Texas Tech study finds flaws in plagiarism detectors

Teachers who use computer programs to fight plagiarism should do so with a heaping dose of skepticism, reports the Dallas Morning News. Researchers at Texas Tech University tested two popular software programs that scan students’ essays for signs of plagiarism. The programs compare students’ work against a database of internet articles and academic journals and other essays. If a student uses the same phrases as something in the database, the essay is flagged. But more often than not, the Tech team found, what the computer programs flagged wasn’t plagiarism–it was common phrases such as "global warming" or "illegal immigration" or "a recent MIT study found." "Our whole point in doing this is that faculty, administrators, students, parents, whoever’s involved really need to know what the software is capable of and what the limitations are," said Susan Lang, one of the researchers and the director of Tech’s first-year composition program…

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Apple sued for promoting iPhone as an eBook reader

An overseas communications firm is suing Apple for promoting its iPhone handset as a touch-screen digital book reader, a concept it claims to have patented over seven years ago, Apple Insider reports. In a seven-page complaint filed with a Virginia district court March 23, Berne, Switzerland-based MONEC Holding Ltd. accuses the iPhone maker of patent infringement, unfair trade practices, monopolization, and tortious interference for allegedly treading on its January 2002 patent No. 6,335,678, titled "Electronic device, preferably an electronic book." In its lawsuit, the firm takes issue with Apple’s move to distribute digital book-reading applications through the App Store, which it sees as an endorsement by Apple that its touch-screen handset can serve as a capable eBook reader. MONEC believes those advances directly violate its patent, which describes a "light-weight" electronic device with a "touch-screen" LCD display. The Swiss firm maintains that Apple is "well aware" of its patent and is seeking an injunction to preventing Apple from further infringement…

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NASA and Microsoft to make a universe of data available publicly

NASA and Microsoft Corp. have announced plans to make planetary images and data available via the internet under a Space Act Agreement, reports FOXbusiness.com. Through this project, NASA and Microsoft jointly will develop the technology and infrastructure necessary to make the most interesting NASA content–including high-resolution scientific images and data from Mars and the moon–explorable on WorldWide Telescope, Microsoft’s online virtual telescope for exploring the universe. "Making NASA’s scientific and astronomical data more accessible to the public is a high priority for NASA, especially given the new administration’s recent emphasis on open government and transparency," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington…

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Lessons from the most successful schools abroad

Education trends from abroad are gaining cachet as political and educational leaders strive to bring American schools in line with the demands of the 21st-century global economy, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Researchers cite effective practices from places as varied as Finland, Korea, Australia, Singapore, and Switzerland. When it comes to improving education, "there’s a globalism in the perspective of … the high-achieving countries, [and] they’re all talking about each other," says Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University. "It’s an important change that there’s some interest in that now" in the U.S., she says. Yet observers caution that some attempts to compare U.S. and international education can be too simplistic. "We can learn from other countries, but we do have to be careful with whether or not the practices of any one country can be imported into another," says Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a policy research group in Washington. "Many of these practices are so culturally bound that the fact that something works in Singapore doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in the United States." It’s also worth noting that even in countries scoring higher than the U.S. on certain tests, educators have their own share of complaints and worries about the future…

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Streaming video games pose IT challenge

First, campus IT officials have to contend with the strain on their networks’ bandwidth caused by students’ streaming or downloading of music and movies online. Now, a new challenge is about to emerge: A startup founded by technology entrepreneur Steve Perlman says it has developed a technology to deliver video games on demand, an idea that threatens eventually to take consoles out of the equation.

OnLive Inc., Perlman’s Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, unveiled its new technology March 24 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Seven years in the works, OnLive says it has developed a way to stream video games without any lag that humans can notice. So the instant you press a button to shoot something on the screen, the gun goes off.

This has not been possible before, because unlike with music and movies, which can be compressed before being streamed–or put into smaller files that are more easily transferred online–video games are interactive and require instant responses. That has meant video games needed to be played on consoles packed with computing power, like the Xbox or the PlayStation, or downloaded to personal computers that could process some of the data that enabled games to run.

OnLive’s technology gets around that limitation with a new form of compression that lets its game servers communicate with players over broadband connections in real time.

This also means OnLive’s service can work on older computers, even those without a graphics processing unit that has until now been an essential component of gaming. Through a "MicroConsole" about the size of a cassette tape, OnLive’s service also will be available for television sets.

In a recent demonstration, OnLive showed off "Crysis," a complex shooter game that’s currently only available for PCs, played on a TV set through the little "console" and on a Mac laptop.

"It’s the last console you’ll need," said Perlman, a former principal scientist at Apple who in 1995 co-founded WebTV, bringing internet access to TV sets. He later sold WebTV to Microsoft Corp. for more than $500 million.

