QAMA: The only calculator a student should ever use

Long, long ago, before I discovered the joys of public school administration, before I fled from said administrative post for the easy life of private industry, before I left private industry behind to focus on writing and educational policy, I was a math teacher. And in my math classes, we rarely used calculators, says Christopher Dawson for ZDNet. Calculators are designed to eliminate the need for repetitive, tedious arithmetic, leaving time to actually think about the math. When used correctly in the classroom, modern graphing calculators can do wonders for visualization, simulation, and encouraging that critical thought that we’re all after. Calculators were supposed to eliminate the tedium and simple mistakes that plague many calculations but instead have become the go-to device for any math problem. Worse, students frequently lack the mathematical savvy to know when the answer output by the calculator doesn’t make sense. Estimation, it would seem, is a lost art. Enter QAMA…created by Ilan Samson, a retired physicist and serial inventor, to address exactly the problems I described above, the QAMA calculator forces students to provide a reasonable estimate for their answer before it will output the exact answer…

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Go mobile or go home

Last week, I spent a day at the Blackboard World Developers’ Conference (BBWorld DevCon). There was plenty of attention paid to Blackboard’s purchase of Moodlerooms and Netspot and the possible implications for developers, says Christopher Dawson for ZDNet Education. There was lots of talk about LTI (more on that later). But more than anything, developers were talking mobile. This isn’t unique to BBWorld, either – like consumer and enterprise customers, educators and students are going mobile in big ways, and companies need to keep up. Blackboard has their Mobile Learn product which, beginning this fall, will allow students to purchase the app on iOS or Android, even if their institution chooses not to support Blackboard’s full-blown Mobile Central platform. Developers were particularly giving kudos at DevCon for Blackboard’s augmented reality component in Mobile Central, which allows schools to create interactive, 3D overlays for school campuses that students and visitors can access via their iPhones (the app works on iPads and the company is looking at Android support, but Blackboard focused on the iPhone for a standardized device to explore this very new technology)…

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What do your teachers and students really need from systems supporting blended and eLearning?

The average school technologist, let alone the average teacher or administrator, has a lot to wade through in terms of selecting systems that support blended learning initiatives, says Christopher Dawson, education blogger for ZDNet. Sure, most principals know that their school needs a platform where students and teachers can share information, assignments are readily accessible, and teachers can curate resources for students. But if the Blackboard-Moodlerooms-Sakai deal was suprising and confusing to those of us who follow this for a living, how can educators be expected to sort out a much larger market?

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Samsung reboots tablet strategy and beats Apple on price

Samsung has changed its tablet strategy and this time the company has an approach that is a lot more competitive with the Apple iPad on price, form factor, and overall features, ZdNet reports. We’ll have to wait until we do a full review of the new Samsung devices to decide if the overall product experience approaches what Apple has to offer, but since the Samsung tablet doesn’t arrive until early summer and will be running Android 3.0, that gives Google time to repair the Honeycomb problems we saw in the Motorola Xoom and it gives developers time to write a lot more tablet-optimized apps for Android 3.0…

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Dell and ePals take the Connected Classroom to the cloud

ePals has done it again. Now they’ve partnered with Dell to deliver state-of-the-art, cloud-based communication/collaboration platforms as part of Dell’s Connected Classroom effort, reports ZDNet. ePals, creator of the world’s largest learning network, has partnered with Dell to add its newly announced SchoolMail365 and its LearningSpace communication and collaboration solutions to Dell’s Connected Classroom hardware, software, and services stack. The two companies are announcing the partnership today at the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference in Austin today. Dell’s Connected Classroom is almost more of a philosophy than any particular set of products (although it includes everything from netbooks to interactive projectors). Company reps have explained, quite rightly, that you simply can’t drop off hardware anymore. Schools with stretched budgets, limited time, and limited internal expertise need a trusted partner who can assess their needs and provide customized solutions for them…

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Google gives schools, organizations “walled garden” approach to email

Many schools have hesitated to adopt Google Apps for their students, citing security and privacy concerns. Gmail, as the core of Google Apps, is a tool that, by its nature, allows relatively unfettered access to anyone in the world with an email address, reports Christopher Dawson of ZDNet. Although extensive spam filtering, virus protection, and blacklisting are available through Postini, for some schools and organizations, the risk of inappropriate or dangerous use of email was a significant reason not to use Google Apps.Today, however, Google announced that it has provided Google Apps administrators with the ability to limit groups of users to internal contact only via email…

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Wired vs. Wireless…which way to go when it’s time to refresh?

