CoSN keeps school leaders ahead of the times

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At the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference, held this year in Austin, Texas, March 10-12, issues such as the prevalence of Web 2.0 tools and the recession had school administrators and chief technology officers acknowledging the changing times–and what they must do not only to keep up, but to help give students the 21st-century education they deserve.

The local area’s slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” seemed to come alive during CoSN’s welcoming reception on March 10 as vendors in business suits mingled with the sounds of a live mariachi band, and as educators tried to balance their smart phones in one hand and homemade guacamole in the other.

From the 96-year-old blues musician Pinetop Perkins at Nuno’s club on 6th Street to the South by Southwest music festival, and from the horse-drawn carriage rides on cobble-stoned streets to the architecturally innovative Frost Bank Tower, Austin gave the impression of being a city balancing the old and the new.

And that’s an apt metaphor for the key challenge facing educators today, as opening keynote speaker Don Tapscott confirmed.

Tapscott–author of Grown Up Digital, chairman of nGenera, and adjunct professor of management at the University of Toronto–discussed how today’s educators need to catch up with the tools students are familiar with, without disregarding all of the teaching principles that make for a good education.

For Grown Up Digital–the follow-up work to his best-seller Growing Up Digital–Tapscott surveyed about 11,000 students and teachers in 10 countries and concluded that young people are, in fact, more productive, and process information differently, than older generations, owing to the effect technology has played in their development.

“There’s this negative view out there that young people today who are part of this digital world are the ‘Dumbest Generation,’ and in fact, there’s a book titled just that. Funny thing is, it’s not supported by any data or research, and it’s completely inaccurate,” said Tapscott.

In an interview with eSchool News, Tapscott explained how this is the first time in history that children have the upper hand on the technology that’s shaping the future.

“They are the authorities on this huge cultural change. The way young people can use technology is astounding. … Unfortunately, people fear what they don’t understand, and that’s why there’s all this mean-spirited criticism out there,” he said.

In his new book, Tapscott describes how young people today process information differently from older generations.

“If you’re a young person today, you don’t just watch television, you authenticate the information you’re receiving,” said Tapscott during the keynote.

He compared how different generations watch TV shows, saying that older generations would watch something like Dallas and simply absorb the show. However, today’s kids are watching 24, noticing the product placement, looking up the park at which Jack Bower was filmed, and checking out Wikipedia to see whether or not the conflict described by the show is factually accurate.

“Even the shows are different. They’re fast-paced, [with] plot turns everywhere, always trying to keep the mind stimulated. Kids want info, and they want it now. They need instant gratification … and is that a bad thing? Is it wrong for students in school to expect high-speed internet when they have it at home? Is it wrong for them to get impatient when they have to find an answer to a question in multiple books, when they’re used to finding info with the click of a mouse?”

Tapscott also provided data that shows students are not getting dumber. For example, according to his data, raw IQ scores are going up, and even though there is a growing population of young people in the United States–including those for whom English is a second language–SAT scores have remained stable.

“Some people tend to think that kids today who play video games and spend their time online can’t make it in the real world,” he said. “That’s not true.”

Citing the example of his son, who plays World of Warcraft, he said: “They are on a mission. They organize and plan ahead. They interview people who want to be on the team to see if their skills are needed, they manage talent and formulate a hierarchy to maintain order. They are playing with kids from around the world. Any of these skills sound like something a CEO might do?”

Tapscott went on to say the digital generation is not just using the web, but changing it.

“Think of MTV versus YouTube, or Wikipedia versus Encyclopedia Britannica. This generation likes to self-organize,” he said.

“I asked my son if he could use some of his web skills to help promote my book. I thought this might take at least a few weeks. He created a Facebook group, invited his friends, created a Wikipedia page, posted links in the Facebook group to the page, and posted the first few chapters of the book for them to read. Overnight, he had thousands of members–many from other countries. The next morning, I had to answer dozens of questions about my book, defend my data, and double-check my writing.”

He continued: “My son managed to do what 10 years ago would have taken months through self-organization and the use of Web 2.0 tools.”

Tapscott listed the norms of the digital generation: freedom, customization, scrutiny, integrity, collaboration, entertainment, speed, and innovation.

“University graduation rates are at an all-time high,” explained Tapscott, “but so are dropout rates. We’re not motivating our students, and we’re not teaching correctly anymore.”

Tapscott’s advice for educators is to:

– Move from broadcast (lectures) to interactive learning.
– Focus not on the ability to perform well on tests, but on other measures of success.
– Focus on students and the individual.
– Change the teaching model from teachers as sage, guardian, and dispenser of all information to teachers as an information filter and mentor.

However, Tapscott also warned there are problems with the implementation of Web 2.0 technologies in schools, such as online safety, privacy, and identity theft; a growing digital divide; and a generational firewall between students and educators.

“But students have a right to the technology of their time. To deny them this because of fear or a failure to implement correctly is unacceptable,” he concluded.

To bring educators, students, parents, and professionals together in a global dialog on learning, Tapscott has created the Net Gen Challenge, which asks participants to create a two-minute video that answers the question: “How can we reinvent education for relevance and effectiveness for the 21st century?”

