The top higher-ed tech stories of 2009: No. 4

College library officials are dismayed by Google's legal concessions.

College library officials are dismayed by Google's legal concessions.

In October 2008, Google settled a lawsuit with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers over its extensive book-scanning project, and a federal judge was expected to approve the settlement this past spring. But concerns arose that the deal would give Google too much power over access to digital texts, forcing the company to rewrite the settlement to appease a growing chorus of critics–and now the revised deal awaits a hearing in February 2010.

At stake is access to the full text of millions of out-of-print books online, a potential goldmine for scholars and other researchers.

Google has scanned the text from millions of out-of-print but copyright-protected books through partnerships with the University of Michigan and other libraries. Google has called its Books project, which also scans public-domain works, an invaluable chance for obscure books to receive increased exposure.

But in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2005, the Authors Guild alleged that Google was “engaging in massive copyright infringement.” Within weeks, publishers also sued.

Late last year, Google and the publishing industry agreed to settle their battle. The original settlement called for Google to pay $125 million while developing online sales opportunities for scanned books that turn up in Google searches. Google would get 37 percent of future revenue, and publishers and authors would share the rest.

Google also would pay for the millions of copyrighted books already scanned–$60 per complete work to the rights holder–and for the legal fees of the Authors Guild and the publishing association.

In April, however, a group of authors that included John Steinbeck’s son and daughter-in-law, musician Arlo Guthrie, and university professors from around the country persuaded U.S. District Judge Denny Chin to delay approval of the settlement.

“It is clear to us that the settlement, if approved, will shape the future of reading, research, writing, and publication practices for decades to come,” Pamela Samuelson, co-director for the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, wrote in a letter to Chin.

The deal also drew scrutiny from library groups and the U.S Justice Department, which filed a brief arguing that the settlement threatened to thwart competition in the emerging digital-book market unless it was revised.

Hoping to keep the deal alive, Google filed a series of new provisions with Chin in November. Among other things, the modified agreement provides more flexibility to offer discounts on electronic books and promises to make it easier for others to resell access to a digital index of books covered in the settlement.

Responding to months of persistent criticism from many European officials, the revised deal also excludes foreign-language texts.

Google’s concessions did not quell European criticism, however. A Paris court ruled Dec. 18 that Google’s expansion into digital books breaks France’s copyright laws, and a judge slapped the internet search leader with a 10,000 euro-a-day fine until it stops showing snippets of copyrighted texts.

College and university library officials, meanwhile, were largely disappointed with Google’s decision to exclude non-English books from its digital library, saying the move would cut Google’s massive online collection in half and could hamper campus research.

“It changes the value” of Google’s book-search service, said Erika Linke, associate dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. Linke added that the concession “makes a big difference” for students researching non-English texts.

Related links:

Technology helps bring rare books back to print

Google to launch site for selling books online

Copyrights blocking scholarly works

Google rewrites landmark book-search deal

Revised Google Book deal disappoints many

Google fined $14,300 a day in France over books


The top higher-ed tech stories of 2009: No. 5

College campuses have become another battleground for Microsoft and Google.

College campuses have become another battleground for Microsoft and Google.

It might not be on par with the infamous platform wars between Microsoft and Apple that have spanned three decades—at least, not yet—but the rivalry between technology giants Microsoft and Google heated up significantly during the past year, with schools and their students as key beneficiaries.

Aiming to capture the loyalty of a future generation of computer users, both companies now offer cloud-based communication and productivity software to schools free of charge. It’s an offer that many colleges and universities acted on this year as they struggled to balance their budgets.

Microsoft’s Live@edu program gives schools a set of free hosted and co-branded collaboration and communication tools that include Windows Live Hotmail, a hosted eMail service, and Office Live Workspace, an online space to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents.

Similarly, Google Apps for Education is free for schools and colleges. The service includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Sites, Google Docs, and Google Video, all using a school’s own domain. In addition, Google for Educators contains classroom activities and educator guides for using a dozen Google applications in the curriculum.

Converting to Microsoft or Google eMail systems is saving some large colleges and universities upwards of half a million dollars annually, and the move has satisfied some students and faculty members who have clamored for an eMail interface with more applications and storage capability.

The competition between Google and Microsoft to convert the nation’s schools and colleges to their free hosted eMail and other IT services “is a proxy war for what’s occurring in the commercial environment,” Matt Cain, lead eMail analyst for the research firm Gartner, told the San Jose Mercury News in early December. And the rivalry doesn’t stop at eMail, either.

