Apple’s new iPad, iPhone software due in November

New software for Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch is on the way that reportedly will take care of a key problem keeping the devices from being more functional as computing tools, reports the Associated Press: the ability to print files. The iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch can handle many tasks that people once turned to personal computers to complete, from checking eMail and surfing the web to editing photos and composing documents. The gadgets can connect with computers to transfer files, but Apple’s critics have still dinged the company for hobbling its mobile devices by making them without ports for connecting with printers or USB drives. Apple is on its way toward solving one of those complaints. At a media event this month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs mentioned an upcoming software update for the iPad and its smaller siblings that would include a way for people to wirelessly print documents. On Sept. 15, Apple said it has released a “beta” test version of AirPrint to software developers who make iPad and iPhone apps. AirPrint is designed to find printers on home or campus networks, then send text, photos, or graphics directly to the printer over Wi-Fi. AirPrint, which is part of the bigger iOS 4.2 update for iPads, iPhones, and the iPod Touch, will be available in November…

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eTextbooks expected to grow with iPad on campus

Video and color graphics are key to why many people think Apple’s iPad and other tablets will usher in the era of electronic textbooks, Reuters reports. Analysts say that unlike Amazon.com’s Kindle, which also has been touted as an educational tool, the iPad can play video and illustrate charts and graphics in full color. It also allows for easy note-taking, and the online component allows for integrated tests, exercises, and updates. “If I had the potential to buy all my textbooks as eTextbooks, I would,” said Alexis Chavez, 22, of the University of Arizona. “It’s just easier to carry an iPad than to have to carry a bunch of books in your backpack.” A growing acceptance of digital delivery in the $4.5 billion university textbook market, until now hampered by the lack of a suitable platform, will have major implications for dominant players such as Pearson PLC, privately held Cengage Learning, and McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. Publishers can save on printing and shipping, said Morningstar analyst Michael Corty. But they might also be hard pressed to maintain prices as publishers try to lure early adopters and compete with free web offerings. Digital textbooks are expected to grow to 4 percent of overall sales this year from under 3 percent, rising to 11 percent by 2013, according to Simba Information. “What the tablets have to do and in many ways can do are to make reading easier for students and a better experience,” said senior Simba analyst Kathy Mickey…

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Microsoft releases newest version of web browser

Microsoft has released the latest version of its web browser, saying that it would work at faster speeds, deliver better graphics, and be less obtrusive to users, Reuters reports. Internet Explorer 9, unlike previous versions and many competing browsers, pushes itself into the background. Available in a public beta, or trial version, in more than 30 languages, IE 9 promises to be faster, cleaner, and more secure and will support evolving web technologies, such HTML5, a standard for presenting content. It is also more tightly integrated with the Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which the company hopes will begin to eat away at the dominance of Google. In IE 9, the rendering of graphics and text has shifted to the graphics card from the CPU, accelerating speed and visuals. As a result, Microsoft said, web sites will look and perform more like applications that are installed directly on a PC. IE has been the market leader in web browsers for many years, but has been losing share to Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome. IE had 51 percent of the worldwide browser market last month, according to StatCounter, compared to Firefox’s 31 percent and Chrome’s 11 percent. Apple’s Safari and Opera Software’s browser had about 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively…

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Plagiarism a persistent problem on campuses

Ohio State University has revoked the doctoral degree of a 2006 anthropology graduate for plagiarizing significant portions of her dissertation, illustrating what has become a growing problem on college campuses, reports the Columbus Dispatch. Ohio State’s Committee on Academic Misconduct ordered Elisabeth Nixon to return her diploma. It retroactively dismissed her from graduate school without any opportunity to re-enroll and asked campus officials to remove all copies of her dissertation from OSU libraries. The committee found that Nixon copied the work of a UCLA graduate, who is now a Bowling Green State University professor. Nixon appealed the decision to Provost Joseph Alutto, but he upheld the committee’s ruling this past spring. More than 60 percent of undergraduate students nationwide admitted to cheating on assignments and exams, according to one study. And 40 percent of all U.S. college students said they had woven unattributed material from the internet into their own work. At the same time, instructors have become better at using internet searches to catch students who steal other people’s work…

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Study: Online learning might be less effective for some

Classroom students scored 84.5 percent on the first exam in the economics course, and online students scored 83.3 percent.

