Google Wave has great potential for education

Google Inc. later this year will unveil Google Wave, a new species of eMail and instant messaging that lets people communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, and videos–and it could have broad implications for how students use and develop collaborative skills.

The company says the free feature is “a new model for communication and collaboration on the web.” Google Wave runs in a web browser and combines elements of eMail, instant messaging, wikis, and photo sharing in an attempt to make online communication more dynamic.

“We started out by saying to ourselves, ‘What might eMail look like if it had been invented today?'” said Lars Rasmussen, who worked on Wave in Australia with his brother Jens and three other Google employees. The Rasmussens contend that eMail hasn’t changed that much since its invention during the 1960s.

Wave is designed to make it easier to converse over eMail by providing tools to highlight particular parts of the written conversation. In instant messages, participants can see what everyone else is writing as they type, unless the writer chooses a privacy control. Photos and other online applications also can be transplanted into the service.

Users create a “Wave” and add other people to it. Everyone on that Wave can see what a user adds to it and can insert his or her own replies or edit the Wave. The Wave’s content is updated almost instantly when changes are made or when new material is added. A playback feature lets users view the Wave’s history to see how it has evolved and what other users contributed.

Google’s announcement has the education blogosphere buzzing with ideas about how this new application could possibly shake up the way educators approach teaching and collaboration.

In an ISTEConnects.org blog post, Joe Corbett, online community manager for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), discussed Google Wave and traded blog comments about the application’s potential with other educators.

“I’m happy to put myself on record as having said that all of you who are reading this will use this product in some way, whether it is to conduct classes, arrange social events, or manage your digital footprint,” Corbett wrote.

“… I think having many users collaborating on the same project/document at the same time in multiple languages across multiple platforms opens the door for some amazing cross-cultural learning,” he wrote in a reply to other comments.

“Teaching about France? Plug Google Wave into your wiki and invite French students to work with your students in real time with translations on the fly for both groups. [I’m] sure that can be done now, but not as close to real time as this is and not without a tremendous amount of preliminary communication. It will be easy to jump into collaborative learning sessions anywhere you find them … the possibilities are endless.”

Corbett’s post also appears on Classroom2.0, and one reader commented that Google Wave “might help to give online education more disruptive momentum.”

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EPA studies playground risks

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has endorsed the use of ground-up tires to cushion the surfaces of children’s playgrounds and sports fields–a decision now being reconsidered because of concerns among the agency’s own scientists about possible health threats.

The concerns are disclosed in internal agency documents about a study the EPA is conducting of air and surface samples at four fields and playgrounds that use recycled tires–the same material that cushions the ground under the Obama family’s new play set at the White House.

Recycled-rubber surfaces have been popular for decreasing playground injuries and providing resiliency and cheap, weatherproof maintenance. But doubts were raised by research suggesting potential hazards from repeated exposure to bits of shredded tire that can contain carcinogens and other chemicals, according to the documents.

The EPA scientists cited gaps in scientific evidence, despite other reviews showing little or no health concern. They urged their superiors to conduct a broad health study to inform parents and educators on kids’ safety.

Results from the agency’s limited study, which began last year, are expected within weeks.

“From everything I’ve been able to see, I’m not sure there’s an imminent hazard, but it’s something we’re investigating,” said Michael Firestone, head of children’s health protection for the EPA. “It’s critical to take a look at all the data together.”

The government has not decided if broader testing is necessary.

Communities from New Jersey to Oregon have raised concerns about children touching, swallowing, or inhaling lead, metals, and chemicals like benzene, zinc, and breathable particles from synthetic fields and play yards.

Last week, New York state officials said they found no significant health or environmental concerns in a study of leaching and breathable air above sports fields with so-called tire crumb, tiny rubber infill pellets that help anchor the synthetic grass blades. Other local studies have reached similar conclusions, examining artificial grass or tire crumb. Several have recommended additional research.

“If they really find it’s something toxic, I would be concerned,” said Alejandro Arroyo, a teacher watching his high school students from June Jordan School for Equity play soccer at San Francisco’s Crocker Amazon Park. The scent of tire rubber wafted over the busy, five-field complex as a dozen third-graders flopped onto artificial turf infused with gravel-sized, black rubber.

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Education grants will aid displaced workers

The federal government is launching a $7 million grant program to help kick-start training to prepare laid-off autoworkers and other unemployed people for a second career, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. The grants will provide initial funds for community colleges and other organizations that help adults develop new career skills.

The programs can provide services such as tutoring or academic and career counseling, or they could remove financial constraints for adults returning to school by taking care of child care, transportation, or textbook costs.

"This is a real opportunity for us to help out and give adults a chance to get back on their feet," Duncan told the Associated Press.

For community colleges or other educational groups to secure a grant, Duncan said, they’ll have to show the ability to collaborate and establish programs that will last after the grant expires.