In July, just days after Google announced plans to challenge the dominance of Microsoft’s Windows operating system with a free operating system of its own, called Chrome, Microsoft revealed that it will give internet users free access to a web-based version of its Office suite as it seeks to catch up with Google in online applications.

The rivalry extends to web searching, too: Aiming to make a dent in Google’s search-engine dominance, Microsoft last spring launched a redesigned search site, called Bing, that gives internet users a new option for online research.

Live@edu and Google Apps for Education aren’t the only programs from Microsoft and Google intended to cultivate future brand loyalty among young software users. For instance, Google has rolled out a student ambassador program that recruits software enthusiasts to evangelize its array of applications on more than 60 college campuses.

Related links:

Schools turn to hosted eMail to save money

Microsoft’s Ballmer gives pep talk to Stanford students

Google Wave has great potential for education

Gmail outage won’t dissuade colleges

Google adds options as search-engine race continues

Blackboard works on Google integration

Microsoft brings more data to Bing search results

Google publishes Stanford dissertations online

Google offers peek at new OS, a potential challenge to Windows

Students spread the Google gospel

Microsoft, Google in battle to win over students


New programs to attract students to digital jobs

Growing up in the ’70s, John Halamka was a bookish child with a penchant for science and electronics. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses and buttoned his shirts up to the collar, the New York Times reports. "I was constantly being called a geek or a nerd," he recalled, chuckling.  Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking.  Now 47, Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at the Harvard Medical School, a practicing emergency-ward physician and an adviser to the Obama administration on electronic health records.

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Hackers claim to crack Kindle copyright

A not-so-merry holiday gift for hackers say they’ve successfully cracked copyright protections on the company’s Kindle eReader, making it possible to export eBooks to other devices, CNET reports. One hack reportedly resulted from a Kindle DRM challenge issued on Israeli forum On that site, an Israeli hacker known as Labba claims to have created a tool that lets eBooks stored on the Kindle be transferred as PDF files.

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Hawaii univ. president’s letter slammed by union

A letter from the president of the University of Hawaii declaring that labor negotiations are at an "impasse" prompted the union that represents faculty to declare it is ready to go to court, reports the Associated Press. M.R.C. Greenwood, who took over the 10-campus system in August, said in a letter on the university’s web site that she now must seek a 6.7 percent pay cut for professors over the next 18 months, starting Jan. 1. The move was prompted by the rejection of a university proposal for a 5 percent pay cut over two years, she said. "It is deeply disappointing that we remain at an impasse in our negotiations for a new contract with the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents our faculty," Greenwood said.

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College asks students to power down, contemplate

The Associated Press reports that Dianne Lynch wanted to give the students of Stephens College a break from the constant digital communication that pervades their generation. So she asked them to put their phones and computers away and revive the 176-year-old school’s dormant tradition of vespers services. On a bitterly cold December night, with the start of final exams just hours away, about 75 of Stephens’ 766 undergraduates grudgingly piled their cell phones into collection baskets and filed into the school’s candlelit chapel, where they did little but sit, silently. For an hour, not an iPod ear bud could be seen. There were no fingers flying on tiny computer keyboards, no chats with unseen intimates.

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Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 9

Dangerous and hurtful situations prompted by sexting were in the news almost daily.

Dangerous and hurtful situations prompted by sexting were in the news almost daily.

Despite the growth in internet safety education over the past year, one alarming trend continued to get worse: “sexting,” or the act of sending explicit photos or text messages via cell phones or the web.

More than a quarter of young people ages 14 to 24 say they’ve been involved in some form of sexting, according to an Associated Press-MTV poll released in early December. A separate poll from the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that 15 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have received “sext” messages.

While the exchange of nude images mostly takes place among romantic partners or potential partners of the same age, these images often are forwarded to non-partners or people in different age groups–with sometimes tragic results.

Two teens committed suicide this year as a result of the bullying they endured when explicit photos they took of themselves ended up in the wrong hands. In March, 18-year-old Jessica Logan killed herself in the face of a barrage of taunts when an ex-boyfriend forwarded explicit photos of her following their breakup. And in September, 13-year-old Hope Witsell hanged herself in her bedroom. The 13-year-old Florida girl had sent a topless photo of herself to a boy in the hope of gaining his attention. Instead, she got the attention of her school, as well as the nearby high school.

