Student cell phones seized over nude photos

Police in the Santa Fe school district have confiscated dozens of student cell phones as they search for nude images of two junior high school girls that were forwarded to numerous students, the Houston Chronicle reports. "Those students forwarded the images, and the circle opened up and got wider and wider," Superintendent Jon Whittemore said. The two Santa Fe Junior High School students took nude photos of themselves and sent them to their boyfriends, Whittemore said. The boyfriends forwarded the photos to others, who in turn forwarded them again, he said. "It’s child pornography, is what it is," Whittemore said. He said he was uncertain whether the students are in the seventh or eighth grade and exactly when the photos were taken, except that it happened late last week…

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HP takes steps to reduce carbon footprint

Hewlett-Packard Co. is embarking on a broad environmental initiative that includes new eco-friendly labels on printers, as well as tools and products to help customers reduce their carbon footprint, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The company has set its sights on its printing group in an effort to give customers more choices to limit their environmental impact. Similar programs will come later this year to HP’s computer and server business groups. The environmental effort includes the introduction of an HP Eco Highlights label that will appear first on two LaserJet printers and a new inkjet printer made almost entirely from recycled material. The label will list a product’s environmental attributes, such as its energy savings or Energy Star rating. HP also is starting an Eco Solutions program that it hopes will allow organizations to reduce their environmental impact by 30 percent. The program includes a carbon footprint calculator and a printing assessment that measures an organization’s impact and costs from its printing work…

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UW cutting 66 jobs in technology division

The University of Washington will cut 66 employees from its technology division, marking the university’s biggest announced job cutback since 1994, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reports. University administrators learned about three months ago that UW Technology, which provides phone and eMail service and is a central support for UW’s computing services, was operating at an annual $10 million loss. University spokesman Norm Arkans said division layoffs of about 15 percent of the staff were unavoidable. About 360 people will remain in the technology division. Some of the services offered by UW Technology, including eMail, are available at no or little cost through companies such as Google and Microsoft, hurting UW Technology revenues. Arkans said the technology division operates like a small business, gaining revenue by charging other campus divisions for services. UW Technology provides eMail for about 40,000 students on three campuses and 30,000 employees…

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Facebook to give its site a facelift

Facebook is dramatically changing its web site in a move it said will give users more control over the information they share with their friends, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The popular social-networking site outlined details of the new design May 21 and said it plans to implement the changes next month on a test basis. The new look will incorporate tabs at the top of profile pages to help members better organize their personal data, such as photos. The new profile pages mark the latest change for Facebook, whose 70 million members have been vocal about past tweaks to the site. Last year, for instance, it drew complaints after it introduced a service that took information from other web sites–such as a user’s latest purchase on–and broadcast it to that user’s network of Facebook friends. With that in mind, Facebook said it plans to introduce changes slowly, allowing users to use the new profile page in June before making it available to all members later…

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Scientists release educational computer game

Aiming to make learning science fun and engaging for students, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has introduced a free educational computer game called "Immune Attack."

The program is part of a strategy that capitalizes on the huge popularity of gaming to get kids interested in science. FAS first previewed "Immune Attack" at a summit on video gaming in education three years ago (see "Educators take serious look at video gaming"). Participants, who ranged from cognitive scientists for the military to entertainment game producers from Hollywood, discussed the pedagogical value of gaming technology as a teaching tool.

"Immune Attack" is a three-dimensional game that provides scientifically accurate simulations of the immune system, with imagery designed by medical illustrators. The game features conferencing and auto-tutoring technology meant to personalize the gaming and learning experience with content-rich sessions. It also contains a built-in assessment feature, through which users must answer questions to move on to the next level.

Players navigate a nanobot through 3-D blood vessels and connective tissue in an attempt to save an ailing patient by retraining her non-functional immune cells. The game was designed by immunologists, teachers, and learning scientists from institutions such as Brown University, the University of Southern California, and Escape Hatch Entertainment.

Henry Kelly, FAS president, said his organization chose to focus on the immune system because it is part of a biology course taken by most high school students–and teachers have told FAS that the concepts are often difficult for students to master.

"It’s also not hard for students to [relate] what they’ve learned about the immune system with the diseases and treatment that they and their family have experienced," Kelly added. "We felt the subject lent itself perfectly to an attempt to use game technology to convey sophisticated knowledge while retaining interest in the phenomena."

