Smart phones under growing threat from hackers

Smart phones are under a growing menace from cyber-criminals seeking to hack into web-connected handsets, but the mobile industry has contained the threat so far, AFP reports. Software security firms warned at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that increasingly popular smart phones could face an explosion of virus attacks in the coming years. “Tomorrow we could see a worm on phones [that] would go around the world in five minutes,” said Mikko Hyppoenen, chief research officer at F-Secure, which makes anti-virus software for mobile phones. Security companies, mobile operators, and makers of operating systems so far have found solutions to limit the attacks and delay an onslaught of spam and viruses. “It won’t work forever; eventually we will see the first global outbreak. But we have been able to delay it by more than five years, at least,” he said. The first mobile virus appeared six years ago, and so far F-Secure has detected only 430 mobile worms, compared with millions of computer viruses. Much like the first computer hackers of two decades ago, the people attacking mobile phones have been doing it as a hobby, Hyppoenen said. “It seems that on any new platform, … the first viruses are done by hobbyists just to show off, and then later, more professional money-making criminals move in,” he said…

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Study finds public discontent with colleges

A new study suggests most Americans believe that colleges today operate like businesses, concerned more with their bottom line than with the educational experience of students, reports the New York Times. The proportion of people who hold that view has increased to 60 percent, from 52 percent in 2007. And nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said colleges should use federal stimulus money to hold down tuition, even if it means less money for operations and programs. The study, a joint project of Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, also found that most Americans believe colleges could admit a lot more students without lowering their quality or raising prices, and that colleges could spend less and maintain a high quality of education. “One of the really disturbing things about this, for those of us who work in higher education,” said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, “is the vote of no confidence we’re getting from the public. They think college is important, but they’re really losing trust in the management and leadership.”

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An iPad for the preschool set

The Fisher-Price iXL Learning System isn’t even on sale yet, and already it’s being hailed as an iPad for pre-schoolers, reports the New York Times. The iXL is a tiny computer that opens like a book. It has fat, colorful icons on the right side and buttons and a speaker on the other side. As you might expect, there are apps for the new product: Story Book, Game Player, Note Book, Art Studio, Music Player, and Photo Album software. And the gadget even has a touch screen. The product should go on sale in July, starting at $79.99. It’s Mac and PC compatible, with an SD card slot and a USB port. “We have invested more research and development dollars into iXL than any other product in our 2010 Fisher-Price product line, and it definitely shows,” Robert Eckert, the chief executive of Mattel, said in a statement…

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Broadband access gap remains large

With 40 percent of U.S. homes without broadband, educators continue the push to close the digital divide.

With 40 percent of U.S. homes without broadband, educators continue the push to close the digital divide.

Roughly 40 percent of Americans do not have high-speed internet access at home, according to new Commerce Department figures that reinforce what some educators believe is causing some students to fall behind.

“There’s lots of talk about digital literacy. That’s something that should be built into the curriculum,” said Charles Benton, chairman and CEO of the Benton Foundation.

“The three R’s alone are not sufficient for today’s needs. We’ve got to be using today’s tools. It’s an old point, but we’ve got to keep beating that drum until we get the funding.”

The number of households without high-speed internet access underscores the challenges facing policy makers who are trying to bring affordable broadband connections to everyone.

The Obama administration and Congress have identified universal broadband as a key to driving economic development, producing jobs, and bringing educational opportunities and cutting-edge medicine to all corners of the country.

“We’re at a point where high-speed access to the internet is critical to the ability of people to be successful in today’s economy and society at large,” said Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an arm of the Commerce Department that released the data Feb. 16.

The NTIA and the Rural Utilities Service, part of the Agriculture Department, are in the middle of handing out $7.2 billion in stimulus funding for broadband access. Most of that money will be used to build networks in parts of the country that lack high-speed internet access.

