Grant to help track Minnesota students’ progress

A Jackson County, Minn., ninth-grader whose geometry grade suddenly declines now might get an eMail summons from the school counselor, asking him or her to stop by for a consultation. Such targeted and timely communications have become difficult in recent years as school counselors serve a growing number of students, but new technology is now making it easier for state counselors to keep track of student progress and help them plan for college, reports the Jackson County Pilot. A $735,000 federal grant awarded to Minnesota has helped more than 130 schools adopt comprehensive online counseling software to help them serve students more efficiently. The new software and training is helping counselors and teachers track student progress, communicate with students and families, and develop career, academic, and postsecondary plans for every student. The grant was one of $66 million in College Access Challenge Grants awarded to states in late 2008 for strategies to improve college access, particularly for low-income students. Nearly half of the Minnesota grant was designated to help schools purchase software and receive training from Washington, D.C.-based Naviance, which Minnesota counselors identified as the most comprehensive solution available…

Click here for the full story

tags

Aboriginal kids get free laptops to fight illiteracy

In hopes of combating illiteracy and truancy, about 2,000 low-cost laptops from the nonprofit One Laptop Per Child initiative have been delivered to three schools in Aboriginal communities in Australia, where illiteracy often can be multi-generational, Reuters reports. Soon after getting one of the small green laptops distributed free to Aboriginal school children, Jericho Lacey learned his computer was good for more than just homework. From his home on Elcho Island, an impoverished tropical outpost, Lacey writes school essays and occasionally plays "maze games" and surfs the net. "Hopefully, my children will become digitally connected to the rest of the world," Jericho’s father Marcus told Reuters. "This island is not very close to anything." Organizers behind the program hope to combat the monotony of island life and give students the chance to learn of the wider world. "We’re trying to gives these kids a shot they might not otherwise get growing up here," said Barry Vercoe, who heads the Asia-Pacific arm of One Laptop Per Child. Through private donations and corporate sponsorships, Vercoe hopes to donate 400,000 computers in Australia over the next two or three years, all directly to indigenous school children. "When we have the opportunity to inoculate against ignorance and illiteracy, we must take it," Vercoe said…

Click here for the full story

tags

Campus IT officials feel safer, but fear botnets

Campus computer networks are better protected than they were five years ago, college and university IT administrators said in a newly released survey, but they warned that the viruses student computers can bring to a network still linger as a threat to expensive servers, other hardware, and software.

The Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA) surveyed computer officials in higher education at the organization’s annual conference in Atlanta this month. The survey found that eight out of 10 IT officials believe their campus infrastructure is safer than it was in 2004, with 6 percent saying they feel less secure.

Still, nearly half of respondents said their campus’s cyber security has been compromised in the last year alone, exposing at least some student information (though 70 percent of these incidents were characterized as minor). About 80 computer administrators completed the survey, an ACUTA spokeswoman said.

Campus IT departments have invested in programs that detect harmful viruses and botnets–groups of compromised computers that can cause damage to university hardware–but only 18 percent of ACUTA survey respondents said their schools use enhanced logins, which require faculty and students to identify icons or type letters from a graphic before they are given access to the campus network.

Some schools have bought thumb-print scanners for student identification, adding another layer to the login process.
Matt Arthur, ACUTA’s president-elect and director of incident response at Washington University in St. Louis, said higher education has been criticized this decade for often using students’ Social Security numbers for identification purposes, making a key piece of personal information vulnerable to malicious hackers.

“I definitely think that it’s taken universities a while” to transition from using students’ personal information to other methods of identification, such as passwords and thumb scanning, Arthur said. “To move away from that took a really large effort. It’s a long, slow process … and now we have decent identification measurements in place.”

Arthur said Washington University’s cyber security is monitored by employees who check the school’s intrusion detection system for any signs of network interference. The university has focused on sniffing out botnets before they do serious damage to IT equipment. Arthur said botnets often lie dormant for days or weeks before the hacker who planted the virus does damage, but new software allows the campus’s security team to find the botnets before they are activated.

“We do proactive work to watch for those [botnets] that call out for their hosts,” he said, adding that university computers infected with a botnet are usually rebuilt before they are usable again.

Arthur said his IT department uses Snort, an open-source intrusion detection program gaining traction among universities and businesses looking for more reliable data protection. Snort has more than 225,000 users worldwide, according to its web site. Snort users can share what they have found to be the most effective ways to detect incoming viruses and botnets, because the product is open source and available to anyone who can download it on the Snort web site.

Intrusion detection software, Arthur said, “has evolved to the point where it’s almost a necessity.”

He also said the installation of programs that force student laptops to register themselves with campus networks has marked a major step in monitoring who is using the network throughout the day.

At Washington University, if a student’s computer does not meet minimal security requirements–and therefore is a risk for transferring a virus into the school’s network–the computer is barred from network connection until the problems are solved, Arthur said.

