Future of eReading might not be iPad, but Blio

Blio will allow students to interact with textbooks in full color.

Blio's makers say it will allow students to interact with textbooks in full color.

Despite all the buzz about Apple’s iPad tablet and how it could be useful for reading electronic textbooks, a new software program on the way might hold even more promise for education.

Blio, a free eReader program that is expected to be available in February, reportedly will allow users to read more than a million electronic books on nearly any computer or portable device, with the ability to highlight and annotate text, hear the text read aloud, and more.

Blio was announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and is the brainchild of education technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil, creator of Kurzweil Educational Systems and a range of assistive technology products.

Perhaps the software’s most impressive feature is that it can support the original layout, font, and graphics of any book in full color, its creators say. It also can support embedded multimedia such as video and audio, and readers have the ability to highlight, annotate, and share information.

Blio isn’t yet available, but already it’s backed by Baker & Taylor, one of the world’s largest publishers, as well as Elsevier, Hachette, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Wiley. Blio users will have access to more than 1 million books altogether, its makers say—including a large selection of current bestselling titles.

Lisa Galloni, partner relationship manager for Blio, said the software has had tremendous support from publishers because it can preserve any book’s original layout and graphics.

Its flexibility is appealing as well, Galloni said.

“Because it’s not attached to any one device like a Kindle, it’s not restrictive,” she said.

As a user downloads eBooks, these are permanently stored in a personal virtual library, Galloni said. The entire library seamlessly migrates to up to five devices per user, any of which can be mobile.

“What’s great about it is that since all these devices are synched, you can read seamlessly,” she said. “Say I am reading a textbook on page 23, and then I leave my computer and decide to read on the bus via my iPhone. When I click on that book, it will still be on page 23.”

Because all texts are stored virtually, all of the user’s highlights and annotations are saved as well.

Users also reportedly can:

  • Create a personalized list of reference web sites, for one-touch lookup of highlighted phrases;
  • Adjust reading speed and font size;
  • Translate to or from English in an embedded translation window; and
  • Insert text, drawings, audio, images, or video notes directly into the content. These are saved and can be exported to create lists or study materials.

Another feature that could prove useful for assistive and language learning is Blio’s read-aloud function. A synthesized voice can read texts aloud using text-to-speech functionality, synchronized with follow-along word highlighting, so a user can look and listen at the same time.

Amazon.com’s popular Kindle eReader also includes text-to-speech capability, but in a concession to publishers, Amazon requires users to turn on this functionality themselves. Turning on this feature of the Kindle currently requires users to navigate through screens of text menus, which is a problem for users who are visually impaired.


Wireless mic frequency change could affect schools

Faculty members might have to use new wireless microphones in lecture halls after a recent FCC ruling.

Instructors might have to use new wireless microphones in lecture halls after a recent FCC ruling.

Schools and colleges that use wireless microphones operating on the 700 megahertz (MHz) frequency band have until June 12 to change the radio frequency or buy new equipment, according to a Jan. 15 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FCC’s decision is part of a larger government effort to clear the 700 MHz band for use by cell phones, digital TV transmissions, and emergency communications. About 25 percent of the country’s wireless microphones will have to be modified or replaced, according to federal projections.

The ruling affects schools, colleges, sports stadiums, churches, theater groups, musicians, and others who rely on wireless microphones to amplify sound. Some schools and colleges using wireless mics to help their instructors or performers be heard more clearly could end up spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to replace the banned equipment.

Violating the FCC’s order could result in penalties and fines, although the extent of this punishment isn’t yet known. Manufacturers of wireless microphones say many schools are unaware of the frequency change and its potential impact.

“I think a lot of people are still pretty vague on what’s going to happen” after the FCC’s June deadline passes, said Paul Harris, CEO of Aurora Multimedia, a New Jersey-based company that makes wireless microphones and has customers in higher education.

Schools “are probably going to keep using [the 700 MHz band] until it becomes a problem,” Harris said, adding: “If it’s not causing any problems, why should they have to stop using it?”

