Educators mull Apple’s latest announcements

During Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Calif., earlier this week, Apple announced price reductions and new versions of its iPhone smart phone and MacBook Pro laptops, as well as an updated version of its Macintosh operating system–leading educators to ponder the significance of these announcements for schools.

On June 8, Apple unveiled its newest iPhones–the 16-gigabyte version of the 3G S for $199, and the 32-gigabyte version for $299–and reduced the cost of its 8-gigabyte 3G phone, which came out last year, to $99 instead of $199.

“The $99 price point for the iPhone could be interesting,” said Scott Testa, a technology expert who teaches marketing at St. Joseph’s University. He said that with the cheaper price tag for the entry-level iPhone, more universities might be inclined to use iPhones for educational purposes.

“Every $100 you move down in consumer electronics brings in a lot more customers,” said industry analyst Michael Gartenberg, with the market research firm Interpret. “Ninety-nine dollars is a psychological price point, so that’s a real barrier to move through. It becomes something people can afford–it becomes an affordable luxury.”

Apple’s newest iPhone could present more options for schools and universities. For instance, the newest iPhone operating software, available for downloading June 17, lets software developers sell additional content, such as electronic books, within applications.

Educators also might like some of the new iPhone’s other features, such as its ability for “tethering,” which means using the phone to connect to a computer through the internet. Twenty-two wireless carriers will enable tethering, and AT&T says it will have tethering some time in the future. The new iPhone software also will allow users to cut, copy, and paste text, and the new hardware will allow users to enter voice commands, which might be useful for learners with disabilities.

However, educators seem to be less thrilled about Apple’s new MacBook Pro laptops and its newest operating system, called Snow Leopard.

For its MacBook line, Apple showed off new laptops that boast longer battery life and faster processors. The company rolled out a new 13-inch MacBook Pro that starts at $1,200, or $100 less than an existing similar model, and a 15-inch MacBook Pro that starts at $1,700, or $300 less than the current model.

For schools and universities, Testa doesn’t think this is a “dramatic change.”

As for Snow Leopard, it offers an improved version of QuickTime, an updated Safari web browser (Safari 4), a feature that integrates the dock with Expose to simplify switching between Windows, and it integrates Microsoft Exchange across key applications, which is designed to sway enterprise users from Windows.

Snow Leopard will launch in September–two months before Microsoft launches Windows 7–and the upgrade to Snow Leopard is $29.

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Rolling science labs bring tools, inspiration to youngsters

Boston University Medical School’s Carl Franzblau wanted to expose more young people to science, and he had a vision inspired by a bloodmobile. The result — mobile science laboratories that bring science education to students — is expanding across the country, USA Today reports. Mobile labs are active in at least 10 states and are an important tool in attracting young people to the so-called STEM courses, Franzblau says–science, technology, engineering and math. The labs are buses or semis outfitted with the basics of science education: electricity, distilled water, freezers and refrigerators, scales, microscopes, and even computer systems. They are designed to travel to schools that don’t have the resources to teach modern science to students, but they also are crucial in providing training to teachers in a field that can see a new discovery change curriculums overnight. What began in 1998 with one bus has grown to at least 13 vehicles…

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District cancels graduation after computer breach

District administrators in Centerburg, Ohio, canceled their June 6 high school graduation ceremony because of a breach in the school’s computer system that allowed a student to make copies of a test, 10TV.com reports. Centerburg Local Schools made the decision to cancel the ceremony during an emergency board meeting on June 4. "After several hours of intense and thorough discussion concerning a breach into the school’s computer system by a senior student, which resulted in copying some tests for a senior course, the action was deemed necessary," the district said in a statement. Board members said the incident involved many members of the senior class. Some students participated in cheating, while others had knowledge of the activity but failed to report it, the release said. The district said qualified students were able to pick up their diplomas at the Board of Education building…

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Wis. schools to get tech vouchers from Microsoft

