Is computer science a dead end in the workforce?

As software development tools grow more advanced and more coding moves offshore, the need for advanced development expertise is on the decline, InfoWorld reports. The future is bright for programmers, we’re often told. And yet, some analysts now suggest the picture is not as rosy for recent computer science grads as we would think. According to the latest data from the U.K.’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), computer science graduates in the United Kingdom now have the hardest time finding work of graduates in any subject, with an unemployment rate of 17 percent. It should come as no surprise that legal and medical students fare significantly better — the latter having a jobless rate of practically nil — but the HESA data suggest that new students might be better off pursuing foreign languages, marketing, or even creative arts, rather than computer science. While the situation in the United States might not be so dire, in truth few companies share Google’s zeal for academic credentials when hiring new developers. Many are willing to accept self-taught programmers, particularly if they have other skills relevant to the business. Some have implemented in-house training programs to allow employees from other disciplines to transition into software development roles. And as development tools themselves become more sophisticated and accessible, even workers with little formal knowledge of programming are trying their hands at creating applications. All are ominous signs that demand for computer science education in the job market might be on the wane…

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Grades don’t drop for college Facebook fiends

According to new research out of Northwestern University, students who use social networking sites don’t seem to suffer academically, Ars Technica reports. In a recent paper titled “Predictors and consequences of differentiated practices on social network sites,” researchers found that heavy use of sites like Facebook and MySpace doesn’t affect college students’ grade point averages. In fact, it’s the usual suspects such as gender, ethnic background, and parental education that appear to have more of a determining factor in GPA than any kind of Facebook addiction. According to the researchers’ data, female students tend to have higher grades than male ones, and white students have higher grades than non-Hispanic African-American students. Students whose parents have college degrees have higher GPAs than those whose parents only have a high school diploma or lower. The researchers then added in data about overall internet use and social networking use, and found that there were no significant differences. “The most prevalent findings… are the persisting differences between respondents with different demographic backgrounds,” reads the paper. Indeed, internet and social network use didn’t affect the difference in GPAs between male and female or white and African American students. However, social network use did eliminate the difference in GPAs between students whose parents had differing levels of higher education. In fact, when controlling for certain demographics, the researchers found a positive relationship between internet use and GPA…

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What to do with passwords once you create them

Password management isn’t sexy, but it’s a problem that touches everyone who touches a computer, CNET reports. Not only are people forced to create new passwords at a dizzying level as they join social networks, do eCommerce, and deal with frequently expiring passwords at work, but there are new and novel password theft methods all the time. Just this week, Mozilla disabled a Firefox add-on that was intercepting login data and sending it on to a remote server. Cryptography expert Bruce Schneier used to write his passwords down on a slip of paper and keep it in his wallet. Today, he uses a free Windows password-storage tool called Password Safe that he designed five years ago and released into the open-source community. The desktop application lets users remember only one master password to access their password list. But Schneier still recommends the paper method for people who don’t have their computers with them at all times like he does. “Either write the passwords down and put them in your wallet, or use something like Password Safe,” he said in an interview. An informal survey of a dozen or so security experts reveals that some of them still rely on the paper and pen method. One respondent even admitted to succumbing to the post-it-note under the keyboard strategy. (If you do choose to write the passwords down you should avoid including the Web site or other identifying information, obviously…)

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Providing standardized technology for equal student experience

Student with Laptop (300)With the school year at a close, university administrators have a new class of arrivals to look forward to in the fall, and with that a new set of technology dilemmas for campus IT staff.  That was the problem I faced as director of network services at Salve Regina University until we introduced a student laptop program to provide standardized technology for our faculty and students.

Salve Regina was chartered by the State of Rhode Island in 1934, founded under the sponsorship of the Sisters of Mercy as an independent institution built on Catholic educational traditions. The school has grown over the years and now enrolls 2,600 students from 42 states and 17 nations.

The laptop program began as an option for students, but without ensuring all students have an equal technology experience, we lacked the ability to facilitate on-site support, provide a ubiquitous wireless network, and assure consistent student experience and capabilities. By outfitting our campus with standardized technology, including Hewlett-Packard notebooks, desktop PCs, printers, servers, and storage systems, we were able to infuse technology into the academic experience and grow the laptop program into a mandatory experience so all students could benefit.

What’s more, to support the program and offset the costs of the program, we developed a self-maintainer program which allowed university employees to become HP certified hardware technicians and provide on-site warranty service as a way to earn compensation for the school and avoid shipping costs to the manufacturer.

