Technology that gives children a voice

A mobile phone is helping children in the U.K. who cannot communicate effectively through speech alone to gather data about what they have been doing during their school day, reports the Guardian. For many young children, talking to their parents about what they’ve been doing at school is a natural, daily event. However, parents whose children have complex communication needs (CCN)—meaning they are unable to communicate effectively using speech alone—cannot take this for granted. One project trying to help is called How Was School Today?, a collaboration between Dundee University’s school of computing, Aberdeen University’s department of computing science, and Capability Scotland. As its website points out, people with CCN may rely on computer-generated speech, but devices providing this technology “are currently limited to short, pre-stored utterances or tedious preparation of text files which are output, word for word, via a speech synthesizer. Restrictions in speed and vocabulary can be a frustrating experience and are an impediment to spontaneous social conversation.” The How Was School Today? project aimed to develop software that would collect data on what a child had been doing at school, then turn it into a natural-language story to tell their parents when they got home, while also personalizing the details and answering questions. It used sensors attached to children’s wheelchairs, tracking their movements during the day. Meanwhile, teachers were given swipe cards, used to enter data about what the children had been doing. An additional recording device enabled more detailed information about the day, while the children could add emotions using accessible icons like smiley faces…

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Rules could prompt colleges to pull online programs from some states

Half of colleges said they would not seek authorization in all 50 states.

Online college students in Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Minnesota soon could have more limited school options as colleges and universities plan to withdraw their online programs from those states in response to a much-debated set of regulations.

Colleges with large online course selections that draw students from every state have railed against the U.S. Education Department’s “state authorization” rules, which require schools to gain approval from every state in which they have even one online student.

And even after a federal judge voided part of the state authorization rule in July, online education experts say ED probably will reintroduce the regulations in 2012.

College officials have made it clear that they won’t serve students in states with the most onerous requirements to abide by.

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Survey reveals teens’ experiences on social networking sites

Ninety-five percent of all teens ages 12-17 are now online, and 80 percent of online teens are users of social media sites.

As social media use has become pervasive in the lives of American teens, a new study finds that 69 percent of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. Still, 88 percent say they have witnessed people being mean or cruel to another person on the sites, and 15 percent say they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior themselves.

The findings are detailed in a new report called “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of ‘digital citizenship,’” from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Adult social network users are less likely to say they witness or experience this type of behavior, but they still report that it is prevalent. In fact, 69 percent of the adults who use social networking sites say they have seen people be mean and cruel to others on those sites.

The study, released Nov. 9, examines teens’ behavior and experiences on social network sites, their privacy and safety practices, and the role of parents in digital safekeeping.

Social media use is widespread among teens. Fully 95 percent of all teens ages 12-17 are now online, and 80 percent of online teens are users of social media sites. Teens of all ages and backgrounds are witnessing these mean behaviors online and are reacting in a variety of ways:

  • Ninety percent of teen social media users say they have ignored the mean behavior they have witnessed on a social network site.
  • Eighty percent say they have personally defended a victim of meanness and cruelty.
  • Seventy-nine percent say they have told someone to stop their mean behavior on a social network site.
  • Twenty-one percent say they have personally joined in on the harassment of others on a social network site.
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College.xxx? Schools snap up porn domains to keep them clean

Colleges pay about $200 for internet domain names.

The world is getting closer to the launching of a new internet address system for pornography providers, and there are some eye-opening names being registered. Among them: washu.xxx and mizzou.xxx.

Don’t, however, expect to find naked co-eds at either of these sites.

In what amounts to a defensive maneuver, schools across the nation are snapping up the .xxx domain names that match their federally registered trademarks. It’s simply a matter of trying to keep them out of the wrong hands.