He said he picked Milwaukee Area Technical College to make his announcement because of the work the school has done with students.

Several cabinet secretaries and other Obama administration officials this week are visiting Midwestern communities that have been affected by layoffs in the automotive industry.

"This is not exclusive to autoworkers, but that’s a population we’re very, very concerned about," Duncan said. "There’s been a lot of ripple effects, people working building the parts, the supply chain, dealerships. There’s been lots of folks who have been hit very, very hard."

According to Manpower, the three toughest jobs for U.S. employers to fill this year are engineers, nurses, and skilled or manual trade laborers. But most of the top 10 industries are within reach for community college graduates, and Duncan said community colleges have been an undervalued resource.

"Community colleges are going to be absolutely vital," Duncan said. "They have a big, big role to play in helping individuals as well as the country."

The Education Department will take applications beginning June 5 and plans to award 28 grants by mid-September. Applications will be due Aug. 7, and the estimated range of the grant awards is $300,000 to $750,000 over a three-year period.

"We feel a sense of urgency," Duncan said. "We want to turn this around absolutely as quickly as we possibly can."

Links:

Press release about the new grant program

Education Department’s FY 2009 discretionary grant applications page

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Lenovo to research tech’s effect on learning

A new research initiative called the Global Education Research program will analyze and measure the impact of technology on students’ educational experiences in various areas, ranging from first grade through higher education, both inside and outside the classroom.

The program is an initiative of computer maker Lenovo and was announced during Lenovo’s recent 12th annual Think Tank education conference, hosted this year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Although educational institutions have embraced using technology such as laptops, multimedia materials, and interactive whiteboards over the past decade to help students develop 21st-century skills, streamline operations, and connect administrators, a more complete view of the role and impact of technology in all aspects of the learning environment is needed, the company says.

“We saw that there really have been no truly K-20 studies done on the efficacy of technology in all aspects of global education,” said Michael Schmedlen, director of worldwide education at Lenovo.

The research also will benefit Lenovo’s education customers and programs by helping to outline clear action and best practices for national, provincial, and local governments to improve their use of technology in education, the company said.

So far, there are three main participants in Lenovo’s program. One is UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Faculty Excellence .

The university’s faculty center immediately will begin developing and evaluating new faculty development strategies necessary to support instructional innovation. Beginning in September, Lenovo will award grants to UNC faculty members to research the efficacy of technology in teaching, learning, and assessment.

“This collaboration with Lenovo allows us to advance the university’s commitment to instructional quality. Improving student learning outcomes in higher education goes hand in hand with supporting instructors by providing them with the technologies and the tools they need,” said Todd Zakrajsek, executive director of the Center for Faculty Excellence. “By mobilizing our talented faculty, we hope to contribute to an improved understanding about the efficacy of technology in teaching, learning, and faculty development.”

Another participant is the Student Global Leadership Institute at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. This project will go live in July 2010 and will bring together eight top schools in the U.S. and China to foster a multinational online learning framework driven by technology. The institute will promote leadership development in academics and in public service for secondary school students and teachers and encourage international collaboration.

“This center will really focus on eLearning, or interactive online learning and collaboration,” Schmedlen said. “Even though these schools are multilingual and [separated] across oceans, every student in these schools will convene once a year to produce one project on a topic they think is relevant. They will work together.”

Said Wendi Kamiya, CIO of Punahou School: “In our rapidly shrinking world, international collaboration is no longer a luxury but a necessity that needs to be cultivated from an early age. The Student Global Leadership Institute will provide an opportunity for high school students from different countries to become informed, compassionate global citizens, prepared to engage with real-world issues. Technology is the perfect catalyst for this collaboration. Our contribution to Lenovo’s Global Education Research Program will be to advance global education and international partnerships through testing innovative technology applications.”

The Tiger Woods Learning Center (http://www.twlc.org) in Anaheim, Calif., is the third research participant. Launched in 2006, the center serves underserved youth and is technology-rich to help motivate students who are imaginative, engaged, and are planning their paths to college and a career, the center says.

This after-school campus is designed to inspire career exploration and serves students in grades five through 12. Classes include forensic science, robotics, engineering, aerospace, video production, and marine biology.

“What this center will research is the efficacy of after-school [learning] in terms of how it affects students’ performance while they attend their more traditional schools, how it will affect their career choices, [and] how it will affect their financial decision making and planning,” said Schmedlen.

“We are extremely pleased to be working with Lenovo on their Global Education Research Program,” said Kathy Bihr, executive director of the Tiger Woods Learning Center. “Our partnership with Lenovo will help us continue to offer innovative technology to our students, examining the role this technology plays in their entire learning process.”

Although each research project focuses on a different area of education, Schmedlen said, each will share the same key metrics of study, which will be developed by the program’s advisory council.

