Digital Media and Learning Competition

The MacArthur Foundation, the University of California, Irvine, Duke University, and the virtual network HASTAC have announced a $2 million competition that focuses on participatory learning, creates an award category for Young Innovators aged 18-25, and for the first time extends eligibility to international applicants.   The competition is part of MacArthur’s $50 million digital media and learning initiative that aims to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life.


Report: e-Textbooks might not be cheaper than printed ones

Over the past year, seemingly everyone has decried college textbook costs, which have soared to an average of $700 to $1,000 per student each year. Many of these critics have pointed to online digital textbooks, which typically sell for half the price of print editions, as an affordable alternative. But a sharply critical report released Aug. 25 asserts that commercial publishers are going about the digital textbook revolution the wrong way, reports the Los Angeles Times. Commercial e-textbooks are no cheaper than hard-copy editions when you take into account that students can sell print books back to the bookstore for half the cover price, according to the report, released by a national coalition of student public interest research groups. And restrictions on printing and online access make commercial e-books unfeasible for many students, the report said. "Right now, publishers are on a crash course with e-textbooks," the report said. "They are expensive and impractical for a large portion of the student population." The report was based on a survey of 504 students from Portland State University and the City Colleges of Chicago. Fifty commonly assigned introductory textbooks were also reviewed. Perhaps the report’s most surprising finding–at least to parents who can barely peel their college-age children away from their Facebook or MySpace pages–was that only one-third of students said they were comfortable reading textbooks on a computer screen. Three-fourths said they would prefer a print textbook to an electronic one if the costs were equal. The report said commercial publishers, however, have made it cumbersome and expensive to print out digital texts. "Biology," 8th edition, from Pearson publishers, sells for $173, and the e-book goes for $86.50. But buying and printing out the text would cost $211.87, the report said…

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‘Telepresence classrooms’ save sixth-grade Mandarin

Keeping sixth-grade Mandarin alive was the immediate goal, but in spending $60,000 to set up two "telepresence classrooms," the Ridgeville, Conn., school board is chasing a broader vision, reports the Ridgefield Press: virtual museum visits, video college courses, and collaborative projects with schools around the world. "I think this is great out-of-the-box thinking," board member Richard Steinhart said Aug. 25. "I think it opens up a lot of outside possibilities beyond Mandarin." Put together by Technology Director Josh Smith at the request of Superintendent Deborah Low, the plan is sophisticated in its electronics but simple in concept. By equipping both Scotts Ridge and East Ridge middle schools with interactive "telepresence" classrooms, the relatively small number of incoming sixth graders who want to take Mandarin–nine at one school, 11 at the other–can be taught together by a single teacher in a classroom at either of the two schools where the students are. The staffing cost is half–$5,500 rather than $11,000–compared to what it would be if the teacher taught two separate classes, one at each school, in different time slots, an had to be paid for teaching two classes. The larger "telepresence" gathering also meets the district’s class-size guidelines. The teacher could be physically present at either school, and another adult from the staff at the other one would supervise in the room where the teacher was only a virtual presence. "It does create huge efficiencies in staffing," said Superintendent Deborah Low. "You’re able to keep the breadth of programming."

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Universities try out new digital devices

