Easy technology management a must for schools, experts say

With record attendance of 32,000, InfoComm 2008 continued into the second day of conference sessions and exhibits with a focus on easy technology management, innovative audio systems, and digital signage.

School IT professionals often wear many hats, and when they receive multiple requests for technical support, IT staff, as well as classroom teachers, need quick and simple solutions on hand.

Crestron introduced a new media presentation controller that connects, controls, and routes AV presentation equipment in a one-projector application.

Any PC or other web-enabled device can monitor all of the devices that the media presentation controller controls.  A simple "help" functions lets IT staff speak with an instructor in real time if that instructor needs help with the unit.

RT Com USA introduced HDMI and DVI distributors.  School technology staff can send different images or videos to different television screens or displays from one central unit.

1UControl’s Virtual Remote Control Center gives a teacher control over all classroom AV equipment, from a single source, eliminating confusion that may occur when switching from one piece of AV equipment to another.

Sometimes the most basic solutions are overlooked when ensuring students have the best possible experiences in a classroom.

Simple actions such as making sure a room is bright or dark enough, or checking to see if every student can hear the instructor, go a long way during class time.

Crestron also introduced a series of wireless green products for lighting and window shade control.  The system lets IT professionals see 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.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, having easy access to lighting and window shade control ensures that the light in a classroom where an instructor is using a projector does not wash out the display, or that a room is bright enough so that all students can see.

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, and lets educators at the K-12 or university level plug in iPods or use voiceover features as well.

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

A dedicated pavilion immersed attendees in a digital signage environment.  Experts say digital signage–electronic displays and digital signs in public areas–is quickly becoming an essential component of business.

Workshops on digital signage opportunities, content choices, and best practices helped attendees become familiar with the basic principles of digital signage, as well as how to proceed with the technology.


School laptop money prompts greater scrutiny

Money for South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds’ school laptop initiative will be scrutinized more closely from here on out, the Argus Leader reports, with one legislator saying the governor "used the system to shift money" to continue a program that legislators wouldn’t fund. The interim Appropriations Committee voted for a letter of intent, a written message to the state Education Department ordering regular, detailed reports of the laptop program. The first report is to be presented at the committee’s fall meeting. In the spotlight is Classroom Connections, Rounds’ state-local matching program to provide laptop or tablet computers to all high school students. Members of the committee grilled budget and education officials June 23 for an hour over how money for more laptops from a Citibank legal settlement became available after lawmakers were told in January that fund had been emptied. "They used the system to shift money to keep the program going," Republican Sen. Jerry Apa said. "There’s nothing illegal about it, but that’s what they did."

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Idaho hopes to improve math instruction

The Idaho Department of Education is working with Boise State University in hopes of training 9,500 teachers and school administrators to improve math instruction in the state’s public schools, the Idaho Statesman reports. The state is negotiating with professor Jonathan Brendefur, director of the university’s Institute for Developing Mathematical Thinking, on a one-year, $450,000 contract to guide the math instruction of 1,800 educators next year. The state might spend about $3.9 million altogether on a new approach to math teaching and learning. Idaho is in the early stages of a plan to boost sagging math scores among public school students from kindergarten to 10th grade. Testing shows nearly 90 percent of Idaho’s students are proficient in math in the fourth grade, but that number dips to 77 percent by their sophomore year. Brendefur has patterned his approach on research on Dutch arithmetic instruction and already has brought math instruction training to a few Idaho schools. He has now been asked to transform his small program into a statewide plan…

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What’s obscene? Google could have an answer

A Florida lawyer plans to use Google search data to argue that explicit material doesn’t violate community standards, the New York Times reports. Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: Does the material violate community standards? That’s often a tricky question, because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community’s tastes and values. Now, the internet might be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought. In the trial of a pornographic web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like "orgy" than for "apple pie" or "watermelon." It is not clear that the approach will succeed. But the tactic is another example of the value of data collected by internet companies such as Google, both from a commercial standpoint and as a window into the thoughts, interests, and desires of internet users…

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Fewer students seek tech-related degrees

Continuing a recent trend that has many business leaders worried, the Computing Research Association’s annual survey of universities with Ph.D.-granting programs found a 20-percent drop this year in students completing bachelors degrees in professional IT fields.