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The top 25 worst passwords of 2011: See what to avoid

Think your password is fine? You’d better check this list to be sure, reports the Huffington Post. Password management app maker SplashData has released its list of the 25 worst passwords of 2011. These are the passwords that get hacked the most frequently, based on SplashData’s study of millions of stolen passwords that have been posted online by hackers. Many of the worst offenders are sequential numbers (“123456”) or sequential keyboard keys (“qwerty”) or password-related words like “password” or “letmein.” According to SplashData CEO Morgan Slain, who was quoted on Mashable, “Even though people are encouraged to select secure, strong passwords, many people continue to choose weak, easy-to-guess ones, placing themselves at risk from fraud and identity theft.” People’s hesitance to make complicated passwords is understandable considering the sheer number of passwords the average person has—but that doesn’t make it OK. In 2010, the FTC received 1.3 million complaints of fraud or identity theft. So, how can you make your passwords better? Use a variety of letters, numbers, and symbols. Change them every six months. Don’t use the same one for every account, and know that even a slight variation makes a difference. Also, avoid using real words…

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Gates testifies in $1B lawsuit against Microsoft

Microsoft’s Bill Gates returns to the witness stand on Nov. 22 to defend his company against a $1 billion antitrust lawsuit that claims the software giant tricked a competitor into huge losses and soared onto the market with Windows 95, reports the Associated Press. Utah-based Novell Inc. sued Microsoft in 2004. The company says Gates duped it into thinking he would include its WordPerfect writing program in the new Windows system, then backed out because he feared it was too good. Novell said it was later forced to sell WordPerfect for a $1.2 billion loss. Gates testified Nov. 21 that Microsoft was racing to put out Windows 95 when he dropped technical features that no longer would support the rival’s word processor because engineers warned it would crash the system. Windows 95 was a major innovation, and Gates said he had his mind on larger issues. “We worked super hard. It was the most challenging, trying project we had ever done,” the Microsoft co-founder said, adding that Novell just couldn’t deliver a Windows 95 compatible WordPerfect program in time for rollout, and Microsoft’s own Word program was actually better. He said that by 1994, Microsoft Word was rated No. 1 in the market above WordPerfect. WordPerfect once had nearly 50 percent of the market for computer writing programs, but its share quickly plummeted to less than 10 percent as Microsoft’s own office programs took hold…

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Penguin pulls new eBooks from libraries

Citing unspecified “concerns about the security of our digital editions,” Penguin Group USA is pulling new eBooks from libraries; in addition, it is not lending any eBooks to libraries through Kindle devices, paidContent.org reports. In a statement provided to Library Journal‘s Digital Shift blog, Penguin says that owing to security—read: piracy—concerns, it finds it “necessary to delay the availability of our new titles in the digital format while we resolve these concerns with our business partners.” Penguin, whose self-publishing service Book Country has already drawn quite a bit of criticism this week, is likely to receive more flak for this move. Yet it is unusual among the “big six” publishers in that it allows eBooks to be borrowed through libraries at all. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not distribute any eBooks (new or old) to libraries. Hachette Book Group does not allow new titles to be lent as eBooks, and HarperCollins allows new eBooks to be borrowed only 26 times before the library has to buy a new copy. This leaves Random House as the only big six publisher currently allowing unfettered access to its eBooks through libraries…

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‘Exemplary’ elementary school skipped science, social studies for third graders

Third-graders at a Dallas elementary school helped propel their school to “exemplary” status, but unbeknownst to their parents, those stellar math and reading scores came at a high cost, McClatchy reports: The students learned only math and reading for most of the school year, while teachers were pressured to fabricate grades for science, social studies, and enrichment courses such as music. Field Elementary School principal Roslyn Carter is on paid administrative leave after Dallas Independent School District investigators found numerous cases of falsified grades at the school during the 2010-11 school year. Parents were never told about the phony grades and that their children missed nearly a whole school year of instruction in some subjects. The district’s Office of Professional Responsibility began investigating after receiving an anonymous tip in January. The investigators’ report details a principal’s determination to have her students pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills at all costs—an occurrence that has become more common as school leaders face enormous pressure to improve students’ test scores. Carter, who came to Field in the 2008-09 school year, could not be reached for comment but denied many of the allegations in her response to investigators…

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