Next month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will deliver policy recommendations to Congress on how to make universal broadband a reality. Among other things, the FCC is expected to propose expanding the fund that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural communities, finding more airwaves for wireless broadband services, and modernizing the FCC’s rural telemedicine program to bring thousands of health clinics online.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Feb. 16 he wants 100 million U.S. households to have access to ultra high-speed internet connections, with speeds of 100 megabits per second, by 2020. That would be several times faster than the download speeds many U.S. homes with broadband get now, which range from 3 megabits to 20 megabits per second.

Genachowski also wants the U.S. to test even higher broadband speeds. One such testbed network could come from Google Inc., which said last week it plans to build a few experimental fiber-optic networks that would deliver 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 Americans. That would be 10 times faster than a 100 megabit-per-second connection.

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Tech-savvy superintendents honored in Phoenix

Editorial Director Gregg Downey of eSchool News poses with Eric Conti, one of the 2010 TSSA winners.

Editorial Director Gregg Downey (left) of eSchool News poses with Eric Conti (right), one of the 2010 TSSA winners.

Snow wreaked havoc with travel plans in several U.S. states last week, but the sun was shining in Phoenix on Feb. 11 as eSchool News honored 10 superintendents who are among the nation’s most successful in leading their schools into the 21st century.

The occasion was eSchool News’ Tenth Annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards, sponsored by K12 Inc., the Pearson Foundation, Promethean, and JDL Horizons’ Eduvision. The winners were honored at a private ceremony held in conjunction with the Century Club 100’s annual meeting during the American Association of School Administrators’ National Conference on Education.

Winners were nominated by the school field and then chosen by the editors of eSchool News with the help of Tech-Savvy Superintendent laureates from prior years.

This year’s winners are:

• Eric Conti, Burlington Public Schools, Massachusetts
• Jan Harris, Cullman City Schools, Alabama
• Manuel Isquierdo, Sunnyside Unified School District, Arizona
• Chip Kimball, Lake Washington School District, Washington
• Pamela R. Moran, Albemarle County Public Schools, Virginia
• Carolyn Ross, Churchill County School District, Nevada
• Kim Ross, Houston Public Schools, Minnesota
• Amy Sichel, Abington School District, Pennsylvania
• Gary Smuts, ABC Unified School District, California
• Craig Witherspoon, Edgecombe County Public Schools, North Carolina

For the first time, the ceremony was shown online this year via live streaming video at eSchoolNews.TV. An archived version is now available for viewing.

Click to watch the 2010 TSSA Ceremony on eSN.tv

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The ceremony was supposed to feature a keynote speech from Tom Carroll, a former Education Department official during the Clinton administration who is now president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

However, Carroll’s travel plans were disrupted by “Snowmageddon,” as the record snowfall in the Washington, D.C., area was being called.

Instead, eSchool News Editor Dennis Pierce talked about the awards program and what it means to be a “tech-savvy” superintendent.

“[It] doesn’t mean you can set up a school network or write lines of code to support your Moodle installation—at least, not necessarily,” Pierce said. “It means you understand how technology can be used to improve instruction and streamline school operations. It means you recognize how technology can be used as a tool to meet the strategic goals of your district, rather than as an end in itself.”

Pierce said he’s been involved in the awards program since its inception, and this year’s awards were the toughest yet to judge.

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Judge: Student suspended for Facebook page can sue

A federal judge has ruled that a South Florida teenager who sued her former principal after she was suspended for creating a Facebook page criticizing a teacher can proceed with her lawsuit, reports the New York Times. The student, Katherine Evans, is seeking to have her suspension expunged from her disciplinary record. School officials suspended her for three days, saying she had been “cyber bullying” the teacher, Sarah Phelps. Ms. Evans is also seeking a “nominal fee” for what she argues was a violation of her First Amendment rights, and payment of her legal fees. The former principal, Peter Bayer, who worked at the Pembroke Pines Charter High School, had asked that the case be dismissed. But Magistrate Judge Barry L. Garber denied Bayer’s petition and rejected his claims of qualified immunity. Lawyers for Ms. Evans, 19, now a sophomore at the University of Florida, said they were pleased by the ruling and hoped to bring the case to trial in the spring. As a high school senior and an honor student, Ms. Evans repeatedly clashed with Phelps over assignments. She turned to Facebook to vent her frustration, creating a Facebook page from her home computer titled “Ms. Sarah Phelps is the worst teacher I’ve ever had” and inviting other students to post their comments…

