iPhone 4 Wi-Fi proves a challenge for one university

The iPhone 4 is the first to support 802.11n, which offers the highest Wi-Fi data rates and throughput. But it runs only on the crowded 2.4GHz band, and at one university, which is deploying hundreds of the new devices, that poses some big Wi-Fi challenges for IT, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The iPhone deployment at Abilene Christian University, in Abilene, Texas, is unusual, possibly unique: There can be up to 500 or more iPhone 4 handsets in a big lecture hall, all trying to connect to the hall’s collection of wireless access points. It’s especially frustrating because ACU’s IT group had successfully deployed hundreds of 11g iPhones, in the same lecture hall, on the same 2.4GHz band with minimal problems. For now, in the areas with 802.11n access points, 11n has in effect been turned off, and the new iPhone 4s will run as 11g clients, at least for a few weeks until the kinks get worked out. At this point, it’s not clear if the WLAN instability is an issue of configuring the access points; the mix of 11g and 11n clients, which triggers 802.11 protection mechanisms adding overhead; the limited channel assignments; a possible iPhone 4 Wi-Fi bug; or some combination of these…

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Google unveils tool to speed up web searches

Google, which can already feel like an appendage to our brains, is now predicting what people are thinking before they even type, reports the New York Times. On Sept. 8, the company introduced Google Instant, which predicts internet search queries and shows results as soon as someone begins to type, adjusting the results as each successive letter is typed. “We want to make Google the third half of your brain,” said Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder and president of technology. Google’s new psychic powers result in much faster searches, but the change might affect the many businesses that have been built around placing search ads on Google and helping web sites figure out how to climb higher in search results to increase revenue. It is a sign that even as Google expands into other businesses, like display advertising and cell phones, it remains firmly focused on search, its core business and one that accounts for more than 90 percent of its revenue. It has faced competition recently from Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Google has made its new product the default way to search the web. Instant works with the most popular modern browsers and will show up on cell phones and in browser search bars in a few months. “It’s been awhile since there’s been a game changer in search, and this is,” said Jordan Rohan, an internet analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. “It changes how people search.” He added that it was a feat of computing and engineering that could not “easily be mimicked by Google’s competition.”

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Xerox CEO calls for educational reform

In a visit to the Detroit Economic Club on Sept. 8, Ursula Burns, CEO and chairwoman of Xerox Corp., said that if the United States wants to keep its lead in the global economy, it needs more home-grown scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, reports the Detroit News. “The path that we’re on in education, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math, makes it impossible for anybody who has a bit of a brain to sit by and watch what’s happening,” said Burns, who earned engineering degrees from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and Columbia University and is the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company. Burns noted that Asian nations turn out three times as many students who earn bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering. And in just one generation, the United States dropped from first to 12th in the world in college graduation rates and is headed to 16th. To address the problem, Burns said, business leaders and schools need to focus on effectively teaching science and math, provide students with inspiration and mentors who can show them what kinds of careers are available, and measure how many students graduate to work in those fields. The motivation, she said, could be the troubling statistic that 150,000 U.S. engineering jobs with an average salary of more than $60,000 went unfilled in 2008. Because of the lack of qualified workers, those jobs were shipped offshore, she said…

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Long Beach schools teaching algebra with iPads

Need to learn algebra? There’s an app for that, as a group of students at Washington Middle and Hudson K-8 schools in California found out Sept. 8, reports the Long Beach Press-Telegram. Collectively at both schools, about 150 eighth-graders in four classes were provided with iPads loaded with a digital interactive Algebra I textbook to use this school year. The iPads and software were distributed as part of a one-year pilot program run by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), the educational publishing firm that produced the digital interactive textbook. The study will compare the academic performance of a control group of students using the paper version of the new algebra textbook with that of students using the interactive digital version. HMH is providing at no cost the interactive digital textbooks and the latest paper versions for the study. The Long Beach Unified School District is among four California districts taking part in the pilot program; the other districts are Fresno, Riverside, and San Francisco Unified. Bonnie Reiss, the state secretary of education, said the ground-breaking pilot program fits in with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s push for digital textbooks. The application, which the firm calls HMH Fuse, is not simply an electronic version of the paper textbook; it’s designed to be an interactive experience on the iPad, a thin mobile device about 9.5 inches tall and 7.5 inches wide. Students using the algebra app can watch instructional videos, type or voice-record notes, and complete computer quizzes that provide immediate feedback on whether answers are correct.  The results of quizzes are sent automatically to the teacher’s iPad, so he or she can track the kids’ performance…

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$46M in funding for digital textbook reader aimed at students

Kno Inc., a company developing a digital textbook reader for students, on Sept. 8 said it has received $46 million in the latest round of funding from venture capitalists, AFP reports. Kno said Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm launched by Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, was the lead investor, along with Silicon Valley Bank and TriplePoint Capital. Founded in May 2009 and short for “knowledge,” Kno is developing a two-panel, touch-screen tablet computer that will allow users to read digital textbooks, take notes, access the web, and run educational applications. “Kno is gearing up to launch the first digital device that we believe will fundamentally improve the way students learn,” said Osman Rashid, Kno’s chief executive and co-founder. Kno chief technology officer and co-founder Babur Habib said the company hopes to “get the Kno into the hands of students for beta testing this fall and ultimately for the first customer ship later this year.”

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Schools see the value of cameras

Security_Camera_Sign2More and more school districts are seeing the value of camera systems in helping to protect campuses. There is a reason districts across the country are turning to video surveillance, and that is because…

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Gates Foundation to invest in next-generation instructional tools

The Gates Foundation will invest funds to develop “next-generation instructional tools” to help implement the Common Core state standards.