Far from banning technology from the classroom as a potential distraction, colleges across the country are toying with an array of cutting-edge products and services for entering freshmen, who have grown up immersed in technology and rely on all manner of advanced tools to collaborate and learn, BusinessWeek reports. Duke University made headlines in 2004 when it handed out Apple iPods to every incoming freshman. The Durham, N.C., school began giving away the popular digital music players to see whether it made sense to record lectures and make digital copies available outside the classroom. The university still provides iPods to students who need them, but in most cases, first-year students already have one when they arrive, says Julian Lombardi, Duke’s assistant vice president for information technology. "Back then, it was still a little bit of an exotic item," Lombardi says. "Now, they receive one as a high school graduation gift." In fact, many get their first iPod long before that. So now Duke is considering a new tech experiment to aid learning. The school may soon dole out handheld video cameras, such as Pure Digital Technologies’ Flip Video, to students in courses where creating video can be used as a teaching tool, Lombardi says. The school already has 100 of the easy-to-use Flips and other video cameras that students and faculty can check out–and they’re borrowed regularly, he says. Like Duke, Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., is also experimenting with video as a learning tool. Last year, communications professor Michael Scully added the $150 Flip camera to the requirements for his course on digital journalism. "When I first showed them the camera and how easy it was to put a video on YouTube, they looked like I had just pulled a rabbit out of my hat," Scully says. By the end of the day, students had produced their first video news story and started posting items on a class YouTube page called The Feed…

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Poll: Two-thirds of colleges are going ‘green’

Two-thirds of American colleges and universities have gone or are going "green" by taking energy-saving and environmentally conscious steps, according to a recent survey.

In a poll released Aug. 25 of attendees at the annual conference of the Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA), 65 percent of respondents said their schools have bought new equipment, launched online education programs, implemented policies, or are otherwise moving to reduce energy usage and help the environment.

Of those schools that haven’t yet gone green, three-fourths have at least looked into how to be more environmentally sensitive but are being held back by budget limitations or other obstacles.

The single most widespread pro-environment step taken–by 80 percent of the "green" schools–was recycling computer and networking equipment, rather than sending it to a landfill. Also, 73 percent said they have bought more efficient equipment with an eye toward saving energy, while 63 percent said they’ve implemented a policy to reduce the amount of printing on their campuses.

Simply "powering off" whatever equipment they can whenever possible is a practice at 55 percent of green schools, while 29 percent have revamped their data centers and 20 percent have simplified their networks, both with energy savings in mind.

Among the more innovative approaches, 27 percent of the schools said alternative sources are providing some of the electrical power on campus, while 25 percent said at least some faculty or staff practice telecommuting. Also, to reduce the need for student travel, 22 percent said they have implemented or expanded their distance-education programs, while 18 percent have implemented or expanded online educational opportunities.

Because ACUTA member schools are in a network in which "they can share their green ideas with their peers," the green movement is able to keep growing, said Jeri Semer, ACUTA’s executive director.

Although the survey suggests that energy and cost savings aren’t easy to document, most respondents said their efforts have provided or eventually will provide a return on their investment. Also, 35 percent of green schools said their efforts have definitely paid off by enhancing their "green" image.

Of the schools surveyed that haven’t yet gone green, 72 percent blame budget limitations for holding them back, although 32 percent said the difficulties in finding energy-efficient equipment and in proving future cost savings are additional obstacles. Among the non-green schools, the biggest motivators to going green are cost and energy savings and a sense of environmental stewardship.

ACUTA represents nearly 2,000 individuals at some 780 institutions of all sizes. Its core purpose is to support higher-education information communications technology professionals in contributing to the achievement of the strategic mission of their institutions.



Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Eco-Friendly Computing resource center. With energy costs soaring to record levels, taking steps to reduce the amount of energy you use isn’t just good for the environment–it’s also essential for your schools’ fiscal health. Fortunately, manufacturers of technology are responding to these needs by developing more eco-friendly products that can reduce power consumption and save schools money over the life of these systems. Go to: Eco-Friendly Computing


Dems touch on education, global competitiveness

Boosting education and ensuring America’s success in the 21st-century economy were key themes espoused during day two of the Democratic National Convention in Denver Aug. 26.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, delivering the convention’s keynote speech, said American voters "have one shot to get it right" by electing Barack Obama president to end an era of Republican leadership that is stuck in the past. And Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick drew sharp distinctions between Obama and his presumptive Republican challenger for president, Arizona Sen. John McCain, on education in particular.