For students and faculty, the ability to collaborate anytime, anywhere and access a variety of educational resources meant a consistent user experience. The notebooks gave them the key to reach out to the world.  And they communicate constantly, so they don’t have to wait for a particular classroom hour together.

With the Blackboard student learning management system, teachers could disseminate schedules, a class syllabus, assignments, and other learning resources, and then collect papers for grading and later, return them to students. For students, creating an ePortfolio as a way to record academic achievements and learning experiences meant they were developing the ability to use and adapt to technology–a skill they could take with them after college.

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New tool shows how arts education boosts 21st century skills

The map was formally released on Capitol Hill.

The map comes at a critical time for arts education in schools.

Working with national arts organizations, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has developed a first-of-its-kind Arts skills map that clearly defines how arts education promotes key 21st-century skills.

The map, the fifth in a series of core content maps from P21 (others include Geography, Science, Social Studies, and English), gives examples how critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (P21’s “four Cs”) can be fused within arts curricula (including dance, music, theater, and visual and media arts).

The map comes at a critical time for arts education in schools, which often are the first programs to be cut when budgets are tight. Having an outline of how arts education can reinforce skills that are viewed as critical for success in the new global economy could help keep arts programs in schools.

“We think that this map will work as a motivator for administrators, as well as funders, when considering art programs in today’s schools,” said Michael Blakeslee, senior deputy executive director of MENC, in an interview with eSchool News.

Arts organizations, such as the American Alliance for Theatre & Education, the Educational Theatre Association, the National Art Education Association, the National Association for Music Education (MENC), the National Dance Association, and the National Dance Education Organization, all participated to help P21 craft the map.

“I commend America’s leading arts education professional associations for joining forces to create a tool that illustrates how the four Cs can be fused with arts education,” said Kathy Hurley, senior vice president of strategic partnerships for Pearson and a P21 executive board member. “This new document … provides practical examples that educators can model as they work to ensure 21st-century readiness for every student.”

Along with the four Cs, the map includes skills such as information literacy; media literacy; information and communications technology (ICT) literacy; flexibility and adaptability; initiative and self-direction; social and cross-cultural skills; productivity and accountability; and leadership and responsibility. Each skill includes a definition.

For each skill, the map cites specific student outcomes and provides examples of projects for grades four, eight, and 12. Each example is marked with a symbol, allowing readers to know whether the example is for visual arts, dance, music, or theater.

Each example also has the option to include interdisciplinary themes, such as global awareness; civic literacy; financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy; health literacy; and environmental literacy.

Some examples include:

Skill: Innovation; Grade Level: 4; Art: Theatre; Interdisciplinary Theme: Global Awareness; Example: Students read or view multiple versions of a traditional folk tale before writing, performing, and video recording their own adaptation set in a radically different culture, historical period, or contemporary context. They review their adaptation, discuss creative choices, and reflect on ways the story stayed the same or changed.

Skill: Social and Cross-cultural skills; Grade Level: 8; Art: Music; Interdisciplinary Theme: Global Awareness; Example: Students trained in music of one cultural style join an ensemble that performs music from a distinct culture, and learn to adapt their existing musical skills and understanding to the demands of the new context (i.e., classical musicians play jazz, a koto player takes up western guitar, or a fiddle player performs in a classical orchestra). The students then interact, either virtually or live, with native performers of the new musical genre to better understand the cultural context and appropriate practices of that genre.

Skill: Media Literacy; Grade Level: 12; Art: Visual Arts; Interdisciplinary Theme: Financial Literacy and Civic Literacy; Example: Students use current technologies to produce an advertisement or web page that demonstrates their understanding of media’s ability to influence the viewer’s perception of a social issue of their choice, such as environmental awareness, mass transit, or the economy.

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Students take photos of Earth’s curvature with help from iPad