The Gates Foundation will invest funds to develop “next-generation instructional tools” to help implement the Common Core state standards.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to invest up to $250 million over the next eight years to develop “next-generation instructional tools” that will help states and school districts implement the Common Core state standards, the foundation said in its annual report Sept. 7.

The Gates Foundation, one of the largest givers of money to K-12 and higher education in the United States, also plans to fund “data-driven research that explores ways states can modify the [Common Core] standards and assessments to improve student success in school and the workforce.”

Led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, the Common Core State Standards Initiative established a set of shared K-12 standards for English and math that states could adopt voluntarily. The idea was to replace the patchwork of state standards that vary dramatically from state to state with a single, rigorous set of guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.

The final common standards were released earlier this year, and as of press time 36 states and the District of Columbia had adopted the new standards.

“The more states that adopt these college- and career-based standards, the closer we will be to sharing innovation across state borders and improving achievement for all students,” said Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates. “As states adopt the standards, policy makers will need to make sure that our teachers have what they need to do their jobs—rich assessment systems that yield useful, timely data; tools that translate that data into more effective instruction; and evaluations and compensation systems that reward teachers for performance.”

Supporting the development and adoption of the Common Core standards was one of the Gates Foundation’s many education investments in 2009. All told, the foundation spent $373 million on U.S. education last year and another $19 million on libraries, according to its annual report.

Besides the Common Core standards initiative, the foundation also invested in projects to improve teacher quality and improve education data systems.

Despite its work in these areas, the world’s largest charitable foundation acknowledged in its annual report that it is too secretive and hard to work with.

The report, posted online, includes the usual financial information and a look at the foundation’s plans. But it also offers a glimpse of the organization’s attempts to be more open.

CEO Jeff Raikes draws attention in the report to a grantee survey that gave the foundation poor marks for communicating its goals and strategies, and for confusing people with its complicated grant-making process.

Raikes originally released the survey results in June—a day before Bill Gates made headlines for launching a campaign with investor Warren Buffett to get other American billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity.

Few but charity insiders noticed the unfavorable review, and the foundation could have let it fade into obscurity.

Instead, Raikes points out the results for all to see in the annual report, right next to his letter outlining the foundation’s priorities for the near future.

The editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy believes the foundation is clearly making an effort to improve its communications.

Stacy Palmer credits Raikes, with his years at Microsoft Corp., for knowing the importance of customer relations. But she thinks the foundation has a ways to go.

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Microsoft’s REDU aims to galvanize national discussion-and action-to improve education

SiteofWeek090810REDU is a new web site from Microsoft Corp. powered by the company’s Bing search engine, that aims to help parents, teachers, students, and education advocates learn more about the state of U.S. education, have conversations about education, and take action to bring about change.

The new site provides links to current events and issues, a forum for discussion, and ways for people to take action as the United States tries to remodel its approach to education, says Cameron Evans, Microsoft’s U.S. Education chief technology officer. U.S. public education is at a crossroads, Evans says, and discussions about educational issues have reached a crescendo, whether they are about teacher quality, lack of school funding, or academic performance.

“These aren’t problems that can be solved in one administrative term or election cycle, and it’s overwhelming for one corporation, political party, or community organization to think about alone,” Evans says. “The focus of REDU is to take these voices and put them together to bring about change.”

Along with presenting key information and encouraging dialog, REDU has tools and resources to help people take action, whether that’s donating money to local classroom projects or finding out how to become a teacher in their state, explains Adam Sohn, a senior director of online services at Microsoft.

“There’s a lot going on, but there isn’t one place where people can come and participate in a discussion,” Sohn says. “REDU is a good way for us to help people participate in one of the most important conversations that will happen in America over the next decade.” http://www.letsredu.com/

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Microsoft sends Bing back to school

Microsoft on Sept. 8 is launching Redu, a Bing-powered web site that aims to act as a “homeroom” for people interested in learning more about the state of American schools, CNET reports. The site, to which Microsoft plans to link from Bing.com, aspires to be an online hub for those looking to donate to schools, volunteer locally, or work in education. “This new site is a great way to galvanize interest and focus on public education,” said Pamela Passman, vice president of corporate affairs at Microsoft. Among its features is a Bing Map that shows available job openings in the education field, along with articles and links to adopt-a-school opportunities. Passman noted that the effort comes as the documentary “Waiting for Superman” is close to opening, a movie by the director of “An Inconvenient Truth” that Passman said hopefully will draw further attention to the challenges facing American schools. “People expect that to create a national conversation on public education,” she said. “This will be a huge asset for people to be part of that conversation.”

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Editing, enhancing Wikipedia becomes project at colleges

Some professors believe Wikipedia has no place in the footnotes of a college paper. But could it have a place on the syllabus? The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that does fundraising and back-end support for the popular open-source encyclopedia, says yes, USA Today reports—and so do the nine professors at prominent colleges who have agreed to make creating, augmenting, and editing Wikipedia entries part of their students’ coursework. “We’ve known for a long time that students are the fuel of Wikipedia,” said LiAnna Davis, a Wikimedia spokeswoman. “We feel there is a place for Wikipedia in the classroom.” Wikimedia’s new alliances with professors stem from its Public Policy Initiative, an effort to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of topics relating to U.S. public policy. On a grant from the Stanton Foundation, Wikimedia started recruiting public policy professors who were willing to have their students create content for Wikipedia. This fall, the foundation will help nine instructors—four at George Washington University, two at Georgetown University, and one each at Indiana University at Bloomington, Syracuse University, and Harvard—integrate Wikipedia-related assignments into their syllabi. “The social media trend is something that students have definitely latched on to, and regardless of what everyone else thinks, they’re going to continue to be involved with it,” says Carol Ann Dwyer, a public affairs instructor at Syracuse. “I would prefer, particularly if they’re going to become ‘Wikipedians,’ that they do it properly.”

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