“We want to make sure their computer, when it comes on to our network, is virus free,” said Arthur, who added that student hackers were not a primary concern on his school’s campus.

tags

Increasing class time fraught with controversy

In the months since Education Secretary Arne Duncan was confirmed by the Senate he has said repeatedly he believes American schoolchildren need to be in class longer if they are to compete with students abroad–an idea that provokes strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

“Go ahead and boo me,” Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students April 7 at a public school in northeast Denver. “I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short, and our school year is too short.”

“You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year,” he said.

Increasing the amount of time students are in class is one of four areas that the U.S. Department of Education (ED) is targeting to improve education in America. The other three are implementing more data-driven decision making, raising state and national standards, and rewarding teacher excellence. (See “Duncan outlines school reform agenda.”)

More time spent in class is one of the key principles of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a model for instruction that is gaining traction nationwide.

While superintendent of Chicago schools, Duncan helped bring the program to the district, said KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini. The Chicago KIPP school opened in 2003.

“Secretary Duncan was a champion for KIPP. … He knows that the KIPP schools work and, as he’s said, he wants to grow what works and work to implement them at the national level,” Mancini said.

KIPP schools not only encourage longer school days, weeks, and years, but also focus on setting higher expectations, giving principals the power to lead, focusing on improving academic results as well as students’ character, and asking students and parents to commit to the school. Mancini said increasing the time students are in school, as well as promoting the other four pillars of KIPP schools, has enabled the schools to be successful.

The program has seen about 85 percent of the students from its first two KIPP middle schools, which opened in 1999, go on to college–many of whom are minorities or come from low-income families, a demographic that reportedly sees less than 20 percent of students go on to college. Next year, the organization will have more than 80 schools in 19 states. Most KIPP schools are public charter schools and serve students in grades five through eight.

Mancini said most KIPP students are in school from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Fridays. They also spend three to four hours in school every other Saturday and attend school for three or four weeks during the summer.

“So they spend roughly 60 percent more time learning,” he said.

But some education experts say simply keeping students in school longer won’t improve the education they receive.

“Secretary Duncan is confusing time in school with time on productive learning,” said Bob Compton, creator of the global education documentary “Two Million Minutes.” In the documentary, Compton followed six children from India, China, and the U.S. to compare and contrast their four years of high school. (See “eSN TechWatch: Two Million Minutes.”)

tags

Campus IT officials feel safer, but fear botnets

Campus computer networks are better protected than they were five years ago, college and university IT administrators said in a newly released survey, but they warned that the viruses student computers can bring to a network still linger as a threat to expensive servers, other hardware, and software.

The Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA) surveyed computer officials in higher education at the organization’s annual conference in Atlanta in April. The survey found that eight out of 10 IT officials believe their campus infrastructure is safer than it was in 2004, with 6 percent saying they feel less secure.

Still, nearly half of respondents said their campus’s cyber security has been compromised in the last year alone, exposing at least some student information (though 70 percent of these incidents were characterized as minor). About 80 computer administrators completed the survey, an ACUTA spokeswoman said.

Read the full story at eCampus News

tags

WebNotes allows users to annotate and share web pages

To help students with online research, the Boston-based company WebNotes has created a web-based highlighting and “sticky note” tool that allows users to compile information from multiple web pages to organize and share their findings. “Users can capture information that’s important and share it with other people,” said co-founder Ryan Damico. Damico and his partner Alex King began developing WebNotes about two years ago after seeing a need for a product that allowed students to annotate web pages for research purposes–and especially group research. Damico said he has seen other web-based annotation services, but most are based within social networking tools and create problems with productivity. WebNotes is the free, basic version of the tool, which allows users to highlight texts and attach virtual “sticky notes” to web pages as they browse the web. WebNotes Pro, which costs $10 a month, allows users to highlight in multiple colors and to annotate PDF files as well as web pages. The WebNotes tools can be installed as a toolbar or as a bookmarklet (a small computer application stored as a URL in a web browser) if you don’t want to download the software to your computer. All of the annotations you make are automatically saved to your WebNotes account, and because it’s web-based, you can see your annotations from any computer. WebNotes not only allows users to save and share annotated web pages easier, but it also helps cut down on printing costs, Damico said. In the future, he hopes to expand the software’s ability to generate citation lists, something he said was requested by beta users. http://www.webnotes.net

tags

Schwarzenegger: Digital textbooks can save money, improve learning

"Today, our kids get their information from the internet, downloaded onto their iPods, and in Twitter feeds to their cell phones. A world of up-to-date information fits easily into their pockets and onto their computer screens," writes California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in an op-ed piece for the San Jose Mercury News — "so why are California’s public school students still forced to lug around antiquated, heavy, expensive textbooks?" Schwarzenegger outlines why he has proposed that California schools move to digital textbooks and explore open curriculum resources–steps he says can save the state millions of dollars in education costs (see story http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=58861). "California is home to software giants, bioscience research pioneers, and first-class university systems known around the world. But our students still learn from instructional materials in formats made possible by Gutenberg’s printing press," he writes. "It’s nonsensical–and expensive–to look to traditional hard-bound books when information today is so readily available in electronic form. Especially now, when our school districts are strapped for cash and our state budget deficit is forcing further cuts to classrooms, we must do everything we can to untie educators’ hands and free up dollars so that schools can do more with fewer resources."

