Code that tracks users’ browsing prompts lawsuits

Sandra Person Burns used to love browsing and shopping online. Until she realized she was being tracked by software on her computer that she thought she had erased, reports the New York Times. Ms. Person Burns, 67, a retired health care executive who lives in Jackson, Miss., said she is wary of online shopping: “Instead of going to Amazon, I’m going to the local bookstore.” Ms. Person Burns is one of a growing number of consumers who are taking legal action against companies that track computer users’ activity on the internet. At issue is a little-known piece of computer code placed on hard drives by the Flash program from Adobe when users watch videos on popular web sites like YouTube and Hulu. The technology, so-called Flash cookies, is bringing an increasing number of federal lawsuits against media and technology companies and growing criticism from some privacy advocates who say the software may also allow the companies to create detailed profiles of consumers without their knowledge…

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University of Texas completes $32M data center

The University of Texas has completed a new $32 million data center meant to meet the school’s growing information technology needs, the Austin Business Journal reports. The new University Data Center includes about 4,700 square feet of space for computing equipment and one gigbit-per-second and 10 Gbps network connections. The university is consolidating its technology equipment and customer services department to center, freeing up space in academic buildings. The facility also increases the physical and information security of IT resources and frees up financial resources by making “the dollars allocated to information technology go further.” The UDC embraces the university’s green principles by putting a strong focus on the energy efficiency and cooling–the two most critical resources for a data center…

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Virtual desktops: Imagine the possibilities for teaching and learning

Desktop virtualization holds promises for K-12 education.

Desktop virtualization holds promises for K-12 education.

Moving from the current use of desktop and laptop computers to a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) creates many possibilities for teaching and learning.

Imagine the possibilities if teachers could gain improved access to new software, software updates, and web-based resources that support teaching and learning. With VDI, when a division approves software for use, then teachers could gain access to the software overnight. This access could be provided to teachers throughout a division, or to particular groups of teachers, such as high school science teachers or elementary art teachers.

Divisions might even be able to approve additional software because the ease of deploying the software does not require significant human capital. Teachers could better use web-based resources because of better access to current versions of plug-ins.

Imagine the possibilities if teachers could use the resources of the division network anytime, anyplace, and from any device with browsing capabilities.

Teachers, regardless of time and location, could easily view and update files that are stored on the division network. This includes grade book files, even if the grade book is not web-based. Teachers, regardless of time and location, could use the software on the division network. For example, teachers could view textbook software on the division’s network. Even if they are not at school, teachers could use the software that they use in their courses, even if it is not loaded on the computer they are using.

Teachers would no longer need to use thumb drives to carry files to and from home, school, and other locations. Even if the division uses a PC environment, teachers could use Mac computers to access the files and software on the division’s network.

Imagine the possibilities if students also had expansive access to the network. Students, regardless of time and location, could easily work independently or collaboratively to view and update their work that they have saved on the division network. Working from home or elsewhere within the parameters of licensing agreements, they could also use the software that previously could only be used at school. They could also access their library’s catalog of resources to identify and reserve materials.

Information technology staff members

Imagine the possibilities if information technology (IT) could easily update the desktops of computers throughout the division. Software would be deployed throughout the division or to particular groups of students without having technicians touch each computer. It would be much easier to manage the use of hundreds of applications throughout the division and to accommodate a mix of software that require different plug-ins. IT would have fewer worries regarding whether adding new software would break the fragile infrastructure of a computer’s operating system. No longer would individual computers need to be dedicated to particular uses because of an inability to use multiple products on the same computer.

The power of the computer on a teacher’s desktop would be less important for the user’s experience because VDI provides equal capacity for users.

Historically, IT staff members have many worries regarding older computers. Will an older computer run Windows Vista or Windows7? Will an older computer run Office 2007 or Office 2010? Will an older computer have the processor speed to run multimedia? With VDI, IT staff members and users would have fewer worries about older computers because the computers would just be portals to the virtual environment. This would allow a division to lengthen the computer replacement cycle or at least be happier with the current computer replacement cycle.

Realizing the possibilities with VDI

With VDI, students, teachers, and other staff members are connected to their division’s network through a private internet cloud. A user is no longer tethered to a specific computer in a specific school with a standardized configuration of software, blind to their needs and interests.

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Work with staff, parents, and students

home_security_camera_ste-320x243Not long ago, the decision by a Northeastern school district to install security cameras in two high schools without any announcement to parents, faculty, staff or students stirred up a hornet’s nest…

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The best college course ever?

UC Berkeley also offered a StarCraft course in 2009.

UC Berkeley also offered a StarCraft course in 2009.

Playing the real-time strategy video game StarCraft isn’t just for frittering away afternoons in students’ dorm rooms. It’s now for college credit, too.

University of Florida (UF) education technology doctoral student Nathaniel Poling is teaching the eight-week, two-credit class, “21st Century Skills in StarCraft,” this fall, using the internationally beloved computer game to hone students’ on-the-go decision making skills, resource management skills, and penchant to analyze ever-changing scenarios in the complex game’s platform.

Poling’s course will be conducted entirely online and is limited to 20 students who have, at the very least, “basic knowledge” of StarCraft, a game that pits three species battling for supremacy in the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The StarCraft course doesn’t offer a step-by-step strategy for mastering the game—which has sold more than 11 million copies since its release in 1998—but it helps students develop skills that would serve them well in the modern workplace, according to Poling’s class outline.

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Report: ‘Top-third’ teachers essential to U.S. success

Research has revealed that skilled teachers are essential to student success.

Skilled teachers are essential to student success.

