Opponents of evolution adopting new strategy

The New York Times reports that a new battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words: "strengths and weaknesses." Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and will decide whether the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse. Already, legislators in a half-dozen states–Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, and South Carolina–have tried to require that classrooms be open to "views about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory," according to a petition from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based strategic center of the intelligent design movement…

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Database helps educators compare assistive software and technologies

The National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI) has updated its TechMatrix, a searchable database that enables educators and families of students with disabilities to identify and compare assistive learning software and technologies. Users can search for and compare more than 190 products that focus on improving the lives of students with special needs. Funded by the NEC Foundation of America and the U.S. Department of Education, the expanded TechMatrix allows users to generate a detailed report on customized searches within four areas of focus: reading, mathematics, writing, and assistive technologies. Users can search for products by subject area, technology feature, and/or product name, and they can compare the features and functionalities of similar software programs. The information contained on each product includes a brief description, cost range, populations served, and the operating technology platform, among other features. TechMatrix does not endorse the products it features, but it does supply user reviews, as well as a customer guide to help educators make more informed decisions. The site is updated on an ongoing basis and is accessible free of charge.

http://www.techmatrix.org

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Research libraries begin to embrace eBooks

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that 69 percent of university research libraries plan to increase spending on eBooks over the next two years, according to a recent study published by Primary Research Group Inc. This finding was based on a survey of 45 research libraries in countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Japan. The survey suggests that eBook technology has improved dramatically in a short period of time: Only a year-and-a-half ago, college librarians were saying that eBooks were not ready for the campus environment…

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Software makes teaching and learning languages easier

Language students in Advanced Placement French and Spanish classes at Bob Jones High School in Alabama are using Audacity, a free program you can download online, to enhance their impromptu speaking skills, the Huntsville Times reports. The software "works like a compact disc player but allows you to record your voice" by headset microphone, said AP Spanish teacher Jeidi Nez. Students practice speaking and listening with Audacity in laptop labs, and Nez and AP French teacher Angela Mooney can grade their work after students upload their MP3 files to the school’s open courseware Moodle software. If a student is absent or checks out, he or she still can do the work without falling behind, Nez said.
Previously, language classes used tapes and recorders. "That was madness. Students would have to rewind, fast forward, find a plug. Grading was so much slower," Nez said. Moreover, tapes and recorders don’t simulate real conversation. "With Moodle, they put in the CD, hear the question, and immediately respond and record," she said. "Real-life communication is the key."

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A Facebook application for every occasion … even recruiting

The State University of New York College at Plattsburgh has hired an outside public relations firm, Media Logic, and settled on a Facebook campaign, driven by a custom-built application, as the primary means of marketing itself to potential students outside its traditional reach, Inside Higher Ed reports. The institution’s goal is to augment its upstate profile with a new stream of applicants from New York City and Long Island, but officials felt that students would resist overt advertising–especially on social networking sites, where trust and authenticity are valued. Instead, they’re looking to tap into grassroots appeal and word of mouth.
"It is a nice, sort of low-risk, reasonably low-cost … way to reach out to those audiences," said Jim Sciancalepore, Media Logic’s senior creative director…

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Va. schools prep for web-safety mandate

As Virginia’s schools prepare to incorporate internet safety lessons across all grade levels this fall to satisfy a landmark 2006 state law, educators are looking to schools that piloted web-safety curricula this past school year for guidance.

Each of the state’s 134 school systems is free to integrate the online safety program in its own way, and most districts have formed committees of administrators, teachers, librarians, and parents to lay the groundwork for the nation’s first internet safety requirement.

Media specialists from across the state said the lessons will vary according to grade level—but as students use the internet at school and at home, it will be critical to discuss the consequences of divulging too much personal information online, they added.

"Once [information is] on the internet, it’s not like it’s posted on a bulletin board, because you can’t take it back. … It never goes away, and we [have to] make sure they understand that," said Charlie Makela, supervisor of libraries for the Arlington County Public Schools and a former library media specialist for the Virginia Department of Education. "Students need to think about what they’re doing before they click that ‘post’ button."

Pilot programs were launched in several Virginia districts during the 2007-08 school year, and officials said students—even children in second and third grades—proved to be web savvy but lacked the basics of identity protection online.

In the 18,000-student Arlington County school system, the pilot program focused on third-grade classes.

"We had a simple question [for students]: Could your information be used to track you down?" Makela said.

Although many third graders could identify unauthentic eMail messages, Makela said safety tips would be crucial for a generation that spends hours on the web every day.

State school officials said they would not mandate a certain curriculum, but Tammy McGraw, the state’s director of educational technology, said many districts would use animated features with pop-culture icons—such as the cartoon Pokemon—to grab elementary students’ attention.

Virginia’s youngest students will learn the basics of online safety, she said. When chatting online or creating a profile on a social-networking web site, students will be urged not to submit their last names, addresses, phone numbers, or any other information that could help an online predator track them in the community.

"It is out moral and ethical responsibility to make sure our children are protected," McGraw said, adding that the mandate is not meant to scare students away from using the web regularly. "We want them to understand that the ‘net is a very important and valuable tool for them."

State and county-level officials said internet safety would be taught at all grade levels but would be emphasized in the fifth and eighth grades in particular. In fifth grade, they explained, students are on the verge of entering a larger, more social community of friends and classmates in middle school—and as eighth graders preparing for high school, a firm understanding of safe online practices could help students identify predators and help avoid cyber bullying.

In the Rockingham County school system, a district with 22 schools and about 11,000 students, online safety lessons will become part of English, physical education, language arts, and a host of other classes from kindergarten through high school.