Harris said his company’s education customers won’t have to adjust to the new federal rules, because Aurora microphones use Bluetooth technology, avoiding use of the now-prohibited wireless spectrum.

The FCC has posted a list of companies and products that will violate its new 700 MHz rules. The product list is lengthy and includes hundreds of model numbers from more than a dozen manufacturers, as well as information about whether these devices can be modified to abide by the new guidelines.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the 700 MHz ruling will promote next-generation wireless technology and clear the airwaves for police and firefighters.

“Our decision will accelerate the buildout of 4G wireless networks and will prevent interference with first responders who rely on the 700-megahertz band for mission-critical communications,” Genachowski said in a prepared statement.

The FCC’s decision came two years after a complaint filed by consumer groups accused many users of wireless microphones of unwittingly violating FCC rules that require government licenses for the devices.

In the complaint, the groups accused manufacturers such as Shure Inc. of Niles, Ill., of deceptive advertising in the way they market and sell high-end wireless microphones to people who are not legally permitted to use them. (See “Filing amplifies concerns over wireless mics.”)


FETC 2010: Audio-Visual Systems

TI DLP 3D projector from Vivitek

A Texas Instruments DLP 3D projector from Vivitek

Blonder Tongue Laboratories displayed its DVS-400 video server designed for broadcasting applications, which the company said is essentially a digital “TV station-in-a-box.” The server stores hundreds of hours of video content and uses software with a graphical interface to schedule video broadcasts as desired.

Calypso Systems showcased its integrated school communication systems at Florida’s technology demonstration school, Ocoee Middle School. Ocoee uses three Calypso ezRoom-5000 classroom audio-visual systems, complete with integrated voice amplification capabilities. With help from the Florida State Legislature and the Orange County Public Schools, Ocoee Middle School underwent a top-to-bottom renovation in 2009, transforming the school into a showcase for technology-based learning enhancements. The school is designed with 21st-century instruction in mind, incorporating ceiling-mounted projectors, document cameras, and large screens in every classroom. Designed specifically for the K-12 classroom, Calypso’s ezRoom-5000 brings together multiple AV sources—such as projectors, interactive whiteboards, document cameras, and personal computers—and gives teachers a single point of control for them all, accessible from a wall controller and the teacher’s PC. It also provides an integrated wireless voice amplification system.

Mediatech introduced a configurable button panel to control AV equipment, including projectors, screens, and document cameras. Features include the ability to control RS-232 and infrared devices, an add-on LAN module, interchangeable button labels, seven user-controlled LED colors, audible tones, command scripting with auto power-up and shutdown, a security lockout option, and two serial and one IR control ports.

RoomPro Technologies released RoomPro ONE, an integrated, all-in-one classroom audio-visual control and sound amplification system. RoomPro ONE is equipped with a built-in infrared microphone system that offers voice enhancement and 360-degree sound reinforcement, the company said. It also includes a wall panel for simple, one-touch control of AV equipment, as well as a Virtual Control Panel, proprietary emulation software that allows teachers to operate the system using multiple instructional technologies.

Samsung introduced its SDP-860 Digital Presenter, which the company calls a high-quality system priced with education in mind. It has the ability to record up to 32 gigabytes of data via an SDHC memory card, and it can capture and display high-resolution still shots as well as movies with full audio. It also can record audio at any time. User-scalable display outputs range from XGA to full HD resolution, and the native SXGA resolution at 30 frames per second provides full-motion display with no latency. The SDP-860 also has multiple joints to allow for easy movement.


