Exciting new products headed for education

The third and final day of InfoComm 2008 ended with record-breaking attendance of 34,687 and a focus on using technology to give students the best possible educational experience while in the classroom.

A big push this year 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 audio/video sources such as personal computers and video game consoles to compatible digital audio devices and video monitors.

Extron Electronics announced more than 20 new products for integrating DVI and HDMI sources and displays, including DVI and HDMI matrix switcher boards.

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

Educators will soon be able to take advantage of evolving presentation systems, many of which allow for wireless connectivity and multimedia device compatibility. 

Samsung introduced the new UF-130DX Presentation Station, a high-definition digital presenter with an onboard processor running Windows CE.  The built-in AMD processor with Windows CE lets users upload their presentations directly to the digital presenter, and is compatible with multiple memory devices such as compact flash cards, SD cards, or USB flash drives.

Slated for an August release, AVerVision’s SPB370 document camera features built-in memory, DVI and VGA output, audio input and output, and an SD card slot.  The document camera is IP addressable.

Sony’s Education division promoted a handful of education initiatives designed to give educators classroom benefits wherever possible.

Extra Credit is the company’s frequent purchase program, and educational institutions will receive credit with each purchase of a Sony Broadcast and Professional product.  Schools receive points for their purchases, including 1,000 points just for signing up, and can redeem those points for eligible Sony products.

The company’s Eye on Education program ensures that schools and educators receive competitive pricing on products.

Sony is also a sponsor of the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus.  The bus is equipped with cutting-edge video and audio products.  Students spend a day writing and recording original music, as well as creating a music video, and learn the basics of the technology that goes along with music production.

In addition to technology skills, the bus helps to emphasize the need for and the importance of school arts and technology programs, many of which are being trimmed from course offerings in districts across the country.

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Tech experts: Technology should be simple to use

Simple is better–at least, that seemed to be a major theme among technology companies during the first day of InfoComm 2008 in Las Vegas.

With technology claiming a firm spot in classrooms across the country, educators and students alike can often be overwhelmed by how to install and use those products.

But some companies promise not only outstanding technology, but ease of use and immediate familiarity. 

Broadcast Pix offers a range of switcher panels priced for school budgets that are suited for school broadcast news programs and can thus be used easily by students.  High school and college students producing daily or weekly news segments can use the switchers, including the Slate 1000 and Slate 2100, to edit stories, insert or remove graphics, and more.  The switchers are suited for one student or up to five or six, and students who use the production system often leave high school or college with highly-desired technical skills.

Technomad, manufacturer of loudspeaker systems, introduced the Schedulon, an automatic MP3 player/recorder that can be programmed with daily or weekly tasks.  The Schedulon can be remotely managed as well, such as playing an emergency recording in case of a school lockdown or natural disaster.

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.

Affordability, especially when school budgets are seeing cuts, also seemed a theme among the show’s presenting companies.

3M Projection Systems displayed its SCP 712, a modular whiteboard-compatible projector that lets schools purchase different components as needed or wanted, instead of a pre-packaged bundle.

The SCP 712 also is compatible with non-interactive dry-erase boards.  It comes with a "pod" that turns an ordinary dry-erase board into an interactive board using infrared technology and sensors.  Schools can purchase the "pod" if they want to add extra components to the projector, as it is a budget-sensitive product.

Turning Technologies introduced ResponseCard Anywhere, which lets educators use a classroom response system without needing a projector or computer.  The response system, which has been beta tested in about 20 K-12 districts, uses radio frequency in its student devices.

Creating solutions that are priced affordably helps put technology in the hands of educators and students who otherwise may not have had a chance to experience it, company officials said.

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Text-message ruling could affect school policies

Most employees know their bosses are usually within their rights snooping on workers’ eMail, but text messaging has been in murkier territory.

A federal appeals court sought to clarify matters in a June 18 ruling by distinguishing between electronic communication that employers store on their servers, or pay someone to store, and communication they contract out for.

Employers must have either a warrant or the employee’s permission to see messages that aren’t stored by the employer or by someone the employer pays for storage, the court said.

The ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, hailed by digital privacy advocates, could create new administrative hurdles for school systems, companies, and other organizations to clear before handing out wireless devices.