Watch Gov. Deval Patrick’s speech

"My fellow Americans," Warner began, "the most important contest of our generation has begun. Not the campaign for the presidency. Not the campaign for Congress. But the race for the future. And I believe from the bottom of my heart that with the right vision, the right leadership, and the energy and creativity of the American people, there is no nation that we can’t out hustle or out compete. And no American need be left out or left behind.

"Yes, the race for the future is on, and it won’t be won if only some Americans are in the running. It won’t be won with yesterday’s ideas and yesterday’s divisions. And it won’t be won with a president who is stuck in the past. We need a president who understands the world today, the future we seek, and the change we need. We need Barack Obama as the next president of the United States."

Warner, a moderate Democrat and successful businessman who "got in on the ground floor of the cell-phone industry," as he put it, underscored the need for a president with the vision to lead the country through new 21st-century challenges.

"If you think there’ve been dramatic changes in the world and in technology over the last 10 years, you ain’t seen nothing yet," Warner said. "The race is on, and if you watched the Olympics, you know China’s going for the gold."

He continued: "You know, America has never been afraid of the future, and we shouldn’t start now. If we choose the right path, every one of these challenges is also an opportunity. … Look at education. If we recruit an army of new teachers and actually give our schools the resources to meet our highest standards, not only will every child in America get a fair shot, the American economy will get a shot in the arm. Whether they want to be an engineer or an electrician, every kid will be trained for the jobs of the 21st century."

Four years ago, Obama delivered the keynote address at the Democratic Convention, a speech that propelled him onto the national political stage.

Warner, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in a state with a habit of split-ticket voting, spent part of his national address talking about his achievements as governor of Virginia, where–working with a GOP-controlled legislature–he led efforts to bring that state into the 21st-century economy.

"When I became governor, this is what Virginia faced: a massive budget shortfall; an economy that wasn’t moving; gridlock in the capital. … So what did we do?" he asked.

"We made record investments in education and in job training. We got 98 percent of eligible kids enrolled in our children’s health-care program. We delivered broadband to the most remote areas of our state, because if you can send a job to Bangalore, India, you sure as heck can send one to Danville, Virginia, and Flint, Michigan, and Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Peoria, Illinois. In a global economy, you shouldn’t have to leave your hometown to find a world-class job."

Warner concluded: "With the right leadership, we can, once again, achieve a standard of living that is improved, not diminished, in each generation. We can once again make America a beacon for science, and technology, and discovery. … And Barack Obama and [presumptive vice presidential nominee] Joe Biden will get it done."

Speaking after Warner, Patrick also highlighted the importance of education in the campaign, drawing key distinctions between Obama and McCain.

"Barack Obama understands that we must renew our commitment to the American story today. And the gateway is through a first-rate education," said the Massachusetts governor, who grew up in Chicago’s South Side, where Obama also put down roots.

"That’s why Barack Obama wants to help our kids be ready to learn when they get to kindergarten by investing in early education. That’s why he wants to fix and fund No Child Left Behind. That’s why he wants to better train and better reward high-performing teachers, why he wants to emphasize more math and science preparation, and why he wants to support the college ambitions of young people by helping them pay for it.

"Barack Obama understands, like you do, that a well-educated America will make things again, because we’ll be ready for emerging industries like clean energy and life sciences and high tech that produce good jobs, as well as a cleaner environment. And in that new economy, working people will again be able to see a path into the middle class and a secure future."

Patrick continued: "Now, John McCain says he believes in education, too. But he is against fully funding No Child Left Behind, against fully funding Head Start, against hiring more teachers, and wants to abolish the Department of Education. This should come as no surprise. John McCain is just more of the same say-one-thing-do-another crowd in the White House today."

Representatives from the McCain campaign did not return an eSchool News reporter’s telephone calls seeking comment before press time.