FETC 2010: Online Learning Communities

2859_echalkeChalk, which sells online communication and collaboration tools to connect K-12 communities, unveiled its newest release, eChalk 10.0. The software features enhancements designed for more effective communication among school leaders, teachers, students, and parents, including a web site layout manager, free parent accounts, and redesigned web mail. Thanks to a partnership with PropellShops, the online platform also includes built-in “school stores”: fundraising sections in which school leaders can choose items for sale and set prices.

it’s learning, a global provider of learning management system (LMS) software that began selling to U.S. schools early last year, demonstrated its fully hosted online platform for delivering individualized instruction. What distinguishes it’s learning from other LMS providers, said Jon Bower, president of the company’s U.S. division, is its underlying technology that can take a “flat” course file that a teacher uploads and convert it automatically to a hierarchical file that can differentiate, or personalize, the delivery of course content to individual students or groups of students. (Teachers must tag the content appropriately for this to occur, Bower explained.) With it’s learning, each student receives an Individual Learning Plan, and the software monitors students’ progress, showing them how they are doing with their work. Reports also show administrators, teachers, and parents where further instruction or intervention is needed to help students master the content.

School systems now can use Skyward’s K-12 administrative software to facilitate one-to-one computing initiatives, the company said. Recent additions to Skyward’s software suite, such as Student Access—and its Online Assignment feature in particular—can complement a district’s laptop program well, said the company. Today’s students work with a variety of online applications, including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, and the Skyward Student Access program harnesses that familiarity by incorporating features of the social media experience into the student’s educational environment. Students have the ability to review and complete assignments online, make course requests, read and respond to messages via a message center, use a custom personal calendar, eMail school personnel, respond to teacher surveys, and more.

The Online Assignment component of Skyward’s Student Access module provides an online portal for students to complete teacher-generated assignments, quizzes, or tests. Once they complete their assignment, their work can be scored automatically; these scores instantly appear in the teacher’s gradebook, and students can get immediate feedback on how well they did. While this feedback helps students identify areas where they need improvement, it also creates an in-depth data repository to help teachers and administrators identify where individuals or groups of students need additional instruction, Skyward said.


FETC 2010: Hardware

HP Mini 5102 Red - Angle

HP Mini 5102 Red

Computer manufacturer Asus showcased products ranging from mini-notebooks to high-powered desktop replacements. These include the Eee PC Series of lightweight, portable notebooks for students; the Eee Box Series of energy-efficient “nettop” devices, equipped with the Express Gate mini-operating system, that let users access the internet and other desktop machines; the Eee Top Series of touch-screen devices that include a computer inside of a monitor, running touch-optimized software; and notebooks and LCD monitors.

HP demonstrated several new products aimed at schools, including a multi-touch netbook, called the HP Mini 5102; a touch-sensitive tablet computer, the HP TouchSmart tm2; an all-in-one desktop PC, the HP Pro MS200; and new workstations for schools’ high-end computing needs, such as computer aided design (CAD), graphic design, and gaming.

The HP Mini 5102 has a 10.1-inch screen, a metal casing, and a spill-resistant keyboard that is 92 percent of the size of a full-sized keyboard. It is multi-touch enabled, meaning users can pinch, grab, and rotate images on the screen. It runs Windows 7 with an Intel Atom processor, comes in multiple colors, and starts at $399 (although the multi-touch version costs $50 more), with volume discounts available—a price that could help schools more feasibly implement one-to-one computing programs, HP said. The student version comes pre-loaded with the Digital School Suite of content creation software from Adobe.

The HP TouchSmart tm2 is a tablet PC with a keyboard and rotating screen that converts the device into a laptop or slate format. Users can interact with the device by using the keyboard, writing with a stylus, or touching the screen. It includes handwriting-recognition software that can convert written notes into a text-based Word file automatically, making it a useful tool for taking notes in class or in the field, HP said. The TouchSmart tm2 starts at $899.

HP TouchSmart tm2

HP TouchSmart tm2

The HP Pro MS200 is an all-in-one desktop PC that is Energy Star 5.0 compliant, saving schools both space and energy, HP said. The company also unveiled a new entry-level workstation, the Z200, that is priced like a desktop but offers more computing power for schools that need it. In addition, HP showcased two new mobile workstations, the EliteBook 8440w and 8540w, that are more expensive but allow users to take the machines home for completing CAD or graphics assignments.

