Monday, November 26, 2012

Arousing interests in students for e-learning courses through creative means

There is no dearth of e-learning courses around the globe. But the question is: are these courses really enhancing the knowledge of children? While researching on this subject I came across staggering results. I found that although the numbers of e-learning courses have increased considerably in recent past; students are still unable to derive 100% benefit from these courses. I know 100% benefit is a mere myth and cannot be achieved in one grasp; but still there has to be a way through which students retain majority of portion in one go without any outside interface or pressure from parents. Once that has been done, the real worth of e-learning courses can be derived.
It is often said that content is the king. This is absolutely true for good e-learning courses. Although designing an e-learning course is also an integral part of the big deal; without game-changing content, it is very difficult to arouse interest in the minds of the students. Now this is a very big deal, because if you make students yearn for your course; half of your problem is solved. With so much competition, the expectations are quite high in terms of quality content delivery and on top of it; the other criteria is that content should be in sync with the designs of the website. This is really a high pressure situation, because you need to be at the top of your game to succeed at this level.
Tutors also need to be in regular touch with the students so that they can provide proper guidance to them after specific period for instance; weekly or fortnightly as per their convenience. This will enable students to get personalized touch from the tutors. The major objective of providing personalized touch in e-learning courses is to make students genuinely interested in the course. They can then ask relevant questions to the tutors thereby getting additional knowledge on the subjects.
Although every e-learning course provider rhetorically knows about these basic ideas they are not able to transform them into realities. Now this is a big problem; and this question always remains unanswered: How does one arouse interests in students through e-learning courses? I know you are jumping off your seats and are saying every other fellow knows the answer. But is the answer really that simple? Are we really able to understand the needs of the students? What are the different factors which make or break the success of an e-learning course? In this blog; I will try to answer all these questions and hopefully when I end this blog; you will have a rough idea of what exactly is required in terms of creativity to encourage students to study hard for the respective courses? How can you make a boring subject interesting for the students?
Now remember that when I talk about students I am talking about children within age group of 4-15 years. This is the age where children learn from their surroundings and are able to grasp things quite easily. This is also the age wherein; the inbuilt creativity in children can be developed without any force or compulsion. The basic objective of an e-learning course should be to encourage the students to use their creativity and get innovative solutions on their own by solving the problems. Remember that getting a different solution for a problem every time does not make a child dumb. It is our perception which makes things right or wrong. Once we have adapted to the way a child thinks, it will be very easy to design a course curriculum which will not only impart knowledge; but also enhance the creativity in children.
I am yet to come across an e-learning course which takes the point discussed earlier into consideration; while designing the course curriculum. This is a very sad thing because it also shows that e-learning course providers are not able to understand the needs of the children and hence, are failing to create interests in students. So, the very first point to consider while arousing interest in students is to THINK LIKE A CHILD; and design the course curriculum keeping in mind the creativity aspect of children that can be enhanced through designing innovative course curriculum.
Thinking like a child is not an easy thing. You might also question me: what do you mean by creating a course curriculum presuming yourself as a child? Now this is a very important question, which needs to answered in detail; because most of the e-learning course providers miss out on understanding this simple criteria; and end up messing up with their entire course curriculum.
You will not end up with the same fate; as you have already begun the success journey which will guarantee that your course is quite different and unique from other e-learning course providers. Remember when you were a child there were three most important things which created interests in your minds. Let me list these three things:
  • Engagement
  • Competition
  • Rewards
Let me explain each of these points in detail with a scenario-based example which will clear the concepts in your mind:
  • Engagement: Imagine your childhood days are back again. You are sitting on your couch playing video game. As you cross each level the excitement arouses and you are totally involved in the game. In other words you are engaged in that activity which keeps you from doing other activities till you have completed the game thoroughly. Now get back to the present and visualize whether the course content that you have developed has engaging points in it. Whether it can keep a child involved for a majority of their time without diverting to other activities?
If your answer is yes; then you have found the perfect winning formulae for designing the e-learning course. In that case you do not have to read further. But if you are still confused and are asking the same question i.e., How to engage children in the course curriculum? The answer lies within the problem. Create the curriculum in such a manner that it seems like fun to the children. Make it so engaging that they do not wish you get off their study room till they have completed the specific chapter or the desired objective. You can do it with interactive videos or pictures that engage students to the course. You can also create a unique concept which will give you the first-mover advantage over other e-learning course providers. The key to the solution is to think creatively and differently from others. Remember if your course is not different or unique then it will not survive the tough competition in the market. Be very proactive research a lot and come up with creative solutions. By being creative and different you are giving yourself an opportunity to engage the children to your e-learning course. That should be the ultimate bate to attract parents and children.
  • Competition: Remember the good old times in your childhood when you used to have a healthy competition amongst your friends while playing cricket or football to become a wicket keeper or goal keeper. Try to visualize the kind of competition that used to take place to bat first or to keep the wickets while playing cricket. Likewise try to remember the competition that used to take place to fight for your place as a goal keeper while playing football. Counting the number of runs or goals scored by each individual to prove your mantle in the entire group and surpassing that figure to become the ultimate winner used to be your sole objective.
Likewise, in the present scenario, games have changed; but with the help of social networking sites it is always possible to share your academic scores with your colleagues, so that there is healthy competition amongst all the children and everyone can give their best to achieve their academic goals. Thinking out-of-the-box can also be quite profitable for an e-learning course provider; as they can cater to an all-together new market. For example; integrating games with course curriculum can increase the potential of success for the e-learning courses.
  • Rewards: As a child, remember the enthusiasm that you used to feel while getting a reward for a sport. It was considered to be a big achievement. Likewise when children are rewarded for the dedication and application that they show for learning and scoring good marks in the quiz; it results in positive reinforcement. This is the ultimate game changing moment for the e-learning course provider since; they now have all the cards in their hands; and deep down in their heart they know that their course is an instant success with the children. They can then experiment with something unique and different for the betterment of the course curriculum.  
In the end; I would like to conclude this blog by highlighting couple of things which will give an opportunity to e-learning course providers to get success with flying colors.
  • Always give importance to learning and knowledge rather than marks and ranking system.
  • Even if a child does not score well encourage him/her with positive feedback so that they can get back to studies and perform well in the next quiz/exam.
About emPower
emPower  is a leading provider of comprehensive Healthcare Compliance Solutions through Learning Management System (LMS). Its mission is to provide innovative security solutions to enable compliance with applicable laws and regulations and maximize business performance. empower provides range of courses to manage compliance required by regulatory bodies such as OSHA, HIPAA, Joint commission and Red Flag Rule etc. Apart from this emPower also offers custom demos and tutorials for your website, business process management and software implementation.

Its Learning Management system (LMS) allows students to retrieve all the courses 24/7/365 by accessing the portal. emPower e-learning training program is an interactive mode of learning that guides students to progress at their own pace.
For additional information, please visit

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Online learning: pedagogy, technology and opening up higher education

A customer uses computer in an internet cafe at Changzhi Is online learning the answer to widening participation in higher education? Photograph: Stringer Shanghai/Reuters

Higher education has always been fond of its acronyms and they don't get much more prolific than the current four letters doing the rounds. From the December 2011 launch of MITx Stateside to the University of Edinburgh's decision to join the Coursera platform, MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses) have barely been off the education news menu. Nor was the Observer alone in recently asking: "Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?"

Of course, the provision of off-campus higher education is not a recent development. The Open University has championed open and distance learning since 1969 – from its original correspondence courses and late-night TV broadcasts to the latest research and development conducted by its Institute of Educational Technology.

By definition, online learning is the meeting of technology and pedagogy – and universities are still exploring the right balance between the two. In his 2011 slideshare, Guillermo Ramirez outlines 'five big mistakes of virtual education', from the use of the term massive ("you don't have one course of 250, you have 250 courses of one") to the risk of tech taking the fun out of the education process.

MOOC cheerleaders point to their potential for widening access to higher education. "I can see openings where MOOCs might find a useful place in HE," says Jeff Haywood at Edinburgh, "enabling those in less privileged HE settings to access courses in subjects that they cannot take ... and for teachers in universities to pick up new ideas as to how to teach and learn online." And as PhD student Bonnie Stewart blogged for us: "It is this participatory element ... that enables open online experiences to offer value, even to those of us already studying in conventional institutions."

