Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 5

Online learning might prove disruptive to education, but it also helped many schools avoid a disruption to the learning process as hundreds of schools closed temporarily amid swine-flu outbreaks in their communities.

As the H1N1 virus spread throughout the country, federal officials talked about the important role technology could play in keeping lessons going, even if schools were forced to shut down or students had to stay home for an extended period of time–giving rise to the term "continuity of learning."

Speaking at an elementary school on the first day of classes in Washington, D.C., this past fall, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said school leaders should evaluate what materials they have available for at-home learning as they create swine-flu contingency plans. The Education Department issued guidance with more details on the methods that schools could use, such as distributing recorded classes on podcasts and DVDs; creating take-home packets with up to 12 weeks of printed class material; or holding live classes via video-conferencing calls or webinars.

Answering a call from federal officials, several education technology providers made resources available to help keep instruction going in the event of a swine-flu outbreak. For instance, Microsoft launched a web site with videos and advice to help teachers quickly and easily set up a classroom page in Office Live Workspace, a free virtual workspace in which teachers can share content, lesson plans, and curriculum. And Pearson Education developed a "continuity of learning" plan of its own to help schools continue their students’ education outside the classroom.

During a webinar hosted by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) in September, officials from several districts across the country discussed their school-closure procedures and plans for monitoring H1N1 outbreaks.

"Our H1N1 planning is aligned with our previous [emergency] plans," said Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer for Louisiana’s Calcasieu Parish Public Schools, which has a history of planning for emergencies. Abshire’s district suffered much damage and saw its schools close as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"The first line of defense is accurate information," Abshire emphasized. The district’s web site displays an H1N1 status for each school, including suspected and confirmed cases. School leaders and key district administrators attend regular training with a district risk manager, and staff are in contact with regional health services personnel.

In case of prolonged H1N1 absences or school closures, the district developed separate plans for students who do, and do not, have home internet access. Students with internet access can stay on track through an "emergency assignments" link on the district’s Blackboard portal. Those who don’t have internet access can get assignments through the district’s call-in system.

"It’s important to make sure that networks and end communication systems are operational" in the event of a school emergency, said Linda Sharp, CoSN’s project director for crisis preparedness. "Schools need comprehensive plans for any type of emergency or crisis they could possibly experience."

Related links:

Universities mobilize against pandemic threat

WHO: Swine flu pandemic has begun

Feds revise swine flu guidance

Schools gear up for swine flu shots

Feds issue more guidance on swine flu

Companies help schools survive swine flu

iNACOL launches Continuity of Learning web site for swine-flu planning

Educators share H1N1 preparedness plans



Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 3

Broadband access offers more educational opportunities.

Broadband access offers more educational opportunities.

The economic stimulus package approved by Congress in February included $7.2 billion to help bring broadband internet access to more citizens. It also required the Federal Communications Commission to create a national broadband plan–an undertaking with important implications for schools.

The stimulus authorized the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to implement the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which is a $4.7 billion, one-time competitive matching grants program. The funds are intended to expand broadband services to underserved areas, improve broadband access for public safety agencies, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. NTIA is implementing the program along side the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services, which received $2.5 billion for broadband loans, loan guarantees, and grants.

The funding came on the heels of a report from the Benton Foundation calling for robust, affordable, and universal broadband access to the internet, because, according to what the foundation calls “persuasive research,” universal and affordable broadband is “the key to our nation’s citizens reaching for–and achieving–the American Dream.”

Universal, affordable broadband access is critical to ensuring that students of all ages can take classes from home, for example–and it’s necessary for students to take advantage of online video instruction while at home.

In the first of three rounds of broadband stimulus grants, in which federal officials were making available $4 billion, officials received seven times that amount in requests. Many of these 2,200 applications included colleges and universities as project partners, and among the initial grant winners were projects involving the University of Maine, North Georgia College and State University, and the University of New Mexico.

Heading the agency charged with developing a national broadband strategy is Julius Genochowski, whom President Obama tapped in March to lead the Federal Communications Commission. Genachowski, a friend of Obama’s from their days at Harvard Law School, brought a corporate technology background and inside-the-Beltway experience to the FCC. An advisor to Obama during the president’s campaign, Genachowski had pushed for the expansion of broadband access nationwide as a key driver of economic competitiveness.