NComputing launched a USB-based virtual desktop kit, the U170. Based on more than 10 years of product development and refinement, the U170 is a high-speed USB 2.0 peripheral that automatically assigns to a user any other USB device attached to it, such as a keyboard or mouse. The U170 is an easy way for several students to share the processing power of a single computer, the company says.


FETC 2010: Instruction & Assessment

Promethean BoothAmerican Education Corp., a provider of research-based, core curriculum instructional software for kindergarten through adult learners, will release a series of virtual science and math labs later this year.

Brainchild, a publisher of educational assessment and intervention programs, launched the Brainchild Academy Concept, a multimodal method of combining print and digital resources with face-to-face instruction. Students work through three stations: (1) Brainchild Achiever! for diagnosis and assessment, (2) Brainchild’s handheld Study Buddy for instruction, and (3) use of Achiever! worksheets or supplemental print materials for reinforcing instruction with a teacher or tutor. This three-station method keeps a classroom of students occupied and focused on the core instructional content while the teacher is free to assist and guide her students through the process, Brainchild said.

For a pilot project in which digital content replaces traditional textbooks as the core instructional material, teachers in the Indianapolis Public Schools are using Discovery Education to access streaming video, images, and other digital media, all aligned with district pacing guides. This pilot project, which is occurring in 12 district schools, features digital media, curriculum alignment services, professional development, and hardware from Discovery Education. The company’s media collection reportedly includes more than 5,000 videos and 41,000 digital video clips, all aligned with state standards. The content is searchable by keyword, content area, and grade level. Discovery Education and Comcast’s Indianapolis Region are supplementing this content and extending students’ learning beyond the school day through Discovery Education On Demand By Comcast, which makes the content available to Comcast subscribers online or on cable TV, free of charge.

Educational software company DreamBox Learning had Mickelle Weary, a member of its Academic Team and a National Board Certified Teacher, lead a panel session titled “Using Virtual Manipulatives to Support the Development of Number Sense.” Participants in Weary’s session shared their ideas about the value of using virtual manipulatives for teaching numeric concepts and skills, as well as how to use and evaluate virtual math manipulatives in a classroom setting. The company also showcased its DreamBox Learning K-2 Math product.

GradeCam, which sells a classroom-based solution for conducting frequent assessments, now offers an online version. When a paper-based test is scanned with a document or web camera, GradeCam Online compresses the image and sends it to a server for analysis by its proprietary advanced image recognition code. Item-by-item results are displayed immediately and stored for generating real-time reports. GradeCam Online also integrates with all electronic gradebooks, its maker says.

“As with any application that is web-based, the district-wide implementation of GradeCam Online is so much easier because there is no software to install and upgrades happen automatically,” said Tami Porter, co-founder of GradeCam. “With an automated assessment process, teachers can collect information every day about each of their students’ learning needs. With the new online version, continual monitoring of student progress toward skill mastery, which is a proven strategy for academic success, is much easier for classroom teachers to implement.”


Up to $10,000 for young female entrepreneurs

This annual Guardian’s initiative is designed to reward the enterprising spirits of girls ages 12 to 18. Now in its 10th year, Guardian awards prizes to 15 girls who demonstrate budding entrepreneurship, are taking the first steps toward financial independence, and make a difference in their schools and communities. Every year, prizes totaling $30,000 are granted to three top winners and 12 finalists each year, to further their entrepreneurial pursuits or save for college.


FETC 2010: Security

Fujitsu's PalmSecure

Fujitsu's PalmSecure

Absolute Software said its Computrace LoJack for Laptops service, which helps schools recover lost or stolen laptops, now includes remote locking and messaging capabilities that take advantage of Intel Anti-Theft Technology. When a computer is reported missing, its owner can “lock down” the operating system, rendering the machine useless to unauthorized users. Once the computer is back in the hands of its rightful owner, it can be unlocked through the customer’s LoJack for Laptops account or by typing a password on the computer. To activate the system, users must buy a subscription ranging from one to four years in length.