But while take-up is growing so too are drop-outs. An article in the Atlantic cited drop-out rates of 80-95% from MOOCs offered by Stanford, MIT and UC Berkley, before provocatively suggesting "if anything the low rate of success is a sign of the system's efficiency". Meanwhile Patrick McGhee, vice-chancellor of the University of East London, warns: "There is a danger that MOOCs will reinforce rather than disrupt a two-tier education system in the US, and eventually in the UK, with campus-based learning as premium elite education and online learning as a basic offering."

Where do you sit in this debate? And what models are working best for students – and universities? In partnership with the Open University, this week's live chat will consider the new landscape of online learning and how it might open, widen and formalise access to quality higher education. Join our expert panel to talk MOOCs and more on Friday 23 November from 12-2pm GMT.

The debate will take place in the comments section below this article

Josie Taylor is director of the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University with more than 20 years' experience in research, development and evaluation of interactive media and innovative pedagogies

Peter Scott is director of the Knowledge Media Institute at the Open University @peter_scott

John Daniel served as a university president for 17 years in Canada (Laurentian University) and the UK (The Open University) before joining UNESCO as assistant director-general for education in 2001 and assuming the presidency of the Commonwealth of Learning in 2004

Helen Keegan is senior lecturer in interactive media/social technologies at the University of Salford and a UK national teaching fellow at Higher Education Academy @heloukee

David Kernohan is responsible for the JISC/Academy OER programme and other work around learning resources and activities @dkernohan

Tony Bates is president and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd, a private company specialising in the planning and management of e-learning and distance education

Jesse Stommel is assistant professor of English and digital humanities at Marylhurst University in Portland @Jessifer

Jeff Haywood is vice-principal for knowledge management, chief information officer and librarian at the University of Edinburgh

Bonnie Stewart is a writer, PhD student and sessional lecturer in the University of Prince Edward Island's faculty of education @bonstewart

David Glance is director of the University of Western Australia's Centre for Software Practice. The UWA CSP is currently collaborating with Stanford University to build a MOOC platform Class2Go @david_glance

Michael Thomas is senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and editor of a four-volume major work on online learning

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, sign up for free to become a member of the Higher Education Network.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Social Studies Slogans: Make Your Own Memes

I chose this slogan because it contains domain specific vocabulary and demonstrates the courage of George Washington and the faith he had in his troops.

You’ve seen them in emails, on Facebook, even the Today Show features memes that have gone viral.  Students can create their own memes using Haiku Deck on their iPads.

Follow these steps:

Create a new presentation and choose a themeAdd an image from your camera roll to set as the backgroundAdd your slogan and format the text so it works with your image

Check out my common core aligned lesson plan using this app in the classroom!

View the original article here

Why online courses can never totally replace the campus experience

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences on the campus of Harvard University The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences on the campus of Harvard University. Who wouldn't want a degree from Harvard for free? Photograph: Matthew J Lee/Boston Globe/Getty Images

I have never liked the idea that in the future we should think of students as "customers" with a relationship to universities defined by money. For me, students are primarily learners – a controversial position, I readily concede, but in my defence I see this in the context of new models, new institutions, new technologies and new relationships for learning.

There are some who argue that the future of learning and the student experience is online. Such projections are as old as the internet itself, but they have recently enjoyed renewed interest through the idea of moocs (massive open online courses) where universities provide open access to their learning content through online platforms. Some serious brands have tentatively engaged with the model such as MIT, Harvard, Princeton and Berkeley. These platforms include Udacity and the Khan Institute. One of these, EdX, has said it hopes to teach a billion students; another, Coursera, advertises with the strapline "Take the World's Best Courses, Online, For Free".

On the surface this might appear to be a serious threat to some campus institutions: what simpleton wouldn't want a degree from Harvard for free? Of course, that is not what is, was, or ever will be on offer, but such headlines are irresistible. So far, most mainstream institutions have breezily dismissed the idea of moocs as a genuine threat, specifically because there is no credit or certification offered with these courses (nor, for that matter, much academic or pastoral support either, though you might get a certificate of completion).

Well, some of that might be changing very quickly. Last week, the American Council on Education (ACE) announced the launch of a project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to evaluate the suitability of courses in moocs for academic credit and then how to award such credit when students have paid for and completed an invigilated assessment. Interestingly, the project's other two strands involve a "presidential innovation lab" (to facilitate "conversations about new academic and financial models inspired by the disruptive potential of moocs") and research into effective pedagogic practice. A "presidential innovation lab" sounds like the ultimate oxymoron to me and research into online pedagogy is nothing new, even if often heralded as such. But I digress.

The broader social agenda here, of course, is in part creating low-cost higher education at the US community college level, with better completion rates. However, there is a danger that moocs with elective assessment and credit will reinforce rather than disrupt a two-tier education system in the US, and eventually in the UK, with campus-based learning as premium elite education and online learning as a basic offering. Helping the poor get a better version of what is ultimately a derivational form of education is a feeble kind of disruption and more of a reproduction of structural educational disadvantage.

Whatever the merits of moocs, and there are many, I instinctively find myself thinking about experiences that cannot be meaningfully created online. For example, at my own institution we have a large "going global" programme where students who might not otherwise get the opportunity are funded to travel overseas on innovative placements. These have included working with Georgian NGOs, Brazilian deforestation prevention teams and Ugandan sexual-health projects.

Similarly, we have an undergraduate research internship scheme where students work alongside our professors, not only gaining advanced methodological and laboratory skills, but also getting a chance to demystify the research culture and open up further research study as an option. More prosaically, I really do not expect to see our practical BSc sport therapy going on to a mooc any day soon.

For me, the answer is Customised Global Collaborative Environments, a concept I have been working on now for the better part of several minutes. In this model, students at universities engage with communities of peers around the world to examine practical and theoretical issues from multiple points of view. But mostly they would help to connect real shared experiences across people, time and space – because in the end that is what education is really about, what computers alone cannot deliver and what student customers, through money alone, cannot buy.

Professor Patrick McGhee is vice-chancellor of the University of East London

Debate the future of online learning in our live chat, Friday 23 November, 12-2pm at

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Sneak peek at Nintendo's new Wii U gaming system

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KGO) -- In a few days, Nintendo will unleash a new video game system that experts say could make or break the company. ABC7 News got a sneak peek at the company's new Wii U and some of the games Nintendo hopes will make you want to buy it.

Deep inside a heavily guarded building, in an undisclosed location, a select group of journalists and Nintendo employees played Super Mario Brothers.

If you grew up with this game and you think you know it, think again. Mario just got even more super with a supercharged controller.

"With the GamePad, basically this brings a second screen into the living room," said Chip Chipman, with Nintendo's product marketing team.

With its full color touchscreen, motion sensors, buttons and joysticks, the GamePad is the centerpiece of Nintendo's newest video game system, the Wii U.

In one instance, a player used the touchscreen to build blocks for the other players to jump on, in what's otherwise a classic Mario game, "And then it reminds you of your younger days as a child, you know?" Chipman said. "Jumping down warp pipes, busting blocks with your head."

Games like this have always been Nintendo's strong suit. But with Wii U, the company's also showing off games like Zombi U, which is definitely rated "M" for mature.

You see, while the original Nintendo Wii captured a whole new audience of families, busy professionals, even retirees, critics say Nintendo all but forgot about hardcore gamers. Well, now they're back, with a vengeance.

Taking full advantage of the screen and the gyroscopes in the GamePad, Zombi U brings another dimension to surviving the walking dead. And speaking of death and destruction, Call of Duty is coming to Wii U. Among the most successful game series of all time, the latest has HD graphics and futuristic weapons.

One producer of the game said, "Because Call of Duty Black Ops II is set in this near future, the 2025 universe, we're able to utilize technology that may or may not exist yet."

When the Wii U hits store shelves, it'll definitely do it with a splash. But it'll have to, because it's coming in as the underdog against two very well established competitors.

"The Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, which are already in all these hard core gamers' living rooms, uh, they have the same games," said GamesBeat Editor-in-Chief Dan "Shoe" Hsu.