To help bring broadband to more Americans, the FCC is considering how it can leverage the e-Rate program, which provides telecommunications discounts to eligible schools and libraries. The FCC asked stakeholders in November for their thoughts on several e-Rate-related proposals, such as loosening the eligibility requirements for e-Rate-funded equipment to allow for community use of computer labs, for example.

At an agency hearing in August, educators told the FCC that the e-Rate can play a significant role in the national broadband plan–but for this to happen, commissioners must raise the program’s funding cap.

“Since the program’s second year, the [FCC] has not raised the e-Rate’s annual cap above its current $2.25 billion funding level, not even providing it an inflation adjustment,” said Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish Public Schools in Lake Charles, La. “On average, annual demand for e-Rate support outstrips the annual cap by $1.75 billion, with this year’s $3.99 billion demand mirroring the average shortfall.”

Another idea the FCC is considering came from the nation’s cable industry in early December. The plan, called Adoption Plus (A+), is a nationwide public-private partnership that would combine digital media literacy training with discounted broadband service and computers for eligible middle school students.


Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 4

Stimulus funds are flowing to educational technology programs.

Stimulus funds are flowing to educational technology programs.

The federal stimulus package approved by Congress in February included $650 million designated specifically for education technology. That doesn’t include billions more for other programs, such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which could be used for school technology as well. All told, nearly $106 billion in stimulus dollars went to education.

The money came at a good time for schools, many of which had cut ed-tech spending as the economy tanked. School leaders were encouraged to use the stimulus funding to make one-time investments that could have lasting effects, such as using IDEA money to buy assistive technology (AT) devices for students, training students and staff members to use AT devices, and improving their data collection and reporting abilities.

The infusion of more federal money for education technology was welcomed by ed-tech advocacy groups, which had seen annual funding for the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program, the largest federal school technology initiative, dwindle during President Bush’s second term–from a high-water mark of $696 million in the 2004 fiscal year to $267 million in FY 2009.

Still, the news could have been even better for schools: Education technology was slated to receive $1 billion in earlier drafts of the stimulus bill.

“The funding provides a much-needed down payment toward meeting President Obama’s vision that all students receive the benefits of 21st-century learning environments, but the final level of investment falls short of funding in the House and Senate bills, and far short of what is needed by our students to compete in today’s digital age,” read a statement from the International Society for Technology in Education and the Consortium for School Networking.

What’s more, President Obama proposed just $100 million for EETT in his FY 2010 budget proposal to Congress.

The federal stimulus package might have saved thousands of education programs from coast to coast, but many more remain in jeopardy as a result of lingering state budget crises.

In Missouri, a new round of budget cuts announced Oct. 28 threaten operation of the state’s online school. In Michigan, schools face the prospect of nearly $300 less in state funding per pupil. A Colorado plan would cut $145 million from higher education in that state, Arizona has warned of “massive” teacher layoffs next year, and teacher furloughs in Hawaii have raised citizens’ ire.

“The federal stimulus funds have helped schools, but not as much as hoped,” Mark Bielang, president of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and superintendent in Paw Paw, Mich., said in a statement.

AASA on Oct. 27 released findings from a new survey revealing that school districts continue to struggle in response to the economic recession, and many are bracing for further cuts. And while some economists point to signs that the nation’s economy is improving, others say the U.S. faces a much slower climb out of the recession–a scenario that will have a huge effect on public education in the coming years.

States are still waiting to hit bottom and are not likely to do so for another year or two, and education will feel the financial impact for some time after that, said Richard Sims, the chief economist for the National Education Association, at the Software and Information Industry Association’s Ed-Tech Business Forum in December.