Classroom students scored 84.5 percent on the first exam in the economics course, and online students scored 83.3 percent.

Higher education’s embrace of online courses could hurt the performance of some groups of students, according to a study that contradicts the findings of a 2009 report from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) showing that online students perform as well, or better, than their peers in face-to-face settings on average.

Research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) suggests that males, Hispanics, and low-performing students might fare worse in web-based classes than they do in the traditional classroom—a problem exacerbated by the high rate of online course adoption at community colleges and “less selective institutions,” where these three groups are most likely to attend.

The rush to make online courses widely available and save colleges money in difficult economic times might be “inadvertently … harming a significant portion of their student body,” according to the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and ED.

The NBER’s research tracked the progress of 312 undergraduate students enrolled in a microeconomics course at a state university, which remained unnamed at the school’s request. The course’s grading was based on three tests: two midterm exams and a final.

Hispanic students who took the microeconomics class online finished the semester a full grade lower than Hispanic students who learned in a face-to-face environment. Males who watched lectures and studied online were half a letter grade behind males who learned in the classroom, as were low-performing students—those who had a grade point average below the university’s mean GPA.

Read the full story on eCampus News.

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Spell-check use on writing exam prompts debate

Spell check will be activated for use as an allowable resource for the 2010-11 Oregon Statewide Writing Assessment.

Spell check will be activated for use as an allowable resource for the 2010-11 Oregon Statewide Writing Assessment.

A decision by the Oregon Department of Education to let students use a computer spell-check feature when taking an online version of the state’s writing exam this year has raised some concerns among stakeholders, prompting a larger discussion about what skills students should be tested on in the digital age.

State officials say the move comes after consulting with local school systems and education technology experts, and they argue that it’s a natural evolution that more accurately reflects how students compose essays today—and how they’ll continue to write via computer once they move on to college and the workforce.

To some critics, however, the decision spells the end of society as we know it.

KTVZ-TV in Bend, Ore., reports that, beginning this school year, state officials will allow students to enable the spell-check feature in the writing assessment software used to test students online.

State education department staff met with school district representatives this summer to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of enabling the feature, which had not been previously allowed.

Issues included the increasing use of computers with spell checkers for communication in the workplace, college, postsecondary training, and the military. Also discussed were the effects of such a change on the “conventions” portion of a student’s score and how to provide equity for students using the paper-based test.

Based on this discussion and input from state education department staff, the following changes to Oregon’s online writing assessment will be implemented this year for grades seven and high school:

1. The spell-check feature will be activated for use as an allowable resource for the 2010-11 Oregon Statewide Writing Assessment.

2. To make sure the testing process is fair for all students, those taking the paper-based version of the exam will be allowed to use a dictionary or enter lines of text into a word processing application that has an enabled spell-check feature; if students are generating their full essay on a word processor and then copying it into a test booklet, the automatic spell-check feature can remain enabled throughout the writing process.

The test asks students to write an essay in response to a prompt, KTVZ reports. Their writing is judged on six traits, including organization and sentence fluency.

Conventions—which includes spelling, capitalization, and similar features that spell check can detect and fix—is the single most important element in a student’s score, with the conventions score reportedly counted for twice as much as any other trait.

The decision to enable spell check prompted quite a response to KTVZ’s report, with several readers slamming the decision in online comments.

“So let me get this straight,” wrote one reader on the TV station’s web site. “They’re going to score these tests with a heavy weight on spelling and capitalization, etc., but then give the students a program that corrects these things? Wouldn’t the logical thing be to reduce the value of those categories for scoring purposes?”

Another reader wrote: “Our educators keep setting the bar lower and lower, when they should be raising the standards. America’s already losing it academically, folks, and unless we set world-class educational opportunities and expectations for our young people, it’s going to be pretty sad for them and the country.”