According to Hsu, there's no doubt the $300 Wii U is the most "advanced" system. But he notes that being new has a downside, "The Wii U when it comes out this winter is only gonna have a handful of games," Hsu said. "It's not gonna come anywhere close to the software library that you could find on a Playstation 3 or Xbox 360."

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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State taps into off-road park trust fund to save other parks

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KGO) -- More than four decades ago, off roaders set aside money to preserve places for them to ride. However, the state has been tapping into that fund and it's leaving many people feeling like they are being left in the dust.

The Metcalf Off-Highway Vehicle Park is one of the most popular recreation areas in Santa Clara County. Every year, thousands of people come here to ride trails. But because of statewide budget cuts, millions of dollars designated to run off-road parks may now be shifted to other parks statewide, leaving parks like Metcalf to find other sources of funding.

"We've been pretty fortunate in the funding we've asked for. If it gets reduced we will have to look at various options - you know funding strategies to keep the park open," Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation spokesperson Tamara Clark said.

In the early 1970's users of off-highway vehicles or OHV's created a savings account for the future parks. They created a trust fund paid for with registration fees on off-road vehicles and taxes on gasoline.

"You buy gas, you pay taxes on the gas, those taxes come back to the program to maintain the roads and trails you are recreating on," California Off-Highway Vehicle Division spokesperson Phil Jenkins said.

Jenkins runs the state's OHV program, a division of the state parks system. Over the years, the OHV trust has been a target because it is so well funded. It currently has $42 million in its account. Over the past four years, the OHV department has loaned the state $123 million with the promise that it would be paid back.

"Last year was the first year that they diverted money that was coming to the program and diverted it to another location, which means they don't have to pay that money back," Jenkins said.

That money went to the state's general fund. Some legislators say the OHV trust is over-funded.

"State parks are going to have to change the way it's done business it's just a different day, the resources just aren't there that they used to count on," State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said.

Simitian co-authored legislation that allowed for the money to be diverted from the state OHV division to general park fund to help save 70 state parks from closing.

"We were able to do a fairly good job of holding most of that program together, 95 percent of the funding is not even at risk and the remaining 5 percent may or may not be there for that program in the course of the coming year," Simitian said.

Simitian's legislation was signed by the governor and gives the state park's department the authority to use the money designated for the off-road parks.

"In essence, they've taken all the funds that have been generated through OHV use, through registration fees and done what they've wanted," California Off- Road Vehicle Association spokesperson Amy Granat said.

As it turns out, the money wasn't needed this year because other funding was found for the state parks.

Back at Metcalf, off-roaders worry their savings account is being tapped to bail out the state's financial crisis.

"I don't even think they should be allowed to touch the money and they keep robbing from us and nobody wants to stand up for the motorcyclist," one off-road enthusiast said.

"If I don't balance my checkbook, I can't go to my neighbor and take his money," another off-road enthusiast said.

The County park's department says that it's commited to keeping Metcalf open.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the park will remain open, it's just a matter of how do we do that, Clark said.

Earlier this year, the head of state parks department resigned when it was revealed that while parks were slated to close, the OHV division had more than $100 million set aside to buy and manage land for off-road vehicles. That fund is where state accountants found more than half of a $54 million hidden surplus.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Inspiration for GoPro camera came during surfing trip

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- A tiny video camera is taking the sports world by storm. And the company that makes it was started right here in the Bay Area by a local surfer, looking for a better shot.

Professional and amateur athletes now have a new view on the sports they love and they are sharing them in videos on the internet. It's all because Nick Woodman made a big splash with a tiny camera.

Woodman is the man behind the GoPro camera. More than 800,000 sold last year. He recently tested out the company's newest camera in Nicaragua. Surfing is where GoPro's CEO and founder came up the small, lightweight, wearable, waterproof cameras. We caught up with him at the company's San Mateo headquarters.

"I was in between jobs, didn't know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, so I was looking for some inspiration," Woodman said. "So I decided to go on a surf trip, get back to my passion, and hopefully find inspiration." That was in 2002, "So I went to work on an idea I had in college which was for a camera I could where on my wrist."

That first camera took photos only. It cost just twenty bucks and was sold mostly in surf shops. Woodman borrowed money from family to build inventory and cut marketing costs by modeling the product himself on the packaging.

He called his camera the GoPro Hero, noting, "I thought, what does the camera do? It helps you capture photos that make you look like a pro; it helps you capture photos that make you look like a hero."

But it wasn't until Woodman took up race car driving that he realized the full potential of his tiny camera, "In racing school they wanted to charge me a hundred bucks for a half hour to rent out a video camera. I thought that's crazy, I'll take my wrist camera and strap it to the roll bar."

In 2007 he turned his still camera into a video camera and put it on the market. Users snapped them up, strapping them to bikes, boats, cars, helmets, even pets.

"One of my favorite videos is from a teenager in the UK," said Woodman, "He built a weather balloon with his dad and sent it into near space with a toy robot on it."

GoPro's newest cameras are HD, costing between $200 and $400. Some models even connect to your iPhone for so you can see what you are shooting. The company just released a model that comes with a remote control as well.

Based on data supplied by its retail partners, GoPro estimates that it owns 90 percent of the rugged camera market, making it the fastest growing camera company in the world.

Woodman says the company is constantly looking for ways to improve its products. And he is still amazed by how popular it's become, "It's just so far beyond my initial vision for GoPro. I mean, I just wanted to help surfers capture photos of themselves and their friends while they are surfing."

And it's not just athletes who are finding a use for GoPro's many cameras. They can go everywhere the big cameras can't. In fact, director James Cameron recently used one to explore the depths of the ocean.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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4 BYOD Considerations for Elementary Schools

Elementary school students with technology

Among the top trends in commercial IT these days is the issue of how to handle Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) which occurs when personally owned smartphones and tablets are used within the organization’s commercial applications and systems. This creates many substantial security and data management issues that are keeping IT staffs awake at night.

For an elementary school, the problem is no less daunting. Many sixth-graders have their own phones, and the smartphone is basically ubiquitous in high school. Couple that with an increasing number of tablets — primarily in more affluent districts at this time — and you have the same BYOD issue in primary education, but with many different twists.

A good place to start is looking at the issue of whether or not BYOD exists in your school. And the answer is easy, it’s yes. Your school may try to stop it, but face it, students are already using personal smartphones and even tablets no matter how strict the rules. So the questions become, when do you admit it, and how do you take advantage of it?

The answers aren’t easy.

First, there needs to be allowance for personal use during the day. At lunch or study halls makes the most sense. Prohibition doesn’t work, and ends up taking staff resources away from more valuable supervision or other activities. Striking a balance between personal use and educational use is essential.

The second aspect of the BYOD problem is what happens when some students have the devices, and some don’t. How does a school plan a curriculum with that level of uncertainty? There is also the problem of status and some students feeling inferior. For these and other reasons, I think we now have to look at BYOD as an extension of traditional infrastructure, not a replacement for it. For example, BYOD might eliminate shared use, or allow individual work on a project versus working only as a group. This however will change going forward as the devices do become more common.

Number three is network access. This is one of the most interesting ways to get some control over BYOD, but without a lot of resources. The school’s WiFi network should be opened up like a Starbucks hotspot, but with a simple log on that provides the same filtered internet capability found in wired networks. Of course a student could use the cellular solution, but with better service levels, the school based network can win out.

The final aspect I want to blog about today is opening up the classroom software and curriculum to BYOD devices. If BYOD devices are to be truly useful, they need to exist inside the software infrastructure of the school, and can’t be walled off. This does create software license issues that need to be examined, and teachers need to increase the creativity around how to add in the BYOD devices to their teaching style and curriculum. However, having truly virtual classrooms or 24/7 access to class applications is a huge gain. This is also an element that needs strong and documented policies to prevent any inappropriate communication or interaction.

BYOD is already here in the K-12 space. The option of ignoring BYOD is not just short sighted, but it misses the opportunity to move the EdTech solutions forward.

View the original article here

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do online courses spell the end for the traditional university?

