Pa. university to give all students iPads

It hasn’t even launched yet, and already Apple’s iPad is catching the eye of colleges, CNET reports: Pennsylvania-based Seton Hill University, which has an enrollment of about 2,100, announced March 30 that starting this fall all full-time students will receive an iPad tablet device in an effort to boost learning ability and technical know-how. “The iPad initiative kicks off the university’s Griffin Technology Advantage Program,” the school wrote on its iPad page. “This new program provides students with the best in technology and collaborative learning tools, ensuring that Seton Hill students will be uniquely suited to whatever careers they choose—even those that have not yet been created.” Through the program, each student will receive the iPad, as well as a 13-inch MacBook. Students can use the devices in class and for personal use. The university even plans to replace the laptop with a new one every two years. Students will own the devices, meaning they can take them after graduation. Seton Hill believes that, with the help of technology, it can create a “just-in-time learning environment” that enhances student learning and helps them learn “technological skills [they will] need in the 21st century workforce…”

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Technology coalition seeks stronger privacy laws

A broad coalition of technology companies, including AT&T, Google, and Microsoft, and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum said March 30 that it would push Congress to strengthen online privacy laws to protect private digital information from government access, reports the New York Times. The group, calling itself the Digital Due Process coalition, said it wanted to ensure that as millions of people moved private documents from their filing cabinets and personal computers to the web, those documents remain protected from easy access by law enforcement and other government authorities. The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology, wants law-enforcement agencies to use a search warrant approved by a judge or a magistrate, rather than rely on a simple subpoena from a prosecutor to obtain a citizen’s online data. The group also said it wants to safeguard location-based information collected by cell-phone companies and applications providers. Members of the group said they would lobby Congress for an update to the current law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was written in 1986—nearly a decade before internet use became mainstream. They acknowledged that some proposals were likely to face resistance from law-enforcement agencies and the Obama administration. This year, Justice Department lawyers argued in court that cell-phone users had given up the expectation of privacy about their location by voluntarily giving that information to carriers…

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Social media is changing the peer-review process

The rising popularity of uncontrolled peer-to-peer networking is having an effect on the classic role of peer review for research validation, one of the core functions of academic publishing, reports the New York Times. But if some researchers are worried by the potential loss of rigor in the assessment process, others see it as liberating. “Having a paper peer-reviewed is not necessarily an indication that the paper is right,” said Subodh Patil, a post-doctoral physicist at the École Polytechnique in Paris. “We all peer-review, but it is no longer as significant as it was before.” ArXiv.org, which emerged in 1991 from Cornell University, was one of the earliest applications of academic social networking. An open-source internet platform, designed to be used by researchers as a communication tool, it revolutionized the way scientists shared findings before official publication in journals. ArXiv.org, updated daily, allows free worldwide access and response to almost 600,000 online research papers in physics, mathematics, computer science, and more, increasingly sidelining the role of traditional print journals. “Scientists used to mail each other ‘pre-prints’ of journals—which would rarely happen between a scientist from MIT and say, New Delhi,” said Patil. He added: “The scientific literature was always six months behind the current research. … [Journal articles now] are almost irrelevant, and many teachers don’t even bother writing them anymore.” In contrast to journal publication, which is the outcome of a lengthy assessment process, social media postings provide “a real-time snapshot of the front of the state of the art at that particular moment,” he said…

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Citing concerns, Yale delays switch to Gmail

The changeover to Google as Yale’s eMail provider has been put on hold as campus officials examine the implications of such a move, reports the Yale Daily News. The school’s Information Technology Services department has decided to postpone its move from the Horde Webmail service to Google Apps for Education, a suite of communication and collaboration tools for universities, pending a campus-wide review process to seek input from faculty and students. “There were enough concerns expressed by faculty that we felt more consultation and input from the community was necessary,” Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steven Girvin said. Google stores every piece of data in three centers randomly chosen from the many it operates worldwide in order to guard the company’s ability to recover lost information—but that also makes the data subject to the vagaries of foreign laws and governments, Fischer said. And even if all data were kept on American soil, Google’s size and visibility as a company makes it more susceptible to attack, Fischer said. Under the proposed switch, Yale might lose control over its data or could seem to endorse Google corporate policy and the large carbon footprint left by the company’s massive data centers. In addition, Fischer said, Google has a “one size fits all” customer service policy for its Google Apps clients, and the creation of a Google “monoculture” among eMail users could cause severe problems when the company’s servers experience downtime or crashes…

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Students’ latest ‘crush’: New matchmaking web site

GoodCrush has attracted 14,000 students since its launch in February.