Click here for the full story

tags

Slanderous site catering to teens is shut down

A web site that catered to anonymous slander and insults by and about teenagers — and was especially popular in Montgomery County, Md., high schools — was closed down June 8 by its web hosting company, reports the Washington Post. The shutdown came several weeks after the Maryland attorney general’s office began investigating the site, peoplesdirt.com, which has alarmed parents and school officials for months. It created a wave of concern in mid-May when a former student at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., posted a rambling threat to kill students and staff members. The teen was later arrested. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said his office approached advertisers and the web hosting company, raising concerns about the nature of the site, which included racial rants, allegations of promiscuity about named high school girls, and scurrilous accusations against named teachers. He said much of what was on the site was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Although slander and defamation are not protected by law, the comments were posted anonymously, making it difficult to take action, Gansler said. Nevertheless, the site was closed down after Gansler’s office made the case to the web hosting company that the offensive material contained on the site violated the company’s service agreement…

Click here for the full story

tags

U.S. parents rearing a gadget-laden generation

Research released June 9 indicates that U.S. parents are rearing a young gadget-laden generation that is at home with smart phones, laptop computers, and video game consoles, AFP reports. U.S. households with children between the ages of four and 14 have an average of 11 electronic gizmos, according to a Kids and Consumer Electronics report from industry tracker NPD Group, and one-third of parents surveyed said they plan to buy their child an electronic device in the coming year. Younger children are in line for electronic learning toys, while older offspring can expect mobile telephones or digital cameras, NPD found. In a shift from earlier NPD studies, girls are apparently more likely than boys to use mobile telephones or laptop computers, and children using mobile telephones prefer text messaging and sending pictures to talking on the devices, NPD found. Text messaging by children has "skyrocketed," according to the report. Televisions and computers remain the top two devices used by children, but the study shows a shift to high-definition sets and laptop computers. Survey results also indicate that 37 percent of U.S. children use personal digital music players, compared with six percent in 2005, and one in four kids owns a video game console…

Click here for the full story

tags

Ed-tech leaders brace for smaller budgets

The majority of ed-tech leaders said they expect their school technology budgets for the 2009-10 school year to decrease at least somewhat, if not substantially, despite available funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), according to a survey on school technology use and purchasing.

Thirty-one percent of school leaders said they expect their 2009-10 technology budgets to remain the same, 23 percent expect their budgets to decrease somewhat, and 31 percent expect their tech budgets to decrease substantially.  Thirteen percent indicated they anticipate their 2009-10 tech budget will increase, and 2 percent expect it to increase substantially.

The data come from educator responses found in “K-12 Technology Tools and Trends 2009,” a report that details what school and district technology coordinators and curriculum directors think about the technology they are currently using and explores future technology growth in schools. Simba Information and Market Data Retrieval (MDR) teamed up to conduct the educator surveys and produce the report.

“Schools and districts are moving into a phase of careful deliberation about what they want to achieve academically, and how technology can help them achieve that goal,” said Kathleen Brantley, leader of channel management for MDR.

The majority of educators reported using desktop computers (99 percent), laptops or notebook computers (84 percent), and interactive whiteboards (78 percent) in their schools. Almost half, 49 percent, reported using distance learning.

Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) showed the biggest and most noticeable growth in use from the previous years, and data indicate that one in seven classrooms will have an interactive whiteboard by 2011, Kathy Mickey, senior analyst for education at Simba Information, said during a June 9 webinar to discuss the survey’s findings.

IWBs and laptops are the two most useful classroom tools, according to technology leaders who were surveyed. Ed-tech leaders reported that those two technologies, along with desktop computers, have the greatest impact on student performance.

“They can easily facilitate whole-group instruction and also preserve and enhance the traditional role of the teacher,” Brantley said, explaining the popularity of IWBs.

Eighty-eight percent of educators said they would use IWBs, or would use their existing IWBs more often, if more digital content were available. That sends a message about the desire for content, Brantley said.

Distance learning implementation is growing at about 30 percent each year. Forty percent of educators said they have a distance learning system and would like to implement it more extensively, and 31 percent said they would like to implement a distance learning system.

“We’ve seen extensive growth in this particular area,” Brantley said. Currently, 44 states offer significant online learning opportunities for students, and Michigan and Alabama require students to take at least one online course to receive a high school diploma, she said.

The K-12 field is in a period of great change and uncertainty owing to challenging economic times, pending funding from the federal stimulus package, and new technologies that are changing the way teachers teach and students learn, Mickey said.

tags