University graduates at Cambridge dressed in robes A thing of the past? University graduates at Cambridge. Photograph: Trigger Image/Alamy

Two years ago, I sat in the back seat of a Toyota Prius in a rooftop car park in California and gripped the door handle as the car roared away from the kerb, headed straight towards the roof's edge and then at the last second sped around a corner without slowing down. There was no one in the driver's seat.

It was the prototype of Google's self-driving car and it felt a bit like being Buck Rogers and catapulted into another century. Later, I listened to Sebastian Thrun, a German-born professor of artificial intelligence at Stanford University, explain how he'd built it, how it had already clocked up 200,000 miles driving around California, and how one day he believed it would mean that there would be no traffic accidents.

A few months later, the New York Times revealed that Thrun was the head of Google's top-secret experimental laboratory Google X, and was developing, among other things, Google Glasses – augmented reality spectacles. And then, a few months after that, I came across Thrun again.

The self-driving car, the glasses, Google X, his prestigious university position – they'd all gone. He'd resigned his tenure from Stanford, and was working just a day a week at Google. He had a new project. Though he didn't call it a project. "It's my mission now," he said. "This is the future. I'm absolutely convinced of it."

The future that Thrun believes in, that has excited him more than self-driving cars, or sci-fi-style gadgets, is education. Specifically, massive online education free to all. The music industry, publishing, transportation, retail – they've all experienced the great technological disruption. Now, says Thrun, it's education's turn.

"It's going to change. There is no doubt about it." Specifically, Thrun believes, higher education is going to change. He has launched Udacity, an online university, and wants to provide mass high quality education for the world. For students in developing countries who can't get it any other way, or for students in the first world, who can but may choose not to. Pay thousands of pounds a year for your education? Or get it free online?

University, of course, is about so much more than the teaching. There's the socialising, of course, or, as we call it here in Britain, drinking. There's the living away from home and learning how to boil water stuff. And there's the all-important sex and catching a social disease stuff. But this is the way disruptions tend to work: they disrupt first, and figure out everything else at some unspecified time later.

Thrun's great revelation came just over a year ago at the same TED conference where he unveiled the self-driving car. "I heard Salman Khan talk about the Khan Academy and I was just blown away by it," he says. "And I still am." Salman Khan, a softly spoken 36-year-old former hedge fund analyst, is the founding father of what's being called the classroom revolution, and is feted by everyone from Bill Gates (who called him "the world's favourite teacher") down.

The Khan Academy, which he set up almost accidentally while tutoring his niece and nephew, now has 3,400 short videos or tutorials, most of which Khan made himself, and 10 million students. "I was blown away by it," says Thrun. "And frankly embarrassed that I was teaching 200 students. And he was teaching millions."

Thrun decided to open up his Stanford artificial intelligence class, CS221, to the world. Anybody could join, he announced. They'd do the same coursework as the Stanford students and at the end of it take the same exam.

CS221 is a demanding, difficult subject. On campus, 200 students enrolled, and Thrun thought they might pull in a few thousand on the web. By the time the course began, 160,000 had signed up. "It absolutely blew my mind," says Thrun. There were students from every single country in the world – bar North Korea. What's more, 23,000 students graduated. And all of the 400 who got top marks were students who'd done it online.

It was, says Thrun, his "wonderland" moment. Having taught a class of 160,000 students, he couldn't go back to being satisfied with 200. "I feel like there's a red pill and a blue pill," Thrun said in a speech a few months later. "I've taken the red pill, and I've seen wonderland. We can really change the world with education."

By the time I sign up to Udacity's beginners' course in computer science, how to build a search engine, 200,000 students have already graduated from it. Although when I say "graduate" I mean they were emailed a certificate. It has more than a touch of Gillian McKeith's PhD about it, though it seems employers are taking it seriously: a bunch of companies, including Google, are sponsoring Udacity courses and regularly cream off the top-scoring students and offer them jobs.

I may have to wait a while for that call, though I'm amazed at how easy Udacity videos are to follow (having tips and advice on search-engine building from Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, doesn't hurt). Like the Khan Academy, it avoids full-length shots of the lecturer and just shows a doodling hand.

According to Brin, if you have basic programming ability – which we'll all have if we complete the course – and a bit of creativity, "you could come up with an idea that might just change the world". But then that's Silicon Valley for you.

What's intriguing is how this will translate into a British context. Because, of course, when it comes to revolutionising educational access, Britain has led the world. We've had the luxury of open access higher education for so long – more than 40 years now – that we're blasé about it. When the Open University was launched in 1969, it was both radical and democratic. It came about because of improvements in technology – television – and it's been at the forefront of educational innovation ever since. It has free content – on OpenLearn and iTunesU. But at its heart, it's no longer radically democratic. From this year, fees are £5,000.

In America, Thrun is not the only one to have taken the pills. A year on from the Stanford experiment, and the world of higher education and the future of universities is completely different. Thrun's wasn't the only class to go online last autumn. Two of his computer science colleagues, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, also took part, with equally mind-blowing results. They too have set up a website, Coursera. And while Udacity is developing its own courses, Coursera is forming partnerships with universities to offer existing ones. When I met Koller in July, shortly after the website's launch, four universities had signed up – Stanford, Princeton, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Just four months later, it has 33 partner universities, 1.8 million students and is having venture capital thrown at it – $16m (£10m) in the first round. And it doesn't stop there. It's pretty remarkable that Coursera and Udacity were spun out of the same university, but also the same department (Thrun and Koller still supervise a PhD student together). And they have the dynamic entrepreneurial change-the-world quality that characterise the greatest and most successful Silicon Valley startups.

"We had a million users faster than Facebook, faster than Instagram," says Koller. "This is a wholesale change in the educational ecosystem."

But they're not alone. Over at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Anant Argarwal, another professor of computer science, who also cites Khan as his inspiration (and who was, in a neat twist, once his student), has launched edX, featuring content from MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and the University of Texas System.

Argarwal is not a man prone to understatement. This, he says, is the revolution. "It's going to reinvent education. It's going to transform universities. It's going to democratise education on a global scale. It's the biggest innovation to happen in education for 200 years." The last major one, he says, was "probably the invention of the pencil". In a decade, he's hoping to reach a billion students across the globe. "We've got 400,000 in four months with no marketing, so I don't think it's unrealistic."

More than 155,000 students took the first course he taught, including a whole class of children in Mongolia. "That was amazing!" says Argarwal. "And we discovered a protégé. One of his students, Batthushig, got a perfect score. He's a high school student. I can't overstate how hard this course was. If I took it today, I wouldn't get a perfect score. We're encouraging him to apply to MIT." This is the year, Argarwal says, that everything has changed. There's no going back. "This is the year of disruption."

A month ago, I signed up for one of the Coursera courses: an introduction to genetics and evolution, taught by Mohamed Noor, a professor at Duke University. Unlike Udacity's, Coursera's courses have a start date and run to a timetable. I quite fancied a University of Pennsylvania course on modern poetry but it had already started. This one was 10 weeks long, would feature "multiple mini-videos roughly 10-15 minutes in length", each of which would contain a number of quizzes, and there would also be three tests and a final exam.

It's just me, Noor, and my 36,000 classmates. We're from everywhere: Kazakhstan, Manila, Donetsk, Iraq. Even Middlesbrough. And while I watch the first videos and enjoy Noor's smiley enthusiasm, I'm not blown away.

They're just videos of lectures, really. There's coursework to do, but I am a journalist. I am impervious to a deadline until the cold sweat of impending catastrophe is upon me. I ignore it. And it's a week or so later when I go back and check out the class forum.

And that's when I have my being-blown-away moment. The traffic is astonishing. There are thousands of people asking – and answering – questions about dominant mutations and recombination. And study groups had spontaneously grown up: a Colombian one, a Brazilian one, a Russian one. There's one on Skype, and some even in real life too. And they're so diligent! If you are a vaguely disillusioned teacher, or know one, send them to Coursera: these are people who just want to learn.

Four weeks in, Noor announces that he's organising a Google hangout: it's where a limited number of people can talk via their webcams. But it's scheduled for 1am GMT on Sunday morning. I go to sleep instead. However I do watch the YouTube video of it the next day and it's fascinating viewing. Despite the time, Richard Herring, a train driver from Sheffield, is there, bright and alert and wanting to tell Noor how much he's enjoying the course.