Related links:

Stimulus deal addresses school modernization

Education snags $105.9B in stimulus package

Schools should see stimulus funds in April

New federal funding for ed tech nears $1 billion

ALA: Spend stimulus funds on school libraries

Stimulus aims to help close digital divide

Obama proposes $1.3B increase in ed funding

Schools suffer despite stimulus funding

ED issues rules on ed-tech stimulus funds

ED accelerates $11.37 billion stimulus schedule

Stimulus could spur more virtual charter schools

Stimulus funds give students greater access to online classes

Budget woes continue to plague education

More stimulus money coming–with strings attached

Schools face tough economic road ahead

Study: Schools face post-stimulus shortfalls


Extra homework applying for education grants

The New York Times reports that the Department of Education, preparing to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars to winning states in a $4 billion grant competition, has estimated how long it should take each state to prepare its grant proposal: 681 hours.

Not 680, not 700, but 681 hours. “Nice round number–how’d they come up with that one?” said Lee Sensenbrenner, chief of staff to Gov. James E. Doyle of Wisconsin.
The thousands of state officials who are working feverishly to prepare proposals are not only stunned by the precision of the estimate, but many of them also say it grossly underestimates the amount of work they have to do. “We’ve put in well above that already,” said Rick Miller, a deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education. “It’s all I’ve done for months, so my time alone would almost get us there.”

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easyDNA expands into Romania


NEVADA, USA 01/09/2009 – easyDNA, an international and leading DNA testing company, has announced that it has recently opened an office in Romania to assist in servicing demand in this country and surrounding regions.
The company has experienced a relatively strong demand for paternity testing and other DNA tests directly through its website and as well as through local referral. This demand validated the investment to set up an office and be able to assist clients directly in their own language.
The regional office has been set up in Bucharest and clients can contact the office directly by telephone with customer service staff speaking both English and Romanian.
Once clients have obtained the information they require, and have decided to proceed with a DNA test, their DNA testing kit will be sent to them from the office in Bucharest by courier and received in just 1-2 days. The clients can then return the samples directly to the office again for ease and convenience.
Local staff have been highly trained on all aspects of the company’s DNA testing portfolio and are constantly backed up by technical and scientific assistance for more technical or complex questions.
Andrew Alexander, International Director of Sales and Marketing commented, “We have already seen a huge growth in sales after only a few weeks of this office being operational. It obviously reassures a client by having a local presence through which they can process their order. It also helps to speed up the whole testing process whilst retaining constant access to customer support.”
easyDNA specialize in the provision of reliable, accurate and confidential DNA Paternity Testing, DNA Relationship Testing and DNA Forensic Testing to both the private and public sector. easyDNA operates through a network of sixteen offices covering a wide geographic area. Our Laboratories are ISO 17025 and AABB accredited which guarantees the quality of our DNA tests. All testing is performed through state-of-the-art genetic identification systems using the highest levels of accuracy available.

Brothers Rice re-launches its official website

Brothers Rice, big name among the landscape design and rock wall installation companies of Australia, has of late declared the re-introduction of, their official website. On the wonderful occasion of the re-opening ceremony of the website, the CEO of Brothers Rice said, "We are extremely elated to re- launch our corporate website with a complete new look and splendor”. The fresh look and feel of the re-designed is the fruit of the feedback that Brothers Rice has received from its potential clients. According to the company CEO, the re-designing of the website is only the starting of what Brothers Rice schemes to perform to uprate its brand awareness and client service online. As he says, “You will witness further growth in our services in the very near future”.


The primary purpose of re-designing the website is to convey the company’s services, promote their products in a better way and give the clients a more user-friendly experience. Many new features have been added in the new site. The new, expanded and faster loading graphics enable the consumers to scan the samples of the already completed projects of the company. A simple click on the “Gallery” tab will show some of the best work samples offered by the company. Going through these samples, the clients can easily get a precise idea of the landscape design they are going to receive from Brothers Rice.


Visiting the re-launched, the consumers can also make online quote requests. Clicking on the “request for Quote”, the client needs to fill up the form online and send the form for the company’s approval. The company brochure can also be downloaded from the website directly.


To speak about the quality of the services provided, it needs to be mentioned that the rock walls of Brothers Rice are constructed to Australian standards. All of them come with innovative design and latest construction methodologies and elate you with a lifetime maintenance-free landscape design, installation. While talking about the Brothers Rice services and products, the General Manager stated, “Our landscape designs and rock walls can be put up in just a couple of days and they all, in an efficient way, stand the test of time. From mould to cyclones, our rock walls provide the strongest landscapes on today’s market, that too at an extremely affordable cost”. “We work in accordance with the science of landscape design at its best”, he added.


