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

Many schools that closed as a result of the H1N1 virus turned to online learning to keep lessons going.

Many schools that closed as a result of the H1N1 virus turned to online learning to keep lessons going.

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. 6

Online learning has the power to transform education, as the creation of free online universities demonstrates.

Online learning has the power to transform education, as the creation of free online universities demonstrates.

Although technically it was published in 2008, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael Horn, made a huge impression in the past year, and its authors spoke at numerous education conferences in 2009. Their ideas proved quite prophetic later in the year, when a new online-learning movement that is sure to disrupt higher education began.

At the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in February, Christensen explained the premise of his thought-provoking book, which looks at why schools have struggled to improve through the lens of “disruptive innovation.”

If Christensen is right, half of all instruction will take place online within the next 10 years–and schools had better get into the online-learning market or risk losing their students to other providers.

Disruptive innovation is the business idea that, every so often, a new innovation comes along that completely changes the marketplace, knocking the old market leaders from their perch and giving rise to new ones.

Whenever a disruptive innovation occurs, the substitution pattern in which the new model replaces the old one follows an S-curve pattern that can be calculated mathematically, Christensen said. At first, as the suppliers of a new innovation work out its flaws, adoption is fairly flat. But then, as the innovation improves to the point where it’s widely affordable, accessible, and delivers a satisfactory experience, adoption spikes exponentially.

This mathematical model has proven to be remarkably consistent throughout history, Christensen said. And if that historical pattern holds true, then the latest disruptive innovation that is sure to affect education–online learning–is set to take off dramatically.

Online enrollments in K-12 education have grown from an estimated 45,000 in 2000 to more than a million last year. By 2013, he said, 10 percent of all “seat time” will be occupied by online instruction–and within 10 years, he predicted, more than half of all seat time will be online enrollments.

Until now, the providers of online instruction have catered primarily to areas of “non-consumption” in education, Christensen said, such as credit recovery, AP courses, and home-schooled or homebound students.

But that will change once online instruction reaches its tipping point–and if schools want to compete for these “customers” (their students), they should consider partnering with an online-learning provider or starting an online program of their own.

Online learning already has disrupted providers of traditional education to some extent, but a new movement that began this year could really shake up higher education: A few online startup universities are charging little or no tuition for access to a wealth of college curriculum, and advocates say these free web-based programs could help expand higher education to the developing world.

These so-called open universities are “exactly what the internet should be,” said Shai Reshef, founder and president of University of the People, which welcomed its first students in September. “That’s why [the internet] was invented–to enable information to flow everywhere.”


Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 7

Google's revised book-scanning settlement hasn't quelled all criticism.

Google's revised book-scanning settlement hasn't quelled all criticism.

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.

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 late 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:

Google’s book scanning faces scrutiny

Google rivals to fight book-scanning settlement

Google addresses book-search privacy fears

Feds want Google to rewrite book deal

Google rewrites landmark book-search deal

Revised Google Book deal disappoints many

Libraries ask for oversight of Google Books project

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


Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 8

Google and Microsoft stepped up their student-oriented programs.

Google and Microsoft stepped up their student-oriented programs.

It might not be on par with the infamous platform wars between Microsoft and Apple that have spanned three decades–at least, not yet–but the rivalry between technology giants Microsoft and Google heated up significantly during the past year, with schools and their students as key beneficiaries.

Aiming to capture the loyalty of a future generation of computer users, both companies now offer cloud-based communication and productivity software to schools free of charge. It’s an offer that many schools and colleges acted on this year as they struggled to balance their budgets.

Microsoft’s Live@edu program gives K-12 schools and colleges a set of free hosted and co-branded collaboration and communication tools that include Windows Live Hotmail, a hosted eMail service, and Office Live Workspace, an online space to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents.

Similarly, Google Apps for Education is free for schools and colleges. The service includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Sites, Google Docs, and Google Video, all using a school’s own domain. In addition, Google for Educators contains classroom activities and teacher guides for using a dozen Google applications in the curriculum.

Converting to Microsoft or Google eMail systems is saving some large colleges and universities upwards of half a million dollars annually, and the move has satisfied some students and faculty members who have clamored for an eMail interface with more applications and storage capability.