This advisory council, according to Schmedlen, will consist of Lenovo experts, as well as third-party researchers–many of whom will be post-doctoral students from top universities interested in the efficacy of technology in education.

“Above all, we want to use these third-party assessments to ensure all the research is valid and accurate,” said Schmedlen.

Lenovo says its program will conduct both quantitative and qualitative studies using a set of criteria that are relevant to the skills students must possess to be successful in today’s society. Each project will use Lenovo’s technology, but the company also is partnering with Microsoft and Intel to make sure the technology is managed effectively.

Schmedlen said the projects will operate on a three-year schedule, producing annual research reports on what works and what doesn’t. If all goes well, “there could be the opportunity to expand beyond the three years,” he said.

He added: “The takeaway we see for this is creating a roadmap–a list of recommendations–for many public and private institutions throughout K-20 [education]. We believe that technology, when implemented correctly and with clear goals defined, can be positive and meaningful for education.”

Link:

Lenovo

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Michigan school official indicted on eRate bribery charge

A former superintendent of a school district in Michigan has been indicted on a conspiracy charge for allegedly accepting a bribe to award an internet services contract through the federal eRate program, CIO reports. On June 2, a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan filed a conspiracy and an obstruction of justice charge against Bradley Hansen, superintendent of the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District from October 1993 to January 2003. Hansen was charged with conspiring with the owner of an unnamed ISP to sign a three-year internet service contract in exchange for receipt of $60,000 in free goods and services, including a "smart" home electrical system and appliances. The three-year contract, funded through the eRate program, was worth about $1.6 million, the Justice Department said…

Click here for the full story

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Knox County schools unblock gay-issues web sites

Educational web sites about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues will be accessible now at Knox County, Tenn., schools after a glitch blocking the sites was corrected, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel. Superintendent Jim McIntyre told Knox County school board members that the filtering software used by the district’s internet service provider, Education Networks of America, "was not in compliance with school board policy with respect to certain gay and lesbian web sites." After working with the school system, the service provider made "some technical adjustments to the filter, and it now complies" with policy, McIntyre said. All adult-oriented sites, regardless of sexual orientation, remain inaccessible to students. The ACLU sued Knox County Schools and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools last month, charging them with unconstitutionally blocking students from accessing online information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. "We haven’t received notification of any sort from the school system at this point," ACLU spokeswoman Chris Hampton said of McIntyre’s comments. "We certainly hope this is true. We hope we hear from them soon."

Click here for the full story

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New program exposes teachers to modern workplace

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe says a new state program for teachers will make them more aware of employers’ needs in today’s work place, reports the Arkansas News Bureau. Beebe touted "The Modern Workplace," a program that will take teachers out of the classroom and into the work place to learn first-hand what skills their students will need to ensure successful future employment. Teachers who choose to participate will begin by attending a one-day workshop in which a work place is simulated. They will then tour a group of businesses to learn what skills those businesses prize most in employees. M.C. Taylor, who teaches family and consumer science at Bay High School, said she participated in a pilot program last year and toured three Northeast Arkansas manufacturing plants. Taylor said she learned that one of the skills employers value most is "being able to work at work without being prodded or pushed or shoved or told, ‘This is what you’re going to do next.’" She said she has since adjusted her teaching style to put more emphasis on students’ self-motivation…

Click here for the full story

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Lawsuits test free speech in internet era

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia must decide whether a Pennsylvania middle school can suspend a student who, at home on her own time, created a lewd MySpace page aimed at her principal.

The web page, which used a fake name but an actual photo of the principal, was purported to have been posted by a 40-year-old Alabama school principal who described himself, through a string of sexual vulgarities, as a pedophile and sex addict. The internet address included the phrase "kids rock my bed."

The case, argued in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week, raises broad issues about the limits of school discipline for off-campus behavior that affects the atmosphere at school. A rash of similar cases have surfaced across the country, with mixed rulings, but so far none has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. (That could change, however, pending the outcome of this 3rd Circuit case.)

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that students enjoy free-speech rights off-campus that protect such parodies, however vulgar.

"Parents give up some control at the schoolhouse gate," Mary Catherine Roper, an ACLU lawyer in Pennsylvania, told the appeals court judges. "When the students walk back out, they again are under control of their parents."

However, a lawyer for the Blue Mountain School District in Schuylkill County, Pa., said the eighth grader’s actions in March 2007 caused a disturbance that reverberated inside school and harmed the principal. Students were buzzing about the site for several days, and school administrators quickly became aware of it.

"Quite frankly, this could have affected his career," school board lawyer Jon Riba argued. "At the very least, it creates an impression that this man is unstable."

Roper called the site clearly satiric–and juvenile.