At the Potomac School in McLean, Va., this past school year, 13 seventh- and eighth-graders signed up for a biweekly science elective that proposed this challenge, reports the Washington Post: Take a photo of the curvature of the Earth and spend just $200 to do it. Science teacher Bill Wiley knew the kids could research online what tools they would need, including a weather balloon and a styrofoam cooler. But that was the easy part. They still had to figure out how to put it together. “I figured there was about a 60 percent chance they would pull it off,” Wiley said. In the end, the group got incredible pictures. And the experience of launching and tracking the device was like a scene right out of Hollywood, Wiley said, as the kids tracked the device in real-time using a student’s iPad. The students met every other week throughout the year. They started with a digital camera, which they programmed to shoot photos and video several times a minute. They bought a cell phone that had a GPS function and loaded software that regularly relayed the phone’s location to the internet through a program called InstaMapper. Both phone and camera went in the cooler, along with hand warmers to keep the electronics warm in the stratosphere, where it would be 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Finally, the kids had to figure out what angle to hang the cooler so that the camera would get shots of the Earth’s edge, not just a bunch of clouds. “It pushed all their math ability,” Wiley said. On the day of the launch, four students drove with Wiley to Chambersburg, Pa., to launch the balloon and its payload. Wiley had asked the kids to bring their laptops so they could use Wi-Fi signals to get online and track the camera’s movements on InstaMapper. But seventh-grader Will Prout brought his father’s iPad, which was able to connect to the internet through a regular cell-phone network. That meant they could follow the signal while driving around. “I didn’t expect we would use the iPad that much, but it really saved us,” said Will, 13…

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Apple to address iPhone troubles on July 16

Apple Inc. said it will hold a press conference on July 16 to discuss the latest iPhone model, which has been beset by complaints about its antenna, reports the Associated Press. On July 12, Consumer Reports said careful testing has confirmed user reports that holding the phone over a particular spot drastically reduces the signal strength it receives. Covering the spot with duct tape or a case alleviates the problem. Apple hasn’t commented on Consumer Reports’ finding yet. Company watchers are speculating that the company might give iPhone buyers its “Bumper” case, which normally costs $29. The phone went on sale three weeks ago and outsold previous iPhone launches in its first three days, with 1.7 million units sold. Complaints about the signal strength soon followed. In an early response, Apple acknowledged that holding the phone in a certain way impeded the wireless signal somewhat, but said this happens with many other phones; Consumer Reports said it tested other phones, and said none of them had significant loss of signal strength when held…

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Blackboard to include McGraw-Hill content

Blackboard Inc., a provider of software to schools and colleges, on July 14 said it will make content and learning technology from The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. available to its customers, BusinessWeek reports. Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed. Blackboard said it will combine McGraw-Hill’s assessment engines and adaptive learning tools with its own Blackboard Learn products. McGraw-Hill’s tools allow teachers to manage course content, create assignments, and track students’ performance. The publisher’s tools also can deliver content to students based on individual strengths and weaknesses. The combined system is expected to be ready for classroom use in early 2011, Blackboard said…

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Government working on wireless spectrum inventory

Federal officials are beginning work on a comprehensive inventory of the nation’s radio spectrum in hopes of finding more capacity for wireless high-speed internet connections, reports the Associated Press. Federal Communications Commission Julius Genachowski said his agency is working closely with the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to catalog current spectrum usage. The FCC oversees spectrum allocated to commercial wireless carriers, as well as state and local spectrum uses. The NTIA manages spectrum use by federal agencies such as the Defense Department. The FCC and NTIA hope to identify airwaves that could be reallocated for wireless broadband services, including the cutting-edge 4G services now being rolled out by the big mobile carriers. The agencies also hope to promote wireless services that rely on unlicensed spectrum, such as Wi-Fi. The spectrum inventory marks the first step toward implementing one of the key recommendations in the FCC’s national broadband plan: a proposal to free up another 500 megahertz of spectrum over the next 10 years. The wireless industry currently holds roughly 500 megahertz of spectrum…

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No known identity theft from virus on OU computer

A virus infiltrated an Oklahoma University employee’s laptop that had names and Social Security numbers of OU students. No identity theft has been reported, but at least one OU student is upset that it took two weeks to learn of the virus attack, reports the Oklahoman. OU architecture student Kelsey Krueger said she learned of the threat on June 24 when the OU bursar’s office sent her and other students a message about the incident and what to do about it. On June 10, the OU information technology department identified the virus, commonly known as Zeus of Zbod, and the data it might have compromised. Krueger said she spoke to “eight or nine” people at the bursar’s, admissions, and information technology offices to try and find out how widespread and dangerous the breach actually was. “Fourteen days had gone by; who knows what could have happened?” she said. “Computer viruses can happen to anybody; it’s common, and that’s not the university’s fault. It’s just that they waited so long to tell us about something this serious, and then I wasted my time trying to get answers.” On July 12, OU’s Information Technology Department sent a mass eMail reminding faculty and staff about the dangers of viruses and malware and offered tips on protecting themselves. “Information was provided on how to obtain free initial fraud alerts,” said Catherine Bishop, OU’s vice president of communication, “and the university offered to pay the cost of an additional year after the initial alert expires, if the person so desires…”

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