Employers now might need to use more concrete language in their privacy policies and make sure they explicitly assert they have access to text-messages as well as eMail, to encompass communications that aren’t under their physical control. To spare lengthy court battles later, written agreements covering employees’ work-issued cell phones, for example, probably should say that employers have the right to see all eMail and text messages their workers send with the devices.

Among other privacy advocates, Jeff Chester, founder and executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, praised the ruling.

"Mobile privacy is increasingly a political and legal battleground–it’s a very confusing regulatory landscape, there are no clear rules in the crazy quilt of the mobile communications systems," Chester said.

The ruling limits all kinds of entities’ access to consumers’ communications, he said.

"Preserving as much privacy for the mobile consumer, and limiting the ability of government and commercial entities to readily access your mobile information, is important–and the court did the right thing here," Chester said.

School and corporate eMail typically has been stored on the organization’s own servers or on server space it pays for, which employers control, according to federal law. Text messaging, on the other hand, typically has been managed by outside providers.

The lower court had ruled that employers have access to text messages because they’re stored by the outside contractors, but the 9th Circuit found that the storage was incidental. Greater privacy protections apply, the court said, because employers are paying only for messaging services.

It’s not clear, however, how employers should now manage the relationship with an employee who splits the bill for a work-issued cell phone or other message device, a common arrangement.

In that case, the employee might be reluctant to give his employer full access to his text messages, because some are presumably personal.

"It’s going to highlight for businesses the need to think through, what kind of information do they need? What kind of access do they need to have? And what kind of documentation do they need to have in place to get that access?" said Joel Reidenberg, a professor at the Fordham University School of Law and an expert on information privacy law. "A ruling like this is going to force companies to be more nuanced and careful in their data management, and that’s a good thing."

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by police officers in the Southern California city of Ontario, alleging the police department illegally examined text messages they sent from work-issued pagers.

The department wasn’t investigating the officers for a crime. It was trying to determine how much money one of them, Sgt. Jeff Quon, a member of its SWAT team, should pay for personal text messages.

The officers argued–and the appellate court agreed–that the department shouldn’t have been able to view the messages without their approval or a court order. They rested the argument on existing legal distinctions between service providers being paid for storage and those that aren’t.

In the case of the Ontario police officers, the 9th Circuit agreed they had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their text messages, because the department had an informal policy of not examining text messages that employees paid for. The court said the department’s search violated the officers’ Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"The holding that text messages and eMail are protected by the Fourth Amendment is an immensely important one, which gives the victims of unlawful searches the ability to suppress illegally obtained evidence," Jennifer Granick, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a posting on the organization’s web site.

Links:

9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Center for Digital Democracy

Electronic Frontier Foundation

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Economy has some states in ‘dire’ financial straits

The nation’s weak economy has landed some big states in a desperate struggle to balance their budgets before July 1 when their new fiscal years begin, reports USA Today–a development that threatens funding for education and other services. Arizona, California, New Jersey, Nevada, and Pennsylvania are among states that must slash spending or raise taxes to straighten out their finances. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Republican, plans to call a special session of the Legislature next week to find a last-minute solution to a budget shortfall approaching $1 billion. Nationally, state and local government revenue rose 3.5 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, outpacing private-sector growth. But that average is deceptive. Revenue is booming in about a dozen states because of high energy and agricultural prices, said Scott Pattison, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, which issued a report on state finances June 19. Texas, New Mexico, Montana, West Virginia, and Wyoming are among the thriving states. Yet, the budget picture is grim in states that had soaring housing prices that collapsed…

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South Dakota schools vow to keep laptop initiative going

Two pilot schools in South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds’ laptop plan say they will continue the program even after state money is gone, the Argus Leader reports. Superintendent Mark Greguson’s Chester Area district was among 20 schools that signed up in the pilot program that became Classroom Connections, Rounds’ three-year initiative for a state-local split on the $39 million cost of providing laptop computers for all high school students in South Dakota. "I’ll guarantee you, anyone who has it would have a hard time dropping it," Greguson said. "We’re trying to expand it to junior high, if not this year, then next. We didn’t get into the [three-year] lease. We paid for everything outright. We use it in every phase of our program." If the district tried to eliminate laptops, "the students would demand it, and so would our teachers," he said. Chris Christensen of Dupree, another first-year school in the program, is more reserved, but he says the program will continue at Dupree, too, after state funding ends. "It’s certainly worthwhile," he said. "It has helped the kids a lot…"

