Court upholds new FCC video franchising rules

In a ruling that could provide schools and other consumers with more choice for their local video services, a U.S. appeals court on June 27 handed a victory to new competitors in the subscription television business such as Verizon Communications and AT&T, upholding new federal rules designed to ease their entry into local communities, Reuters reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati turned down a petition by cable operators and municipal officials seeking to overturn the new regulations adopted by the FCC in December. A three-judge panel of the court concluded that the FCC acted reasonably and was within its authority when it adopted the new rules, which set time limits for local authorities to act on applications by new television providers. AT&T and Verizon had complained that under previous rules the process to get licenses from local authorities was too cumbersome and time-consuming. Under the new rules, local jurisdictions have 90 days to act on applications by new television providers that already have access to city land to run connections and 180 days for new entrants to cities and towns. They also bar local officials from imposing requirements on new entrants, such as building a local swimming pool, that the FCC said are unreasonable. In their opinion, the appeals court judges rejected arguments by local officials and the trade association representing cable operators such as Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, who said the FCC had overstepped its authority. The court said there was "ample record evidence supporting the Commission’s finding that the operation of the franchising process had impeded competitive entry in multiple ways."

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Kindle gains popularity for university textbooks

Just as Apple got millions of college students to leave their CD collections at home each September in favor of a tiny iPod, Amazon is trying to convince undergrads that there’s no reason to lug around a backpack full of textbooks, reports the Christian Science Monitor: Just buy a Kindle. This fall, Princeton University Press will begin publishing Kindle-edition textbooks. It’s on a short list of printing houses that are testing the e-textbook waters. (Kindle also has snagged Yale, Oxford, and the University of California.) But Princeton is the only school to attempt a Kindle-first launch, offering Robert Shiller’s new economics book The Subprime Solution on the Amazon electronic reader two weeks before students can buy a hard copy. Kindle, which went on sale in November, has attracted a lot of buzz. The device was backordered for weeks and now is on sale at 10 percent off.
But Kindle is really designed to replace paperbacks, not thick textbooks. For one thing, don’t expect Gray’s Anatomy; the Kindle is not very good at graphics or diagrams–and securing the digital rights for some images is often more trouble than it’s worth for publishers. Nonetheless, Princeton plans to roll out hundreds of books through the gadget’s online store. UCal already offers 40 and wants to publish more…

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Universal preschool students perform better

USA Today reports that an ambitious public pre-kindergarten program in Oklahoma boosts kids’ skills dramatically, a long-awaited study finds–offering across-the-board evidence for the first time that universal preschool, open to all children, benefits both low-income and middle-class kids. The large-scale study, by researchers from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute and Center for Research on Children in the United States, looked at the skills of about 3,500 incoming kindergartners in Tulsa, where state-funded pre-kindergarten has been in place for 18 years–and offered universally for nearly a decade. The researchers found that as the kids entered kindergarten those enrolled in the state program had better reading, math, and writing skills than kids who were either not enrolled in preschool or who spent time in the federally funded Head Start program. Previous research has shown that high-quality preschool pays off in better skills, especially for low-income kids. But until today’s findings, even the biggest studies stopped short of making the case that universal programs, with children from all backgrounds, benefit virtually all of them…

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Laptops for good grades: An offer students can’t refuse?

Freshmen at Arizona’s Sunnyside and Desert View high schools will get a big incentive when they begin classes in August, the Tucson Citizen reports: a promise of a laptop computer. The new laptop is for keeps. They can take it home and use it throughout high school. And, district officials hope, into college. All the freshmen need do in their first semester is be there the first day of school Aug. 11; have at least a 2.5 grade-point average; have at least a 95-percent attendance rate–which means no more than four excused absences, and none unexcused; have no major suspensions; and take part in at least one extracurricular activity, such as a sport or club. The hope is to raise the graduation rate at the two Sunnyside Unified School District high schools from the current 63 percent.
Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo said the district would help students bring up their grades, especially in the first semester of freshman year. "First semester is the championship game," he said. "If you don’t get the computer at the end of the first semester freshman year, you don’t get it at all…

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NECC attendees urged to become ‘change agents’

Near the site of the Alamo in downtown San Antonio, Texas, the 2008 National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) kicked off June 29 with a night to remember–featuring a keynote speech by celebrated author James Surowiecki and an exhortation to radically change education.

Hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), NECC is the largest educational technology conference in North America. Now in its 29th year, the conference brings together educators and school administrators to network, share successful ed-tech strategies, and learn from their colleagues.

And in keeping with the theme of this year’s event–"Convene, Connect, and Transform"–ISTE President Trina J. Davis challenged attendees to really transform education through the use of technology, not just implement small changes.

After a local high school mariachi band put conference-goers in a festive mood, Davis struck a more serious note when she described five ways attendees could make a difference in their schools:

1. Become powerful advocates for change. Regardless of who inhabits the White House next year, educational technology must play a more prominent role in our national education policy, Davis said–and educators should do everything they can to ensure that it does.

2. Share your knowledge and your passion. Help others take steps to ensure their growth as teachers, Davis said–so they can help students grow as learners.

3. Showcase your work, and students’ work, in innovative ways. Invite parents and community leaders into your schools, Davis said–or take students’ projects to them with the help of podcasts and other technologies.

4. Dream big. Have high expectations for your students, Davis said, because the possibilities that educational technology offers are "endless."

5. Use all of the resources available to you as you try to effect change. These include ISTE’s many online resources, such as the group’s National Educational Technology Standards and its research-based reports.

"Collectively, we can have a real impact around the globe and be effective change agents," Davis concluded.