Some educators might think gaming is more entertainment than a learning tool, but that doesn’t have to be the case, Kelly said. He believes the word "game" can create misunderstanding, because it covers such a broad range of concepts.

To make an educational game more than just "edutainment," Kelly said it should be based on meeting challenges that are authentically interesting to students; should move forward to new challenges at a rate tailored to ensure that each individual is neither bored nor frustrated; and can provide learners with the information, tutoring, and counseling they need as they face new challenges. And that’s the approach FAS has taken with "Immune Attack," which has undergone months of testing in schools.

"Clearly these approaches won’t work for all subjects or all students, but they should be a permanent part of our repertoire of learning tools," said Kelly.

As part of the federation’s mission to incorporate research and development into the creation of its games, FAS conducted an informal survey of 79 students to explore the impact of "Immune Attack" in a real-world classroom setting.

The survey found that students who played the game had significantly higher knowledge scores at post-test. There also was a statistically significant decline in the perceived difficulty of immunology content, and students who played the game had a higher interest in biology than those who did not play the game.

So far, the game has been used in 14 high schools across the United States by close to 1,000 educators.

Netia Elam, an Advanced Placement biology teacher at Forest Park High School in Woodbridge, Va., said that students "were very engaged while playing Immune Attack. … The game provides great visuals and allows students to interact while playing."

Continued Elam: "The kids really wanted to master the game and do what they needed to do to learn."

"Immune Attack" is only one of many educational tools the federation plans to offer educators in the future.

"It’s obvious to us that simulations and game-like challenges provide a much more interesting and natural way to help students master complicated bodies of knowledge and provide a cost-effective alternative to expensive (and sometimes dangerous) laboratory equipment and field trips that might not be a practical option for many schools," said Kelly.

As a result of the federation’s federally supported research and various public donations, anyone can download "Immune Attack" free of charge online or request a CD-ROM from FAS.

FAS acknowledges that it doesn’t know everything there is to know about educational gaming.

Said Kelly: "We’re only at the beginning of understanding how best to make use of the new power that computational and communication tools provide us. When and where should these tools be used? How can they be adapted to serve students with many different backgrounds, interests, and skill sets? What is the best role for teachers and counselors? Are the games best played in groups or alone? These and many other questions remain to be answered before we begin to approach the potential of these new tools."


"Immune Attack"

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the “ Creating the 21 st Century Classroom ”resource center. Preparing today’s youth to succeed in the digital economy requires a new kind of teaching and learning. Skills such as global literacy, computer literacy, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation have become critical in today’s increasingly interconnected workforce and society–and technology is the catalyst for bringing these changes into the classroom. Go to Creating-the-21st-century-classroom


Municipal broadband projects under attack

In an effort to expand access to high-speed internet service for residents in their communities, many municipalities are building their own broadband networks. But they face growing opposition from the telephone and cable industries in what is shaping up as a battle over U.S. internet policy with important implications for schools.

Internet traffic is growing faster than at any time since the boom of the late-1990s, and communities from coast to coast are trying hard not to get stuck in the internet slow lane. Some 60 towns and small cities, such as Bristol, Va.; Barnsville, Minn.; and Sallisaw, Okla., have built state-of-the-art fiber networks, capable of speeds many times faster than most existing connections from cable and telecom companies. An additional two dozen municipalities, including Chattanooga, Tenn., have launched or are considering similar initiatives.

Their efforts highlight a dispute over internet policy in the United States that is sure to affect education. Although most schools now have high-speed networks and fast internet connections, the ability for students to do research, take classes online, and download large files from home depends on the connection speeds of their households.

Once the undisputed leader in the technological revolution, the United States now lags behind a growing number of countries in the speed, cost, and availability of high-speed internet service. Cable and telecom companies are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their service, but they’re focusing their efforts mostly on larger U.S. cities for now.

Smaller cities, such as Chattanooga, say they need to fill the vacuum themselves or risk falling further behind and losing highly paid jobs.

For instance, Chattanooga’s city-owned electric utility began offering ultra-fast internet service to downtown business customers five years ago. Now, it plans to roll out a fiber network to deliver high-speed internet, TV, and phone service to some 170,000 customers. The city has no choice but to foot the bill itself for a high-speed network expected to cost $230 million if it wants to remain competitive in today’s global economy, says Harold DePriest, the utility’s chief executive officer.

