Microsoft seeks path beyond the Gates legacy

As Bill Gates leaves Microsoft to devote his time to the Gates Foundation, it will be up to successors to master the internet’s challenges or see Microsoft’s stature erode, the New York Times reports. Gates is moving on as the company he co-founded in 1975 is struggling to find its way. The center of gravity in technology has shifted from PCs to the internet, altering the old rules of competition that were so lucratively mastered by Microsoft. For millions of users, mobile devices such as cell phones are beginning to edge out PCs as the tool of choice for many computing tasks. And Google, the front-runner in the current wave of internet computing, has wrested the mantle of high-tech leadership from Microsoft. Although Gates will spend one day a week at the company, it will be up to his successors, led by Steven A. Ballmer, the chief executive, to master these new challenges or watch Microsoft’s wealth and stature in the industry steadily erode. "Bill’s legacy is Windows and Office, and that will be a rich franchise for years to come, but it’s not the future," said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School…

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Lawsuit raises questions about eMail privacy

A lawsuit involving an unsettled area of the law, where changes in technology have blurred the line between expectations of personal privacy and companies’ rights to monitor equipment, could help set a precedent for dealing with personal eMail at work, the New York Times reports. Generally, courts have found that employers can monitor employees’ eMail communications on company computers. But the courts also have recognized greater privacy protection for eMail messages sent using personal, web-based eMail accounts. "This case raises a lot of new issues that reflect the changing place of eMail in the work place," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The case involves Scott Sidell, who sued the company that fired him after learning the firm was reading his personal Yahoo eMail messages after he had left. In a lawsuit he filed in May against Structured Settlement Investments, Sidell claims that executives at the company went so far as to read eMail messages he had sent to his lawyers discussing his strategy for winning an arbitration claim over his lost job. Companies often adopt policies explicitly stating that everything an employee does on a computer provided by the employer is subject to monitoring. But Sidell was no longer an employee when his mail supposedly was read. In his complaint, he said that when he returned to his office after he was fired, he might not have signed out of his Yahoo account. A feature of the account could have allowed anyone using his computer to access his eMail messages for up to two weeks…

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From making videos to taking online courses, summer school has evolved

Mercedez Barrera made a music video this summer, and Brianna Mendiola studied economics and government on the internet, reports the Avalanche-Journal of Lubbock, Texas. Barrera and Mendiola are participants in various summer-school enrichment opportunities offered by Lubbock Independent School District. The district also has summer school for students who have failed portions of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills testing and students who need to make up credits in high school. Barrera made the music video in The Cavazos Connection, a computer and video technology training program for students in grades five and six. "It’s real fun," said Barrera, an 11-year-old who will be a sixth-grader at Frenship Middle School. "I have learned a lot." Mendiola is taking economics and government in the district’s "summer school for advancement." She signed up for the courses so she will have time to take orchestra next school year. A senior at Coronado High School, Mendiola said taking online courses has afforded her flexibility that traditional classes lack. For example, she attended a three-day camp and, since she can do assignments at any hour on any computer with an internet connection, Mendiola was able to stay on top of her work and didn’t get in trouble for missing class…

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Poll: Math, yes; standardized tests, maybe

A large majority of Americans think schools are placing too much emphasis on the wrong subjects, and more than half think they’re doing just a fair job in preparing children for the work force or giving them the practical skills they need to survive as adults, according to an Associated Press poll released June 27. So what do people think the schools should focus on? More than a third of respondents said math. English was a distant second, at 21 percent. A tiny fraction picked art, music, and the sciences, such as biology and chemistry. Parents might want more math in school because they feel unprepared to help at home, said Janine Remillard, who teaches math-related courses at the University of Pennsylvania’s education school. "Math is the subject that parents are often intimidated by," she said. "We’ve allowed a lot of kids to just say, ‘I’m not good at math,’ …. and those kids become parents." Most Americans think the United States is just keeping up or falling behind the rest of the world in education. Nearly all those surveyed say the quality of a country’s education system has a big impact on a country’s overall economic prosperity. Americans also have mixed views about standardized tests, which have grown in importance in recent years. About half of those polled said standardized tests measure the quality of education offered by schools well, while the rest disagree…