Initiatives for 21st-century schools

To help educators and schools stay relevant in the 21st century, CoSN has undertaken leadership initiatives on:

– Green Computing, which helps educators understand the latest trends and prepare for the future by concentrating on lowering energy demand, disposal of computing equipment, reducing paper and print delivery costs, and highlighting best practices.

– IT Crisis Preparedness, which focuses on how to ensure that school networks are available during a crisis, and how technology can help users respond to a variety of disasters or emergencies.

– Empowering the 21st Century Superintendent, designed to help superintendents develop a vision around technology and how it can advance their district’s mission.

CoSN has also received funding from the MacArthur Foundation to explore “Web 2.0 in Schools: Policy and Leadership,” and it soon will release a study that explores how school leaders view Web 2.0 technologies in American schools.

In addition, the group is releasing a toolkit for CTOs, called “Mastering the Moment,” that will include resources on budgeting with the total cost of ownership in mind, calculating the value of investments in technology, and conserving funds with green technologies, as well as the latest information on the new economic stimulus funding.

“[Having] limited state and federal resources [as a result of] the current state of our economy is challenging for educators, particularly those in charge of technology,” said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive. “However, through those challenges come opportunities. What educators discussed during the conference were innovative ways to plan for and implement technology projects in schools to ensure that no matter the economic circumstances, our schools are providing our children with the 21st-century skills and tools they need to be successful in the future.”

News from the exhibit hall

Alcatel Lucent released a white paper called “Safe Campus Solutions: Going Beyond Emergency Notification.” According to the company, it has worked with many schools and universities to implement unified communications systems and provide campus safety solutions that allow schools to leverage their existing infrastructure for voice and data, while adding video and mobility components.

CompassLearning said it’s now offering schools unlimited user access to its Odyssey online curriculum. According to the company, this will increase school-wide usage for more consistency and greater student achievement, allow for campus-wide implementations that will eliminate the need to schedule or share access, and enable every student in the school to work on his or her own personalized learning path.

CXtec exhibited its equal2new pre-owned network equipment, which can help schools reduce the cost of their network infrastructure. The equipment comes with a lifetime warranty and a 99.51 percent out-of-the-box reliability rating, the company said.

The D2SC program from D2 Data-Driven Software Corp. is a fully integrated, web-based, K-12 software platform that meets the curriculum, instruction, assessment, and reporting needs of schools districts, the company said. Modules include assessment management, reporting, curriculum management, classroom walkthrough, gradebook, student and parent access, and program tracking.

JAMF Software discussed its Casper Suite, which manages Mac clients. By working with Mac administrators, the company says it has identified seven major tenets of client management: inventory, imaging, patch management, software distribution, remote control, settings management, and license management. Within each of these tenets, the Casper Suite provides features and functions that give Mac administrators best-practice strategies, according to the company.

JAR Systems, which provides mobile solutions for education and training, displayed its next-generation mobile notebook management carts, powered by HP. Carts include the HP NetEducation Center 20+1, which keeps notebooks charged and turns any room into a fully equipped computer lab, and the JAR Remote Management Solution 20, which supports WoL (wake up on LAN) functionality for all charging notebooks, the company said.

Lightspeed Systems touted its Total Traffic Control solution for managing school network usage, health, and security. According to the company, users can monitor network activity, ensure that acceptable-use policies are being followed (on eMail, the web, or the desktop–both on and off the network), reduce dangerous and costly security threats, ensure that school resources are used safely and effectively, and easily view and share critical information with customizable reports.

Thinkronize announced that users of its netTrekker kid-safe search engine now can search more than 300,000 educator-selected digital resources, organized by grade and readability level aligned with state standards. Users can also access resources from the web, including lesson plans, video, audio, images, learning games, podcasts, and manipulatives from authoritative sources like PBS, National Geographic, Smithsonian, NPR, and the Library of Congress.

Promethean displayed its ActivClassroom solution, which includes a wireless slate, wand, pen, interactive whiteboard, student response system, sound system, online resources, and lesson content. According to the company, the ActivClassroom creates a 360-degree educational environment by connecting teachers to their colleagues, their students, and to various methods of instruction. It’s an integrated system of hardware, software, training, and resources designed by educators, for educators, Promethean said.

Revolution Linux is an open-source infrastructure service provider that specializes in large-scale mandates. It is certified ISO 9001:2008 for IT services and selects the technologies and solutions that a school system proposes using an open-source maturity model. The company also specializes in large-scale, open-source thin client deployments, integrating thousands of client machines into existing infrastructures.

RM Learning introduced its Honeycomb suite of Web 2.0 tools for K-12 schools. The RM Honeycomb allows users to incorporate wikis, blogs, and other Web 2.0 technologies into the curriculum with an integrated set of online creativity and collaboration tools that work through the internet. The online tools are delivered through a single interface that students can use together to create an online presence. It also offers text, image, video editing, spreadsheets, graphing, mapping, drawing, a podcast player, and photo sharing capabilities.

SAFARI Montage released its new algebra’scool teaching system, which covers a full year of Algebra I instruction. This new series presents content through video animations, graphics, concrete examples, and real-world explanations. Algebra’scool was developed by BestQuest Teaching Systems. The curriculum includes operations and expressions, linear equations, inequalities, functions, polynomials, quadratic equations, rational and radical equations, probability, and statistics.