But it’s a risky endeavor. Some municipal internet efforts, including wireless projects known as Wi-Fi, have failed in recent months. EarthLink Inc. confirmed last week it was pulling the plug on its wireless partnership with Philadelphia. A number of towns have abandoned a municipal fiber initiative in Utah, called Utopia, amid financial difficulties.

The latest efforts have aroused intense opposition from private-sector providers. Cable and telecom companies have successfully lobbied 15 state legislatures to pass laws preventing municipalities from entering the broadband business. Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc., and other cable and telecom providers have also filed lawsuits against existing projects, arguing they’re an improper use of taxpayer money and amount to unfair competition. In Chattanooga, Comcast sued the city’s utility late last month in Hamilton County Chancery Court.

"They don’t know what they’re getting into," says Stacey Briggs, the director of the trade group Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, of Chattanooga’s plan. She says the utility has underestimated the costs involved, among other things.

DePriest counters that the suit is just a stall tactic. "So long as they can delay us, they can hold on to their customers," he says.

Such disputes take on greater significance as the internet enters a new phase of explosive growth, much of it driven by user-generated video and images. More network and cable TV shows are being shown online, and web-enabled cell phones are bringing the internet to new users all over the globe.

According to a recent report by Cisco Systems Inc., total annual internet traffic will quadruple by 2011, reaching a size of more than 342 exabytes. (One exabyte is the equivalent of one trillion books of about 400 pages each.)

In the United States, where most of the critical infrastructure that led to the creation of the internet originated, questions persist about how well-positioned the country is today. South Korea, for example, now reportedly generates about the same amount of internet traffic as the U.S., with just one-sixth the population.

In terms of adoption, or the percentage of households using broadband, the United States (with 57 percent) ranks 10th out of the 30 leading industrialized countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based research and policy group. The U.S. was among the leaders in this category at the beginning of the decade. The nation fares only slightly better in affordability, ranking 11th most affordable (at $12.60 per megabit per second), behind countries such as Italy and Norway.

The United States has fallen behind in speed, too. In the same study, conducted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, the U.S. ranked 15th in the average advertised download speed, at 4.9 megabits a second. That’s slower than the 17.6 megabits a second in France and the 63.6 megabits a second in Japan, which ranks No. 1 in this category. In other words, it takes a little over two minutes to download a movie on iTunes in Japan, compared with almost half an hour in the United States. The average U.S. download speed is even slower, according to other estimates.

Chattanooga’s DePriest compares his agency’s plan for providing high-speed internet service to the rollout of electricity, which came to many parts of Tennessee only in the 1930s as a result of the creation by the federal government of the Tennessee Valley Authority. That was three decades after many businesses and homes in major urban areas such as New York first were electrified.

The country’s electricity at the time was largely provided by private companies, which denounced any government efforts to get into the business as "socialist"–echoing the debate over municipal fiber networks today. Against this opposition, many public utilities, including Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, or EPB, were formed to help bring electricity to their towns and the surrounding countryside.

Electricity, of course, would later be used for many home appliances that didn’t exist at the time, from refrigerators and stereos to televisions and computers. Similarly, bringing fiber to the home is "not about what services are available now in the market, but about things that haven’t even been invented yet," says Katie Espeseth, head of the Chattanooga fiber project.

The EPB views the fiber effort as central to the revival of a city long in decline. In 1969, Walter Cronkite announced on the CBS Evening News that Chattanooga had America’s dirtiest air. The decline of passenger rail traffic and the local iron industry was followed by massive unemployment, the abandonment of downtown, and soaring crime.

Today, after more than a billion dollars of investment, the city’s downtown is coming back to life. Although some factory buildings remain abandoned, others are being filled by high-tech start-ups and by a handful of restaurants, coffee shops, and galleries that cater to the start-ups’ young employees.

In a converted saddle factory there, 38-year-old Jonathan Bragdon runs a 40-person company that he says couldn’t exist without a lot of affordable internet bandwidth. Seven of his employees live and work in other cities, including New York and Leeds, England. His business, called Tricycle Inc., transmits high-resolution 3-D simulations of carpeting to interior designers.

More important than download speed for such work is upload speed. Yet, on most connections, it often takes longer to upload files to the internet than it does to download them from the internet. With Comcast, Bragdon was getting a download speed of eight megabits a second, but an upload speed of only one megabit a second.

About two years ago, Tricycle switched to the EPB’s fiber network. Bragdon says this lowered his costs several-fold and gave him the flexibility to upgrade to speeds as fast as 100 megabits a second. "With the rivers and the mountains, young people want to live here," says Bragdon. "But you need good bandwidth to work here."