One of the schools I work with is looking at a major infrastructure refresh, explains Christopher Dawson of ZDNet. The hundred odd switches that were state of the art when the school was built 13 years ago are rapidly failing and, combined with thousands of meters of Cat 5 cabling, are too slow to handle drastically increased utilization over that time frame. So the question is, should the school replace all of the hardware and cabling or go wireless? It’s easy and not terribly expensive to achieve at least gigabit speeds with wired connections and off the shelf components. This school even has fiber connecting a head end room to each floor. Each room in the school is wired with at least 4 drops, if not 6 or 8, though, all of which run off of the Cat 5 cable which would prevent actual gigabit throughput. While replacing the switches isn’t a big deal since every floor has a wiring closet and all of the switches are centralized, one has to wonder if this is really the best choice…

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Review: Adobe Connect 8 is the cure for Wall-o’-laptop woes and distance ed

Adobe Connect 8 is the gold standard for digitally-enhanced, multimodal instruction. And distance ed or virtual classrooms? Piece of cake, says Christopher Dawson, blogger for ZDNet Education. I reviewed Adobe Connect 7.5 last year from a higher education perspective, calling out its ability to co-opt and utilize that wall of laptops that greets too many professors. Monday, I looked at the next version of Connect more generally over on Between the Lines and was blown away by the revamped interface and utter ease with which Connect 8 could be applied in K12, higher education, and professional development. Adobe’s latest iteration of its interactive conference and meeting software is so good, I couldn’t help but imagine how it could drastically change a classroom as much as it could change a company’s business travel or conferencing solution. As with most Adobe solutions, cost will probably be the biggest issue. Connect can run as a hosted or on-premise application and is licensed in several different ways, most of which key to the number of concurrent users accessing Connect. Very large institutions could spend upwards of $50,000 on a solution with multiple servers, several concurrent hosts, and as many as 2000 concurrent student participants (business pricing is handled on a case-by-case basis; in general, educational institutions should also contact Adobe or a reseller to ensure that they buy an appropriately designed system). Obviously, smaller implementations will cost less and a school district could easily access hosted instances of Connect for under $2000 a year…

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FTC drops Google StreetView inquiry; other countries, not so much

The Federal Trade Commission has ended its inquiry of Google and the data it collected from unsecured wireless hotspots, citing the company’s improved privacy policies, reports ZDNet. Not only will the FTC not fine Google, but regulators “had received assurances from Google that it ‘has not used and will not use any of the payload data collected in any Google product or service, now or in the future.’” If only Google could get off so easily elsewhere in the world. In Italy, Google is facing tough new requirements for marking the StreetView cars and registering their itineraries, while the Czech Republic has banned the StreetView program entirely and Germany insisted upon a system by which homeowners could opt out of the service (244,000 households did, by the way)…

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Texas moves emphasize need to open source education

ZDNet writer Dana Blankenhorn writes that Texas’s controversial decision to change its history curriculum has created an enormous opportunity for states, for communities, for publishers, and for authors to use open source and mass customization to transform education, just as those cost savings are most needed.

I didn’t intend to get into the Texas school board controversy. Personal reasons. After I left college I was a close friend of a guy who is now a member of that board, one of its most controversial. Back in 1978 David Bradley was drifting, but the woman he married around the time I knew him straightened him out. Last I saw him he was living in the mansion where the papers creating what later became Exxon were signed. But his latest silliness (only stupid kids believe the history they’re taught in high school) got me to thinking of the enormous opportunities there are for open source in education, starting in the area of textbooks. What lefty political types will tell you is that Texas’ school book standards are followed in lockstep by most other states, because Texas is such a large market and publishers don’t want to publish multiple books.What is really 1950 here is not the lesson plan, but the business model.

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