SANYO is now offering to loan an XC series projector to any school district that has the budget for 25 or more projectors for the balance of this school year. Upon approval of a loan application, SANYO will loan the qualified education customer one XC series projector for 120 days. If the customer buys 25 or more XC series projectors within the 120-day period, SANYO will allow that customer to keep the loaner unit.

SAS Curriculum Pathways, which provides content aligned to state standards in English, math, social studies, science, and Spanish, is now free to all educators and their students in the United States. The company said the move comes in response to an education system in crisis and in need of resources that engage 21st-century students. SAS has more than 200 interactivities and 855 ready-to-use lessons that enable technology-rich instruction and engage higher-order thinking skills, the company said. It is primarily used in grades 8-12, though middle school content is in development.

Stoneware Inc. touted its webOS, a desktop virtualization solution that is designed to integrate the growing number of online, Windows, and hosted applications that are being deployed in the enterprise each day, the company said. webOS is built from web technology and based on AJAX. It’s designed to give users access to a virtual web-based desktop anytime, anywhere. A single server can scale to more than a thousand users, requiring only an internet browser.

TICAL (the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership) is a statewide educational technology service sponsored by the California Department of Education. Portical.org is TICAL’s web portal, which provides a range of categorized annotated tools and resources relating to 21st-century educational leadership. All TICAL resources are matched to National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators and California’s Principals Training Program.

UniServity demonstrated its UniServity cLc (connected learning community)–a safe and secure K-12 global learning community. The cLc equips learners and schools with a suite of safe social learning tools that support and enhance collaboration, communication, and administration, according to the company. These tools include online forums, blogs, podcasts, wikis, and a range of administration and management tools for teachers, scalable from a school to a school district or region.

Verizon Business discussed its conferencing service that can help accelerate learning, improve efficiency and productivity, and reduce travel costs and carbon emissions, said the company. Schools can broadcast a video feed concurrently with desktop sharing in real time, offer distance learning options to those who could not attend class, and host live interactive education for faculty and staff with chat functionality.

Xirrus, a Wi-Fi network provider, discussed its Wi-Fi Array, which reportedly delivers two times more range, four times more coverage, eight times more bandwidth,  and14 times more throughout per cable drop–using 75-percent fewer devices, cables, and switch ports and with a fraction of the installation time of any other offering, said the company.

Links:

Video interview with Don Tapscott

Consortium for School Networking

Net Gen Challenge

Grown Up Digital

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MIT makes research available on the web

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty voted unanimously March 18 to make the school’s scholarly research available for free on the internet, joining other noted universities that hope to encourage more scholarship and expand researchers’ audiences.

MIT’s approval of open access was driven partly by the rising cost of scholarly journals. In recent years, even the richest American universities have cut back on journal subscriptions that can cost as much as $20,000 annually, open-access experts said.

The open-access movement aims to put peer-reviewed research and literature on the internet for free and remove most copyright restrictions. Advocates believe this will invigorate more research across academia. 

MIT joins about 30 universities and colleges–including Harvard, Stanford, and Boston universities–that have approved some form of open-access model, said Peter Suber, an open-access advocate and national expert. MIT will institute open access university-wide, joining Boston University as the only schools to take that approach. Other campuses have implemented open access one department at a time.

The open-access mandate is not the first time MIT has grabbed attention with academic openness. MIT’s OpenCourseWare project has made classroom lectures, syllabi, and assignments available for free on the internet–a move lauded by many in higher education.

Publishing companies and organizations, including the Association of American Publishers (AAP), have opposed many open-access policies and mandates. In a Dec. 22 letter to the Obama administration’s transition team, the AAP opposed the National Institutes of Health’s Public Access Policy, which would make NIH-funded research available to the public free of charge in a digital archive.

AAP officials argued that NIH’s open-access model "effectively allows the NIH to unfairly compete directly with private-sector journal publishers in the distribution of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that are authored by NIH-funded researchers."

The letter continued: "The NIH mandate thus severely diminishes both the market and copyright protection for these copyrighted works, to which not-for-profit and commercial publishers have made significant value-added contributions, and makes the NIH a free, alternative source of access to these materials in competition with the journal publishers’ subscription or other distribution models."

Hal Abelson, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at MIT who formed an open-access committee last summer, said the audience for faculty researchers has shrunk in recent years as fewer people have access to pricey journals.

"It just seems obvious to me that the way you support the progress of scholarship is that you make your works available as widely as possible," said Abelson, an MIT faculty member since 1969.

As the publishing industry has consolidated over the past 20 years, Abelson said, access to critical research papers has been restricted.

"The whole publishing process moves in a direction where it captures things and closes them off," he said.

Although other universities’ faculties have voted in support of open-access policies, MIT’s unanimous faculty vote means the school will begin making research available immediately. The process might be cumbersome, Abelson said, but the MIT library has begun opening access to other researchers, students, and the general public.

"I was really happy," Abelson said about the unanimous vote, adding that the open-access mandate has an opt-out clause for faculty. "We don’t often get a unanimous vote on anything."

Suber, a longtime open-access advocate and author of the blog Open Access News, said making the peer-reviewed literature available on the web would not take money from researchers’ pockets, because they typically aren’t paid to publish their research.

"They write for impact, not for money," he said. "They have an interest in finding the largest possible audience. … There is also the natural desire to take advantage of new technology."