A Comcast spokeswoman says the company recently increased its speeds for small businesses to 16 megabits a second in many markets, including in Chattanooga, and upload speeds to two megabits.

Critics of the notion that internet service in the United States is falling behind other countries say gaps stem from cultural and political differences. More than half the citizens of South Korea, for example, live in multi-tenant buildings of at least 50 units concentrated in large cities, making it easier and cheaper to connect people there, according to a report this month from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. In the U.S., by contrast, most people live in single-family homes.

Other countries, such as France, have benefited from increased competition by governments forcing their former telecom monopolies to open their networks to new providers. In the U.S., the regional successors to the former Ma Bell resisted such regulatory efforts, arguing it made little sense for them to invest in their networks if forced to share them with potential competitors.

As a result, in most markets in the U.S. there have been only two broadband providers, one telecom and one cable company. While some countries were aggressively trying to catch up to the U.S. internet lead, "not much changed in the U.S.," says Susan Crawford, a professor of internet governance at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York.

Change is finally starting to happen, as cable and telecom companies compete more aggressively in each other’s traditional businesses. Bills are now making their way through Congress to remove the state barriers to municipalities offering broadband. And the Federal Communications Commission recently revamped its definition of broadband, which had been just 200 kilobits a second, to bring it more up-to-date. It now includes several tiers of speeds, starting at 768 kilobits per second.

Verizon Communications Inc. is in the midst of a $23 billion project, called FiOS, to bring fiber to the homes of more than half of its 33 million customers in 28 states by 2010. Comcast last month began boosting speeds on its network, and the company estimates that 20 percent of its customers will have access to faster speeds by the end of the year.

Still, these ultra-fast networks are destined only for certain parts of the country, such as major urban areas, at least for the foreseeable future. In large swaths of the United States, particularly second- and third-tier cities and towns with more dispersed populations, providers consider deploying broadband less profitable.

In downtown Chattanooga, James Busch, a 37-year-old radiologist and medical-software entrepreneur, says when he opened his business, he couldn’t find an internet service that was fast enough. Comcast’s plan was too slow, and AT&T said it would take three months to build a dedicated higher-speed connection to his business.

Busch’s clinic, located in a strip mall, consists of 10 radiologists who provide remote diagnoses for rural hospitals that can’t afford their own radiologists. Transmitting the high-resolution medical imagery often requires a very fast speed, which he says the EPB network now provides him.

"Information technology means a smaller country with fewer people can now do the same amount of work as a larger country," says Busch. "If we don’t become more efficient, we lose our big-country advantage."

Late last month, the EPB raised $219 million through municipal bonds, which it says will primarily be used to upgrade its existing electrical system. The upgrade will involve laying a fiber network to create a so-called "smart" grid, which will allow the utility to remotely monitor and control how power is distributed, says DePriest. He acknowledges that once the fiber is laid, it can be used to deliver TV, internet, and phone service–but he says that’s a separate venture altogether, and one that will require an additional $60 million to get off the ground.

In its lawsuit, Comcast argues the grid isn’t Chattanooga’s primary objective. It says the real goal of last month’s bond issue was to bring internet and other services to residents. If the utility fails to meet payments on the new debt, ratepayers would be stuck with the tab, says Comcast.

"We believe the plans constitute a cross subsidy prohibited by Tennessee state law," says a Comcast spokeswoman. "Our intention is to ensure … that Comcast be allowed to compete in a fair environment."

DePriest remains undeterred. He expects to have most of the smart-grid network completed within three years, serving 80 percent of the city. "The issue is, does our community control our own fate," he says, "or does someone else control it?"


Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

Electric Power Board of Chattanooga

Federal Communications Commission



Laptop-for-kids project to resume donations

If you missed the opportunity to buy a low-cost mobile computer from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative late last year, you’ll have another chance: OLPC plans to resume its Give One, Get One program, in which people spend $400 to buy one of the nonprofit’s rugged computers and donate a second one to a child in a developing country.

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the laptop group, announced May 20 the return of the donor program as he disclosed plans for a second generation of the group’s "XO" computers. By 2010, Negroponte hopes to unveil a smaller, more energy-efficient version with two touch screens and a price closer to the long-term goal of $100. Negroponte said his new target price for the device is $75.