"Richard!" says Noor. "Nice to meet you! Your posts are amazing. I often find that before I have a chance to go in and answer a question, somebody else has already answered it, and it's often Richard. Thank you."

"I just love science," says Richard. "I was never any good at school, but I've just picked it up along the way. It's a brilliant course. To get something like this without paying anything is marvellous. I'm loving it."

So is Sara Groborz, a graphic designer who was born in Poland but now lives in Britain. And then there's Naresh Ramesh, from Chennai, who's studying for a degree in biotechnology, and Maria, who lives in the US and is using the course to teach her students in a juvenile correction institute. Aline, a high school student in El Salvador, comes on. She took the course, she says, because she goes to a Catholic school where they don't teach evolution. "And you're the best teacher I've ever had!" she tells Noor.

How gratifying must it be to be a teacher on one of these courses? When I catch up by email with Noor the next day, he writes. "I'm absolutely LOVING it!" By phone, he says it's one of the most exciting things he's ever done.

What's more, it means that next semester he's going to be able to "flip the classroom". This is a concept that Khan has popularised and shown to be successful: students do the coursework at home by watching the videos, and then the homework in class, where they can discuss the problems with the instructor.

There are still so many issues to figure out with online education. Not least the fact that you don't get a degree out of it, although a university in the US has just announced that it will issue credit for it. At the moment, most people are doing courses for the sake of simply learning new stuff. "And a certificate, basically a pdf, which says this person may or may not be who they say they are," says Noor.

And while computers are excellent at grading maths questions, they're really much less hot at marking English literature essays. There's a preponderance of scientific and technical subjects, but the number of humanties courses is increasing with what Koller says is "surprisingly successful" peer assessment techniques. "It can't replace a one-to-one feedback from an expert in the field, but with the right guidance, peer assessment and crowd-sourcing really does work."

And in terms of content, the course I'm doing is pretty much the same as the one Noor's students take. At Duke, they have more interaction, and a hands-on lab environment, but they are also charged $40,000 a year for the privilege.

It's a lot of money. And it's this, that makes Udacity's and Coursera's and edX's courses so potentially groundbreaking. At the moment, they're all free. And while none of them can compete with traditional degrees, almost every other industry knows what happens when you give teenagers the choice between paying a lot of money for something or getting it for nothing.

Of course, education isn't quite an industry, but it is a business, or as Matt Grist, an education analyst from the thinktank Demos tells me, "a market", although he immediately apologises for saying this. "I know. It's terrible. That's the way we talk about it these days. I don't really like it, but I do it. But it is a market. And universities are high-powered businesses with massive turnovers. Some of the best institutions in Britain are global players these days."

Grist has been looking at the funding model of British universities, and sees trouble ahead. The massive rise in fees this year is just the start of it. "We've set off down this road now, and if you create competition and a market for universities, I think you're going to have to go further." He foresees the best universities becoming vastly more expensive, and the cheaper, more vocational ones "holding up". "It's the middle-tier, 1960s campus ones that I think are going to struggle."

When I ask Koller why education has suddenly become the new tech miracle baby, she describes it as "the perfect storm. It's like hurricane Sandy, all these things have come together at the same time. There's an enormous global need for high quality education. And yet it's becoming increasingly unaffordable. And at the same time, we have technological advances that make it possible to provide it at very low marginal cost."

And, in Britain, the storm is perhaps even more perfect. This is all happening at precisely the moment that students are having to pay up to £9,000 a year in fees and being forced to take on unprecedented levels of debt.

Students, whether they like it or not, have been turned into consumers. Education in Britain has, until now, been a very pure abstraction, a concept untainted by ideas of the market or value. But that, inevitably, is now changing. University applications by UK-born students this year were down almost 8%. "Though the number who turned up was much lower than that," Peter Lampl, the founder of the Sutton Trust, tells me. "They were 15% down."

The trust champions social mobility and nothing accelerates that more than university. "That's why we're so keen on it," says Lampl. "We're monitoring the situation. We don't know what the true impact of the fees will be yet. Or what the impact of coming out of university with £50,000 worth of debt will have on the rest of your life. "Will it delay you buying a house? Or starting a family? People compare it to the States, but in America one third of graduates have no debt, and two-thirds have an average of $25,000. This is on a completely different scale."

And it's amid this uncertainty and this market pressure that these massive open online courses – or Moocs as they're known in the jargon – may well come to play a role. There are so many intangible benefits to going to university. "I learned as much if not more from my fellow students than I did from the lectures," says Lampl. But they're the things – making life-long friends, joining a society, learning how to operate a washing machine – that are free. It's the education bit that's the expensive part. But what Udacity and the rest are showing is that it doesn't necessarily have to be."

The first British university to join the fray is Edinburgh. It's done a deal with Coursera and from January, will offer six courses, for which 100,000 students have already signed up. Or, to put this in context, four times as many undergraduates as are currently at the university.

It's an experiment, says Jeff Hayward, the vice-principal, a way of trying out new types of teaching "I'll be happy if we break even." At the moment Coursera doesn't charge students to receive a certificate of completion, but at some point it's likely to, and when it does, Edinburgh will get a cut.

But then Edinburgh already has an online model. More than 2,000 students studying for a masters at the university aren't anywhere near it; they're online. "And within a few years, we're ramping that up to 10,000," says Hayward.

For undergraduates, on the other hand, study is not really the point of university, or at least not the whole point. I know a student at Edinburgh called Hannah. "Do you have any lectures tomorrow?" I text her. "Only philosophy at 9am," she texts back. "So obviously I'm not going to that."

She's an example of someone who would be quite happy to pay half the fees, and do some of the lectures online. "God yes. Some of the lecturers are so crap, anyway. We had a tutorial group the other day, and he just sat there and read the paper and told us to get on with it."

Max Crema, the vice-president of the student union, tells me that he's already used online lectures from MIT to supplement his course. "Though that may be because I'm a nerd," he concedes. "The problem with lectures is that they are about 300 years out of date. They date back to the time when universities only had one book. That's why you still have academic positions called readers."

I trot off to one of them, an actual lecture in an actual lecture theatre, the old anatomy theatre, a steeply raked auditorium that's been in use since the 19th century when a dissecting table used to hold centre stage, whereas today there's just Mayank Dutia, professor of systems neurophysiology, talking about the inner ear.

He's one of the first academics signed up to co-deliver one of the Coursera courses come January, although he defends the real-life version too: "Universities are special places. You can't do what we do online. There's something very special in being taught by a world leader in the field. Or having a conversation with someone who's worked on a subject their whole lives. There's no substitute for this."

There isn't. But what the new websites are doing is raising questions about what a university is and what it's for. And how to pay for it. "Higher education is changing," says Hayward. "How do we fund mass global education? There are agonies all over the world about this question."

There are. And there's no doubting that this is something of a turning point. But it may have an impact closer to home too. Argarwal sees a future in which universities may offer "blended" models: a mixture of real-life and online teaching.

Coursera has already struck its first licensing deal. Antioch College, a small liberal arts institution in Ohio, has signed an agreement under which it will take content from Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania. And a startup called the Minerva Project is attempting to set up an online Ivy League university, and is going to encourage its students to live together in "dorm clusters" so that they'll benefit from the social aspects of university life. Seeing how the students on Coursera and Udacity organise themselves, it's not impossible to see how in the future, students could cluster together and take their courses online together. For free.

There's so much at stake. Not least the economies of dozens of smallish British cities, the "second-tier" universities that Matt Grist of Demos foresees could struggle in the brave new free education market world.

At Edinburgh, fees are having an effect – applications are down – but "most students seem to see it as mañana money," says Jeff Hayward. "It's still hypothetical at the moment."

But this is the first year of £9,000 fees. An English student at Edinburgh (it's free for Scottish students), where courses are four years, is looking at £36,000 of debt just for tuition. And maybe another £30,000 of living expenses on top of that.

These websites are barely months old. They're still figuring out the basics. Universities aren't going anywhere just yet. But who knows what they'll look like in 10 years' time? A decade ago, I thought newspapers would be here for ever. That nothing could replace a book. And that KITT, David Hasselhoff's self-driving car in Knight Rider was nothing more than a work of fantasy.