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Victoria’s Secret at heart of online college commerce flap

Concerned about its image, the University of Minnesota is opting out of a licensing agreement that allows Victoria’s Secret to sell collegiate apparel on its web site, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reports. University of Minnesota officials have notified its licensing agency that they do not want their mascot associated with Victoria’s Secret PINK Collegiate Collection. "We are not making a judgment in regards to Victoria’s Secret," said university spokesman Dan Wolter. "We just don’t feel it is in our institution’s best interest right now." Wolter said there was not enough discussion about how the company’s image could affect the university’s reputation and that upon review, "it was simply determined we should opt out of it." The university was listed as one of 33 schools that were part of the company’s collegiate apparel line in a news release sent out last week by Victoria’s Secret. According to Wolter, the university has used the Collegiate Licensing Company as its middleman for the past two years and did not deal directly with Victoria’s Secret. He said the university did not receive overwhelming negative feedback, but a "few key people" took issue with the agreement…

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Study: Parents clueless about kids’ internet use

A recent survey by internet security firm Symantec Corp. suggests that many parents are unaware of their children’s internet activity and typically underestimate how often their kids encounter online threats.

For Symantec’s "Norton Online Living Report," research firm Harris Interactive surveyed more than 4,500 adults and 2,700 children ages 8 to 17 from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Brazil, China, and Japan from November to December 2007. To qualify as survey respondents, subjects had to report spending an hour or more online each month.

The findings show that internet users generally are confident, socializing with strangers online (21 percent of U.S. respondents said they do this) and making friends online (35 percent of U.S. respondents).

However, though parents and children share some of the same online activities, many parents are unaware of their children’s online activities and the security threats that surround those activities.

Overall, parents appear to underestimate how often their children encounter indiscretions online, such as receiving requests for personal information, being approached online by a stranger, and experiencing cyber pranks or bullying.

In fact, although 25 percent of U.S. children report having experienced requests for personal information, fewer than 2 in 10 parents think this is happening to their children.

Although 13 percent of U.S. children report experiencing cyber pranks, only 2 percent of parents believe their children are being cyber bullied.

Also, although 16 percent of U.S. children report being approached by an online stranger, only 6 percent of parents think their children are being approached.

About one in five U.S. children say they do things online that their parents would not approve of. They also report spending 10 times more time online than their parents think they do. Parents think their children are online about two hours a month, but in reality, children report spending 20 hours a month online.

This "digital disconnect" between parents and their children can be attributed to a lack of communication, the report says. The survey reveals that only half of parents say they’ve spoken to their children about practicing safe online habits. This is upsetting, the report says, considering that 81 percent of U.S. children say they are comfortable talking to their parents about their online experiences.

What’s more, this digital disconnect is not just happening in the United States–it’s happening in most major countries around the world.

"This report clearly demonstrated a global digital divide" between parents and their children, said Marian Merritt, internet safety advocate for Symantec. "We’ve always taught our children to not talk to strangers in the offline world, and now we must teach them how to safely exist in an online world filled with strangers."

Dave Cole, senior product manager for Symantec’s Norton software, said this disconnect has arisen as a result of how quickly technology has permeated every aspect of life.

Two-way communication technologies have been seamlessly integrated into online games, eCommerce, and more, Cole said. However, "the integration happened so rapidly that we never stopped to think that we were really connecting with strangers," he said. "It’s only natural that the relationships that were born online would eventually migrate to the offline world. What surprised us was how fast this migration has occurred and how deeply it has infiltrated nearly every activity."

Although half of the parents surveyed said they don’t speak to their children about practicing safe online habits, that doesn’t mean they don’t care.