The parents of Jessica Logan have sued her former school, saying if officials had taken more aggressive action against the bullying, Jessica would still be alive today.

Besides the emotional trauma it can lead to, sexting can have serious legal ramifications as well. Some prosecutors have begun charging teens who send and receive such images with child pornography and other felonies, sparking an intense discussion about whether that’s really the best way to handle it.

Some state lawmakers don’t think so, and in the past year they’ve proposed or passed laws to bar child pornography charges that result in lifetime listings on states’ internet sex-offender registries.
Appropriate punishment aside, everyone agrees that the best solution is educating teens about the risks of sexting.

Marisa Nightingale, senior advisor with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said many teens who send sexting messages do so as a joke. “But you’re basically relinquishing control of how people see you in this very sensitive area, which is your sexuality,” she said.

Related links:

Porn charges for ‘sexting’ stir debate

Federal judge blocks charges in ‘sexting’ case

States consider new ‘sexting’ laws

‘Sexting’ bullying cited in teen’s suicide

Poll finds sexting common among youth

Parents sue school for role in ‘sexting’ tragedy

Study: 15 percent of teens have gotten ‘sext’ messages


Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 10

Schools are focusing more than ever on internet safety education.

Schools are focusing more than ever on internet safety education.

In November, the Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules stating that schools and libraries receiving federal e-Rate funding would have to submit proof they’ve implemented web-safety education programs along with their applications.

The new rules came in response to legislation passed late last year requiring schools to teach their students about safe and responsible internet use. But many schools didn’t wait for the FCC’s action, instead taking a proactive approach to compliance with the new law.

Judi Westberg Warren, president of the internet safety-education group Web Wise Kids, said earlier this year that her organization has seen an increased number of schools reaching out to Web Wise Kids for guidance on how to properly educate students and teachers about internet safety.

Warren attributed the increase to a combination of the new internet-safety mandate and a general growing awareness about the issue.

“We have an awful lot of schools and teachers asking about internet-safety programs–it’s really on the increase,” Warren said in October. “We’re really excited about that, because it means that schools are concerned about this issue and want to find good methods to educate their kids.”

Meanwhile, schools looking to teach about internet safety got some additional help throughout the year.

New research came out in January suggesting that simply reaching out to teens via eMail can help them learn safe and responsible internet use. Members of an internet safety task force in July suggested several ways to improve cyber safety for children, focusing on three key areas in particular: education before a child gets online, control while the child is online, and having set procedures if problems arise. And earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies released a new booklet that helps parents and teachers steer kids safely through the online and mobile-phone worlds.

So far, schools looking to teach internet safety have had to do so on their own dime. But a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year could change that.

The School and Family Education about the Internet (SAFE Internet) Act, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., would “create a grant program to support existing and new internet safety programs that meet guidelines based on the cyber safety strategies found to be most effective.”

“The way to meet the challenges and opportunities the internet presents isn’t to deny our children access to this great resource, but to make sure they know how to use it wisely,” Menendez said. “Just as we make sure our children know not to talk to strangers, not to bully kids on the playground, and not to give out their personal information, we have the same responsibility to teach them to apply these values online.”

Related links:

eMail intervention teaches internet safety

Study: Internet safer for kids than many think

Bill would fund internet safety education

Task force tells how to keep kids safe online

Software lets marketers eavesdrop on kids

Lawmakers seek ways to stop cyber bullying

Schools step up web-safety instruction

FCC proposes web-safety education rules

FTC: Virtual worlds pose real risks to minors

Feds release cyber safety booklet


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Video game teaches students fiscal skills

A new video game designed to help students learn to manage their money tries to make the dullness of balancing a checkbook look more like the thrill of driving for a touchdown. The game tests high school and college students’ fiscal skills in an online simulation based on the rules of the NFL. Students can score first downs, gain yardage, and score points by answering questions correctly. The level of difficulty varies, with questions like what to do when you run out of checks and the limits on an IRA. New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released the game, “Financial Football,” on Dec. 15. With the economy still shaky, it’s never too early to learn how to spend and save responsibly, he said. The game is designed to be played in teams. To score points, a team needs to correctly answer a series of money-management questions. If they’re wrong, a team can lose yardage. The team with the highest point total after four quarters wins. The game comes with two general settings—high school and college levels—and teams have options to pick tougher questions worth more yardage. The advanced, college version comes with a time limit: 30 seconds per question for normal play and 10 seconds for a kick return. Visa Inc. is paying for the initiative.