"I was on Richard Dawkins's website and I read about the course - introduction to genetics and evolution. I looked it up and saw it was being offered by a really good university, Duke, and I thought, what's the catch? And there isn't one. It's marvellous. I can't believe it's available for free. I'm absolutely loving it.

"The only qualification I've got is a bronze certificate in swimming. I left school with no qualifications, nothing. But I got interested in philosophy and then science and I just love learning about things. I've always got a book in my hand. What's great about the course is that you can pause it, and rewind, and rewatch it until you get the hang of it. I used to be a steelworker where you had to learn a lot of new things, and I find I have to keep at it, and then it eventually clicks.

"I actually paid for a home tutor a few years ago to teach me calculus and I did send off for a prospectus from the Open University, but it was too expensive. For me, it's not about getting a qualification, it's for the sake of learning. I'm really enjoying the forum. The way that Professor Noor interacts with it and that there are students from all over the world, some of them with a whole load of letters after their name. I just love the environment. I don't have that at work – it's a very northern, working class sort of place, so I'm just not pushed in that direction.

"I've already signed up to a whole load of other courses: I've enrolled on a philosophy one, and I'm going to brush up on my algebra, and there's a cell biology one which I think will be an interesting extension to this." CC

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Military gears up to defend U.S. against cyber-attack

MONTEREY, Calif. (KGO) -- The next attack on the United States may be an invisible one, but the consequences could be very real. The military is gearing up to defend the nation against an attack in cyberspace.

An attack in cyberspace could cause a real world catastrophe. In the movies, this would be a job for Bruce Willis, but in the real world, America's turned to someone decidedly more soft-spoken.

"Our country is exceptionally vulnerable to cyber-attacks," computer science professor Cynthia Irvine said.

Irvine is acting on orders that come straight from the top. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said an attack on America's computer systems could be a modern-day Pearl Harbor.

"If a cyber-attack crippled our power grid in this country, took down the financial systems, took down our government systems, that that would constitute an act of war," has Panetta said.

Though she may not look like a drill sergeant, Irvine is tasked with teaching men and women in uniform how to do battle in cyberspace, a domain that until recently has been dominated by anonymous civilian hackers.

"We don't want civilian vigilantes going out like Mad Max or something and pushing the button and declaring war on some other country and building weapons," Irvine said.

So under direction from the National Security Agency, Irvine and her colleagues at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey created a new master's degree program that's only for military officers.

One goal of the new program is to teach officers to think about cyber operations strategically -- the same way they might think about an operation in the air, on the ground or at sea. One of the teaching tools is a computer game that simulates real world cyber threats and defensive measures.

Research associate Mike Thompson showed ABC7 News CyberCIEGE -- a simulator developed at the Naval Postgraduate School that's now being made available to other schools. Students will learn to defend against malware like Trojan horses and in some cases to build it.

"We have classes on reverse engineering so that if we have a piece of malware, we are able to dissect it, take it apart and find out what it did to us; we also have a class called Advanced Cyber Munitions, which is a classified class," Irvine said.

Building cyber munitions is something the U.S is already rumored to be involved in with the discovery of a pair of computer viruses -- Flame and Stuxnet.

In the case of Stuxnet for example, it was written we believe by the U.S. and or Israel to go and damage centrifuges that were being used in Iran the production of nuclear materials," cryptography expert Paul Kocher said.

Kocher says it may mark the first time a computer virus has done physical damage to a country's infrastructure but certainly not the last.

"Every year, the number of systems connected grows, the number of networked devices grows, the amount of information grows, and with those will come new vulnerabilities," he said.

Vulnerabilities that the U.S. military will now be better equipped to patch or exploit.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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CIR: Veterans denied benefits due to VA errors

Thousands of veterans around the country will spend Veteran's Day Sunday just like they did last year -- waiting to see if the Department of Veterans Affairs will grant them their disability claims. The Center for Investigative Reporting found that many of those veterans will be unfairly denied their benefits because of errors made by the VA.

"I knew it, I knew I should have been awarded that claim," said veteran Hosea Roundtree. "I knew I should have gotten that claim approved. I knew it."

In 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied Roundtree's disability claim for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Roundtree asks, "What do you gotta do? Go get shot before you get PTSD? There's more than one way of getting wounded. I was mentally wounded." Roundtree was on a Navy destroyer in 1983 that engaged in battle off the coast of Beirut. But the VA says it couldn't find any evidence he was in combat.

"I just did a quick Google search on military history sites and I was able to verify that his ship that he was on was actually in combat," said Jamie Fox, a former claims processor at the VA's Oakland office. "I brought it to the attention of the supervisor, because I was new and I didn't know what to do."

Fox never saw Roundtree's file again. Five months later, she was forced out. Fox's termination letter said she was let go because she did not send Roundtree a letter denying his claim, "I was in shock, I was confused," said Fox.

Fox filed a wrongful termination suit against the VA. The agency declined several requests to discuss her case on camera. But in a deposition the former director of the VA's Oakland office did talk and shed light on how the agency is run. Lynn Flint said it "didn't matter" if the agency's decision in Roundtree's case was "right or wrong".

"They're not interested in quality," said attorney Gordon Erspamer. "They are interested in production and getting the decisions done, regardless of whether they are right or wrong." Erspamer has successfully sued the VA on behalf of veterans. He doesn't represent Roundtree or Fox, but he's not surprised by what happened to them, saying, "The system is simply broke. We can do a lot better for our veterans."

The VA says its error rate on disability claims is 14 percent. But the Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed a subset of those claims and found an error rate of 38 percent. And the Board of Veterans Appeals found the agency made mistakes in 73 percent of cases.

Erspamer says errors are often the result of a well-known practice at the VA, "There's a practice called topsheeting -- a very famous term at the VA. And that is basically you take a look at the file, you look at the top pages of the file, and you write a decision."

In a statement the VA says it is "retooling procedures and deploying paperless data systems" and trying to reduce its error rate to two percent by 2015.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier says, "I want to see dramatic changes taking place now." According to Speier, errors are contributing to the VA's huge backlog of disability claims, "There is no benefit in pushing a determination out that is wrong because in the end it will be appealed and it, it's going to make the record look even worse."

Appeals represent 31 percent of the agency's 819,000 pending disability claims. By the time Roundtree filed his first claim, he had spent 17 years in the Navy and more than a decade on the streets, addicted to drugs, "I lost it, I had a major breakdown," Roundtree said.

While he was waiting for the VA to process his claim, his family struggled financially. The same day he received his denial letter, he got a job offer from the VA's health care division. Now he works as a cook at the agency's medical center in Sacramento.

Fox now works for the same division of the VA that hired Roundtree, assisting veterans at a clinic in Santa Rosa. Her lawsuit is still pending.

This spring Fox says she found Roundtree on Facebook, "I was so nervous calling. I didn't know how he was going to respond." She heard what happened to his claim. And he heard what happened to her job. "I felt her pain, I felt her anger, I felt everything about her because she and I connected," Roundtree said.

A few weeks later, they met. And Fox convinced him to file a new disability claim.

"It's not just for me," said Roundtree. "It's for me and every other vet that's out there that's suffering. It's for every other vet that's coming back home so that they can see a difference. I want these vets coming back from overseas to get fair, better treatment."

Roundtree has been waiting five months to hear if the VA will approve his new claim. On average, veterans who submit claims to the Oakland office will wait a year for a decision.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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3 strikes reform brings hope to some inmates

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The passage of Proposition 36 this week signals a new cost-conscious view of crime and punishment. Revising the state's three strikes law means thousands of prison inmates could soon be back on the streets.

With the help of California Watch, part of the Center for Investigative Reporting, we hear from three inmates awaiting their freedom.

Tuesday night was a chance to celebrate for supporters of Prop 36, the initiative to scale back California's three strikes law.

"Usually when people go to the polls, they are voting to increase penalties; this is one of the few times actually in U.S. history where they've said, 'No, it's too harsh,'" Prop 36 author Michael Romano said.

No one was paying more attention to the vote than one group of prisoners at San Quentin Prison. Called Hope for Strikers, the group has been meeting for many years to bring awareness to the three strikes law.