For instance, 79 percent of U.S. parents are concerned about their children being approached with inappropriate content or solicitations online, and 88 percent of U.S. parents believe the internet is not as safe for children as for adults.

Yet, fewer than half (48 percent) of U.S. parents set parental controls on their family’s computer.

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Nancy Willard, head of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, believes that internet "fear mongering" is interfering with parent-child communication about internet activities. She believes that many of the online-safety initiatives in the United States tend to focus heavily on the dangers of using the internet and are trying to scare parents into paying closer attention.
 
"What we need to do is to eliminate the fear mongering," says Willard. "Young people face risks online, just as they do in the real world. They need accurate information on these risks–along with practical strategies they can use to prevent themselves from getting into risky situations, detect when they are at risk, and respond effectively, including when they really need to talk with an adult."

Willard says an event to be held this October by the National Cyber Security Alliance will mark a big push to address internet safety and responsible web use by children. She hopes that many schools will host internet-safety presentations for parents during that month, as well as provide information for students.

Wiredsafety.org, another online safety organization, has a page for parents, giving them access to information about the internet and online resources that can help them talk to their children about internet safety.

Symantec also has a Norton Family Resources web site that includes information about how to talk to a child about internet safety, and all online users can take a quiz to see how much they know about the internet and online safety at the Norton Cyber Smackdown challenge.

Links:

Norton Online Living Report

Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use

Wiredsafety.org

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Safeguarding School Data resource center. It seems like you can’t go a whole week lately without hearing about some major data security breach that has made national headlines. For businesses, these data leaks are bad enough—but for schools, they can be especially costly, as network security breaches can put schools in violation of several federal laws intended to protect students’ privacy. Go to: Safeguarding School Data

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Online service lets blind surf the web from any computer

Science Daily reports that for the roughly 10 million people in the United States who are blind or visually impaired, using a computer has required special screen-reading software typically installed only on their own machines–until now. New software, called WebAnywhere, launched June 26 lets blind and visually impaired people surf the web on the go. The tool, developed at the University of Washington, turns screen reading into an internet service that reads aloud web text on any computer with speakers or headphone connections. "This is for situations where someone who’s blind can’t use their own computer but still wants access to the internet–at a museum, at a library, at a public kiosk, at a friend’s house, at the airport," said Richard Ladner, a UW professor of computer science and engineering. The free program and both audio and video demonstrations are available at http://webanywhere.cs.washington.edu

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Career programs stress college, give students an advantage

Forget the old-fashioned "vocational ed" classes that sent students on a decidedly non-college track, reports the New York Times: Over the last quarter-century, a new kind of high school program known as a career academy has proliferated–and research suggests these programs can give students a significant leg up on their career. Especially popular in low-income districts, career academies combine job placement, college preparation, and classes beyond the vocational trades, from accounting to health care and high-tech fields. Now, a long-term and rigorous evaluation of nine career academies across the country, to be released in Washington, D.C., on June 27, has found that eight years after graduation, participants had significantly higher employment and earnings than similar students in a control group. Poverty experts called the findings encouraging, because few interventions with low-income teenagers–especially blacks and Hispanics–have shown significant and lasting effects, and they come at a time when young minority men, especially, are losing ground disastrously in the job market…

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Schools for teachers flunk math

For kids to do better in math, their teachers might have to go back to school, reports the Associated Press: According to a study released June 26 by the National Council on Teacher Quality, elementary-school teachers are poorly prepared by education schools to teach math. Math relies heavily on cumulative knowledge, making the early years critical. The study by the nonpartisan research and advocacy group comes a few months after a federal panel reported that U.S. students have widespread difficulty with fractions, a problem that arises in elementary school and prevents kids from mastering more complicated topics such as algebra later on. The report looked at 77 elementary education programs around the country and found the programs spend too little time on elementary math topics. Author Julie Greenberg said education students should be taking courses that give them a deeper understanding of arithmetic and multiplication. She said the courses should explain how math concepts build upon each other and why certain ideas need to be emphasized in the classroom…

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Software to students: ‘I feel your pain’

Student comprehension is tough to judge for teachers at the helm of a packed classroom, so researchers at the University of Massachusetts are developing a program that can gauge whether students are bored, frustrated, or motivated during computer-based exercises.