The competition between Google and Microsoft to convert the nation’s schools and colleges to their free hosted eMail and other IT services “is a proxy war for what’s occurring in the commercial environment,” Matt Cain, lead eMail analyst for the research firm Gartner, told the San Jose Mercury News in early December. And the rivalry doesn’t stop at eMail, either.

In July, just days after Google announced plans to challenge the dominance of Microsoft’s Windows operating system with a free operating system of its own, called Chrome, Microsoft revealed that it will give internet users free access to a web-based version of its Office suite as it seeks to catch up with Google in online applications.

The rivalry extends to web searching, too: Aiming to make a dent in Google’s search-engine dominance, Microsoft last spring launched a redesigned search site, called Bing, that gives internet users a new option for online research.

Live@edu and Google Apps for Education aren’t the only programs from Microsoft and Google intended to cultivate future brand loyalty among young software users. In March, Microsoft said it would offer professional-grade developing software such as Visual Studio and XNA Game Studio to high school students free of charge, a service it previously had offered to college students through its DreamSpark program. Google, meanwhile, has rolled out a student ambassador program that recruits software enthusiasts to evangelize its array of applications on more than 60 college campuses.

Related links:

Microsoft offers free tools for high schoolers

Schools turn to hosted eMail to save money

Microsoft takes on Google in web search

Google Wave has great potential for education

Google Maps snaps views from college campuses

Software rivalry gives students more choices

Microsoft motivates innovative teachers

Gmail outage won’t dissuade colleges

Google unveils tool to annotate web sites

Blackboard works on Google integration

College road trip for Microsoft’s research chief

Google publishes Stanford dissertations online

Students spread the Google gospel

Microsoft, Google in battle to win over students


Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 9

Dangerous and hurtful situations prompted by sexting were in the news almost daily.

Dangerous and hurtful situations prompted by sexting were in the news almost daily.

Despite the growth in internet safety education over the past year, one alarming trend continued to get worse: “sexting,” or the act of sending explicit photos or text messages via cell phones or the web.

More than a quarter of young people ages 14 to 24 say they’ve been involved in some form of sexting, according to an Associated Press-MTV poll released in early December. A separate poll from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that 15 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have received “sext” messages.

While the exchange of nude images mostly takes place among romantic partners or potential partners of the same age, these images often are forwarded to non-partners or people in different age groups–with sometimes tragic results.

Two teens committed suicide this year as a result of the bullying they endured when explicit photos they took of themselves ended up in the wrong hands. In March, 18-year-old Jessica Logan killed herself in the face of a barrage of taunts when an ex-boyfriend forwarded explicit photos of her following their breakup. And in September, 13-year-old Hope Witsell hanged herself in her bedroom. The 13-year-old Florida girl had sent a topless photo of herself to a boy in the hope of gaining his attention. Instead, she got the attention of her school, as well as the nearby high school.

The parents of Jessica Logan have sued her former school, saying if officials had taken more aggressive action against the bullying, Jessica would still be alive today.

Besides the emotional trauma it can lead to, sexting can have serious legal ramifications as well. Some prosecutors have begun charging teens who send and receive such images with child pornography and other felonies, sparking an intense discussion about whether that’s really the best way to handle it.

Some state lawmakers don’t think so, and in the past year they’ve proposed or passed laws to bar child pornography charges that result in lifetime listings on states’ internet sex-offender registries.
Appropriate punishment aside, everyone agrees that the best solution is educating teens about the risks of sexting.

Marisa Nightingale, senior advisor with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said many teens who send sexting messages do so as a joke. “But you’re basically relinquishing control of how people see you in this very sensitive area, which is your sexuality,” she said.

Related links:

Porn charges for ‘sexting’ stir debate

Federal judge blocks charges in ‘sexting’ case

States consider new ‘sexting’ laws

‘Sexting’ bullying cited in teen’s suicide

Poll finds sexting common among youth

Parents sue school for role in ‘sexting’ tragedy

Study: 15 percent of teens have gotten ‘sext’ messages


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

Schools are focusing more than ever on internet safety education.

Schools are focusing more than ever on internet safety education.

In November, the Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules stating that schools and libraries receiving federal e-Rate funding would have to submit proof they’ve implemented web-safety education programs along with their applications.

The new rules came in response to legislation passed late last year requiring schools to teach their students about safe and responsible internet use. But many schools didn’t wait for the FCC’s action, instead taking a proactive approach to compliance with the new law.