OnLive says it would be difficult for its users to exceed the monthly bandwidth caps that internet service providers are increasingly placing on their subscribers. A typical user would have to play about 284 hours–nearly 12 full days–to consume Comcast Corp.’s 250-gigabyte cap. Nielsen Co. estimates many gamers play roughly 60 hours a month.

But for campus IT officials, having hundreds or even thousands of students streaming live video games online at the same time could pose significant challenges to their network infrastructure.

OnLive plans to launch its service late this year for monthly subscription fees it has not disclosed. Most big-name game publishers, such as Electronic Arts Inc., Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., and Eidos Interactive Ltd., have signed on, and OnLive says upcoming games will be available on the service at the same time they are released in stores. OnLive’s investors include Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., Autodesk Inc., and Maverick Capital.

If OnLive takes off as its backers hope, it could be a blow to retailers such as GameStop Corp., just as digital music sales are closing up record stores and drying up CD sales–perhaps not this year, or even next, but as inevitably as the death of the eight-track cassette.

In fact, OnLive was the second major technology announced at the Game Developers Conference that relied on digital delivery. The Zeebo, an inexpensive video-game console for emerging economies, downloads its games wirelessly rather than using disks.

"Retailers have a day of reckoning coming, and that’s digital distribution," said IDC video games analyst Billy Pidgeon.


OnLive Inc.


What do students want from their schools?

Looking for ideas on how to spend federal stimulus dollars to enhance educational technology? Project Tomorrow has a suggestion: Listen to what students say they’d like to see in their schools.

The nonprofit organization is touting the results from its annual Speak Up survey as a means of giving lawmakers–as well as state and local education leaders–some guidance on how stimulus funds can be used to improve teaching and learning.

Project Tomorrow highlighted the results from this year’s survey during a March 24 briefing on Capitol Hill. According to the group’s report, students can be viewed as a digital advance team: They are early adopters and adapters of new technologies, creating new uses for various technology products to meet their sophisticated needs.

"What kinds of technologies are students using, and which are the types of things that students can use in school?" asked Julie Evans, chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow. Those are questions many educators are now asking as well–and the survey’s results provide some answers.

More than 280,000 K-12 students, 28,000 teachers, 21,000 parents, and 3,000 administrators responded to the online Speak Up survey between October and December 2008.

The report focuses on five areas where schools can better incorporate technology: increasing the use of mobile devices, creating different types of spaces for learning, incorporating Web 2.0 tools into daily instruction, expanding access to digital resources in the classroom, and getting beyond the classroom walls to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Students say there should be more use of mobile devices in their learning. Students’ access to mobile electronic devices–including cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, and smart phones–has increased dramatically in the past year, and these students are discovering the "computers in their pockets" can play a significant role in all aspects of learning, the report said.

"There’s an acceleration of students’ access to mobile devices, with the largest increase being seen in middle schoolers," Evans said.

Students who took the online survey said they would like to use their mobile devices to communicate with classmates or other students via eMail, instant messaging, or text messaging; work with their classmates on projects at home or school; and play educational games. They also said they would use their mobile devices to do internet research, record lectures to listen to at a later time, receive alerts about upcoming homework and tests, or access their school’s web portal.

Student interest in taking an online class is on the rise, the survey found. Among high school students, interest in taking an online class rose 21 percentage points from 2007 to 2008, with a 46 percentage-point increase seen among middle school students. According to one-third of the sixth- through 12th-grade students surveyed, online classes make it easier for students to succeed, because they are more comfortable asking questions and can review class materials as many times as they want or need.

Students currently use eMail, instant messaging, and text-messaging tools for communications, with nearly one-half of students in sixth through 12th grade using the tools regularly, according to the report. Students also heavily use social networking, online games, blogging, and virtual-reality environments. Evans said schools and districts should find ways to create instruction that runs parallel to how students are using collaborative tools and Web 2.0 technologies outside the classroom.

Student respondents also offered ideas for an ultimate digital textbook. The survey showed students are interested in leveraging a wide range of capabilities to produce a new kind of textbook. "For many students, the idea of using a hard-copy textbook that is out of date as soon as it is printed is as archaic in today’s world as the abacus in a math class," the report states.

Sixth- through 12th-graders listed features they would like to see in their ultimate digital textbook, such as having the ability to personalize their book with electronic highlights and notes and being able to tap into the expertise of an online tutor whenever necessary.

Both parents and students affirmed the importance of science and science careers. More than one-half of parents said they will be likely or very likely to encourage their children to pursue careers in a STEM-related field. Students said they would want to learn about potential and future jobs and careers in STEM fields by talking to professionals in the field, gaining on-the-job experience through part-time jobs, downloading "day in the life" videos and podcasts to their mobile devices, and using authentic tools to solve real-world problems with their peers.