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Intel’s Classmate PC adds some Sugar

The inventor of the Sugar user interface used in the One Laptop Per Child initiative’s XO computer says his company is developing a version of the software for Intel’s own low-cost laptop, CNET reports. Walter Bender said in an interview June 19 with PC World that "a community volunteer is working with Intel on Sugar for the Classmate PC. Sugar Labs helped to expedite the relationship." Bender is the inventor of the kid-friendly interface, which sits on top of a computer’s operating system. His company, Sugar Labs, was spun off from OLPC in May. At the time of the announcement, Bender said Sugar Labs was already talking about sharing the user interface with at least four other low-cost laptop makers, including Asus. He described OLPC as the "primary, but not exclusive, downstream project" for Sugar Labs, and confirmed that the two companies continue to work together on further development of the software…

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Lance Armstrong debuts new wellness site

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his foundation have launched a new web site, Livestrong.com, that contains health tips, physical fitness advice, and cancer prevention information. As educators look for new ways to battle rising obesity rates among children, some say the interactive site could become a valuable addition in K-12 classrooms.

Fran Cleland, president of the National Association for Sport & Physical Education (NASPE) and a kinesiology professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, said web sites such as Livestrong.com could become supplements for everyday health and science lessons—but teachers and parents should not expect children to seek out health-related information on their own, she added.

"Sometimes internet information needs someone to take it to the next step," Cleland said. "Adults can do that with much more facility and ease than young adults and children."

Cleland said computer-based lessons on how to trim fat and calories from meals and which exercises would be most effective for K-12 students have become popular in school districts nationwide, but a hands-on approach will reinforce such health advice. Cleland said NASPE recently applied for a grant that would allow the organization to host lessons for day-care workers on how they can incorporate physical activity into their daily classroom routines.

"Interaction between people is the best bet," she said. "I think hands-on instruction is really preferable."

Livestrong.com, a for-profit venture, is designed to motivate individuals wanting to lead a healthier lifestyle, help them get answers to medical questions, and put them in touch with people who have similar fitness goals or experiences.

"I hope [people] get inspired from it, in the sense they get off their tail and break a sweat and exercise," Armstrong, who retired from cycling in 2005, said in a June 16 interview with the Associated Press.

A survivor of testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain, Armstrong has developed a powerful marketing and fundraising brand with Livestrong, a slogan born from his nonprofit foundation for cancer research and survivorship. The foundation already has sold more than 60 million yellow Livestrong bracelets.

Livestrong.com goes well beyond the mission of the foundation by offering consumers information on topics ranging from diet and exercise to marathon training, diabetes, and other medical-related issues.

"If a 40-year-old woman is diagnosed with breast cancer or an ingrown toenail, it’s all there," Armstrong said.

The web site launched June 16 with a library of 600,000 pages of content, including 15,000 articles and videos, 350,000 nutritional food profiles, and 50,000 health and fitness-related questions and answers.

Armstrong said the site is geared toward not only attracting the hard-core fitness buff, who likely already has trusted web-based resources, but also the average person trying to lead a healthier lifestyle who might currently be doing little to get started.

One of the key features of Livestrong.com is a section titled "My Dares," which allows users to set up a list of goals, such as running a mile in six minutes, jumping rope for 10 minutes, or running a marathon. The site then lines up information and other users with similar goals.

Other features include a diet section that will help count calories of a breakfast burrito or a trip to McDonald’s.

The web site was developed with Santa Monica, Calif.-based Demand Media, which is run by former MySpace.com chairman Richard Rosenblatt. Armstrong and Rosenblatt came up with the idea when they both served on the board for sports drink company FRS Co.

The creators of Livestrong.com commissioned a survey of about 2,500 American adults and found that 86 percent had at least tried to improve their overall health—but less than half considered themselves successful. Fifty-two percent cited lack of motivation as a key reason, according to the Livestrong.com survey.