UMass researchers received a grant of $890,419 this month from the National Center for Education Research to advance technology that uses sensors to detect student emotions, allowing teachers to tailor their lessons more easily around classroom victories and struggles.

"It allows them to see how their students are doing and to see what their weakest areas are," said Ivon M. Arroyo, a research scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who has developed intelligent tutoring programs for the last decade. "[The technology] serves as an assessment tool for the teachers and informs them of how each student is handling [his or her] work."

Researchers said they have overseen test runs of the emotion detectors in recent years, but they weren’t sure when the technology would be unveiled in K-12 schools. The computer-based tutors developed by UMass researchers and their peers at Arizona State University help teach algebra and geometry to high school students but eventually will be available for every subject.

The tutoring program uses sensors placed in a student’s seat, in the computer mouse, and on a student’s wrist to detect arousal through skin conductance, a common measure for stress response. Conductance gives researchers a clear picture of the subject’s nervous-system activity. The program also will use cameras to detect smiles and facial expressions that connote negative feelings, such as anxiety or frustration. Once these reactions are recorded, Arroyo and her colleagues will match each reaction with the proper emotion, giving an accurate readout for teachers.

"We’re trying to make the computers smarter so they can understand the students," she said.

Beverly Woolf, a computer science researcher at the university who has developed tutoring programs for more than 20 years, said the ability to monitor students’ emotional reactions to class work could be invaluable for teachers. A frustrated student isn’t likely to comprehend the day’s lesson, she explained.

"Emotion and cognitive functions are strongly correlated," Woolf said. "So if you improve the social intelligence of the computer, students respond the way they would to another person. Sensors allow the computer to identify students who pay attention and those too tired or bored to learn."

Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit organization aiming to improve instruction through the use of technology, said the tutoring program would best be used in classrooms where one-on-one instruction was rare or nonexistent.

"It is pretty evident that such a system would be extremely useful in learning situations where there might not be a human available, with both adequate skills and enough high-quality personal contact, to sense these emotions of boredom and frustration in students in their early stages," Knezek said. "Considering the role boredom and frustration play in students disengaging, and the role meaningful engagement plays in high-yield learning, interventions that can reduce the occurrence of these clearly have positive potential."

Reading the computer tutor’s feedback would give teachers a head start on helping students who consistently struggle through a class, Knezek said. Those students, he said, often give up on a subject after days or weeks of curriculum they don’t understand.

"As a lifelong educator, I would welcome a system that assists me in knowing when a potential problem is building with one or more of my students," he said. "It could help me focus my attention where [it is] most needed and could suggest what challenges I might find as I afford special attention to the problem situation."

 ****************************************

NECC COVERAGE COMING

Starting June 30, catch eSN’s real-time coverage

of NECC 2008. For highlights of what to expect,

just point your browser to

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

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The UMass research team has a web site, called Wayang Outpost, that offers online tests and quizzes for students preparing for standardized tests. The tutoring web site includes "virtual adventures" in which students follow a narrative and solve math problems.

K-12 administrators said keeping an eye on student emotions would save teachers from rehashing lessons later on if a portion of the class is having trouble comprehending the material.

"Kids learn differently today, and often at a pace much different than in the past," said Marc Liebman, superintendent of Berryessa Union School District in San Jose, Calif. "A computer that can adjust for that will keep kids more focused and use their time more effectively. That should result in higher success rates."

Liebman said he would be interested in bringing the program to his school system when university researchers have perfected the technology.

"For me, all I can say is, ‘Wow, I can’t wait to get my hands on this,’" he said.

Links:

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Arizona State University

International Society for Technology in Education

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