Wisconsin education officials say more than 850 schools are in line for up to $80 million in technology reimbursements from Microsoft Corp., reports the Chicago Tribune. The reimbursements come from a 2006 settlement the state reached with the software giant over antitrust allegations. The Wisconsin lawsuit mirrored antitrust cases in other states that claimed Microsoft consumers paid artificially high prices as a result of the company’s alleged anticompetitive conduct and dominant share in the computer software market. The settlement lays out $75 million to $80 million in reimbursements for a wide range of technology products and services. The state Department of Public Instruction says schools with 33 percent of students from low-income households can apply…

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Japan tests cell phones to stop pandemics

An experiment in using technology to help stop the spread of pandemics is about to begin in Japan, and its results could have implications for U.S. schools as well.

A few months from now, a highly contagious disease will spread through a Japanese elementary school. The epidemic will start with several unwitting children, who will infect others as they attend classes and wander the halls.

If nothing is done, it will quickly gain momentum and rip through the student body, then jump to parents and others in the community. But officials will attempt to stymie the disease and save the school–using mobile phones.

The sickness will be a virtual one, in an experiment funded by the Japanese government. A subsidiary of Softbank Corp., a major Japanese internet and cellular provider, has proposed a system that uses phones to limit the spread of pandemics.

The exact details have yet to be fixed, but Softbank hopes to pick an elementary school with about 1,000 students and give them phones equipped with GPS service. The locations of the children will be recorded every minute of the day and stored on a central server.

A few students will be deemed “infected,” and their movements over the previous few days will be compared with those of everyone else. The stored GPS data then can be used to determine which children have crossed paths with the infected students and are at risk of having contracted the disease.

The families of exposed students will be notified by messages to their mobile phones, instructing them to get checked out by doctors. In a real outbreak, that could limit the rate of new infections.

“The number of people infected by such a disease quickly doubles, triples, and quadruples as it spreads. If this rate is decreased by even a small amount, it has a big effect in keeping the overall outbreak in check,” said Masato Takahashi, who works on infrastructure strategy at Softbank.

He demonstrates with a calculation: If an infected person makes about three more people sick per day, and each newly infected person then makes another three people sick, on the 10th day nearly 60,000 people would catch the disease. If each sick person instead infected two people a day, on the 10th day about 1,500 people would get sick.

The experiment was conceived before the current outbreak of swine flu, but it has drawn fresh attention now that Japan has the highest number of confirmed cases outside of North America.

It is one of 24 trials the government recently approved as part of a program to promote new uses for Japan’s internet and cellular infrastructure. The country boasts some of the most advanced mobile phone technology in the world. It is blanketed in high-speed cellular networks, and phones come standard with features such as GPS, TV, and touchless train passes.

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Syracuse, IBM collaborate on green data center

Syracuse University and IBM Corp. are building a new self-powered, energy-efficient computer data center that officials hope will become a model of green technology and help American schools and businesses save billions of dollars.

The key feature of the new $12.4 million building will be an onsite natural gas-fueled electrical generation system that will allow the center to operate entirely off the grid. The building, to be completed by the end of the year, is expected to use about half the energy of a typical data center, officials said at a groundbreaking ceremony on the Syracuse campus last month.

"We have learned how to move data at the speed of light, but we aren’t as efficient managing the energy that is required to do so," said Eric Spina, Syracuse’s vice chancellor and provost.

Although she wasn’t familiar with the Syracuse-IBM venture, Ashley Katz, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Council of Green Buildings, said all green buildings "are good for the environment, good for the bottom line, and good for people." In the U.S., buildings account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s energy use, Katz said.

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization has certified five data centers under its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-building rating system, Katz said. Syracuse will apply for LEED certification once construction is completed, said university spokesman Mark Weldon.

Syracuse and IBM officials said the project addresses a critical concern for modern data centers run by schools, businesses, and other organizations around the world–ever-increasing energy consumption and cost driven by growing demand for computer services.

U.S. data centers–rooms filled with computers where organizations electronically store information–annually consume more than 62 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, the same amount used by approximately 5.8 million U.S. households, at a total cost of about $4.5 billion, Spina said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, data centers consume an estimated 1.5 percent of the nation’s electricity and, if current trends continue, that could double by 2011.