But John Tagler, executive director of the AAP’s professional and scholarly publishing division, said the claim that open access is free is misleading. Although readers do not have to pay for the scholarly articles online, Tagler said, publishers still must bear the costs of peer reviewing and publishing the works.

"Open access just means the economic model has shifted," he said. "The costs have to be borne somewhere."

The rising prices of research journals have been exacerbated by the current economic crisis, which has affected campus endowments and operating budgets. Charles B. Lowery, executive director of the Association of Research Libraries, wrote in a 2008 article that faculty have been frustrated by the dwindling supply of research material as libraries are forced to cut back.

"I would observe that there is really only one problem as the camps face off–academic libraries cannot afford to purchase the information that they need to deliver in order to satisfy the appetite of our teaching and research mission," wrote Lowery, a professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies.

Lowery said shrinking library budgets have limited the number of journals schools can buy every semester. Between 1991 and 2005, the University of Maryland’s library budget dropped from 4.7 percent of the total university expenditures to 3.1 percent.

The open-access battle between researchers and publishers has become contentious, Lowery said, sometimes distracting academia from the goal of making research available to everyone for free.

"The discussion is often uncivil and litigious, and generalizations are rife on both sides," Lowery wrote. "I think that lost in the rhetoric of this struggle is the primary goal that the academy has for its intellectual output–the broadest possible distribution."

Suber said there are at least a dozen more American universities considering some form of open-access mandate for campus research, including the University of California.

Links:

MIT

Open Access News

AAP open letter

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Black studies database offered at low cost

Every member school of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will receive access to a black studies database either free of charge or at a reduced cost, thanks to a new initiative from information resource company ProQuest.

In a March 20 announcement, ProQuest said it is offering the price break on its Black Studies Center database–which includes journals, essays, and other resources–to help HBCUs save money in a poor economy that has wreaked havoc on many campus operating budgets.

"While these challenging economic times have a broad impact, the magnitude of the burden HBCU libraries are facing requires urgent action," said Marty Kahn, CEO of ProQuest. "Black Studies Center is a cornerstone resource–a significant foundation for HBCU libraries in ensuring research goes on uninterrupted. As a partner to libraries and students, we’re committed to ensuring access to it."

The price break hinges on the enrollment of each HBCU. Schools with enrollment of 2,000 or fewer full-time students will receive one year of free access to the ProQuest black studies database. Universities with more than 2,000 students will get a 50-percent discount if they subscribe to the ProQuest service by Dec. 15.

ProQuest officials said they extended the offer to HBCUs after national media reports documented the economic crisis that many schools are facing. HBCUs typically lack the endowments of larger research universities.

The ProQuest database includes access to Chicago Defender articles from 1910-1975. The Defender–one of the country’s foremost black newspapers–has articles from the Great Depression to World War II to the Vietnam War. ProQuest’s black literature index also has more than 70,000 citations for fiction, literary reviews, and poetry from 110 black periodicals and newspapers.

In addition, the database includes access to the Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience–commissioned essays from widely read black scholars.

HBUC officials lauded ProQuest’s offer, saying access to the database would bolster their library offerings for students.

"This outstanding resource will be a tremendous asset to the libraries of Historically Black Colleges and Universities at a time of great need," said Janice Franklin, dean of library services for Alabama State University and a board member of the HBCU Library Alliance. "Our students and faculty will have an opportunity to access valuable information about the history, culture, and contributions of African-Americans from a single, comprehensive, knowledge resource."

Links:

ProQuest

HBCU Library Alliance

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Text-to-speech reversal kindles disappointment

It’s been a tough few weeks for Amazon.com and its Kindle eBook reader: Advocates for students with disabilities already were disappointed with the company’s Feb. 27 decision to give publishers control over whether a text-to-speech feature is enabled on its second-generation Kindle 2 device, saying Amazon missed a golden opportunity to market the device to students who have trouble reading printed texts.

Now, Amazon also finds itself the subject of a lawsuit by Discovery Communications–the parent company of The Discovery Channel and Discovery Education–over an alleged patent violation.

Discovery says Amazon’s Kindle violates a patent that Discovery registered in 2007, covering the security of electronic book files. Discovery sued Amazon in Delaware on March 17.

Discovery spokeswoman Michelle Russo said the company is seeking "fair compensation" through damages, future royalty payments, and legal fees but will not seek an injunction stopping sales of the Kindle. An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

The news comes just a few weeks after Amazon changed course and said it would allow copyright holders to decide whether they will permit their works to be read aloud using the Kindle 2’s new text-to-speech feature.

In mid-February, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the Kindle 2 and announced a text-to-speech feature that would enable an electronic voice to read aloud from books that Kindle 2 users download onto the eBook reader. The text-to-speech feature could have been useful for vision-impaired students.

After a group representing authors expressed concern that the text-to-speech feature would undercut audiobook sales, Amazon issued a statement saying that while it believes the feature is legal, the company will allow copyright holders to determine if it’s a feature they wish to make available.

"No copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given," says a statement on Amazon’s web site. "Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rights holders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver’s seat."

Copyright holders are now able to decide on a title-by-title basis whether they would like to enable or disable the text-to-speech feature. Amazon representatives said the company is working on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice.

"With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled.  We believe many will decide that it is," Amazon said.