Speaking of having an impact, keynote speaker James Surowiecki–author of the best-selling book The Wisdom of Crowds–explained to attendees how it could be that the collective decision-making ability of a diverse group of people can be smarter and more effective than the very brightest of these people individually.

But to take advantage of this phenomenon, Surowiecki said, you need three conditions: some way to aggregate individual judgments to create a single group judgment; cognitive diversity (different ways of looking at the same problem) among the individuals in the group; and independent thinking.

"Diverse groups in general are going to do a better job of making decisions than homogeneous groups," he said. And "you have to be willing to have real arguments–you have to be willing to not only to tolerate conflict, but to embrace it."

Surowiecki’s research has important implications for educators and their students, as problem solving and decision making become increasingly valued skills by 21st-century employers.

(Editor’s note: For more on Surowiecki’s advice to educators, watch for the video news clip "21st-Century Decision Making" to be posted later today:


Internet exchange on the horizon

According to The New York Times, the exchange would let telephone networks, mobile operators, satellite providers and other telecommunications companies trade capacity on their systems. That is my dream," said Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency based in Geneva that sets international communications standards. Network operators predicting bottlenecks could buy extra capacity, ensuring the smooth functioning of phone services, cellphone networks, the internet and other communication links. Those with excess capacity could sell bandwidth, helping to limit that unprofitable downtime…

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Superintendent: bad tenured teachers hard to fire

A case of a misbehaving tenured teacher in NY illustrates a nagging problem in school districts elsewhere around the country: firing bad teachers. It is also part of the ongoing debate over education reform and the role tenure plays in the process, reports the Associated Press. An English teacher in a Long Island district remains on the payroll, earning an annual salary of $113,559, even after pleading guilty earlier this month to drunken driving charges — her fifth DWI arrest in seven years.
The teacher will remain on paid leave at least until a disciplinary hearing in August, and it will be up to an impartial arbitrator to decide whether she needs to be fired as she faces a likely prison sentence. Advocates for reform cite a list of egregious examples they say demonstrate why teacher tenure rules need to be overhauled…

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Op-ed: the dropout issue

The schools that have made significant progress in teaching and learning are beginning to look more closely at the dropout issue because they cannot be content when so many students miss out on what they have to offer, says Jay Matthews, education columnist for The Washington Post.
For example, KIPP, with 65 schools in 17 states and the District, mostly middle schools, is praised for its success in raising reading and math test scores among disadvantaged students. About 80 percent of KIPP students are from low-income families. However, large numbers of students in some California KIPP schools are leaving after only a year or two…

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InfoComm 2008: Acoustics & Audio

Anchor Audio introduced the AN-Mini, a portable speaker and audio system weighing less than three pounds. The speaker comes with a corded or wireless microphone. It also allows users to plug in iPods or use voiceover features.

Audio Enhancement debuted its SoloSolution, an infrared multimedia wireless sound system that is compatible with iPods, DVDs, VCRs, and laptops. A remote control operates the system’s handheld microphone and multimedia audio sources.

Auralex Acoustics showcased its SonoSuede System, a decorative and cost-effective sound amplification system that tames first reflections and low-frequency anomalies in classrooms and other indoor spaces. The system’s unique mounting blocks provide superior acoustic and exceptional aesthetic benefits, Auralex says.

Revolabs unveiled the Revolabs Solo Single Channel Wireless Microphone System, which raises sound quality to a professional level, according to the company. The base plugs directly into a conferencing system’s audio input or a personal computer’s USB port.


InfoComm 2008: Cables, Connectors & Accessories

A big push at this year’s InfoComm seemed to be products designed for and around digital visual interface (DVI), which maximizes the quality of digital displays, and high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI), which is an audio/visual connector interface. HDMI connects digital AV sources such as personal computers and video-game consoles to compatible digital audio devices and video monitors.

Avocent introduced a new line of extenders that wirelessly distribute high-definition DVI and HDMI content from one source to multiple destinations. The company’s MPX1500T transmitter has a universal media port, so it supports both digital and analog video signals.

Cables To Go showcased the latest in its connection products, including easy-to-use cables and connections for school buildings. The company’s RapidRun solution offers a system of cabling through an existing conduit, saving schools time and money, the company said.

Extron Electronics announced more than 20 new products for integrating DVI and HDMI sources and displays, including DVI and HDMI matrix switcher boards. The company also introduced a series of extended-distance twisted pair receivers, which work with transmitters to send high-resolution video or audio signals 1,500 feet or more over a single cable.

Gefen displayed its newest fiber-based extension solution, which uses a single fiber-optic cable to transmit HDMI v1.3 video up to 500 meters in distance. The system uses Omron’s fiber-optic modules to enable a simple, yet long-distance delivery of HDMI content over one fiber-optic cable, Gefen said. High-definition resolutions up to 1080p full HD are supported at the longest distances, making this system well suited for digital signage applications, according to the company.

Gepco has expanded its fiber cable assembly offerings and also introduced the V-CON Connector System. Designed to withstand the harsh environments posed by staging, remote, and touring applications, the V-CON system provides the bandwidth and electrical performance for multi-channel HD interconnects in a durable, all-weather design, Gepco said. 

Neutrik introduced a unisex cable connector that solves the problem people often encounter when they try to attach two cables, only to find that the ends are not compatible. The ConvertCon is a new three-pin male and female cable converter in a single housing, and the transition is achieved by sliding the housing back and forth.

RTcom USA unveiled an Expandable Digital Matrix Router, the EDM-1818M. The new router simultaneously supports multiple digital video formats, the company says–allowing integrators to use a single device for all digital signal types, instead of a separate matrix switcher for each signal type.