Asustek plans Eee Book eReader and tablet PC to rival iPad

Netbook pioneer Asustek Computer plans to launch its own eReader device and a tablet PC to rival Apple’s iPad in the second half of this year, PC World reports. The company will focus on bringing content providers on board when it releases its tablet PC, CEO Jerry Shen told investors. It also will launch its first eReader device, the Eee Book, at the Computex Taipei 2010 electronics trade show, which runs June 1 to 5. Details about both devices were not immediately available. Shen hinted at creating a “smart book” this year, a mini-laptop similar to a netbook but made using a microprocessor and other components normally found in smart phones. The devices offer far longer battery life than netbooks, which are made using laptop PC components. During the conference, he said Asustek saw a better opportunity for smart books this year…

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Mississippi teachers’ licensing info goes online for parents

Parents of Mississippi public school students now can go online to see whether their children’s instructors are licensed in the subject area they teach, reports the Clarion-Ledger. The state education department’s web site shows the type of degree an educator has attained, the subject or subjects the instructor is certified to teach, when the license will expire, and whether or not the license is valid. The web site lists “anybody who has ever had a license and who has ever applied for a license” to teach in Mississippi, said Cindy Coon, director of the Office of Educator Licensure at the state education department. Educators across the state soon will be able to update their licenses online. The online database cost a little more than $900,000, said Pete Smith, a department spokesman…

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Rulings on MySpace suspensions leave more questions than answers

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Lawyer Anthony Sanchez, who represents the Hermitage School District in Mercer County, Pa., called the issue ripe for high-court review.

Federal appellate judges wrestling with whether school leaders can discipline their students for internet speech posted outside of school reached different rulings in two Pennsylvania cases on Feb. 4, further clouding an already murky area of the law.

One 3rd U.S. Circuit Court panel upheld the suspension of a Schuylkill County, Pa., eighth-grader who posted sexually explicit material along with her principal’s photograph on a fake MySpace page.

However, a different three-judge panel on the same appeals court ruled that school officials in Mercer County, Pa., cannot reach into a family’s home and police the internet. That case also involves a MySpace parody of a principal created by a student at home.

And, in dissent, a judge in the first case said his colleagues were broadening the school’s authority and improperly censoring students.

“This holding vests school officials with dangerously overbroad censorship discretion,” Judge Michael Chagares wrote in refusing to uphold the March 2007 suspension of a Blue Mountain Middle School student. “Neither the Supreme Court nor this court has ever allowed schools to punish students for off-campus speech that is not school sponsored and that caused no substantial disruption at school.”

School boards, free-speech advocates, and others had been awaiting the rulings for clarity on how far schools can go to control both online speech and offsite behavior.

“The law was unclear [before], and now it’s in a state of chaos,” said lawyer Witold Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued the Mercer County case.

Similar cases have surfaced across the country, with different rulings, but none have reached the Supreme Court. Judges are therefore left to rely on decades-old Supreme Court case law on the limits of school discipline for guidance—precedents that might not apply well to the digital era.

Lawyer Anthony Sanchez, who represents the Hermitage School District in Mercer County, called the issue ripe for high-court review.

“With technology, … we’re in a very different world than we were when those other opinions came out,” Sanchez said. He did not immediately know if the district would appeal.

In the Blue Mountain case, both the district and circuit courts upheld the 14-year-old student’s 10-day suspension.

Chagares’ two colleagues concluded that her lewd, sexually graphic posting was likely to cause a disruption at school, and therefore could be restricted under prior case law.

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Viewpoint: The future of education lies in the cloud

Cloud computing offers game-changing options for education.

Cloud computing offers game-changing options for education.

Calls to improve K-12 education are routine. Business leaders, educators, and other stakeholders demand that our children acquire the knowledge and skills needed to grow our rapidly evolving economy. Yet, although digital resources have expanded learning opportunities, classroom pedagogy has not changed much in the last 50 years. Throwing more money at existing approaches will at best produce only incremental improvements.

Since the 19th century, schools have used textbooks to deliver instructional content. Textbooks, however, are expensive, their content starts to age upon publication, and they must be replaced periodically. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for California schools to shift to digital textbooks to save much of the $350 million that the state annually budgets for textbooks and instructional materials. Moreover, textbooks are hardly interactive and are isolated from the computing resources with which we have provisioned our schools at great expense. Textbooks met the needs of the 19th and 20th centuries, but they fall far short of 21st century needs. They are old-school delivery that supports old-school pedagogy.