Livestrong.com has drafted a power-packed advisory board to help give it some clout beyond the already formidable Armstrong name. Board members include Armstrong; Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent at CNN; Dr. Timothy Harlan, also known as Dr. Gourmet; Dr. Michael Clark, president of the National Academy of Sports Medicine; and Andy Miller, director of survivorship programs for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

"We’re here to teach, not preach," said Joe Perez, a Demand Media executive vice president. "We want this to be a daily resource."

Links:

Livestrong.com

National Association for Sport & Physical Education

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InfoComm exhibitors: Technology should be easy and affordable

Simple is better–at least, that seemed to be a major theme among technology companies during the first day of InfoComm 2008 in Las Vegas.

With technology claiming a firm spot in classrooms across the country, educators and students alike can often be overwhelmed by how to install and use those products.

But some companies promise not only outstanding technology, but ease of use and immediate familiarity. 

Broadcast Pix offers a range of switcher panels priced for school budgets that are suited for school broadcast news programs and can thus be used easily by students.  High school and college students producing daily or weekly news segments can use the switchers, including the Slate 1000 and Slate 2100, to edit stories, insert or remove graphics, and more.  The switchers are suited for one student or up to five or six, and students who use the production system often leave high school or college with highly-desired technical skills.

Technomad, manufacturer of loudspeaker systems, introduced the Schedulon, an automatic MP3 player/recorder that can be programmed with daily or weekly tasks.  The Schedulon can be remotely managed as well, such as playing an emergency recording in case of a school lockdown or natural disaster.

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.

Affordability, especially when school budgets are seeing cuts, also seemed a theme among the show’s presenting companies.

3M Projection Systems displayed its SCP 712, a modular whiteboard-compatible projector that lets schools purchase different components as needed or wanted, instead of a pre-packaged bundle.

The SCP 712 also is compatible with non-interactive dry-erase boards.  It comes with a "pod" that turns an ordinary dry-erase board into an interactive board using infrared technology and sensors.  Schools can purchase the "pod" if they want to add extra components to the projector, as it is a budget-sensitive product.

Turning Technologies introduced ResponseCard Anywhere, which lets educators use a classroom response system without needing a projector or computer.  The response system, which has been beta tested in about 20 K-12 districts, uses radio frequency in its student devices.

Creating solutions that are priced affordably helps put technology in the hands of educators and students who otherwise may not have had a chance to experience it, company officials said.

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University employees fired for illegal downloads

Two employees at North Carolina Central University and one at North Carolina State University have been fired after allegedly downloading files that included pirated software and pornography, the Business Journal of Raleigh/Durham, N.C., reports. According to reports from State Auditor Leslie Merritt, the workers illegally downloaded music, movies, software, and pornography using the university networks. Most of those files were stored on state-owned laptops or servers. According to Merritt’s reports, those actions could violate federal copyright laws as well as North Carolina laws governing the use of state computers. Findings from the report have been forwarded to the FBI, as well as the offices of the U.S. attorney in Raleigh, the governor, the state attorney general, and the district attorneys of Wake and Durham counties. "With the universities’ cooperation, Information Systems auditors were able to uncover, analyze, and categorize a vast amount of inappropriate data stored on state-owned computers and servers," Merritt said in a statement. "In the Information Age, state auditors must stay one step ahead in using technology to detect fraud, waste, and abuse if they are to ensure that public resources are still being used for the public good."

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Teens face felony charges for computer break-ins

A California teenager faces felony charges and could spend decades in prison over allegations that he repeatedly broke into an acclaimed Orange County high school and hacked into computers to change his grades and steal tests–all in hopes of improving his college admissions prospects, the Los Angeles Times reports. Omar Khan, 18, should have graduated with his Tesoro High School classmates June 18; instead, he is being held in jail in lieu of $50,000 bail. Another student, Tanvir Singh, also 18, faces lesser charges and was expected to turn himself in to authorities yesterday afternoon. Khan has been charged with 69 felonies and faces more than 38 years in prison if convicted. Singh has been charged with five felony counts and could face three years in prison. The investigation is continuing, and additional charges could be filed or additional students could be involved, said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He said the crimes were fairly sophisticated, considering the suspects’ ages. "I think they wish they would have put their talents into studying," Amormino said…

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