"This is an industry problem that has turned into a crisis," said Vijay Lund, vice president for development and manufacturing operations in IBM’s systems and technology group.

Energy is often the single largest cost for U.S. data centers, and improving efficiency could save an estimated $2 billion a year nationally, Lund said.

The building will save energy by making its own power, making its own heat and air conditioning, cooling computers with water rather than air, and using computers more efficiently.

IBM intends to show the data center to clients designing new data centers or seeking to improve their current operations, Lund said.

IBM is contributing more than $5 million in equipment, design services, and support. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is contributing $2 million to the project.

Links:

Syracuse University

Press release on new data center

IBM

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Connecticut district tosses algebra textbooks and goes online

Westport, Conn., teachers were frustrated at having to rush through the algebra curriculum only to find students didn’t grasp important concepts, so they created their own online program, reports the New York Times. Last year, they began replacing 1,000-plus-page math textbooks with their own custom-designed online curriculum; the lessons are typically written in Westport and then sent to a program in India, called HeyMath!, to jazz up the algorithms and problem sets with animation and sounds. “In America, we run through chapters like a speeding train,” said John Dodig, the principal of the 1,728-student Staples High School in Westport. “Schools in Singapore and India spend more time on each topic, and their kids do better. We’re boiling down math to the essentials.” Westport’s curriculum overhaul joins other recent critiques of mile-wide, inch-deep instruction in the long-running math wars within American education. Westport school officials say their less-is-more approach has already resulted in less review in math classes, higher standardized test scores, and more students taking advanced math classes…

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Eau Claire schools considering teleconferencing use for board meetings

Eau Claire, Wis., Superintendent Ron Heilmann is working on a draft policy that would allow school board member participation in board deliberations via teleconferencing, reports the Leader-Telegram. The board tentatively is scheduled to discuss the draft June 15, but Heilmann said that discussion could be pushed back to a later date. The Eau Claire school district isn’t the first in Wisconsin to look at such a policy, said Steve Hintzman, associate executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. "It is a topic of interest," he said, "and technology has changed to make this possible. We usually suggest if school districts are going to consider allowing allowing [school board members to participate this way], that they have a policy … and have it reviewed by legal counsel." While board member Mike Bollinger, the Eau Claire school district’s former information technology director, hasn’t seen what Heilmann is working on, he said he is open to the idea, provided a quorum of the board physically attends a meeting before a fellow board member can participate via teleconference. "I make every attempt to keep my Mondays free, but it doesn’t always work out that way," said Bollinger, whose job includes travel, which sometimes keeps him from board meetings…

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Online tutoring program enhances students’ skills

In 2006, the Buena Vista School District in Saginaw, Mich., had a population of middle school students who were struggling in math and English and needed summer school instruction. The district began searching for a tutoring program that would help students in grades six through eight improve their skills in these subjects. However, Buena Vista officials also wanted a partner that would take a unique approach to learning–encouraging and inspiring students’ success beyond simply an after-school program.

Three years later, after the success of the Champions Buena Vista summer school program, the district has signed on with Champions to provide its newest academic program, Champions Online Tutoring. The online tutoring program was tasked with developing the math skills of students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

Thanks in part to the success of the summer program, and the strong relationships it established with the district and local families, in January 2009 Champions debuted its newest national academic offering, Champions Online Tutoring, at Buena Vista’s Ricker Middle School. Buena Vista hosted a six-week, 30-hour online math tutoring program, during which students logged in to sessions in the school computer lab. Equipped with headsets and the Champions interactive web portal, students completed lessons and communicated–through verbal discussions, instant messaging, or a virtual whiteboard–with a live tutor.

Champions Online Tutoring provides one tutor for every four students. Lessons are designed to meet individual students’ needs, identified via a computer adaptive pretest that pinpoints students’ skill gaps and areas of strength. Pretest results are compiled to determine individualized learning plans. Students work through the assigned lessons and are able to move on in their learning plans once the instructor feels the students have mastered the content.