The trend–which comes at a time when demand for computer-related skills is increasing, and thousands of baby boomers are retiring from technical jobs–has many business leaders concerned that they won’t find enough workers to maintain expected growth.

"There’s a bit of a perfect storm going on," said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a California-based consulting and staffing service. "I do think it’s serious, and I do think we need to start at the elementary school level and get students talking about math and science."

Although a dearth of high-tech workers has been a problem before, the situation is now more dire because of soaring demand by a wide range of businesses–from tech companies such as Microsoft to insurance companies and local hospitals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 854,000 professional IT jobs will be added between 2006 and 2016, an increase of about 24 percent. When replacement jobs are added in, total IT job openings in the 10-year period is estimated at 1.6 million.

The bureau estimates that one in 19 new jobs created during the 10-year period will be professional IT positions.

"The fact remains that technology permeates all businesses now," said Lou Gellos, a spokesman for Microsoft Corp. "All companies have that person down the hall to help with computer issues."

Amid the growing demand, the number of students entering computer sciences and computer engineering fields at major universities is dropping.

Enrollment in undergraduate degree programs in computer sciences is more than 50 percent lower than it was five years ago, the Computing Research Association says. Between 2005-06 and 2006-07, the number of new students declaring computer sciences as a major fell 43 percent, to 8,021.

"We’re definitely concerned around the fact that there’s a talent shortage," said Cindy Nicola, vice president of talent acquisition for Electronic Arts Inc., a Redwood City, Calif.-based maker of video games such as Madden NFL and The Sims.

In response to the problem, Nicola said the company has begun working more with colleges and universities to recruit graduates aggressively, offer internships, and help schools reshape their curricula so graduates are better able to step immediately into jobs at the business.

The company offers up to 400 hands-on internships per year, as well as perks such as fitness centers, on-campus coffee shops, dry cleaning, dental services, haircuts, massage therapists, and game rooms. As a video game maker, it also has the advantage of being in a field that is appealing to many young graduates.

Still, Nicola said the top computer-science engineers she’s interviewed have at least five offers upon graduation–and the competition for them is fierce.

Microsoft’s Gellos said that among the students earning bachelor’s degrees in Washington state, only 14 percent are graduating with the skills the company needs.

"So that means for Microsoft at its home area in Redmond, Wash., 14 percent isn’t going to cut it when it comes to the kinds of people we want to hire to work here, so we have to look in other places," he said.

Rockwell Collins Inc., a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based maker of avionics, global positioning system, and other electronic equipment for airline manufacturers, employs about 6,500 engineers and technical workers among its global work force of 20,000.

CEO Clay Jones said a shortage of those workers restrains growth and can damage customer relationships if projects are delayed.

"When you look at the relative availability of those people in the nation, we believe they’re going to continue to be in demand and ultimately in short supply in the next three to five years," Jones said.

The company is reviewing salaries and benefits and looking at the work environment, leadership development, and diversity initiatives.

Rockwell Collins also is sending mentors into classrooms to work on robotics and rocketry projects in hopes of getting students interested in future technology careers. These efforts are part of a larger statewide program coordinated by the Technology Association of Iowa.

The Des Moines-based nonprofit organization recently rolled out a pilot program called HyperStream, a career awareness project aimed at students in grades 8-12.

"We’ve created a presentation that counters the misperceptions that are out there–misperceptions that careers in technology are geeky and not cool, that this is a field that only guys go into," said Leann Jacobson, the group’s president.

Microsoft has begun working with teachers to hold annual math camps and has launched programs such as DigiGirlz High Tech Camps, designed to provide girls in the ninth to 12th grades a better understanding of technology careers. Girls listen to executive speakers, participate in technology tours and demonstrations, network, and learn with hands-on experience in workshops.

Microsoft also has lobbied state lawmakers to boost math requirements in schools and has promoted a Math Matters program to raise awareness in schools about raising the level of math understanding.

"Before this year, students [in Washington state] only needed to complete two years of math in high school," Gellos said. "The technology era has changed everything, and that’s not going to cut it for students today."