"My name is Eddie Griffin and I got 27 years to life for possession of cocaine," inmate Eddie Griffin said.

"My third strike is burglary of an unoccupied dwelling; it was my first relapse after being clean and sober for almost 10 years," inmate Joey Mason said.

"My third strike was instigating a fight; it was a non-violent, non-serious felony, and they gave me 25 to life," inmate Sajad Sakoor said.

Sakoor has already served 16 years behind bars. He is one of the 9,000 third strikers in California's prisons, and one of the 3,000 who will be eligible for a rehearing because of Prop 36.

"This is my second time in prison and my first two strikes came from one case when I was 18 years old, two burglaries," Sakoor said.

Now, a judge could decide to remove Sakoor's life sentence.

"If the life sentence gets taken off, then chances are that I may end up going home because I have so much time already in," Sakoor said.

Sutter County District Attorney Carl Adams opposed Prop 36.

"California voted for three strikes because they were tired of this idea of people going to prison, getting out, committing another felony, victimizing somebody else, going back, getting out, creating another victim, and so on and so on," he said.

Romano says California's three strikes law will still remain the toughest in the country.

"It is really trying to address what we think are the most excessive sentences in the country, close to in the country's history," he said.

California is one of 27 states with a three strikes law. Before Prop 36, it was the only state to impose life sentences for non-violent third strikes.

Romano says this week's vote will help reduce some of the strain in California's penal system.

"It makes sure that our prisons are not overcrowded with people who don't deserve to be there and also helps people who have been sentenced to life for very minor, nonviolent conduct," he said.

Since the three strikes law passed in 1994, crime has dropped in California, but it has also dropped in states without three strikes. As state spending on prisons has skyrocketed, politicians across the country are questioning whether the benefits of laws like three strikes outweigh the costs.

"We need a safe country, I want to live in a safe neighborhood, everybody does, but we ought to take a look at this corrections system and say is this really the way to do it," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said. "Is there another way to do it, which could save us money and still keep us safe? I think there might be."

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Durbin is leading a broad review of us prison policies.

"I believe that voters want to make sure that those in government are spending their money well and not wasting it," he said. "I also think that they don't want America to be known as a country that does inhumane things to its prisoners and, and incarcerates them unfairly, for any lengthy period of time that can't be justified."

This week's vote signals a new direction for California, which was at the forefront of introducing laws like three strikes.

"All eyes are on California here; California started this trend, as it starts so many trends, and people are really looking to see what people in the state are going to do with the three strikes law," Adam Gelb, Director of Public Policy Safety Research at the Pew Center on the States, said.

Gelb says other states have also started to temper sentencing laws.

"Those states may be willing to revisit what they've done and maybe go a little further and the other half of the states that haven't approached this issue in a serious way yet probably are going to say, 'Maybe now it's time,'" he said.

Meanwhile, for thousands of California inmates like Sakoor, Prop 36 may now offer a chance at a fresh start.

"I'm glad that the people of California are having a second chance to take a second look at this; I'm hopeful, I'm very hopeful," Sakoor said.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Complete Student Work and Reduce Paper

One thing I love about using iPads in my classroom is the ability to reduce paper how much paper we consume.  I fill my class Dropbox with graphic organizers and activity sheets and have my students complete them on their iPads. PaperPort Notes is a great app for importing PDF files from Dropbox and adding text.  My students will annotate the document and email it to me.  I can decide what to print and display after looking at their work. The rest I can leave in my inbox and I know where it is if I need to reference it.

Check out my graphic organizers and activity sheets that can be used on iPads!

Here are some more graphic organizers and activity sheets that can be used on iPads!

Import PDF files from Dropbox

Use text boxes to answer questions

Have students email their work to you for review

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Sushi Monster: Math Factor Fun

There are lots of great math fact apps for the iPad that turn the times tables into interactive flashcards. Sushi Monster gives you numbers to chose from (factors) to find the answer (product) when you multiply two numbers.  This app goes beyond the times table – it’s engaging for students while helping them practice their math fluency.

Check out my common core aligned lesson plan using Sushi Monster in the classroom!

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Working Together – Collaborate on Whiteboards

Connect to other students who have the Whiteboard Lite app open on their iPads

Whiteboard Lite is an app that has changed the way students work in my classroom.  With a simple tap of a button, two iPads on the same wireless network can turn their screens into one.  I have students solve math problems together, each writing in a different color, talking out each step as they show their work.

My room is full of math partners who connect their iPads as they discuss problem solving strategies and stay engaged in their work.

If your school has one wireless network, you can even connect iPads across campus.

Check out my  lesson plan using Whiteboard Lite in my classroom!

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Titanic Timeline

National Geographic has a fantastic app that shows the construction of the Titanic over time.  Building Titanic allows you to scroll across a timeline and view the different stages in which the Titanic were built.  This app could be used to discuss timelines or ana

lyze primary source documents (there are lots of photographs spread throughout the app).

Check out my common core aligned lesson using this app in the classroom!

Here’s another common core aligned lesson using timelines in the classroom!

One more common core aligned lesson using primary sources in the classroom!

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Management Tools on the iPad

There are lots of great management tools on the iPad that I use in my classroom (Timers, Quickvoice, Siri).

Here are two more that I love:

Red Light, Green Light - This programmable traffic light can be less intimidating than a timer is you’re working on pacing your students and keeping them on task.

TooLoud? - Watching the decibel level change as volume increases can be a powerful tool to monitor volume in your classroom – the graph can facilitate discussion as well.

Check out this common core aligned lesson where management tools will come in handy!

Here’s another common core aligned lesson where management tools will come in handy!

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Inside Community High School District 99’s Untethering

Originally Posted by EdTech Magazine

A network upgrade, wireless implementation and tablet rollout give Illinois teachers and students the mobility they craved.


A strategic planning initiative among stakeholders about technology improvements led Community High School District 99 officials to begin a network upgrade and wireless implementation in 2011.IT staff relied on CDW•G’s Advanced Technology Services team for help planning and implementing an infrastructure that would make a tablet rollout to teachers possible.The district deployed an all-Cisco infrastructure in summer 2011 and rolled out Lenovo ThinkPad X220 tablets to the teachers for classroom use this fall.

Participants: Rod Russeau and Greg Belina, of Community High School District 99; South High School’s Ed Schwartz; North High School’s Gwen Henderson and Lisa Lichtman

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Adding Parents to the EdTech Information Stream

Adding parents to the EdTech information stream

Much of the focus of classroom systems and technology is on the teacher and student, but I think that this leaves out the third, and very important part of the equation, the parents. Getting parents more involved is the goal of many districts, and there are numerous programs that are designed to do just that. To help this occur, the learning systems used in the classroom, need to be opened up to allow adding parents to the information flow.

However, we have to look closely at what is actually being shared. Focusing on only the results of class work and grades, then communicating them to parents via these systems likely will have some negative consequences. For example, High School students strive to keep their parents from knowing what’s happening at school. It’s been true for 100 years. Broadcasting just grades, and especially bad ones, just closes down communication channels. The potential that classroom systems become a kind of “Big Brother”, focused on just the outcomes, may not be helpful. I’m not saying grades shouldn’t be reported, but if the goal is truly to get parents involved, let’s move the focus to more than metrics.

One of the most important aspects of the learning system that I think needs to be communicated to the parents is about the curriculum and what is being taught. As a parent of three children that have experienced their K-12 years, getting information about what they were learning and what the goals were was very challenging. It’s impossible to be involved to any useful measure, if you don’t know what’s going on. Teachers don’t have time to explain it in enough detail, and with the very limited interaction time for meeting with teachers, it’s impossible to stay abreast of what’s being taught. So being involved is nearly impossible. And having a “grades only” view only creates antagonism between parent and child.

Given that many classroom and learning systems do document the curriculum at some level, and have information that parents might find useful, making these systems more open to parents that want to be involved makes sense. Bringing parents into the mix in a way where they can support what is being taught is the most effective type of involvement. Looking for ways to use information that is already available in the learning management systems and use it to get parents involved is, in my opinion, far more important than systems that are designed just to report the metrics of grades, attendance, and homework completion.

