Lehigh loses in NCAA tournament, but scores big on Google

Across the nation, a single question formed in the minds of tens of thousands of college basketball fans last Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, reports the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa.: What’s this ”Lehigh University”? Google was flooded with searches about Lehigh just as its men’s basketball team squared off against No. 1-ranked University of Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City. Google listed ”Lehigh University” as its No. 2 ”Hot Search” for Thursday, with a spike in searches that peaked at tip-off time. For comparison, searches about Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock’s rumored problems with husband Jesse James ranked eighth on Google’s list. ”Yeah? That’s impressive,” said senior guard Marquis Hall Friday on learning of his team’s internet fame. ”It’s great exposure for the school to have your name out there when you’re in the tournament.” Despite taking a lead in the game’s early moments, 16th-seeded Lehigh fell to Kansas, 90-74. But in terms of publicity, Lehigh officials see the televised game and its online popularity as a huge win. The game was aired on TV in at least 44 percent of the nation, and that percentage increased as other games wrapped up and the Kansas-Lehigh game got tighter, said university spokesman Bill Doherty. At the same time, internet traffic to the university’s web site jumped more than 65 percent…

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Prospective college students finding answers online

Juwanna Brown, a 16-year-old junior at Illinois’ Lane Tech High School, found answers to many of her questions about college in a virtual environment, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Brown attended CollegeWeekLive.com, an online event that lets students and parents chat via text and video with hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide without leaving their computer. “I got to explore the types of programs the colleges offer,” said Brown, who is on her high school golf team and wants to be an attorney specializing in sports. “I asked questions about student-teacher ratios, scholarship opportunities, and the types of sororities and organizations on campus.” Asha Mannancheril, a 17-year-old senior at Niles West High School, found CollegeWeekLive to be “really, really cool.” She visited twice to learn about scholarships and biology classes. “The event goes on all day, so you can log on whenever it’s convenient,” she said. Students sign in to the event, and their contact information is shared with the schools whose booths they visit in the virtual world. The students use a text box to ask questions and get information in real time. The CollegeLive event features streaming-video appearances by representatives of college admissions and financial aid offices, as well as students, parents, higher-education consultants, and authors of college guides and how-to books. Because so many students and colleges need financial help, such virtual events can save money and enable otherwise expensive outreach and travel—both for students and for participating colleges…

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Open courseware as a viable business model?

Open courseware with online video lectures cost the most to make available on the web.

Open courseware that incorporates video lectures costs the most to make available on the web.

Open courseware isn’t the end of higher education, as some have feared, but rather a recruiting tool that can lure people to enroll in credit-bearing classes, according to a Brigham Young University (BYU) study released last month.

The study, conducted by BYU’s Director of Independent Study Justin Johansen, examined the costs of making college course material available for free online, and how many enrollments resulted from having open courses available on a university’s web site.

The university has six open classes—three college-level and three high school courses—that drew almost 14,000 web page visits over a four-month span, generating 445 paid enrollments at BYU.

The price to make the classes available ranged from $284 to $1,172 per course, according to Johansen’s study, meaning BYU’s open courseware had a 3.1-percent profit margin.

The study suggests that open courseware won’t boost campus bottom lines, but the free web-based model isn’t the profit-sapping giveaway many have painted it to be, experts said.

Johansen wrote in the study that since BYU launched its open courseware program in 2002, “responses from the academic community have ranged from exuberance to angst,” adding that “institutions have been reluctant to adopt a program of open publishing because of concerns about long-term funding and possible adverse effects on paid enrollment.”

The “relatively small amount of data” used in the BYU open courseware research, Johansen wrote, “prevented a purely statistical analysis of the impact of opening courses on paid enrollment,” but he said paid enrollments gained through access to open materials were “significant.”

Johansen added that “if BYU … converts many more of its 591 online courses, the required computer storage capacity, software, office space, and computer hardware could increase and add to the cost.”

BYU is one of about 250 colleges and universities nationwide that have joined the open courseware movement in the last decade, according to an analysis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a pioneer in making college curriculum open for all internet users.

MIT officials estimated there are 9,000 open courses available on the web—a generous education technology offering not overlooked by incoming freshmen. More than half of MIT freshmen said they were aware of the open courses, according to the university, and 94 percent said they have accessed the online material.