Amazon’s move disappointed advocates for students with disabilities, who viewed the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature as a powerful tool for those with visual impairments.

"I think people were very excited about it coming out, and only time will tell whether people will demand [text-to-speech functionality] as part of standard operating procedures," said Tracy Gray, director of the National Center for Technology Innovation and a managing research scientist with the American Institutes of Research.

Book authors traditionally have authorized royalty-free copies in specialized formats intended for the visually impaired, and copyright law provides a means to distribute recordings to the blind. Sites such as Bookshare.org distribute royalty-free texts in readable formats for students with print disabilities.

But having text-to-speech functionality built into a standard eBook reading device would have been a giant step forward for students with disabilities, making it even easier for them to have texts in an accessible format.

Gray predicted that publishers who opt not to make a text-to-speech version of their books available on the Kindle could find themselves behind the curve, and that it’s "only a matter of time" before publishers are taken over by the issue.

While Amazon’s decision might not affect many schools, educators who were thinking of buying Kindle 2 devices for their students might balk if they’re unsure of audiobook accessibility, Gray said.

In February, the Authors Guild voiced concerns that the text-to-speech feature "presents a significant challenge to the publishing industry," saying that audiobook sales topped $1 billion in 2007, while eBooks are a "small fraction" of that.

The group advised members who have not yet granted eBook rights to proceed with caution, because "Amazon may be undermining your audio market as it exploits your eBooks."

Some industry analysts were skeptical of this claim, arguing that most consumers who wanted books read aloud to them would rather pay for a recording by a professional actor than listen to an electronic voice.

The Authors Guild called Amazon’s decision "a good first step."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

Amazon Kindle

National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard

Bookshare

National Center for Technology Innovation

Authors Guild

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Ambitious school technology plans run up against budget deficits

All 1,000 students at Oak-Land Junior High in Lake Elmo, Minn., have laptop computers supplied by the Stillwater School District that they take to every class and can take home every night. Now, with uncertainty over how the state budget deficit will hit its finances, the district must decide whether to expand the program, curtail it, or continue it largely intact, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. No matter what district leaders decide this year, the march of technology into classrooms and its use in teaching will continue in Stillwater and everywhere, said Aaron Doering, assistant professor of learning technologies at the University of Minnesota. He might be right. The Edina School District is in the early stages of formulating a plan that could put laptops in the hands of all its students from eighth grade on up. The district is piloting a plan that gives some middle school students access to a laptop in every class, but keeps the laptops at school. "I don’t know how we can go back," said Stillwater Superintendent Keith Ryskoski. "We should continue to go ahead and make more technology available to our students." But school boards, which set policy, are sometimes less enamored of spending more money on computers. "I’m not willing to give up other areas" in order to enhance or expand the laptop program, said George Hoeppner, chairman of the Stillwater board. Costs for continuing and expanding the program range from $300,000 to $1.2 million annually…

Click here for the full story

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Students post schoolyard-brawl videos online

In schoolyards across the country, all it takes to attract a crowd is the call "Fight! Fight! Fight!" But now, students increasingly are showing up with cameras to record the brawls, then posting the footage on the internet–and some of those videos have been viewed more than a million times.

One year after national outrage at the videotaped beating of a 16-year-old Florida girl by other teens intent on posting the video to YouTube prompted calls for web sites to better police their content, experts say the problem has only gotten worse.

School officials and cyberspace watchdogs are worried that the videos encourage more violence and sharpen the humiliation of defeat for the losers.

"Kids are looking for their 15 megabytes of fame," said Parry Aftab, executive director of the internet safety group WiredSafety.org. "Kids’ popularity is measured by how many hits they get, how many people visit their sites."

Not all of the fights are spontaneous or motivated strictly by animosity. Some are planned ahead of time by combatants who arrange for their own brawling to be recorded. This can be a mutual decision or, as in the Florida case last year, a planned assault on an unsuspecting teen (see "Videotaped beating sparks national outrage").

Scores of bare-knuckled fights appear on YouTube or on sites devoted entirely to the grainy and shaky amateur recordings, which are usually made with cell phones or digital cameras.

In one recent video, two girls are egged on by friends and soon begin punching and choking one another. In other videos, a boy appears to be knocked unconscious by a well-placed haymaker, and a second boy spits out blood after suffering a blow to the mouth.

"One of the reasons for doing this is to attract attention," said Nancy Willard, executive director of the Oregon-based Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. "The more vicious the fight, the greater the attention."

On YouTube, viewers rate the action by brutality level and sometimes make profanity-laced observations.

One video was set to music and included pre-fight interviews. The combatants, who were not identified by their full names, hurled insults like prizefighters at a weigh-in.

Some videos carry the names of schools, which can help administrators identify and discipline the fighters.

"Quite frankly, YouTube proves to be quite an ally for us," said Roy Knight, superintendent of the Lufkin Independent School District in Texas.

Last year at the district’s high school, an administrator heard a fight, but arrived too late to catch the action.

Kids would not identify the pugilists, but the principal later searched YouTube and found the fight, Knight said.

"I feel my brain shakin’," one of the boys complains on video after he is knocked down twice by a flurry of punches.

The students were suspended and spent time at an alternative school for teenagers with disciplinary problems, Knight said.

