More wireless innovations from Xirrus

Xirrus has introduced new Wi-Fi access points that give schools a less expensive way to upgrade to the higher-bandwidth 802.11ac technology that just became available last year.

The company also offers a creative solution for boosting wireless bandwidth on a temporary basis, which is another solution that could help with online Common Core testing.

Xirrus’ new XR-620 access points are capable of supporting 800 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth out of the box, said Bruce Miller, vice president of product marketing. That’s about two-thirds of the full capability of 802.11ac technology—but it’s twice the performance of current 802.11n technology.

What’s more, the access points are programmable to support full 802.11ac speeds with a simple software upgrade, Miller said. So, for the cost of standard “n” technology, schools can have better wireless performance immediately, he said—with a low-cost way to upgrade even further when they’re ready.

Xirrus also sells what it calls a Common Core Testing Kit that is perfect for schools in need of a short-term boost in wireless bandwidth, such as when they’re deploying online testing. This “rapid deployment kit” is quick to set up; all you need are a power outlet and an Ethernet connection.

The kit, which costs about $2,500, consists of a four-antenna wireless array on a tripod. It supports 1.8 gigabits per second of bandwidth, or enough for “a few hundred” students to take online exams, Miller said. It can be moved easily from room to room and also can be set up outside, for outdoor events.

Voice recognition software becomes more powerful

Nuance Communications has released Dragon Dictate 4 for the Mac, the latest version of its speech-to-text software for Macintosh computers. With this software, users now can transcribe audio from any speaker, and not just themselves, Nuance says. They also can control Gmail using just their voice.

The new transcription feature can transcribe text of a single speaker from pre-recorded audio files in many different formats, such as .mp3, .mp4, and .wav. This is a useful feature for creating and posting transcriptions of class lectures or podcasts. The audio must be high quality, though, such as a recording of a teacher wearing a microphone.

You can use any audio file to “train” the software to recognize that speaker’s voice; the program transcribes the first 90 seconds or so of the audio, and as you make corrections, it “learns” that speaker’s nuances and creates a unique profile for him or her, just as it does for the software’s primary user.

In addition, Dragon Dictate for Mac lets you control your Gmail inbox within the Safari or Firefox browser with a few simple voice commands. While this feature is also available in the latest Windows version of Dragon Dictate, v12.5, the transcription service is unique to the Mac version for now.

Dragon Dictate for the Mac normally costs $199, but education pricing is $129 for an individual license and $1,499 for a school license.

New blended curriculum prepares students for college

While 93 percent of middle school students list college as a goal, only 44 percent ultimately enroll in a postsecondary institution, according to the Educational Policy Improvement Center.

To help close this “aspiration gap,” particularly among students who would be first in their family to attend college, Hobsons has released a new blended learning product called the Naviance College and Career Readiness Curriculum.

“We’re providing an affordable means for even the most under-resourced schools and districts to deliver a comprehensive and compelling college counseling solution at scale to all their middle and high school students,” said Steve Smith, president of Hobsons’ K-12 division, in a press release.

The curriculum broadens students’ perspectives of what is possible while instilling the behaviors they’ll need to succeed in college and beyond, such as time management, confidence, and perseverance. Developed in collaboration with Roadtrip Nation, it includes a sequence of 105 multimedia lessons for students in grades 6-12, including videos featuring students who have successfully made the transition from high school to college. Lessons also show students how to navigate the college process and what it takes to enroll.

Through pre- and post-assessments, schools can gauge how prepared students are for college at each grade level; teachers and other staff can use this information to identify students who need more support.

School leaders can learn more about the curriculum by signing up for a free demo or calling (866) 337-0080.

(Next page: Software that combines classroom, asset, power, and network management in a single package—and a solution for curbing cell phone cheating)

Dennis Pierce

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