Yet, only 39 percent of the high-school students who were surveyed said they thought their school was doing a good job of preparing them for the jobs of the future.


Project Tomorrow


Developing a Digital Signage Strategy for Higher Education Facilities


Date: Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Time: 2:00 pm EST / 11:00 am PST
Duration: One hour (15 mins for Q&A)

View the Recording

  • How to identify the critical elements of an effective digital signage solution
  • How to improve both student and visitor communications
  • How to generate extra revenue while reducing costs
  • How digital signage improves your environmental position in the community
  • And much, much more. . .

Today’s technology-savvy world provides many options for those transitioning from static signage to a digital signage system, but what makes an installation unique to a campus? How does it apply specifically to your educational facility, and how do you go about integrating this new application? When considering switching over to a digital signage system, many questions arise in the brainstorming process, and this webinar will identify those qualifying questions.

Additionally, we will discuss the benefits of a digital signage system in a higher-education environment, the initial concerns when considering such a system and the various solutions available for educational facilities. This webinar also details how NEC works as a general contractor when building your new solution and touches on NEC’s products and how they are customized for higher-education environments such as yours. After participating in this webinar, you will have the necessary tools to move forward with creating an effective digital signage solution.

Join Keith and Michael as they share the secrets of developing a successful digital signage strategy. Get your questions answered and benefit from their expertise.

Hear from two knowledgeable speakers:
Keith Yanke

Keith Yanke

Director of Product Marketing

NEC Display Solutions of America, Inc

Michael Zmuda

Michael E. Zmuda

Director of Business Development

NEC Display Solutions of America, Inc.

Tune in to our FREE WEBINAR on Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 2:00pm EST to find answers and tap into the expertise of Keith Yanke and Michael Zmuda as they share the secrets to developing a successful digital signage strategy.

Who Should Attend This Webinar?

All higher education officials involved in purchasing or recommending technology solutions to improve campus and community communications

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Talk of stimulus funds ignites net neutrality debate

Consumer advocates are reigniting a debate over net neutrality by insisting that the government require recipients of the $7.2 billion broadband stimulus package to adhere to special rules to ensure that all internet traffic flows freely, CNET reports. Consumer groups and internet service providers faced off at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 23, set up to discuss how money from President Obama’s economic stimulus package should be allocated. Public interest groups believe the government should require companies receiving funds to adhere to special net-neutrality rules that would prevent them from discriminating against traffic traversing their networks. Service providers, on the other hand, believe that no conditions should be imposed that could hinder innovation or stifle their ability to manage their networks. Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press, argued at the hearing that the government program is not meant to be a "charity" for broadband providers and that taxpayers should expect nondiscrimination conditions to ensure that internet service providers don’t take advantage of the funds by blocking certain kinds of traffic or choking off new and competing services. Tying regulation to stimulus funds appears to be a logical way to get such rules in place, some advocates believe…

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Texas school board set to vote on challenge to evolution

The Texas Board of Education will vote this week on a new science curriculum designed to challenge the guiding principle of evolution, a step that could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation, reports the Wall Street Journal. The proposed curriculum change would prompt teachers to raise doubts that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry. (See "Anti-evolution forces gain ground in Texas.") Texas is such a huge textbook market that many publishers write to the state’s standards, then market those books nationwide. "This is the most specific assault I’ve seen against evolution and modern science," said Steven Newton, a project director at the National Center for Science Education, which promotes the teaching of evolution. Texas school board chairman Don McLeroy also sees the curriculum as a landmark–but a positive one. Dr. McLeroy believes that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. If the new curriculum passes, he says he will insist that high-school biology textbooks point out specific aspects of the fossil record that, in his view, undermine the theory that all life on Earth is descended from primitive scraps of genetic material that first emerged about 3.9 billion years ago…

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University of Virginia deleting most computer labs

The University of Virginia plans to close most of its public computer labs by the summer of 2011, citing a need to save money, reports the Roanoke Times. Mike McPherson, a university information officer, said the school had been planning to close many of the labs in the coming years, but the economic downturn has stepped up that effort. According to a recent report, 99 percent of the Class of 2012 brought a laptop to school, although the university does not require it. McPherson said percentages like that show how outmoded the idea of general-purpose computer labs is. As for software the students don’t have, McPherson said the university is looking at options that include installing a cloud-computing network. Officials still have not decided how they will address students’ need to run software that requires more costly hardware than the computers they bring to school, or their need to access printers. UVA is not alone in rebooting its approach to public computing. Virginia Tech, which requires incoming freshmen to have computers, has worked to phase out most of its general-purpose labs. Others, such as Virginia Commonwealth University, said the labs are necessary, because students are not always inclined to tote laptops to school for fear of damage or possible theft…

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