Professor Shankar Sastry, the dean of the College of Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, said he has seen an uptick in the number of undergraduate applications in computer engineering in the past year. However, the university is not enrolling additional students, because it does not have enough laboratory space and facilities to teach more IT students.

He advocates a public-private partnership with major IT employers to provide the funding needed for a 10-percent increase in the number of students at 10 campuses in the UC system. The California labor secretary has estimated that there will be a shortage of 25,000 technical workers in that state in the next seven years, and Sastry said such a partnership would solve about half of that problem.

"I think that if the CEOs of these major companies were to strike a partnership with the governor–and the governor has actually welcomed it–we would be able to create a fund to fuel the growth, and this would be a win-win situation," Sastry said.

Failure to provide facilities to teach more students will only contribute to the shortage of IT workers, he said.

"The students will go someplace else, and the companies will be left holding the bag," he said. "I think it’s pretty time-sensitive."


Computing Research Association

Technology Association of Iowa

DigiGirlz High Tech Camps

UC-Berkeley College of Engineering

Editor’s note: For more information about the shortage of computer science professionals and what schools are doing to address the problem, see these related stories:

Gates to students: Consider IT careers

Solving the science crisis

Wanted: More IT workers

Engineering field has designs for women

‘Threads’ wends new approach to computer science

Free online courses teach tech skills

‘i-Schools’ expand concept of IT education

Webcast tackles IT gender gap

New program helps girls get ‘IT’

AAUW: Technology doesn’t scare girls; it bores them


Study touts educational benefits of MySpace, Facebook

University of Minnesota researchers say they have discovered educational benefits of social-networking web sites such as MySpace and Facebook, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul reports. The study also found that low-income students often are just as technologically savvy as their wealthier counterparts. The university says this contradicts results that previous studies have suggested. The information was collected over six months from students, ages 16 to 18, in 13 urban high schools in the Midwest and was released June 20 by the university. The study found that 94 percent of students use the internet, and more than three-fourths (77 percent) have a profile on a social-networking web site. When asked what they learn from using social-networking sites, the students listed technology skills at the top, then creativity, being open to new or diverse views, and communication skills. "Students using social-networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st-century skills we want them to develop to be successful today," said Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher in the university’s College of Education and Human Development and lead investigator. "Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content, and thinking about online design and layout. … The web sites offer tremendous educational potential."

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Rare Mac Trojan horse exploits Apple vulnerability

A rare Mac OS X Trojan horse has been spotted on the internet, reports the Guardian. The AppleScript-THT Trojan horse exploits a vulnerability within the Apple Remote Desktop Agent to load itself with root privileges onto compromised Mac machines. The malware, which is capable of infecting Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5 computers, surrenders control of compromised systems to hackers. Logging keystrokes, taking pictures (using the built-in Apple iSight camera), or capturing screenshots are among the hacker exploits reportedly enabled by the vulnerability. The malware weaves its malicious spell while attempting to remain undetected by opening ports in the firewall and turning off system logging…

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Cable industry honors visionary educators

Creating a parent-school web site that can be accessed through computer kiosks in local grocery markets, developing historical virtual field trips, and redefining what it means to be media literate in today’s world: These are among the effective uses of technology recognized by the cable industry’s fourth annual Leaders in Learning Awards.

Ten educators and three national policy makers were honored for their outstanding vision in promoting 21st-century teaching and learning in a June 18 ceremony sponsored by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Cable in the Classroom (CIC), the cable industry’s education foundation.

The awards ceremony was held after-hours at the Library of Congress, where guests were awed by the elegance of ceiling murals housing decades of written history and delighted at the abundance of free-flowing wine and sparkling water.

Each winner received a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with cable industry leaders, such as C-SPAN President and Chief Executive Officer Brian Lamb, as well as Congressional representatives and other innovative educators. Winners also received a $3,000 cash prize.

"I loved … that our guide told us if you know the language, you can actually read the room," said David Considine, media literacy professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. "In the Jefferson building, the art, sculpture, architecture … reflects particular views and values at the time the building was constructed. In other words, we were not looking at a building–we were given a way to read text and its context."