Ark. officials discuss tech curriculum for 21st century-classrooms

A task force told Arkansas legislators Aug. 25 that classrooms in the 21st century won’t have lecterns or rows of desks, but instead students grouped together working with computers and other technology as teachers mill about, the Arkansas News Bureau reports. The Arkansas Task Force on Knowledge-Based Technology Curriculum compiled 240 teacher-created lesson plans that integrate technology into core curriculum and that teachers can access online, said John Ahlen, president of the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority (ASTA). The plans are in response to legislation passed in 2005 authorizing ASTA to develop a knowledge-based technology curriculum for use in grades seven through 12 to develop students into effective and productive global citizens in the 21st century and meet challenges in education, economic development, and community development. Ahlen and others presented a report to members of the joint House and Senate committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology. Using free online tools, they said, students could compile data and hold discussions potentially with students at other schools, all while teachers incorporate lessons on graphing, prediction-making, economics, entrepreneurship, and other topics. "I’d almost want to go back to school and learn how to do this, and I’m 79," said Rep. Billy Gaskill, D-Paragould. The task force recommended that Arkansas join nine other states in full participation in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, developing new standards that incorporate 21st-century tools and learning skills, as well as accelerate deployment of SMART Portal database, where teachers can access and add to the lesson plans and receive professional development…

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N.C. officials suggest buying more online versions of textbooks

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, N.C., school officials told the school board Aug. 26 that buying more online subscriptions for social-studies textbooks might be a necessary next step, the Winston-Salem Journal reports. While evaluating a tight budget earlier this year, school officials decided to buy classroom sets of social-studies books for sixth-and seventh-graders, instead of buying books for each student to take home. After realizing that every book in the classroom set doesn’t come with access to an online version, school officials suggested buying an additional 82 online subscriptions, at a cost of about $5,000. The additional subscriptions would be bought so more students can access the online textbooks outside of school. Superintendent Don Martin said that every student has access to the books during the school day and can access online versions of books and other learning tools online if they have internet access at home. Students also can go to the more than 40 WinstonNet labs in local libraries and other locations to access the information, he said. "It’s kind of an experiment to see how that works," Martin said. "We will actually evaluate that at the end of the year. If it works well, we won’t buy textbooks next year. I actually think the opportunity to not carry that big, old book back-and-forth and access the book online is interesting."

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Digital inclusion, but how?

At one end of the trendy Cafe Aprendiz in Brazil, patrons enjoy dishes such as three-cheese ravioli and salmon salad with cucumber, but it’s not the food that has drawn a group of older women seated in the back, CNET reports: They’ve come for the computers. They are part of OldNet, a program that has seniors learning computer skills from high school students at a PC lab tucked in the back of the cafe. While other diners eat and converse, a half-dozen women surf the internet, chat with friends, and send eMail to relatives. OldNet is just one part of the "neighborhood as school" concept put forth by Brazilian journalist Gilberto Dilmenstein. And Aprendiz is not your typical digital inclusion center, but it does embrace most important characteristics of the successful ones. It has at least three key elements beyond the technology itself: a clear curriculum, community support, and a model of sustainability. While these elements sound straightforward, they are often missing in programs that attempt to close the digital divide, whether here in Latin America or in the United States…

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‘Curriki’ redesigns its web site, adds Sesame Workshop content

Curriki, an online community for creating and sharing open K-12 curricula, has redesigned its web site to make it easier for educators to use. In addition, Curriki has expanded its offering of free curricula with a new educational program, Panwapa, from Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, in partnership with the Merrill Lynch Foundation. Panwapa, which in the Tshiluba language of the Congo means "here on this earth," is a collection of educational resources designed to introduce and model the skills needed for global citizenship. The newly redesigned Curriki web site features an easy-to-use home page that gives users three ways to become an active member of the community. Users can "Find" open-source curricula and educational materials, "Contribute" their own high-quality content, and "Connect" through Groups with other educators and learners. New tutorial videos and tips offer additional support, helping members find the information they need faster and easier, Curriki says. Further improvements reportedly will be phased in over the next several months, including the ability to generate a collection of free educational resources in a format easily suitable for printing.