer a los estudiantes acceso en línea a varias clases que les darían información básica para apoyar el aprendizaje de temas más avanzados, los cuales serían presentados dentro del aula.

McFarlin desarrolló archivos en PowerPoint similares a los que utilizaba en el curso tradicional, pero con la adición de narración que añadió con la ayuda del programa Articulate Studio. Para finalizar la parte en línea del curso híbrido, McFarlin tuvo que crear un story board (esquema audiovisual del argumento), hacer las diapositivas en PowerPoint, escribir y grabar la narración, añadir la parte auditiva a las diapositivas utilizando Articulate Studio, incorporar algunos juegos educativos, y poner a prueba el producto final dentro de WebCT.

Además, después de cada lectura, McFarlin subió las grabaciones al sitio Web del curso para que los estudiantes pudieran descargarlas en formatos WMA o MP3. Para incentivar la asistencia a las lecturas, McFarlin dio acceso a esas grabaciones solamente a los estudiantes que fueran a las clases.

McFarlin estima que pasó entre 16 y 20 horas haciendo todo esto para cada lectura. Aunque fue mucho más tiempo de lo que gastaba antes preparando una lectura tradicional, él nota que va a poder usar mucha de la misma información en años siguientes.

Algunos comentarios de los estudiantes indicaron que los que tomaron el curso híbrido prefirieron tener la habilidad de trabajar independientemente en la materia siguiendo su propio ritmo y de revisar el contenido de las lecturas todas las veces que quisieran.

[También hay evidencia de que] los cursos híbridos resultaron en mayor comprensión de la materia entre los estudiantes. En promedio, los estudiantes que fueron enseñados con un formato híbrido sacaron notas en los exámenes que fueron 14 por ciento más alto de las notas de los estudiantes en los cursos tradicionales. Según McFarlin, esto se debe a la posibilidad de tener discusiones en línea que típicamente no serían posibles en una clase con tantos estudiantes.

McFarlin también cree que el formato híbrido es útil para la universidad, dado que la mitad del tiempo de instrucción se pasa en línea en vez de dentro de un aula. Esto significa que se puede aprovechar mejor el espacio, ya que cada curso reduce el tiempo en el aula en 1.5 horas semanales.

"A mi me gustó el formato híbrido del curso," dijo uno de los estudiantes de McFarlin. "Nos dio todas las herramientas posibles para salir bien en este curso. Sabía muchísimo del tema, y creo que aprendí mucho en la clase."

Otro estudiante escribió, "La disponibilidad de la información en WebCT contribuyó al éxito que tuve en este curso. Fue muy beneficioso poder revisar el audio de las lecturas antes de los exámenes."

Aún así, el curso tuvo algunos problemas. Por ejemplo, la instrucción en línea dificulta confirmar la identidad del estudiante que está entregando una tarea. Además, se requiere mucho tiempo para desarrollar los materiales para un curso en línea.

Sin embargo, una vez elaborados los materiales, el profesor puede utilizarlos en años siguientes con apenas algunas modificaciones o actualizaciones. Eventualmente el proceso podría ahorrar tiempo, dijo McFarlin.

Aunque al principio la tecnología fue un poco intimidante y causó algunos contratiempos, McFarlin dijo manejó su curso híbrido bien.

"Me gustó usar WebCT porque no requiere que tengas mucha experiencia escribiendo el código HTML, sino que te permite hacer hyperlinks utilizando el interface Java incorporado," dijo McFarlin. "Encontré algunos contratiempos cuando estaba implementando la tecnología, sin embargo, al final pude expandir mi capacidad de instrucción para poder ofrecer una mejor experiencia de aprendizaje a mis estudiantes…Ahora sólo ofrezco [el curso] en un formato híbrido."

Vínculos:

University of Houston

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