The decision is “more an acknowledgement of modern reality,” said a state education department spokeswoman. Giving students a spell-check tool during the test helps to replicate the real-world conditions and resources that students will experience in college or in a career, she explained, adding: “We’re just taking our students into the 21st century.”

Students will have the ability to activate the spell-check mode on the statewide assessment by clicking on a spell-check icon on the response screen. Once in the spell-check mode, the feature will highlight all misspelled words and give the student a list of alternate spellings. This is not an auto-correct feature, state officials noted; students still will be responsible for selecting the correct option and proofreading their essay for errors.

Oregon offers the state writing exam to its high schools in both online and paper-based formats; some middle schools tested the new online format last year. But the tests have come under scrutiny because some schools around the state have reported significant score differences between the online and paper-based versions.

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802.11n Wi-Fi making huge impact a year after ratification

Shipments of 802.11n access points have accelerated since the IEEE standard was formally approved one year ago, Computerworld reports—but what the numbers alone don’t show is the new reality of Wi-Fi networks: They are fast becoming the preferred way to connect and stay connected in schools and other enterprises. And that reality is sparking new demand from enterprise customers, and new innovation from wireless LAN vendors, to make Wi-Fi networks “work” like wired Ethernet—reliably, consistently, securely—for all kinds of traffic, including video. Ground zero for the 11n revolution is the college campus, with hospitals not far behind. Colleges and universities have a growing population of the unplugged: students who’ve never used an Ethernet cable. They have the expectation that whatever device they have will be able to connect wirelessly and handle games, YouTube videos, and “American Idol”—all in addition to classroom applications. What’s more, says Jeffrey Sessler, director of information technology at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., is that each student often now has “multiple Wi-Fi-enabled devices needing regular access.” These changes are driving Sessler and other IT managers to design enterprise WLANs as mission-critical production networks that are optimized for capacity and performance…

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Google engineer fired for accessing teens’ Gmail, chat logs

Google this week confirmed that it fired an engineer who accessed the Gmail and Google Voice accounts of several minors and taunted those children with the information he uncovered, PC Magazine reports. David Barksdale worked in Google’s Kirkland, Wash., office as a site reliability engineer, where he had access to user accounts. As first reported by Gawker, Barksdale accessed the Gmail and Google Voice accounts of several teenagers he met through a local technology group, and made them aware of the data he’d uncovered. After receiving complaints from the teenagers’ parents, Google quietly fired Barksdale in July 2010. “We dismissed David Barksdale for breaking Google’s strict internal privacy policies,” Bill Coughran, senior vice president of engineering at Google, said in a statement. “We carefully control the number of employees who have access to our systems, and we regularly upgrade our security controls—for example, we are significantly increasing the amount of time we spend auditing our logs to ensure those controls are effective. That said, a limited number of people will always need to access these systems if we are to operate them properly—which is why we take any breach so seriously.”

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School board questions legality of online forum

A demonstration of a new online forum for members of the Brush, Colo., Board of Education was cut short last week when board members questioned whether they could legally use the program under the Colorado Open Meetings Law, reports the Brush News-Tribune. The board had previously directed Brush School District Technology Director Randy Dalton to create the forum, which would have enabled board members to engage in private discussions online.  Dalton attended a Sept. 7 board meeting to demonstrate the possible uses of the program. “I don’t think we can use it,” said board member Mike Dixon. “I think as long as we’re using it in this fashion, it is right on its face a violation of the sunshine law.” School District Superintendent Priscilla Huston said she had already discussed the forum with school district attorney Darryl Farrington, who was concerned that individual board members would have the ability to communicate with the rest of the board through a reply-all function. “You can have a conversation between two people, but you can’t send the information out and then hear from a variety of people on that topic that would go out to everyone,” she said. “It’s considered a meeting if you do.” Dixon said the forum should only be used to distribute documents, such as meeting agendas, to the board. He said he thought this was the original intent of implementing the program. Board members also discussed the possibility of allowing the superintendent to post information in the forum, but disabling the ability of board members to reply…

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