But Judge D. Michael Fisher was not so sure, noting the number of sexual deviants who apparently seek out liked-minded people online.

He nonetheless cautioned Blue Mountain about the price it might pay for winning the case.

"Do we want our school districts to become internet police?" Fisher asked.

The Supreme Court has said that students enjoy some free-speech rights, such as the right to wear black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, while rejecting the right to lace a school speech with sexual innuendo.

In 2007, the high court upheld sanctions against a student from Alaska who carried a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" sign at an off-campus school outing, reasoning that the student was promoting illegal drugs.

In a case nearly identical to the Blue Mountain case, a different 3rd Circuit panel is weighing a MySpace parody of a western Pennsylvania school principal that was argued in December. And in New York, the 2nd Circuit has upheld school discipline in two off-campus internet speech cases after finding the disruption at the schools was "foreseeable."

Terry Snyder, the 53-year-old mother of the Blue Mountain student, said she fought the case because she did not want her daughter to miss 10 days of school. But she also believes the discipline should have been hers to dole out.

"I believe it’s up to me to discipline her for her actions, her untoward actions, at home," Snyder said. "What she did was definitely wrong. Fortunately, she is a good kid most of the time."

The three appellate judges did not indicate when they would rule.

Links:

3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

American Civil Liberties Union

 

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ASU journalism school simplifies technology

Arizona State University journalism students once jumped from workstation to workstation, reporting on PCs and editing on Macs, which delayed production in a fast-paced newsroom until college IT officials at the school installed virtualization technology that allowed the operating systems to run cohesively.

The 300 digital workstations at the university’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication were simplified in 2006 when technology administrators purchased a desktop solution that let students access every high-end writing and editing program they needed on Macintosh computers, keeping students at a single workstation.

Before installing the solution, the students had to use PCs when their class work required Associated Press Electronic News Production System, but they had to move to another computer to finish work on Final Cut Pro, which is only available on Macs.

Read the full story at eCampus News

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ASU journalism school simplifies technology

Arizona State University journalism students once jumped from workstation to workstation, reporting on PCs and editing on Macs, which delayed production in a fast-paced newsroom until college IT officials installed virtualization technology that allowed the operating systems to run cohesively.

The 300 digital workstations at the university’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication were simplified in 2006 when technology administrators purchased a desktop solution that let students access every high-end writing and editing program they needed on Macintosh computers, keeping students at a single type of workstation.

Before installing the solution, the students had to use PCs when their class work required Associated Press Electronic News Production System, but they had to move to another computer to finish work on Final Cut Pro, which is only available on Macs.

The move to a one-system solution cut the journalism school’s IT costs and allowed officials to increase the number of Cronkite School computers from 280 to 580, officials said.

Sasan Poureetezadi, the school’s director of computer services, said students being trained to work in a high-pressure newsroom with looming deadlines had their story production stalled because they had to hustle back and forth between the Mac and PC workstations.

"If you’re tied to one system and you have to physically move to another system, it becomes cumbersome," said Poureetezadi, who worked with Washington-based IT company Parallels to install the software that made it possible to run Windows-based software on a Mac. "We’re trying to prepare the next generation of journalists in an ever-changing world, and the kind of technology you implement is very important in how you reach that goal."

Converting the journalism school’s IT solutions allowed the university to consolidate servers and save energy and money, said Bill Portin, vice president of sales and operations for Parallels. The cost savings, he said, are seen primarily when IT officials no longer tend to two entirely separate operating systems, such as Macintosh and Windows. Before the desktop virtualization at Arizona State, 40 percent of the journalism school’s computers were PCs.

"Going from two to one [operating system]–that has some pretty simple economic purposes to it," Portin said, adding that about 2,500 U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities–including Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences–use Parallels products.

Conserving massive amounts of energy used to cool servers that run all day and need constant air conditioning to keep from overheating also fit Arizona State’s efforts to institute more environmentally-friendly policies in recent years, officials said.

"There’s a push here to become a much greener campus," Poureetezadi said.

The Cronkite School’s $71 million facility opened last year and became one of the most expansive journalism colleges in the country, with 14 digital newsrooms and computer labs, two television studios, and a theater in the six-story, 225,000-square-foot building.

Poureetezadi said the faculty’s work, too, was bogged down by using two operating systems before switching to Parallels products three years ago. Professors and other staff members were given both a PC and a Mac because they often had to use Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visio, and Arizona State University’s financial software, all of which were accessible on PCs only.

Since installing the school’s virtualization program, students can remain at the same Mac computers and use software that was once accessible only on a PC–a key development for a school molding reporters and editors to react to late-breaking news with top-of-the-line reporting and editing programs and software, Poureetezadi said.

"You can do the creative work that you really want to do," he said. "[Students] can master the technology in a way that they could not have done before."

Links:

Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Parallels

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