Buena Vista enrolled 48 students in the winter session and will run the program again in the summer and fall. Because the program is customized to each individual student’s skill level, the program was and will continue to be offered to students in need of academic intervention as well as those students looking for accelerated learning in math.

Results

Pretest assessments administered to Buena Vista students found the average student’s instructional level to be at fourth grade. After six weeks and 32 hours of math instruction in two areas, Numbers & Operations and Concepts & Applications, students completed the post-test assessment to measure progress in each area. Buena Vista students achieved an average increase of one instructional grade level over the course of the program–bringing the group from a fourth to a fifth grade math level.

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Schools in two states unblock LGBT sites

Dozens of Tennessee schools have restored students’ access to online information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues, just a few weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit against two Tennessee school districts for what the ACLU claimed was an unconstitutional blocking of student access to such sites.

David Pierce, president and CEO of the company that provides internet filtering services to as many as 107 Tennessee schools–Education Networks of America (ENA)–confirmed to eSchool News that his company has adjusted the software to allow access to a variety of educational and political LGBT web sites that were blocked before the ACLU filed its lawsuit.

According to Pierce, ENA has stopped blocking access to the sites for every school in Tennessee and Indiana–two key states that ENA serves.

"All we ever wanted was to be able to get information out about LGBT issues, like what our legal rights are or what scholarships are available for LGBT students, so I’m really happy that the schools are finally making our web access fair and balanced," said Bryanna Shelton, a 16-year-old student at Fulton High School in Knoxville and a plaintiff in the case. "These web sites were never something dirty or inappropriate in any way and shouldn’t ever have been treated like they were."

On May 19, the ACLU filed the case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools on behalf of two high school students in Nashville, one student in Knoxville, and a high school librarian in Knoxville who is also the advisor of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). (See "ACLU sues over blocked web sites.")

About 80 percent of Tennessee public schools, including those in the two districts being sued, use filtering software provided by ENA. Until recently, the software’s default setting blocked sites categorized as LGBT, including the sites of many well-known LGBT organizations.

However, the filter did not block access to web sites that urge LGBT persons to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through "reparative therapy" or "ex-gay" ministries, the ACLU claimed.

On June 3, Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre released a statement saying that ENA was no longer blocking web sites that fall under the LGBT category.

However, according to the ACLU, no one has personally contacted the organization to explain the change.

"We’re not going to drop the suit yet," said Tricia Herzfeld, staff attorney with the ACLU of Tennessee, in an interview with eSchool News. "We need assurances from both districts that this blocking won’t start up again a week from now, a month from now, et cetera."

She continued, "No one from ENA has contacted us, either, although Knox County schools said in a statement that ENA had made technical adjustments to bring the filters in line with school board policy."

"Up until now, these schools were practicing unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, plain and simple. [The filtering] was keeping students from accessing information about everything from their legal rights to statistics they needed for current-events assignments," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU’s First Amendment Working Group and lead attorney on the case. "We’re pleased that these schools are finally living up to their legal obligation to allow the free and open exchange of ideas and information."

The ACLU first learned about what it called discriminatory filtering from Andrew Emitt, a Knoxville high school student who discovered the problem while trying to search for LGBT-related scholarships. Internet filtering software is mandated in public schools by Tennessee law, which requires schools to implement software to restrict information that is obscene or harmful to minors. However, the "LGBT" filtering category does not include material that is sexually graphic. That material falls under the "pornography" category.

Owing to the change in policy, students in Tennessee now can access the web sites of many well-known national LGBT organizations that previously were blocked, ENA says, including Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Marriage Equality USA, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Links:

Education Networks of America

American Civil Liberties Union

Knox County Public School System

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Mass Notification Systems resource center. Terrorism. Severe weather. Violent crimes. Water main breaks. Gas leaks. All of these scenarios can occur instantly. The question is, will your schools be prepared to communicate urgent news before it’s too late? Go to: Mass Notification Systems

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