At Vallejo City Unified School District in Northern California, parents last year alerted school officials to dozens of campus fights that had been posted on the internet.

"For the kids, it’s entertainment and fun," said Jason Hodge, a spokesman for the school system 30 miles northeast of San Francisco.

But officials took the fighting so seriously that they adopted a policy this school year banning students from recording fights. Violators can be suspended.

Some of the fights are intended primarily to build fame for the brawlers, but experts say others have more sinister motivations.

In New Jersey, police say a teenager who attacked a girl in 2006 arranged to have the confrontation recorded and posted on the internet to harass the victim.

The 16-year-old attacker at South Brunswick High School pleaded guilty to harassment and assault and was placed on probation. The 14-year-old who recorded the incident also got probation.

"You’re being assaulted or beaten up once, but then it’s videotaped to make sure everybody sees your humiliation. That can be pretty devastating," said Patti Agatston, co-author of Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age. She is a bullying prevention specialist with the Cobb County School District in Georgia.

Two years ago, a YouTube video showed a middle school student from suburban Cincinnati being pounded with fists and getting her hair pulled.

"I couldn’t even watch," the girl’s mother, Jan Perone, recalled recently. "When I first saw that, all I could do was cry."

The judge ruled the fight was consensual. But Perone said her daughter, now 14, did not want to go back to school, and her grades fell. Her mother said she now lives with a relative in another state.

California Assemblyman Pedro Nava introduced legislation last year calling on web sites such as YouTube to look for videos that violate the site’s policy against violence and remove them.

"To have terms of use that they do not enforce encourages bad behavior," said Nava, a Democrat from Santa Barbara.

Scott Rubin, a spokesman for Google-owned YouTube, said users can flag videos for graphic or gratuitous violence. The company then reviews those videos for possible removal.

But Rubin said the large volume of content posted to the site–15 hours of video every minute–does not allow the company to search for inappropriate material on its own.

"The flagging system works," he said. "Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it’s a good system."

Link:

Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use

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Campus IT officials prep for March Madness

As the college basketball tournament known as March Madness begins today, campus IT officials are preparing for what could amount to a huge spike in network traffic. College students watching NCAA Tournament games on CBS’s live online video streaming service have not caused network disruptions in recent years, some campus IT officials told eCampus News–but schools whose basketball squads make it deep into the tournament should be wary of a drastic jump in web traffic on the school’s web site.

CBS broadcasts all 10 days of NCAA Tournament games on its television network and web site for free, drawing nearly 5 million online viewers last year–up from 2 million in 2007. CBS’s newest streaming game features, called March Madness On Demand, include one-click access to online brackets that viewers fill out before the tournament starts, as well as game alerts and higher quality web video.

University IT administrators interviewed by eCampus News this week said die-hard student and faculty fans who watch the games online, using the school’s own bandwidth, have not bogged down the campus network in the past. But as web use becomes more prevalent across the country, relatively unknown schools are seeing web hits double and triple as their basketball teams make headlines and draw millions of online searches.

Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., saw a massive influx of visitors to its web site when the Gonzaga men’s basketball team reached the quarterfinal round in 1999, said Greg Francis, director of Gonzaga’s central computing and networking.

"No one knew where we were or who we were," said Francis, a university IT administrator for 13 years at the 7,000-student campus. "No one even knew how to pronounce our name."

When Gonzaga’s web hits tripled during the tournament, IT officials decided to move the web server off campus to another service provider that could handle the sudden increase.

"Since then, we’ve added more bandwidth, and it hasn’t been an issue," Francis said.

CBS’s on-demand game broadcasts draw a demographic of 25- to 54-year-old men with college degrees and household incomes of more than $75,000, according to the CBS Sports web site. Even during the current recession, CBS executives expect to exceed $20 million in revenue from the online streaming service. CBS made $10 million from the on-demand service last year and $4 million in 2006.

CBS has another online feature that will appeal to college students. While viewers watch the tournament games on their laptops or mobile devices, they can update their Facebook status and keep in touch with fans on the social networking web site.

Kathy Lang, chief information officer at Marquette University in Milwaukee, said the steady increase in students who watch the tournament games online has not slowed the campus’s web connection, although March Madness brought a flood of unexpected hits to the university’s web site earlier this decade.

In 2003, when Marquette made its way to the Final Four in New Orleans, Lang said IT officials upgraded the school’s hardware to handle the new traffic.

For campuses that fear their networks might not support thousands of students watching the games on CBS’s web site, Lang said organizing viewing parties could be a simple solution. If students and faculty are given places to gather and watch the games on TV, Lang said, fewer will watch the tournament online.

"A lot of students [at Marquette] go to the viewing parties" organized by campus officials, she said.

Links:

CBS March Madness On Demand

Marquette University

Gonzaga University

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Community colleges to shape new workforce

With the economy swelling unemployment lines, community colleges across the country are bracing for a wave of displaced workers looking to train for new careers. And college officials are trying to predict which jobs — such as green technologies — will be most in demand in the post-recession landscape.

"This is a big recession, and that means there’s going to be a big increase in enrollment," said Kay McClenney, director of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement in Austin, Texas.

St. Charles Community College in Missouri, serving a county hurt by a precipitous decline in construction, already has an inkling of what lies ahead: a two-percent increase in enrollment this semester among young male students. In contrast, the college’s total enrollment was little changed.