"Based on feedback from governments, educators, and–most important–from the children themselves, we are aggressively working to lower the cost, power, and size of the XO laptop so that it is more affordable and useable by the world’s poorest children," Negroponte said in a press release. "The delivery of the first-generation XO laptop has sparked tremendous global interest in the project and provided valuable input on how to make the XO laptop an even better learning tool moving forward."

For now, the group has sold about 600,000 XO machines, which cost $188 each. About 162,000 of them sold in the first round of the Give One, Get One program, which ran in November and December. Negroponte said the program brought laptops to countries that couldn’t have afforded to buy the computers themselves for their schoolchildren, including Haiti and Afghanistan.

The second run of the donor program is expected to begin around the end of the summer and will be open to buyers in Europe and the United States.

OLPC recently announced a partnership with Microsoft Corp. that will enable international governments to choose a Linux or Windows operating system on the XO computers they buy. (See "Low-cost XO laptop now runs Windows.") But buyers in the Give One, Get One program might not be able to opt for Windows unless the nonprofit and Microsoft work out a licensing arrangement.

The first-generation XO laptop requires only one-tenth (2 to 4 watts) of the electrical power necessary to run a standard laptop, according to the group, but the next-generation "XO-2" reportedly will reduce power consumption even further, to 1 watt. This is particularly important for children in remote and rural environments, OLPC said, where electricity is scarce or non-existent. Lowering the power consumption will reduce the amount of time required for children to generate power themselves via a hand crank or other manual means.

The XO-2 will be about half the size of the first-generation device and will approximate the size of a book. The new design will make the XO laptop lighter and easier for children to carry with them to and from school, OLPC said.

Dual touch-sensitive displays will be used to enhance the eBook experience; in its next generation, the device’s keyboard will be replaced with a (second) touch-screen display surface. The design provides a right and left page in vertical format, a hinged laptop in horizontal format, and a flat, two-screen-wide continuous surface that can be used in tablet mode.

Younger children will be able to use a simple keyboard interface to get going, and older children will be able to switch between keyboard interfaces customized for various applications or languages. The dual-touch display is being designed by Pixel Qi, a spinoff company founded in early 2008 by Mary Lou Jepsen, OLPC’s former chief technology officer.


One Laptop Per Child


West Virginia targets future teachers’ tech use

The West Virginia Department of Education is teaming up with 19 of the 20 colleges and universities around the state that offer teaching degrees, with the goal of giving teachers-in-training the technology education they need, West Virginia MetroNews reports. A three-day seminar on 21st-century connections between pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade schools and institutions of higher learning got underway in Charleston on May 20.
Teachers-in-training "need to know about the infrastructure and the resources that are available in the public school system," said Nathan Estel, executive director of the Office of Professional Preparation with the West Virginia Department of Education. "But they also need to see exactly what our K-12 students need. They’re thinking differently in the 21st century. And because they’re thinking differently, they’re also learning differently."
Estel says he hopes the deans of these education schools will develop an action plan and talk about what they’re going to do to integrate what they’ve learned about public school technology…

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More schools to face NCLB’s consequences

Pink slips for principals and teachers, and school-funded tutoring for poor kids: Schools are increasingly looking at those kind of consequences for failing to raise math and reading scores, the Associated Press reports. Schools that don’t hit testing benchmarks for two years or longer face consequences that become increasingly stiff each year–from having to transport children to higher-performing schools and paying for tutoring to replacing staff thought to be a part of a school’s problems. Nearly 11,000 schools, or a little more than 10 percent of all public schools, have missed their state-set progress goals and are taking corrective steps, according to the federal Education Department. That number has been rising slowly and is expected to grow at a faster clip over the next few years. Ellen Forte, who consults with states on education issues, said she worries that states and school districts are going to have trouble finding the money and personnel to make the required changes. School budgets nationwide are facing cuts because of the downturn in the economy…

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Educators struggle to interpret dark writing

In the year before the Virginia Tech massacre, the gunman wrote multiple pieces of alarming fiction that troubled teachers and classmates alike–and now schools are trying to distinguish the dark musings of college fiction from deadly manifestos that foretell campus violence, the Wall Street Journal reports. But the schools, trying to protect their communities, don’t always know when to act. And when they do, they may infringe on the rights of those students under scrutiny. Some schools, such as Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga., are finding it helpful to scrutinize students’ Facebook or MySpace pages, for example. But First Amendment experts warn that this practice can violate freedom-of-speech protections…

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