GoodCrush has attracted 14,000 students since its launch in February.

There’s a Yale student looking for a girl who took a “glorious fall” in the rain and looked “cute” doing it. The incident is spelled out on a new social networking site that offers an anonymous forum for college students to find the people they have crushes on.

GoodCrush.com, a site that launched in February and is now available to students on more than 20 college and university campuses, features a “Missed Connections” page for visitors who don’t know their crush’s name, but hope they’ll peruse the GoodCrush message board.

The anonymous matchmaking site also lets students who sign up enter the eMail addresses of up to five students they have a crush on. Those students will get an eMail saying someone on GoodCrush wants to connect. If they register, create a GoodCrush account, and enter the eMail address of the person who invited them, then both parties are messaged and their names are revealed.

“We’re trying to bring people closer together in a way that isn’t currently done on college campuses,” said Josh Weinstein, who founded GoodCrush in 2007, when he was a sophomore at Princeton University. Nearly a third of the student body registered on the site within 24 hours of its launch.

“We want to combine the sort of online and offline social dynamics together,” he said.

GoodCrush has 14,000 members, and as of March 30, the web site had more than 6,800 missed connections. GoodCrush’s home page lists the “Top 10 Most Crushed” student members, determined by the number of students who have entered these students’ eMail addresses in their personal top-five list.

GoodCrush also manages an online chat site called RandomDorm, a service similar to internet sensation Chatroulette, which connects users to random, anonymous strangers for video chat sessions.

RandomDorm, however, only admits registrants with an “.edu” eMail address—the same requirement for GoodCrush members—and limits the community of potential chat partners.

Weinstein, 23, who operates the site from Manhattan, graduated from Princeton last summer after serving as student body president for one year—a leadership position that forced him to examine the controversial gossip web site JuicyCampus, where college students anonymously posted salacious and hurtful rumors and drew the ire of campus administrators and student governments.

Attorneys general from New Jersey and Connecticut questioned whether JuicyCampus was complying with state laws that prohibit “libelous, defamatory, and abusive postings,” and student government members at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.—where students lobbied to have the site banned from campus networks—said they were relieved to see JuicyCampus go under.

Officials at Tennessee State University cut off campus access to JuicyCampus before that site’s demise, owing to what university leaders characterized as expletive-filled screeds of sexism, racism, and homophobia.

“We definitely learned from the adverse effects of JuicyCampus, in terms of its impact on the real sense of community on a college campus,” said Weinstein, adding that some Princeton students asked him to ban the web site at Princeton. “We just waited for [JuicyCampus] to die, and not give it the sort of credence and legitimacy. … It was always going to be fringe and marginalized, and fortunately, the site died off and it was a flash in the pan.”

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College dean adds human touch to distance education

Douglas E. Hersh, dean of educational programs and technology at Santa Barbara City College, believes video technology might hold the key to solving an old problem that has plagued distance education since its beginnings, USA Today reports: the retention gap. Hersh believes that one major reason students are more likely to drop out of online programs than traditional ones is the lack of human touch in distance-ed programs. His solution is to incorporate more video into the course-delivery mechanism. Most professors who teach online already incorporate short video and audio clips into their courses, according to a 2009 survey by the Campus Computing Project. But it is rarer, Hersh says, for professors to use video of themselves to teach or interact with their online students—largely because the purveyors of major learning-management systems do not orient their platforms to feature that method of delivery. That’s why Hersh convinced Santa Barbara in 2008 to abandon Blackboard in favor of Moodle’s open-source platform, which he used to build the “Human Presence Learning Environment.” The interface is designed so professors can deliver lessons and messages using videos recorded with a webcam. It also shows students who among their instructors or classmates are logged into Skype, the video-chat service, in case they want to have a live, face-to-face conversation. Hersh says he is talking with other California community colleges to adopt the platform and will gladly give it away to any other institutions that want to use it…