"What we’re seeing is that more young men out of high school, who last year might have gone to work [in the construction trade] instead of college, are seeing that there aren’t any jobs and [are] going to college," said school President John McGuire.

In Illinois, the Community College Board reports a 3-percent increase in overall spring semester enrollment compared to last year.

Community colleges are unsure how much of a bump in enrollment to expect. But following mass layoffs late last year and into this year, they know it’s coming.

Consequently, they are gearing up their retraining and workforce-development programs for the displaced auto and steelworkers, as well as those laid off from other sundry industries, who are expected to flood campuses this fall.

The swath this recession has cut across all economic sectors poses a difficult challenge for community colleges, said Joanie Friend, director of enrollment management for St. Louis Community College.

"The whole labor market has been thrown in the air," she said. "And people are moving all the seats around."

When the dust settles, community colleges hope to have a labor force positioned to work in an economy that many predict will look far different than pre-recession America.

"Nobody understands it," said Roderick Nunn, vice chancellor overseeing workforce development at St. Louis Community College. "And if anyone does say they know where the job market is going, they are full [of it]."

St. Louis Community College will soon, he continued, have a gauge of what the post-recession workplace will look like: Funded by a federal emergency grant, the school is about to conduct a comprehensive study to determine what businesses throughout the region will require upon emerging from the economic downturn.

Some students already have an inkling of where the jobs are, as well as where they plan to be in the future.

The need for qualified health care workers (especially nurses) is so great, in fact, that both St. Louis Community College and nearby Lewis and Clark Community College have waiting lists for courses in the health fields.

Lewis and Clark officials are also betting that the embrace of green technology and manufacturing will play a significant role once the economy rebounds.

At Lewis and Clark, students can take a class to learn skills needed to work in the local ConocoPhillips refinery. Or, they can take a course on ethanol production or the latest wastewater-treatment technology.

School officials say enrollment in the "mid-tech career" and health care programs is not limited to recent high school graduates.

"We’re getting people with degrees walking in the door who want to repackage themselves in many of these technology programs," said Tom Monroe, director of workforce development at Lewis and Clark.

It’s a paradox of the current economic climate, McClenney noted, that community colleges are seeing more applicants at the same time administrators are grappling with stagnant or reduced budget streams.

The community college system in Illinois, for instance, is pushing legislators and the governor to reconsider a bid to keep appropriations at the same level as last year.

And in a bid, perhaps, to direct stimulus funds to their respective schools, representatives of both Lewis and Clark and St. Louis Community College recently journeyed to Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials.

Link:

Community College Survey of Student Engagement

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Liverpool school district appeals dismissal of case against technology administrator

The Liverpool school district has appealed a decision to dismiss disciplinary charges against its technology administrator, according to the Post-Standard. Hearing officer Stuart M. Pohl on March 4 dismissed the district’s efforts to remove Bonnie Ladd, director of computer education and services. Ladd has been on paid suspension since April 27, 2007. The district has paid her more than $200,000 in salary and health benefits while she has been on suspension. Pohl said the district failed to tell Ladd what penalties she faced when they charged her. State law requires her to be notified of the penalties. Liverpool school board president J. Mark Lawson said because Pohl dismissed the charges based on a procedural flaw — not on the merits of the case — board members voted 7-1 Thursday to appeal the decision.  "We believe the court should hear this case on its merits," Lawson said. Board vice president David B. Savlov voted not to appeal the decision…

Click here for the full story

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Career changers help fill teaching shortages

Thanks partly to the poor economy, and also to the rise in programs that encourage the transition, a growing number of people are leaving their chosen professions to become teachers. And that could be good news for schools struggling to find teachers in high-need areas such as math, science, and technology.

Peter Vos ran an internet startup. Now, he teaches computer science to middle school kids in Maryland.

Jaime McLaughlin used to do people’s taxes. Now, he teaches math to sixth graders in Chicago.

Alisa Salvans was a makeup artist at Saks department store. Now, she teaches high school chemistry in suburban Dallas.

These teachers, with real-life experience and often with deep knowledge of their subjects, are answering a call to service that is part of a national strategy to boost the size and quality of the teaching work force dramatically.

Career switchers make up about one-third of the ranks of new teachers, and that number has jumped in the past decade. Now, as the recession deepens, even more people are deciding to become teachers.

For Vos, the Maryland teacher, it started with Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh. He would read to kids at his children’s school–dramatic readings, with different character voices–and he loved the feeling he was making a difference. The children cried when he finished "Stuart Little."

"I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I expected, and the kids really took to it," Vos said. "The kids who really looked forward to this the most, the ones who were giving me big hugs when I showed up, were struggling readers."

Vos, 50, was hooked. His background was not in reading but in science and computers; he was a neuroscientist before starting his internet company. He wound up at Argyle Middle School, an information technology magnet school in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Like Vos, McLaughlin is motivated by the camaraderie he has with his students. He teaches math at Albert R. Sabin Magnet School, a Spanish-language school in Chicago.

He dealt with people in his old job, as an accountant with two big firms. But it was always about money.

Teaching is different. "Those kids really are pretty much your family six, seven, eight hours a day," he said. "You’re helping raise them."