Judi Westberg Warren, president of the internet safety-education group Web Wise Kids, said earlier this year that her organization has seen an increased number of schools reaching out to Web Wise Kids for guidance on how to properly educate students and teachers about internet safety.

Warren attributed the increase to a combination of the new internet-safety mandate and a general growing awareness about the issue.

“We have an awful lot of schools and teachers asking about internet-safety programs–it’s really on the increase,” Warren said in October. “We’re really excited about that, because it means that schools are concerned about this issue and want to find good methods to educate their kids.”

Meanwhile, schools looking to teach about internet safety got some additional help throughout the year.

New research came out in January suggesting that simply reaching out to teens via eMail can help them learn safe and responsible internet use. Members of an internet safety task force in July suggested several ways to improve cyber safety for children, focusing on three key areas in particular: education before a child gets online, control while the child is online, and having set procedures if problems arise. And earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies released a new booklet that helps parents and teachers steer kids safely through the online and mobile-phone worlds.

So far, schools looking to teach internet safety have had to do so on their own dime. But a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year could change that.

The School and Family Education about the Internet (SAFE Internet) Act, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would “create a grant program to support existing and new internet safety programs that meet guidelines based on the cyber safety strategies found to be most effective.”

“The way to meet the challenges and opportunities the internet presents isn’t to deny our children access to this great resource, but to make sure they know how to use it wisely,” Menendez said. “Just as we make sure our children know not to talk to strangers, not to bully kids on the playground, and not to give out their personal information, we have the same responsibility to teach them to apply these values online.”

Related links:

eMail intervention teaches internet safety

Study: Internet safer for kids than many think

Bill would fund internet safety education

Task force tells how to keep kids safe online

Software lets marketers eavesdrop on kids

Lawmakers seek ways to stop cyber bullying

Schools step up web-safety instruction

FCC proposes web-safety education rules

FTC: Virtual worlds pose real risks to minors

Feds release cyber safety booklet


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Video game teaches students fiscal skills

A new video game designed to help students learn to manage their money tries to make the dullness of balancing a checkbook look more like the thrill of driving for a touchdown. The game tests high school and college students’ fiscal skills in an online simulation based on the rules of the NFL. Students can score first downs, gain yardage, and score points by answering questions correctly. The level of difficulty varies, with questions like what to do when you run out of checks and the limits on an IRA. New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released the game, “Financial Football,” on Dec. 15. With the economy still shaky, it’s never too early to learn how to spend and save responsibly, he said. The game is designed to be played in teams. To score points, a team needs to correctly answer a series of money-management questions. If they’re wrong, a team can lose yardage. The team with the highest point total after four quarters wins. The game comes with two general settings—high school and college levels—and teams have options to pick tougher questions worth more yardage. The advanced, college version comes with a time limit: 30 seconds per question for normal play and 10 seconds for a kick return. Visa Inc. is paying for the initiative.


One Laptop Per Child changes direction, aims for ultra-thin device

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has torn up its roadmap and announced plans to deliver a new ultra-thin computer that it promises will finally break the $100 price barrier, reports PC Pro. Gone is the dual-screen XO 2 computer, which was scheduled for release in 2010. The twin-touchscreen device folded like a book, but never got any further than the prototype stage. In its place comes the ridiculously slender XO 3, which is described as a “single sheet of flexible plastic” that “will be unbreakable and without holes in it.” Photos of the device show it being used as a conventional laptop, satellite navigation device, camera, and games machine. Although details are very sketchy and the released photos are nothing more than mock-ups, OLPC claims the device will be launched in 2012 and will have a target price “well below” $100. OLPC has a history of over-optimism, however. Its original XO laptop was meant to be sold for $100, but failure to land the bulk orders required to push down the price resulted in the laptop being sold for closer to $200…

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Studying young minds, and how to teach them

New research on when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts could reshape early education, reports the New York Times. For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready. But recent research has turned that assumption on its head–that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language, and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts. In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds might not be fully developed until age 11–much later than many have assumed. The teaching of basic academic skills, until now largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, is giving way to approaches based on cognitive science. In several cities, including Boston, Washington, and Nashville, schools have been experimenting with new curriculums to improve math skills in preschoolers. In others, teachers have used techniques developed by brain scientists to help children overcome dyslexia. And schools in about a dozen states have begun to use a program intended to accelerate the development of young students’ frontal lobes, improving self-control in class…

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