Improving teacher effectiveness has risen to the top of national education priorities, but the key to attracting, training, and retaining truly effective teachers might lie in the “top-third” concept, which seeks to recruit students who perform in the top third of their academic discipline into the teaching profession.

Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching,” by Byron Auguste, Paul Kihn, and Matt Miller of McKinsey and Co., examines teaching programs and strategies in some of the world’s best-performing nations and seeks to outline how adapting those strategies for practice in the United States might reap enormous benefits for the U.S. economy.

While the world’s top school systems have dedicated approaches to attracting, retaining, and supporting teachers, “the U.S. does not take a strategic or systematic approach to nurturing teacher talent,” the authors state. “We have failed to attract, develop, reward, or retain outstanding professional teaching talent on a consistent basis.”

The report “shines a light on the single factor that impacts student success in schools the most, and that’s the quality of teachers,” said Louis Malfaro, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and president of Education Austin. It also reveals the “radically different approach” to how teachers are prepared in the highest-performing countries versus how they are prepared in the U.S., he added.

There exists in the U.S. a thought that “teachers don’t need to be smart, they just need to love children. That’s not necessarily a pathway to being effective,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “[We must] persuade districts and states that this is what is good for children.”

Walsh said there tends to be a strong measure of anti-elitism in the U.S., which might eschew highly selective teacher preparation programs on the theory that a teacher does not necessarily have to be highly trained.

“This challenges that assumption, and I think it’s a healthy challenge,” she added.

A global perspective

Top-performing nations recruit 100 percent of their new teachers from the top third of academic performers. In the U.S., only 23 percent of teachers come from the top third of their college class—and in high-poverty schools, this figure is only 14 percent.

These other countries treat education as a highly selective profession, and after recruiting from the top third, they screen those selected students for qualities they believe are indicative of teaching success, such as perseverance and communications skills.

The world’s top-performing school systems in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea recruit, develop, and retain what the report called the “top third+,” or students from the top third of their academic classes from all disciplines, not just students enrolled in teacher preparation programs.

Teacher recruitment in South Korea, Singapore, and Finland is rigorous and highly selective, the authors note, and some programs are government-funded, requiring little or no out-of-pocket expense on students’ behalf.

Singapore offers competitive salaries with retention bonuses at recurring intervals. Its teacher training program accepts roughly 1 in 8 applicants. All teachers have weekly opportunities for professional collaboration and receive 100 hours of paid professional development per year.

Finland’s extremely competitive teaching selection process requires teachers to obtain a master’s degree in a five-year program, and applicants are generally drawn from the top 20 percent of high school graduates. Only 1 in 10 applicants is accepted to become a teacher, and the government pays for teachers’ graduate-level training and a living stipend.

South Korea places deep respect in the teaching profession and offers one of the highest teaching salaries in the world; its “relatively large” class sizes of roughly 35 students on average help teachers there earn salaries equivalent to between $55,000 and $155,000 per year. Teacher turnover is just 1 percent each year.

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A professor’s review of online cheat sheets

At this time of year, students are buying textbooks and looking for ways to avoid reading them. Nothing is new about that, the New York Times reports. CliffsNotes guides, with their familiar yellow and black covers, have been in book bags since 1958. What has changed is how many study guides, or cheat sheets, are available online and on mobile phones. Whether you know them as CliffsNotes, SparkNotes or Shmoop, these seemingly ubiquitous guides are now, in many cases, free. “Two to three years ago, the wisdom was that students do research online, but not study online,” said Emily Sawtell, a founder of McGraw-Hill’s online collaborative study site called GradeGuru. “That has changed in the last 12 months.” Ms. Sawtell said she had tracked a significant increase in the search term “study guide” on Google. Professors warn that these guides are no substitutes for reading great works of literature, but concede, grudgingly, that as an adjunct, they can stimulate thought and deepen insight…

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Texas education board to consider rule on Islam’s portrayal in textbooks

Just when it appeared the State Board of Education was done with the culture wars, the panel is about to wade into the issue of what students should learn about Islam, the Dallas Morning News reports. The board will consider a resolution next week that would warn publishers not to push a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian viewpoint in world history textbooks. Members of the board’s social conservative bloc asked for the resolution after an unsuccessful candidate for a board seat called on the panel to head off any bias against Christians in new social studies books. Some contend that “Middle Easterners” are increasingly buying into companies that publish textbooks. A preliminary draft of the resolution states that “diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts” across the U.S. and that past social studies textbooks in Texas also have been “tainted” with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views…

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Facebook denies it is secretly building a phone

The tech blogs were abuzz Sunday with a report in TechCrunch that Facebook is secretly building a phone. But the company says it’s not true, according to the New York Times. In an eMail, Jamie Schopflin, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the company is, and has for some time, been developing various features and services to integrate its social functions into various mobile phones and applications. But, she wrote, “Facebook is not building a phone.” Here is more of her eMail: Our approach has always been to make phones and apps more social. Current projects include everything from an HTML5 version of the site to apps on major platforms to full Connect support with SDKs to deeper integrations with some manufacturers. Our view is that almost all experiences would be better if they were social, so integrating deeply into existing platforms and operating systems is a good way to enable this…

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Google Apps adds two-step verification

InformationWeek reports that Google on Sept. 20 plans to offer its users improved security through the introduction of a two-step login verification process. Initially, two-step verification will be available to Google Apps Premiere, Government, and Education edition users, at no extra charge. But Google plans to make the technology available to all its users in the coming months, once the company is confident it can scale the technology to meet demand. Google is expected to make the announcement at an enterprise conference called Atmosphere, which is being held in a hotel near Paris, France…

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