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: http://www.eschoolnews.com/conference-info/necc/.)

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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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Vendors target education with new AV products

Technology for delivering audio, video, and other school presentations must be affordable and simple to use if it is to transform teaching and learning: That was one of the predominant themes at this year’s InfoComm conference, held June 18-20 in Las Vegas.

Nearly 35,000 educational technologists and other IT professionals attended the world’s largest audio-visual (AV) technology conference–an increase of more than 3,000 over last year’s show. And from cables and connectors to interactive whiteboards and personal response systems, the focus was on affordability and ease of use for solutions designed with teachers, students, and school district IT staff in mind.

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For instance, the new ResponseCard Anywhere classroom response system from Turning Technologies, which has been beta-tested in about 20 K-12 districts, can be used without a projector or computer. Teachers use a receiver device to ask a question, and students use their radio frequency (RF) wireless keypads to respond. Results are displayed on the receiver unit’s LCD screen. 

The implications of this new product are encouraging for schools that do not have computers or LCD projectors in every classroom.

"It’s a huge change–it lets assessment happen anywhere,’ said Tony DeAscentis, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Teachers want to be able to use technology every day, he said–not just for an hour each day or during an allotted timeframe each week.

Creating solutions that are affordably priced helps put technology in the hands of educators and students who otherwise might not be able to experience it, company officials said.

3M Projection Systems also had its eye on affordability at InfoComm. The company showcased the SCP 712, a modular presentation system consisting of a projector, wall mount, and other components to make the system connected and interactive.

The system’s modular design allows schools to purchase different components as needed or wanted, instead of a pre-packaged bundle. An optional add-on feature called Annotation allows users to turn an ordinary dry-erase board into an interactive whiteboard using infrared technology and sensors. 3M representatives said the modular system is well suited for schools that cannot afford to buy interactive whiteboards or for those that have not yet implemented a technology plan that includes interactive boards.

Other companies displayed seemingly simple solutions that masked sophisticated technology underneath.

With technology claiming a firm spot in classrooms across the country, educators often can be overwhelmed by how to install and use it. To solve this problem, many of the products showcased at this year’s InfoComm were designed for easy, seamless use by instructors–as well as easy management by IT administrators.

Although the wireless wall panels from Crestron are geared more for a school’s IT and building infrastructure staff, the panels nonetheless illustrate how easy technology management should be, company officials said.

Crestron’s new Media Presentation Controller (MPC) connects, controls, and routes AV presentation equipment through a single application. Using any PC or other web-enabled device, school IT staff can monitor all of the devices that the MPC controls. A simple "help" function lets IT staff speak with an instructor in real time if that instructor needs help with the unit.

The company’s wireless green products, part of the Green Light family, allow for lighting and window-shade control. The systems also let IT professionals view their school’s carbon output, energy usage, energy costs, and energy savings per year based on how they have configured the system’s settings for their building.

The instant output, including energy savings, can help schools identify where they might be able to save a few dollars, potentially freeing up money for technology programs and initiatives.

Wireworks offers a single cord, the AV2000, for classroom podiums that combines audio, video, data, and control signal cables in a single connector. 

By eliminating countless different plugs and AV interface panels, educators won’t waste class time trying to figure out why all or part of their classroom technology is not working, company reps said.

Along the same lines, the Virtual Remote Control Center from 1UControl gives a teacher control over all classroom AV equipment from a single source, eliminating confusion that might occur when switching from one piece of AV equipment to another.

Extron Electronics announced new server-based software, called GlobalViewer Enterprise, for managing and supporting larger AV installations with a web browser. And SP Controls announced PixiePlus, a module that gives educators a simple, standardized control interface for projectors, monitors, or other AV devices. The interface is customizable and allows for a variety of configurations, SP said.

Vendors at the conference seemed to agree: Easy-to-use technology results in more learning opportunities in the classroom.

More news from the exhibit hall

Here’s a roundup of news from the InfoComm exhibit hall, organized by product type. (Just click each category link to view the relevant products and services.)

Acoustics & Audio

Includes information on new portable speaker and audio systems, sound amplification systems, wireless microphone systems, and more.

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.

Displays, Monitors & Digital Signage

A portable electronic screen, a new monitor that offers three-dimensional viewing without special glasses, and several digital signage solutions were on display.

Document Cameras & Digital Presenters

New devices from AVerVision, ELMO USA, and Samsung are highlighted.

Furniture, Consoles & Presentation Aids

A kit that enables schools to retrofit existing media carts to accommodate new technologies, a line of multimedia podiums, and more.

Interactive Whiteboards

New solutions from Hitachi, PolyVision, and SMART Technologies are featured.

Intercom & Communication Systems

Solutions for scheduling and broadcasting PA announcements, emergency alerts, and other one- or two-way communications over an IP network.

Media Capture, Storage & Streaming Systems

Systems for recording, storing, and playing back lectures and other presentations are spotlighted.

Projectors, Lamps & Accessories

Projectors were in full focus during InfoComm, and the debate over LCD vs. DLP technology has not abated. Companies such as BenQ, Mitsubishi, Sanyo, and Toshiba all displayed the latest in projector design. (For the latest information on LCD vs. DLP technology, see our recent Special Report on the topic.)

Video Conferencing & Collaboration Systems

New conferencing and collaboration systems from Sonic Foundry, TANDBERG, and more.

Video Editing & Production

A range of switcher panels priced and designed just for schools, and a software package for easily creating and editing videos and other presentations.

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InfoComm 2008: Video Conferencing & Collaboration Systems

Danish Interpretation Systems promoted its DCS 6000 Digital Conference System, which has been installed at Lakehead University. Professors there are using video conferencing and web streaming technology to reach students around the world, and conference microphones, document cameras, and LCD monitors make it easy for all students, no matter where they are seated, to hear the instructor and view presentations.

Digital Samba introduced OnSync, an enterprise web conferencing and collaboration solution. OnSync is compatible with Macs, PCs, and Linux-based systems and can be used for webinars, distance education, and online presentations, the company said.

RADVision introduced SCOPIA Desktop, which connects remote users to an existing video network for voice, video, and data communications. The company also demonstrated its iVIEW Suite, a comprehensive management solution for voice and video collaborative communications. Users can manage and monitor video network elements, as well as schedule and control meetings, RADVision said.

Sonic Foundry unveiled Mediasite 5.0, a rich media communication and knowledge management platform for higher education. Mediasite Players include an on-slide magnifier to see close-up detail in a portion of presented graphic, and users can forward clips to other authorized users while watching a presentation. An updated Mediasite Catalog contains a list of the available content and RSS feeds that a school or university offers.

TANDBERG promoted the Codec C90, a telepresence and collaboration engine that delivers 1080p HD video and ultra wideband audio. Up to 12 HD sources and eight microphones can be connected at once, the company said.

TOA Electronics unveiled the TS-770 series Conference System, which can support up to 70 stations with each Central Unit.

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