For example, in high school English classes, teachers will discuss passwords, online communities, and web-based research. Those lessons will use Web Wise Kids, a popular option among many Virginia districts, and teachers will address online fraud and urban legends using www.snopes.com, a web site that documents popular myths about politics, sports, religion, the internet, and a host of other topics.

In sociology and health classes, Rockingham teachers will show videos demonstrating acceptable verbal and online communication, stressing that internet users cannot take back what they’ve said. In government classes, students will learn about cyber bullying at all age levels. Sociology students will write research papers after reading a study from the American Psychological Association, titled "Online Predators and Their Victims" and discussing it in class.

Joe Showker, an instructional technology resource teacher for the Rockingham district, said it would be difficult—if not impossible—for teachers and parents to monitor children’s online usage, so integrating web safety advice into every subject area will help kids protect themselves.

"The challenges involve the speed at which everything is moving on the internet," Showker said in an eMail message to eSchool News. "It’s hard for parents and teachers to keep up, [because] the social web is a dynamic growing experience for all who use it."

Many Virginia school systems, including Arlington County, will use curriculum from i-SAFE , a nonprofit organization founded in 1998 and considered one of the foremost resources in online safety education. A bevy of educators—including librarians and health teachers—will take a series of i-SAFE courses to become certified by the organization before students return to the classroom in August, said James Carroll, head of information services for Arlington County schools.

Carroll, who helped form the committee that determined which curriculum should be included in Arlington County’s online safety courses, said the school system will host a handful of internet safety workshops for parents this summer and next academic year. He said parents will learn to keep the family computer in a centralized location, among other tips.

Judi Westberg Warren, president of the nonprofit Web Wise Kids, said educators should be cautious not to discourage students from using the web.

"We don’t want them to be scared off the internet," she said. "[But] it’s an absolute necessity that kids become more and more aware [of online predators]."

Westberg Warren and Virginia school officials said Virginia’s web safety lessons could help other states mold similar policies as lawmakers propose online safety mandates elsewhere in the United States.

"I travel everywhere, and people are watching," Westberg Warren said.

"We have laid the tracks," said Lan Nugent, assistant superintendent for technology at the Virginia Department of Education. "There is no perfect solution, but education is the answer, so students know what dangers are out there."

Links:

Virginia web safety guidelines

Rockingham County School District web safety guidelines

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Apple back-to-school promo includes free 8GB iPod touch

Apple on June 2 will formally announce details of its 2008 Back-to-School promotion, which will offer a free 8-gigabyte iPod touch to students who purchase a qualifying Mac, AppleInsider reports. People briefed on the promotion confirm that this year’s incentives will be the electronics maker’s most compelling ever, offering a rebate good for a $299 8GB iPod touch, as was first reported by AppleInsider last week. Students reportedly will have the option to apply the $299 credit toward the purchase of a higher-capacity player, such as the $399, 16-gigabyte iPod touch or a $499 32-gigabyte iPod touch. The largest incentive previously offered by Apple came last year in the form of a free $199 4-gigabyte iPod nano. However, the company was motivated this year to boost the value to the equivalent of its cheapest iPod touch as a surefire means to rapidly grow the installed base of its multi-touch platform ahead of this month’s App Store launch…

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Time Warner Cable tries metering internet use

You’re used to paying extra if you use up your cell phone minutes, but will you be willing to pay extra if your home computer goes over its internet allowance? Time Warner Cable customers–and later, others–might have to, if the company’s test of metered internet access is successful, the Associated Press reports. Beginning June 4, new Time Warner Cable internet subscribers in Beaumont, Texas, will have monthly allowances for the amount of data they upload and download. Those who go over will be charged $1 per gigabyte, a Time Warner Cable executive told AP. Metered billing is an attempt to deal fairly with internet usage, which is very uneven among Time Warner Cable’s subscribers, said Kevin Leddy, the company’s executive vice president of advanced technology. Just 5 percent of the company’s subscribers take up half of the capacity on local cable lines, Leddy said. Other cable internet service providers report a similar distribution. "We think it’s the fairest way to finance the needed investment in the infrastructure," Leddy said. Metered usage is common overseas, and other U.S. cable providers are looking at ways to rein in heavy users. Most have download caps, but some keep the caps secret so as not to alarm the majority of users, who come nowhere close to the limits. Time Warner Cable appears to be the first major ISP to charge for going over the limit: Other companies warn, then suspend, those who go over…

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Harvard, Yale boost engineering in race with China

Harvard and Yale are boosting their engineering programs because of increased demand and competition from China, where more engineering degrees are awarded each year than in the United States, Bloomberg reports. Both academic institutions, following the lead of Princeton University and Columbia University, added to the status, staffing, and visibility of the engineering schools in the past year. Yale University, in New Haven, Conn., is enlarging its faculty by 17 percent, to 70 members, during the next five years. Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass., is expanding to 100 professors within a decade, up 43 percent. "These are two institutions that are almost synonymous with education," said Rick Rashid, the senior vice president for research at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest maker of computer software, in a May 20 telephone interview. "They’re sending a powerful message, and hopefully that’s a message that helps to pique the interest of young people."

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Canadian law students file complaint over Facebook

A group of University of Ottawa law students have filed a complaint with the privacy commissioner of Canada against the social-networking web site Facebook, CTV.ca reports. The 35-page complaint alleges 22 separate violations of Canadian privacy laws by the California-based company under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). "To boil it down simply, it’s an issue of honesty and an issue of consent," Lisa Feinberg, a University of Ottawa law student who has just completed her first year, told CTV.ca. "Facebook isn’t being completely honest with its users. It presents itself as a social utility site … but they are actually involved in a lot of commercial activities." More than seven million Canadians use Facebook, the third-largest user base of the web site in the world, behind the U.S. and the U.K. But proportionally, Canada has much larger percentage of overall users…

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