“The re-designed has been launched just at the end of the year that has witnessed an increment of 30 % over the previous year’s client base, uttered Shane Rice, the Brothers Rice general manager.


About Brothers Rice:

Brothers Rice, founded in insert year of establishment), is a landscape design and rock wall installation company in Australia. Based on the Gold Coast in Queensland, the company is a master in professional Boulder and Rock wall construction as well as preparation for new House pads. The Brothers Rice landscaping team uses top quality Sandstone from their very own Quarry in Beaudesert, Granite and bush rock to build rock walls and boulders. Delivering projects all over South East Queensland, specifically in Northern New South Wales, Brisbane and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Brothers Rice is already an expert dominating the landscape design and rock wall industry.


The top higher-ed tech stories of 2009: No. 4

In October 2008, Google settled a lawsuit with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over its extensive book-scanning project, and a federal judge was expected to approve the settlement this past spring. But concerns arose that the deal would give Google too much power over access to digital texts, forcing the company to rewrite the settlement to appease a growing chorus of critics–and now the revised deal awaits a hearing in February 2010.

At stake is access to the full text of millions of out-of-print books online, a potential goldmine for scholars and other researchers.

Google has scanned the text from millions of out-of-print but copyright-protected books through partnerships with the University of Michigan and other libraries. Google has called its Books project, which also scans public-domain works, an invaluable chance for obscure books to receive increased exposure.

But in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2005, the Authors Guild alleged that Google was "engaging in massive copyright infringement." Within weeks, publishers also sued.

Late last year, Google and the publishing industry agreed to settle their battle. The original settlement called for Google to pay $125 million while developing online sales opportunities for scanned books that turn up in Google searches. Google would get 37 percent of future revenue, and publishers and authors would share the rest.

Google also would pay for the millions of copyrighted books already scanned–$60 per complete work to the rights holder–and for the legal fees of the Authors Guild and the publishing association.

In April, however, a group of authors that included John Steinbeck’s son and daughter-in-law, musician Arlo Guthrie, and university professors from around the country persuaded U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to delay approval of the settlement.

"It is clear to us that the settlement, if approved, will shape the future of reading, research, writing, and publication practices for decades to come," Pamela Samuelson, co-director for the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, wrote in a letter to Chin.

The deal also drew scrutiny from library groups and the U.S Justice Department, which filed a brief arguing that the settlement threatened to thwart competition in the emerging digital-book market unless it was revised.

Hoping to keep the deal alive, Google filed a series of new provisions with Chin in November. Among other things, the modified agreement provides more flexibility to offer discounts on electronic books and promises to make it easier for others to resell access to a digital index of books covered in the settlement.

Responding to months of persistent criticism from many European officials, the revised deal also excludes foreign-language texts.

Google’s concessions did not quell European criticism, however. A Paris court ruled Dec. 18 that Google’s expansion into digital books breaks France’s copyright laws, and a judge slapped the internet search leader with a 10,000 euro-a-day fine until it stops showing snippets of copyrighted texts.

College and university library officials, meanwhile, were largely disappointed with Google’s decision to exclude non-English books from its digital library, saying the move would cut Google’s massive online collection in half and could hamper campus research.

"It changes the value" of Google’s book-search service, said Erika Linke, associate dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. Linke added that the concession "makes a big difference" for students researching non-English texts.

Related links:

Technology helps bring rare books back to print

Google to launch site for selling books online

Copyrights blocking scholarly works

Google rewrites landmark book-search deal

Revised Google Book deal disappoints many

Google fined $14,300 a day in France over books



New programs to attract students to digital jobs

Growing up in the ’70s, John Halamka was a bookish child with a penchant for science and electronics. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and buttoned his shirts up to the collar, the New York Times reports. "I was constantly being called a geek or a nerd," he recalled, chuckling.  Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking.  Now 47, Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at the Harvard Medical School, a practicing emergency-ward physician and an adviser to the Obama administration on electronic health records.

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