Considine has conducted media literacy programs for parents, teachers, students, administrators, and many more in 38 states and four countries. His articles have appeared in several publications, and his textbook Visual Messages has been described as the first comprehensive media literacy textbook in the country.

Considine, who won an award for Media Literacy Education, will host "Media, Diversity, and Democracy," a staff development program open to educators across the country who are interested in media literacy. This special summer institute will run from July 21-24, fusing media and technology with the teaching of social studies.

Guests were ushered from refreshments to an awards presentation hosted by journalist Nick Clooney, host of AmericanLife TV, complete with multi-colored stage lights and thunderous applause as each winner’s video documentary played.

"I was so inspired and humbled as I heard the stories of the contributions for which each of the other winners was being honored," said Donna Bownds, campus instructional technologist for Clear Creek Elementary School in Fort Hood, Texas.  "To be chosen among some of the most innovative, caring educators in our nation is the greatest honor of my educational career."

Bownds served three years in the U.S. Army before becoming a teacher. Last year, her school had the opportunity to collaborate with Time Warner Cable and host The History Channel’s new event, "Take a Veteran to School Day."

In November 2007, local veterans visited Bownds’ school to share stories about their service and discuss their military experience with students. The veterans spoke about the importance of education in their lives and the contributions veterans have made to the country.

The activities included a picnic and presentation from author and former West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Dave R. Palmer (ret.). Bownds recorded the presentations and published them online as podcasts with the help of equipment and staff from Time Warner Cable.

For her efforts, Downds received the Cable Partnerships for Learning Award, and she plans to use her prize money to help send her daughter to college.

Chuck Estep, curriculum resource consultant for the Monroe County Intermediate School District in Michigan, was a winner of the General Excellence Award for enlisting the help of his local community to organize Virtual Field Trips (VFTs), through which students can visit battlefields from the War of 1812 from their classroom. Soon, they will be able to view an operating room during surgery.

Estep and his colleagues worked with local historians and the Monroe County Historical Museum to create programs and lesson plans that fit into their state curricula. To date, more than 70 classes and nearly 2,300 students have been virtually transported to battle sites through cable TV for a lesson in the region’s history through movie trailers, film footage, music, animated presentations, short video vignettes, and a dynamic presenter.

"I’ve seen the research on how positively [technology] affects our students for learning," said Estep. "Our students are more technologically savvy than many of our teachers and the methods they employ. When we make technology a part of our methodology, our students are engaged in ways that otherwise would nearly be impossible. We have a responsibility to provide students with the opportunities to access, utilize, create, and learn using technology. It’s malpractice to do otherwise."

Estep wants to take his VFTs even further by creating "on demand" trips this year, so that teachers who aren’t part of the network can use the materials and students can watch the presentations any time. He also plans to stream out some of the productions to the internet, such as the school’s spelling bee and Quiz Bowl.
The cash prize will buy monitors for Estep’s studio, which he says will enhance the production capability of his VFTs and other work his team is doing.

After the awards presentation, guests were ushered to a reception through the marbled corridors and past a harpist, up to a buffet consisting of filet au poivre and red-peppered salmon.

"My hope in being recognized with this award is to raise awareness of the incredible possibilities of children," said Diane Downs, artistic director of the Louisville Leopard Percussionists in Louisville, Ky., and another General Excellence Award winner. "Often, children aren’t given the credibility they deserve because they are young and small. They are capable of accomplishing great things when given the opportunity–you just have to believe in them."

In 1993, Downs was digging through a storage closet in her school when she came across some old percussion instruments. That discovery has evolved into her school’s percussionist band, a music education and community-building program that seeks to educate 7- to-12-year-olds.

In the band, students from diverse backgrounds learn to improvise, compose, teach, and care for instruments, resulting in skills and experiences that help build creativity and confidence while they also learn personal discipline, cooperation, and leadership.

The percussionists appear around the city and nationally. They also were the subject of HBO’s family documentary Music in Me: Leopards Take Manhattan.