Cloud computing is a new strategy for delivering knowledge and tools that companies worldwide are increasingly adopting. The cloud refers to wide-area networks, generally the internet, from which remote computing resources are shared. Enterprises rely on applications and data storage services that are hosted in the cloud rather than on local servers. Google and others already offer various productivity applications and Microsoft announced that it will offer Microsoft Office 2010 online next year. The cloud reduces costs and complexity and provides scalability. It also permits the flexible deployment of new applications and functionalities to meet prevailing needs.

Might cloud computing be appropriate for schools? If they adopted cloud pedagogy, schools would replace textbooks with browser-based content delivery. Yet a cloud offers schools much more than content-as-a-service. It can deliver such resources as word processors, spreadsheets, databases, data visualization and analysis applications, teacher and administrator tools, and voice/video communications. Of course, students would still have access to the plethora of research and educational information available on the web.

Cloud pedagogy offers tangible benefits. In addition to eliminating the financial burden of textbooks, school districts also would avoid the costs of robust computers and buying, installing, and maintaining software for each. The bulk of the computer processing would be done by the cloud provider, allowing learners to use any networked device that can run a web browser, even iPhones. Schools could further trim IT and energy budgets by saving their files and data on the cloud, doing away with the need for onsite storage. And the cloud provides scalability, permitting schools to increase capacity and capabilities without investing in new infrastructure or staff training.

Cloud pedagogy can deliver curricula and on-demand learning services. It can easily update digital content, ensuring students always work with current information. The cloud can present molecular modeling applications and other resources that introduce emerging fields like nanoscience, biotechnology, and sustainable development. To do so today, instructional materials and applications have to be procured for every science class, incurring costs and effort that make teaching important new domains impractical.

Cloud pedagogy can enhance teaching by integrating multimedia webinars, master classes, and other teacher professional development resources that instructors can conveniently access. The cloud can offer innovative and promising strategies like just-in-time teacher training, in which teachers can view videos of how master teachers deliver the next day’s lesson. Interactive assessments can be embedded within digital content and curricula to help teachers determine not only whether students have learned facts, but also if they understand and can apply concepts and processes.

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Microsoft opens its cloud to researchers

A new partnership between Microsoft and NSF will give researchers access to Microsoft's cloud-computing infrastructure.

A new partnership between Microsoft and NSF will give researchers access to Microsoft's cloud-computing infrastructure.

Researchers have until March 15 to submit proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF) that would grant access to Microsoft Corp.’s massive cloud-computing power for three years.

Researchers and academic teams chosen by NSF officials will use Microsoft Azure, a program that offers enormous data storage and computing capabilities using the corporation’s data centers.

College and university researchers have gravitated to cloud computing in recent years as the model has proven cost efficient—campuses don’t have to maintain pricey on-site server racks—and has removed many restrictions prevalent on traditional computer networks.

“Cloud computing can transform how research is conducted, accelerating scientific exploration, discovery, and results,” said Dan Reed, corporate vice president of technology strategy and policy and eXtreme Computing at Microsoft. “These grants will also help researchers explore rich and diverse multidisciplinary data on a large scale.”

The NSF is equipped to handle a massive influx of applications to use Microsoft Azure. Every year, the foundation reviews 45,000 grant requests and doles out 11,500 research awards.

Along with access to Windows Azure for a three-year period, Microsoft will offer a support team to help researchers integrate cloud technology into their research. Microsoft researchers and developers will work with grant recipients to give them a set of common applications and data collections that can be shared with the broad academic community.

Microsoft’s cloud-computing program will allow researchers to compare and analyze numerous data sets, said Jeannette M. Wing, assistant director for the NSF Computer and Information Science directorate.

“We’ve entered a new era of science—one based on data-driven exploration—and each new generation of computing technology, such as cloud computing, creates unprecedented opportunities for discovery,” Wing said.

Microsoft’s partnership with the NSF “is quite a novel arrangement and is really an excellent example of a way for the federal government, private-sector industry, and academia to work together for [the] common good,” said Daniel Atkins, vice president for research cyber-infrastructure at the University of Michigan.