To summarize, engaging parents by leveraging the learning systems in place to assist in achieving the educational goals, not as a punitive reporting system, must be a priority. Reporting results is simpler, but the focus is on what has happened, not what is happening. And, the focus on results forces parents into a very limited role. Focusing on what is being taught, presents a lot more ways for parents to be part of the process and improve the outcome. This is essential to increasing parental engagement.

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Windows 8 Tablets for Students: Does the new Lenovo ThinkPad 2 have it Right?

thinkpad tablet 2 Windows 8 Tablets for Students: Does the new Lenovo ThinkPad 2 have it Right?
Originally Posted by  Mark Taormino,

We all know that the iPad has established a dominant market position in terms of units sold and the percentage of market share. However, the market is still very young and comparatively small compared to all other types of computer devices; laptops and desktops. The primary competition for the iPad are Android tablets mostly from Samsung, Asus, Acer, Motorola, and Lenovo. The adoption of tablets by individual students is limited because of functionality issues. This could all change with the introduction of Windows 8, scheduled for release on October 25, 2012.

Students have been reticent to adopt tablets mainly because they are essentially consumption devices. Students need computers to create content as well. Tablets, both Android and iPad, have not been effectively designed to support the creation of content. The adoption of tablets by students in higher education is miniscule, except when the institution provides the devices. One might ask why that is, and what could change this? One possible answer is the introduction of Windows 8 and improved hardware.

Windows 8 has been designed to operate on a tablet, and leverage existing Microsoft applications such as Word and Excel. Student complaints abound that the current tablets do not support Word or Excel, so are of limited value in education settings. This is primarily true in higher education where students write many papers, and use spreadsheet software. The standard, like it or not, is Word and Excel. The introduction of a Microsoft operating system that can run on tablets and can support Microsoft applications will have widespread appeal to students. However, that is only part of the story about why students have not embraced tablets.

Another side of the story is something called Active Reading. Active Reading is how many students learn. Active Reading involves immersion with text through physical actions of the user. The most common strategies used in active reading are writing; underlining, highlighting, writing in margins (aka marginalia), and other coding schema’s. It is well researched that students use active reading strategies while reading to learn. Active Reading is very different than reading for pleasure, and this issue has been missed by e-readers and tablets, at least to date. The inability to efficiently support functionality for active reading strategies has turned off students to electronic reading, particularly with tablets.

While Windows 8 now potentially solves an important student need with a tablet operating system that will offer Office applications, the question remains about Active Reading. Immersion with text requires writing. Writing on a tablet is cumbersome at best. There are reading applications that support highlighting, underlining, and marginalia, but they offer a mediocre user experience. Any electronic solution must beat least equivalent to the experience of reading and writing on paper. The use of one’s finger, or a capacitive stylus pen, is much less efficient when compared to reading and writing on paper. Quite simply, any innovation must offer a better experience than what it hopes to supersede. If anyone has ever written on a tablet screen (capacitive touch screen), a finger is too fat, and a stylus is about the same size as a finger. A capacitive stylus is not only fat-tipped, but is rubberized and spongy to mimic a finger. A capacitive touch screen responds to heat transfer and not pressure. That is why a capacitive touch stylus pen is an unnatural writing implement compared to a pen or pencil. Therefore, writing with a stylus is rather uncomfortable and awkward. Think about writing with the eraser end of a pencil rather than the sharpened point.

The truth is that students cannot efficiently use Active Reading strategies with a tablet computer, and this results in a continued preference for the printed text. Surely schools can shoehorn in digital solutions to students as a forced measure, but it is very telling that individual student adoption is very limited.

There is some hope on the horizon, and is indeed very encouraging. Lenovo is set to release a new 10 inch tablet with Windows 8 ( The reported release date is to coincide with the release of the Windows 8 software at the end of January. The Lenovo ThinkPad 2 comes with a new feature that might be compelling to students. It breaks the mold of the capacitive stylus pen as a fat-tipped pen. The ThinkPad 2 will include a stylus with a new fine tipped point, much like a pencil. The tablet and stylus is designed for free-form writing. This is a significant step for tablets, and could potentially spur widespread student adoption. Writing efficiently on a tablet screen in a way that mimics the paper experience should not be underestimated. This is a key function for students.

Microsoft applications plus a more efficient writing experience on screen will surely push other device makers to respond in kind. There are many unknowns about the ThinkPad 2 and Windows 8, but it does seem these two important developments might make the tablet device more suited to student use. Like many other things in life, time will tell if Lenovo and Windows 8 might make some inroads. Stay tuned.

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Benefits of Implementing 1 to 1 Computing [Video]

See how Orange County school district in North Carolina is implementing a 1:1 computing program this year for all of their 6th-12th graders.  Over 4,000 students in the county will receive their own laptop.

“It sets our students up in a great way, and our teachers…” says Superintendent Patrick Rhodes.

Video originally published on WRAL

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Tracking Cloud Adoption in Schools [Infographic]

Cloud in the classroom

Originally Posted by Corey Murray, EdTech Magazine

With the rise in mobile computing and increasingly crowded servers on campus, the question has always been when, not if, schools would eventually move to the cloud.

That inevitable migration so far has been fairly tentative, with administrators launching pilot projects and limited deployments, allowing teachers and students to dabble in the possibilities — and identify potential trouble spots — without making a full-on commitment.

But, if this latest infographic from the writers at Online Colleges is any indication, that commitment is coming — and soon. In two years, it is estimated that K–12 schools will allocate an average of 17 percent of their total IT budget to cloud-related services. Five years out, that projection jumps to 27 percent, and skyward from there.

Want to learn what makes the cloud so appealing? Check out the infographic below, which contains information about the trend toward cloud computing in K–12 and higher education. (Disclaimer: prices listed in this graphic subject to change.)

cloud classrooms 760 Tracking Cloud Adoption in Schools [Infographic]

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Exploding a Common K-12 Technology Security Myth

Top Mac Malware

By virtue of the time I’ve spent in the PC industry since its earliest days, it’s not unusual for friends on School Committees or Education Boards to ask me some of their key questions as they make decisions on the technology that will be used in their schools.  Not surprisingly, in the last few years, many of the questions deal with security and privacy.  And this is where the myth in question comes in:  It’s the myth that Apple’s Macintosh “doesn’t get viruses” or “doesn’t get malware”.  It’s not true.  In fact, given that most Macs have no security software, guess where some virus writers are now focused? (OK, now cue the flames from the Mac faithful).

Rather than get all emotional, let’s stay with the facts and the requirement to have a secure environment for K-12 computing.  The reason that I think exploding this myth is very important is that this false sense of security has created a situation where too many Macs in K-12 have little or no protection.  Worse, too often the savings from forgoing security on Macs is part of the justification for paying more for them.

Starting with viruses, the reality is that Mac viruses have emerged.

While not as prevalent as viruses on the Windows platform, they still exist.  From OSX.Iservice, designed to enlist Macs into DDOS attacks, to OSX.RSPlug.D, which was a downloader, there are actual viruses out there.  Despite the vast difference in numbers and attack vectors, the reality for elementary schools is that you need to have anti-virus in place for Macs, just like for other systems.  Infections on Macs are less common but, how much risk are you willing to take that you won’t get hit?  To me the answer is not much.  With all the file sharing and collaborative work common in schools, a virus exploit in one system is going to spiral out of control quickly.

And the reality is that Mac malware is catching up.  Before we get into the Mac-specific malware details, for those in the K-12 space running mixed environments, it’s important to note that based on recent research by Sophos, 20 percent of Macs are harboring Windows malware. So Windows PC getting “sick” from unprotected Macs is common.  As for Mac-only malware, the latest research shows 2 to 3 percent of Macs have Mac malware on the system.  The FlashBack botnet gets a lot of attention, as it infected well over half a million systems, but “Fakeware,” like fake anti-virus tools designed to get credit card numbers when you “buy” them, are increasing in numbers, as well.

I’m not saying that you should or shouldn’t buy any specific brand of computer.  Rather, I’m telling you that if you think one brand is better because it doesn’t get infected, you’re wrong.  And any perceived benefits or cost savings from this myth are mythical, as well.  In my opinion, working with technology partners that understand that security is essential, and not something left to an incorrect piece of conventional wisdom, is what you need to remember.

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