McLaughlin, 38, had practical motivations, too. He had always wanted to be a teacher–his father and uncles are in education–but he didn’t think it paid enough. Once he got married and had a son, there was a second income that would let him take a pay cut. And there was a little boy he could spend more time with, if his workday ended with the school bell.

"We have that much more time to spend together," McLaughlin said.

Interest has surged in becoming a teacher, and more pathways are emerging to get people there quickly.

The New Teacher Project, which helps people switch from other careers to the classroom, said 29,576 people have applied to its teaching fellows programs this year, a 44-percent increase over last year. The group was founded in 1997 by Michelle Rhee, now the schools superintendent in the District of Columbia.

There has been similar interest in Teach For America, which recruits new college graduates, although not career-switchers. The organization has received more than 35,000 applications, 42 percent more than last year.

Not everyone who applies will make it into the classroom. But the avalanche of applications is encouraging to the Obama administration, which plans to increase the number of teachers dramatically. Career-changers are an important part of the plan.

"One of the only benefits of living in such tough economic times now is that you have folks getting laid off and looking for work," Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s education secretary, said in an interview with the Associated Press.

"There are great folks out there who are passionate, who care a lot about children, who often have great content knowledge–math, science, humanities, whatever it might be–who just didn’t happen to major in education. We want to help get them into the classroom," Duncan said.

In his old job as chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan brought hundreds of career-changers, including McLaughlin, into the classroom. They went through a highly selective program that puts them through intensive summer training, then starts them full time in the fall while they keep doing evening coursework.

Duncan, together with the New Teacher Project, began the Chicago Teaching Fellows program with the help of federal grants. The economic stimulus bill signed by Obama provides even more money for getting career-changers into the classroom.

Programs such as Chicago’s can be the answer for people who don’t have the time or money to earn another college degree.

That is what Salvans, now a chemistry teacher at Richardson High School in suburban Dallas, was looking for when she decided to become a teacher. She had put herself through college as a makeup artist, which wound up paying more than entry-level jobs when she graduated with an environmental chemistry degree.

Salvans, 39, stuck with makeup until her second daughter was born. Then she decided her schedule managing a counter at Saks, combined with her husband’s as a restaurant manager, was just too hectic for two kids.

Friends had always said she would make a good teacher, and Salvans thought they were right. She applied to Texas Teaching Fellows, a program like Chicago’s that trains teachers in the summertime and lets them teach full time in the fall.

She had to go through a rigorous, six-hour interview.

"Part of the interview was that you had to do a teaching session for five to 10 minutes," Salvans said. "I thought, ‘Well, I haven’t taught science.’ But what I would do all the time is teach women about makeup and their faces.

"So I got pencils and toothbrushes at the dollar store and taught everybody how to measure out and find the best eyebrow shape," she said.

Not all programs are as selective as those in Texas and Chicago. Of the 600 or so alternate teacher certification programs in the 50 states, many have low standards, admitting most of the people who apply.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president for policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, said only the most qualified–those with very strong subject knowledge and high academic standing–should have a streamlined path to the classroom.

"We’ve seen those road markers sort of disappear; most states do not require the admission standards to be higher," Jacobs said.

At the other end of the spectrum, some require so much coursework–30 hours, in some cases–they might as well be college degree programs. That discourages some very attractive candidates from applying, Jacobs said.

There is less dispute about the teachers themselves. A study released last month by the Education Department found students did just as well whether their teachers came through alternate routes or traditional ones.

All three teachers interviewed for this story found jobs in schools with high numbers of poor and minority students.

That is no accident. Teaching shortages are most acute in these schools, especially in math, science, and special education. Shortages are the main reason programs such as those in Chicago and Texas began.

Programs like them have been around for more than two decades; the first began in 1983 in New Jersey.

Being a new teacher is hard enough, but working in high-needs schools can add to the challenge.

Vos has Spanish-speaking kids who speak little if any English. While he once lived in Puerto Rico and his Spanish is good, he sometimes turns to a worn Spanish-English dictionary at the front of his classroom.

"How do you say ‘slides’ in Spanish?" Vos asks a couple of bilingual boys as he tries to help a Spanish-speaking girl use Microsoft PowerPoint. They shrug and shake their heads as Vos thumbs through the dictionary.

McLaughlin says his students, even in elementary school, are constantly lured by gangs and drugs. Some transfer from tough neighborhood schools where they’re used to fighting: "We have to acclimate them to a situation where they don’t have to fight and defend themselves every day," McLaughlin said.

Despite the challenges of teaching, career-changers tend to stay on the job longer than other new teachers, said Emily Feistritzer, who heads the National Center for Alternative Certification.

Their maturity makes them more prepared for teaching–they are older and wiser and often have children of their own. Their life experience is also relevant to the classroom, she said.

"It’s not just theoretical knowledge," Feistritzer said. "They can bring in how it’s used and use examples from the real world."

All three teachers say they are here to stay.

McLaughlin, after only two years in the classroom, can’t imagine another career change. "I’m a lifer now. I’m going to be in this till the end," he said.

Neither can Vos.

"I get to play with technology all day. I’m surrounded by potential. I have a tremendous amount of latitude, because we’re on the cutting edge," Vos said. "And they pay me."

Links:
 
Information on switching careers to teaching
 
White House education agenda
 
New Teacher Project

Education Department

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