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Warner Bros. recruiting students to spy on illegal file sharers

Warner Bros. Entertainment UK is providing internships to students in the United Kingdom with a computer or IT-related related degree to help the company reduce online piracy—in part by spying on their fellow students, ZDNet reports. The internships pay 17,500 pounds a year (around $26,000), and a notice of the opportunity was posted at the University of Manchester. Warner Bros. says it will give participating students the tools, knowledge, and training to search the internet for links, posts, torrents, and information that will help the company issue cease-and-desist notices and other legal means to remove pirated content. The job description says students would be asked to “monitor local internet forums and IRC [channels] for pirated Warner Bros. … content in order to gather information on pirate sites, groups, and activities,” among other responsibilities…

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Colleges turn to unified communications to save costs, boost productivity

More schools are implementing unified communications solutions.

More schools are implementing unified communications solutions.

More K-12 schools, colleges, and universities are turning to unified communications as a way to streamline campus communication and save money in unpredictable economic times, a new survey suggests.

Unified communications is the convergence of enterprise voice, video, and data services with software applications designed to achieve greater collaboration among individuals or groups and improve business processes. Component technologies include video, audio, and web conferencing; unified messaging; and more.

The benefits that education technology stakeholders see in implementing unified communications are the same that executives in the government and business sectors see, according to the second annual Unified Communications Tracking Poll from CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G), which provides products and services to education and other sectors.

Fifty-four percent of school IT executives said reducing operating costs is the top benefit of unified communications, followed by increased productivity (50 percent) and more reliable communication (44 percent).

“IT executives report that economic pressures were a greater concern in 2009 than in 2008, but for many, the return on investment from UC deployments is so compelling that they ask, ‘Why wouldn’t we do this?’” said Pat Scheckel, vice president of converged infrastructure solutions at CDW-G. “The result is reduced costs, increased productivity, and improved decision making—benefits that resonate across every industry, especially in a recessionary economy.”

Higher-education deployment

In higher education, public institutions are more likely to have prepared a business case or strategic plan for unified communications than private institutions, according to the survey.

Twenty-three percent of higher-education respondents said they have deployed a unified communications solution or are in the process of doing so. Another 29 percent are planning an implementation, and 48 percent are assessing unified communications and its role in their own university.

Marquette University is in the middle of a unified communications implementation and has recently put its voice mail onto a single platform that is accessible via eMail through the university’s Microsoft Exchange program.

Four buildings will make the transition along with two new buildings opening this year, said Dan Smith, senior director of IT services at Marquette, followed by the rest of the campus over the next two years.

While exact cost savings can’t be measured yet, “we have some indications that we’ll save quite a bit of money doing this,” Smith said.

Moving to a software-based phone system as Marquette is doing expands a telephone’s feature set dramatically, and the university’s Windows team will handle the necessary periodic upgrades to the system.

“It is being received well; any new technology … is very much a cultural change, and the features and functionality can confuse some people,” Smith said.

University staff received training on the new system a week before implementation began, with additional follow-up training a month later.

“Once we get past the initial comfort level, it’s important for us to offer that additional training,” said Kathy Lang, chief information officer at Marquette. “Because it is new, we’ll have training issues and support issues.”

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Student loan company: Data on 3.3M people stolen

A company that guarantees federal student loans said March 26 that personal data on about 3.3 million people nationwide have been stolen from its headquarters in Minnesota, reports the Associated Press. Educational Credit Management Corp. (ECMC) said the data included names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of borrowers, but no financial or bank account information. The data were on “portable media” that were stolen sometime last weekend, ECMC said in a statement. Company spokesman Paul Kelash wouldn’t specify what was taken but said there were no indications of any misuse of the data. The St. Paul-based nonprofit said it discovered the theft March 21 and immediately contacted law-enforcement officials, making the theft public when it received permission from authorities. ECMC said it has arranged with credit protection agency Experian to provide affected borrowers with free credit monitoring and protection services. Borrowers will be receiving letters from ECMC soon on how to sign up, gain access to fraud resolution representatives, and receive identity theft insurance coverage. ECMC is a contractor for the U.S. Department of Education to provide collection and document management services. It guarantees student loans through the Federal Family Education Loan program and provides support services for student loans that are in default or bankruptcy…

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