Don Cerrone, a teacher at Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications in New York City, was another winner of the Cable Partnerships for Learning Award. He was honored for creating Cablevision’s "Triple Play for Education" program, which brought students to the Bronx to document the borough’s history.

"I have watched how [this experience] has affected our students," Cerrone said. "I have watched their excitement and self-esteem soar. This award has reinforced their own feelings about being able to express themselves … and I thank you for that."


Cable’s Leaders in Learning Awards

Cable in the Classroom

National Cable and Telecommunications Association


Schools try to reach students via podcast

Students at a rural New Mexico school made a unique pledge last winter: Right hands raised, they promised to take care of their Zunes.

This past semester, nearly every one of the roughly 100 students at Fort Sumner High School was outfitted with the Microsoft media player, similar to Apple’s iPod, enabling them to watch videos and listen to recorded lectures created or recommended by teachers and fellow students. Fort Sumner High was one of two schools nationwide taking part in the project.

The students were encouraged to use their devices during class hours, on bus rides home, and on school trips. Teachers got a $400 bonus for coming up with lessons to identify 20 downloadable digital lectures that supported their lessons and to develop five of their own.

"My main hope is it’s going to save us lost class time," said English teacher Pam Richards. "We are small, and the kids are involved in so many things."

For Microsoft, the project showcased its brand and technology; the aim was for more schools eventually to incorporate Zunes into the curriculum. In exchange for the donated $300 Zunes, the schools provide data to the company on whether the devices improve test scores.

The semester ended in late May. This summer, Microsoft plans to post a case study on the pilot project following the National Education Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio, Texas, where the idea partly originated last year.

The practice of podcasting is increasingly popular in education, with many colleges and universities making lectures available for downloading online in podcasting format free of charge. A podcast is an audio or video file that subscribers can download over the internet, and is often listened to or watched on a mobile media player such as an iPod or Zune.

For Fort Sumner Spanish teacher Sandra Wertheim’s class, the boost from the little device made it much easier to deal with weekly vocabulary words: Her voice rang through the ears of students who got the lesson through their Zune.

"No one could help them at home," she said. "Now, they don’t need anyone. They have me. They take me home."

Freshman Ashley Stinnett noted the convenience of not having to take books home and said she benefited from being able to rewind Wertheim’s podcasts and hear the Spanish words over and over.

"Instead of thinking, ‘How did she say all these words?’ I have it right there with me," she said.

Superintendent Patricia Miller said most teachers were supportive of the project. History teacher John Wootton wasn’t one of them.

He saw how digital media players might help kids learn a foreign language, but he also observed, "We think it’s the answer to everything."

"I just didn’t see where kids used it as intended," he said. "So far, I haven’t talked to one who used it for academic purposes, studying."

In fact, many students admitted the lure of the Zune was being able to listen to their favorite tunes and swap songs and pictures with friends. But they insisted they used it to study, too.

Eric Langhorst led the second Zune pilot project at South Valley Junior High in Liberty, Mo. He had been incorporating technology into his lessons for years, posting 20-minute audio test reviews, or "studycasts," on the internet. But many students didn’t have access to the internet or own a media player to listen to them.

He approached Microsoft at last year’s NECC and pitched the idea for the project, which allows 25 students in one class to have the Zunes. He now can beam notes on the Gold Rush, Power Point presentations, and Civil War battlefield maps directly to his students.

Students also created an election-year advertisement for Abraham Lincoln and had to watch each other’s productions as a homework assignment.

"We want it to become part of their lives," he says on a history blog.

At Fort Sumner, new rules came along with the invasion of the Zunes. A campus-wide "grandma rule" kept students from uploading anything that their grandmother wouldn’t find appropriate to listen to or watch. And teachers had the ability to designate certain areas as "No Zune Zones," do periodic Zune checks, and tell students when they must turn off their Zunes.

A group of tech-savvy high schoolers, known as Zunies, help teachers create the podcasts.

Miller, for one, wasn’t ready to say the Zunes would dramatically improve how kids learn.

"Is it the next great thing? I don’t know, maybe, but it is another tool," she said.


Microsoft Corp.

Fort Sumner Municipal Schools

South Valley Junior High School