NSF officials learned this week that President Obama’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget includes an 8-percent increase for the organization, which would have a $7.4 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

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High school computer class taught without computers

Every day, students file into a computer class at Surrattsville High School that is taught without computers, without enough textbooks, and with no permanent teacher, reports the Washington Post. The struggle to find a qualified computer teacher at the Prince George’s County, Md., school, just a dozen miles from an education department that is investing millions in science and technology education, shows the basic problems that schools face even as school-reform rhetoric increases. A teacher who was supposed to teach the computer technology class has been on extended medical leave, and the school system has had trouble finding a substitute with an adequate technology background, school officials said. Some of the 150 students in the course’s six sections say they’ve had to teach themselves out of the book, but the classroom doesn’t have enough books to go around. Students spent the first quarter with computers, but no assignments or textbooks. Then the computers were removed because the long-term substitute was unable to control the class and some students were damaging the equipment, students said. The experience has frustrated parents and students…

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Google gives $1M for research to slash data-center energy use

Google Inc. has awarded a two-year, $1 million research grant aimed at slashing energy usage in large internet data centers to a team of computer scientists at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia, Rutgers reports. The company also might award an additional $500,000 for a third year subject to program review. The grant is part of $5.7 million that the company has awarded to 12 university projects in areas of key interest to the company and the computing research community. Energy efficiency is a key concern for internet companies, because data centers can consume large amounts of power. “Data centers have to be built to handle the highest anticipated demand,” said Ricardo Bianchini, a Rutgers computer science professor. “But most of the time, they are only running between 20 and 50 percent of capacity. Trouble is, the computer servers in these centers consume about the same amount of energy whether their workload is low or high.” The research team will explore ways to create low power modes in servers, allowing parts of the computer to be turned off while other parts remain accessible. The goal is to allow less active servers to move their processing loads to other servers and essentially go to sleep. But information on the sleeping servers’ memories must still be instantly accessible…

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Journal retracts 1998 paper linking autism to MMR vaccine

A prominent British medical journal on Feb. 2 retracted a 1998 research paper that set off a sharp decline in vaccinations after the paper’s lead author suggested that vaccines could cause autism, reports the New York Times. The retraction by The Lancet is part of a reassessment that has lasted for years of the scientific methods and financial conflicts of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who contended that his research showed the combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine might be unsafe. But the retraction might do little to tarnish Dr. Wakefield’s reputation among parents’ groups in the United States. Despite a wealth of scientific studies that have failed to find any link between vaccines and autism, many parents fervently believe that their children’s mental problems resulted from vaccinations. Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the retraction of Dr. Wakefield’s study “significant.” “It builds on the overwhelming body of research by the world’s leading scientists that concludes there is no link between MMR vaccine and autism,” Skinner said…

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Colleges fight attempts to allow weapons

Arizona college officials are trying to ward off an attempt by state lawmakers to let some teachers carry concealed weapons onto their campuses, reports the Arizona Daily Sun. And a random sampling of opinions at Northern Arizona University showed that some students aren’t too keen on the idea, either. State Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, who crafted S.B. 1011, said he believes an armed teacher would be the first line of defense for students and others. Harper said just removing the prohibition on guns on campuses would itself be a deterrent to someone considering shooting up a classroom. Harper appears to have the support of a majority of the members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Human Services. But Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, who chairs the panel, postponed a vote on the bill for a week to get legal clarification of a few matters, including what defines a “faculty member” who would be permitted to be armed. In the meantime, representatives of Arizona public colleges and universities urged lawmakers to reconsider. Anthony Dalkin, police chief of the University of Arizona, said there’s a vast difference between allowing a trained law-enforcement officer to have a gun in a classroom and allowing anyone with a permit…

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Washington state achievement tests go online

Washington officials say 364 middle schools will give state achievement tests online this spring, reports the Associated Press. The new online tests, called the Measurements of Student Progress, are being tried in both reading and math. The schools in the pilot program will be giving one or both tests online in grades six through eight. Students at other schools across the state will be using pencil and paper to take the new tests, which replace the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. The 364 middle schools in the pilot program represent about 27 percent of schools across the state with students in sixth through eighth grade. State Superintendent Randy Dorn calls the online testing pilot a major step forward in state testing.

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