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Wi-Fi turns bus ride into a rolling study hall

Last fall, school officials in Vail, Ariz., mounted a mobile internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-technology experiment has had an old-fashioned—and unexpected—result, reports the New York Times: Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared. “It’s made a big difference,” said bus driver J.J. Johnson. “Boys aren’t hitting each other, girls are busy, and there’s not so much jumping around.” Internet buses soon might be hauling children to school in many other districts, particularly those with long bus routes. The company marketing the router, Autonet Mobile, says it has sold them to schools or districts in Florida, Missouri, and Washington, D.C. Karen Cator, director of education technology for the federal Education Department, said the buses were part of a wider effort to use technology to extend learning beyond classroom walls and the six-hour school day. The router cost $200, and it came with a $60-a-month internet service contract…

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As online classes boom, questions of rigor arise

A fast-growing number of K-12 students in Minnesota and across the nation are migrating from the classroom to online learning. But while some Minnesota online schools tout impressive test scores, many fall short of statewide performance levels in reading, science, and especially math, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Many educators say that’s because struggling students often turn to online options, but others question the rigor of some online programs. “We’ve seen several cases where students … earn a whole bunch of credits so fast that it’s inconceivable,” said Charlie Kyte, head of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. He said virtual learning can be valuable, but the quality varies widely. Minnesota has at least 24 certified public online K-12 programs. State test results from these online schools are all over the map. Some beat statewide performance; many fall far below. Only 3 percent of students were proficient in math last year at Insight School of Minnesota, and only 17 percent at Wolf Creek Distance Learning Center. “Eighty-five percent of our kids are at risk,” said Tracy Quarnstrom, Wolf Creek’s director. “We run about 20 percent teen parents, and we have students coming out of [drug treatment]. … Still, we need to prove that we can get kids to the point where they need to be.”

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Facebook group urges Rutgers to reconsider internet speed cap

In just three weeks, more than 1,000 Rutgers students banded together on a Facebook group to protest a new speed cap on the university’s residential internet network, reports the Daily Targum. Implemented at the start of the spring semester, the new speed cap for downloading and uploading is set to a maximum of 1.5 megabits per second and 768 kilobits per second, respectively. School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Kevin Song created the group, called “Rutgers Students for Faster Internet.” Song established the group to convince the school’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) to change the new policy to something more satisfactory. Before, the residential network had a bandwidth limit but no speed cap. OIT Director Frank Reda said numerous complaints from students and faculty prompted the university’s decision to remove the download limit when their internet privileges were suspended after exceeding the limit. “Providing uniform, uninterrupted internet access to all students is a fair solution. Now, no student will have coursework impacted by suspension of internet connectivity,” he said. “The only potential con is that peak transmission speeds are slower than previously available.” The new policy has affected students in different ways. “I used to have video chats with my family back home,” sophomore John Campagnone said. “But with the [new] speed cap, the video quality is horrible, and I can’t really see them.” But Reda said the speed caps should not affect network resources on campus, or internal university web sites such as Sakai and school eMail accounts…

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Cornell students unveil iPhone app for campus library users

Students from a software engineering class at Cornell are releasing a new application Feb. 16 that will enable iPhone users to access the university library’s web site, reports the Cornell Daily Sun. “You can do catalog searches, look at your library account, check hours and maps of the libraries,” said Beth Brown ’10, who was a student in the class where the software was developed. “You can even access research databases if you want.” She added that users could text librarians with personalized questions. Computer Science 5150 is an upper-level software engineering class in which students develop programs that can be produced and used in the real world. The library regularly submits ideas to the class. Last year, it proposed an application that would give students easy access to the university’s library system when they could not get to a computer. “I consider myself a frequent library user, but I never go there,” said Prof. William Arms, who teaches Computer Science 5150. “So many people use their cell phones as computers, the library basically wants to be accessible to those people.”

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