Black Box Network Services introduced Veri-NAC, a network access control (NAC) system to help protect against network vulnerability. Veri-NAC is a family of NAC appliances that ensure only authorized devices can access a school or district network. The appliances also screen for vulnerabilities in computers connected to the network. If Veri-NAC detects an untrusted asset, it shuts off network access for that device instantly—protecting the network while keeping trusted devices securely online. 

F5 Networks discussed its BIG-IP LTM (Local Traffic Manager), a full proxy server that sits between users of a school or district network and the servers that deliver applications to them, creating a layer of abstraction to secure, optimize, and load-balance network traffic. This gives network managers the ability to add servers easily, eliminate network downtime, improve application performance, and meet security needs, F5 said.

Fujitsu discussed PalmSecure, a biometric security system that is highly accurate and easy to use, the company says. The PalmSecure device reads the vein patterns in the palm of a user’s hand to generate a unique biometric signature. Users don’t have to touch the device; they simply hold their hand above a scanner. Access to authorized applications and databases is permitted only with a positive match. According to Fujitsu, vein patterns within the palm are unique to each individual; even identical twins have different palm vein patterns, and these patterns do not change over an adult’s lifetime. Fujitsu says its technology is 100 times more accurate than fingerprint technology. And because the information resides inside your hand, it cannot be stolen by photographing, tracing, or recording—meaning forgery is virtually impossible. Pearson’s computer-based testing business is using PalmSecure to verify the identity of test takers, Fujitsu said.


Up to $4,000 to incorporate environmental education into all subject areas

Environmental education benefits students – from increasing their understanding of how earth’s resources and natural systems work, offering opportunities for hands-on activities and inquiry-based learning to providing practical information about how to succeed in the green economy. Classroom Earth wants to help support teachers around the country who want to make environmental education part of their curriculum.

Classroom Earth’s 2010 National High School Challenge provides grants up to $4,000 to help support innovative projects to incorporate environmental education into all subject areas.


FETC 2010: Training & Consulting

Exhibit Hall CrowdAutismPro said Vermont’s Rutland City Public Schools has incorporated its software to support its autism and special-needs intervention program. AutismPro provides access to online professional development, thousands of research-based instructional resources, and a communication platform to help districts meet the needs of children with autism. Teachers and administrators can refer to a database of more than 5,000 lesson plans, teaching strategies, and behavioral supports to help them address individual student needs.

Toronto-based Blossom Learning, an online training company consisting of former educators and AV presentation professionals, debuted a SMART Board online training course for K-12 educators. The eight-chapter “Online Applied SMART Board Course” is available to teachers, administrators, and students for $69.95. Hosted by an avatar named Mrs. Blossom, the course comes with built-in LMS capabilities that allow administrators to assign chapters to individuals and groups and track their progress toward completion. The SMART Board course is the first in a series of planned online training courses designed to inspire a greater use of technology in the classroom, Blossom Learning said. The course is available immediately in English, with a French version expected in March and Spanish in June. Other languages will follow thereafter.

MGT of America, which helps in all areas of school management, highlighted some of its services, which include management and performance reviews; monitoring the use of stimulus money; facilities planning and evaluation; facility bond program audits; standards, assessment, and accountability reviews; comprehensive data systems consulting; Response to Intervention implementation; and other program evaluations.

PublicSchoolWORKS, which offers training and software to help schools with automated reporting and compliance, introduced a new Fraud Reporting System at FETC. The system is an online tool that gives school district employees an anonymous way to report fraudulent behavior, accounting inconsistencies, and other suspicious activity. When someone files a report, the system sends automatic notification to everyone who should receive it, along with reminders to make sure the district follows up as required by law. In many states, schools are required to report instances of fraud, although the exact requirements vary from state to state. PublicSchoolWORKS offers an accompanying training program to teach school employees what constitutes fraud, and how they must report it. The system is customized to meet the requirements of each state, the company said.