Some online education experts say that as students turn to the internet for researching potential colleges, institutions that make lectures, class video, quizzes, and exams available to peruse online will have the upper hand when compared with schools that haven’t embraced open courseware.

“I think the role [of higher-education open courseware] is increasing,” said Michael Young, an online teacher at The American Academy, a private school in Salt Lake City. “I think open courseware might help people explore their options before committing to a credit-bearing program.”

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Viacom says YouTube ignored copyrights

Pointing to internal YouTube eMail messages, Viacom said in a court filing that the video site’s founders turned a blind eye when users uploaded copyrighted clips so they could amass a big audience and sell the company quickly, reports the New York Times. The charge was one of many made by Viacom in filings unsealed March 18 in its three-year-old copyright lawsuit against YouTube and Google, which bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion. Google fired back, saying Viacom was distorting the record by taking passages from eMail messages out of context. It also said Viacom employees and agents “continuously and secretly” uploaded clips from the company’s television shows and movies to YouTube for promotional purposes, even as they were complaining about copyright violations. “They are both tearing each other up, and both are scoring points,” said Eric Goldman, director of the High-Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law. The lawsuit accused YouTube of profiting from thousands of clips from Viacom movies and shows that were uploaded to the site without permission. It was filed at the height of tensions between Google and media companies over copyrights—tensions that have since eased substantially after YouTube set up an automated system to detect infringing videos. But more broadly, media companies remain wary of losing control as more of their products become digital, making them easier to copy…

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Fresno State students get high-tech writing help

More than 140 Fresno State professors are trying out a computer tool that taps into video-game competitiveness to improve student writing, reports the Fresno Bee. Those professors and close to 7,000 students are part of a pilot project using a web-based evaluation program. Students submit essays electronically and get near-instant scores and notes on grammar, mechanics, organization, and more. The program highlights errors—a run-on sentence, a misspelled word—but students correct the mistakes. Faculty members also can offer comments, and students can revise and resubmit essays for better marks. “I have some students treating it like a video game: ‘I can get a higher score on this,’” said Kim Morin, a professor in the theater arts department who brought the program—ETS Criterion—to campus. The project is part of a larger effort to boost student writing, a skill lacking in many new freshmen. Averaging close to 100 students in an online class, Morin wanted more time to focus on the content of essays. She settled on Criterion after sorting through several other similar programs, including SAGrader and Intelligent Essay Assessor. Some weren’t a good fit, and others were too expensive, Morin said. With Criterion, there is no cost to the university. Each student pays about $15 per semester for access to the system…

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Court: Cyber-bullying threats are not protected speech

A California appeals court ruled this week that threatening posts made by readers of a web site are not protected free speech, allowing a case charging the posters with hate crimes and defamation to proceed, Wired reports. The case raises fundamental questions about cyber bullying and the line between online speech and hate crimes. The case involves a teen identified as “D.C.” in court documents, who launched a web site in 2005 when he was 15 to promote his pursuit of an acting and singing career. Fellow students at his private high school, Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, posted derogatory comments on his site, mocking his perceived sexual orientation and making hostile statements that threatened him with bodily harm, such as “Faggot, I’m going to kill you,” and “I want to rip out your fucking heart and feed it to you.” The site was taken down, and the boy’s father contacted school authorities and the local police, who ultimately determined that the postings did not meet the criteria for criminal prosecution and were protected speech. The father then sued six students and their parents, accusing them of hate crimes, defamation—for falsely calling his son a homosexual—and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The school’s board of directors and three employees also were sued. Judges Robert Mallano and Jeffrey Johnson, writing for the majority, said the messages revealed a harmful intent and were not protected speech…

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Student aid, linked to health care, gets a trim

An increase in Pell Grants was cut back in the revised student aid reform legislation.

An increase in Pell Grants was cut back in the revised student aid reform legislation.

Congressional Democrats on March 18 trimmed their original student loan plans, reduced spending for community colleges, and eliminated early childhood money from a broad rewrite of a college aid bill piggybacked on to fast-track health care legislation.

The student loan measure would be the biggest change in college assistance programs since Congress created them in the 1960s, ending a private-lender program by having the government originate all loans to needy students.

But facing savings smaller than anticipated from the switch and a shortfall in Pell Grant money for low-income students, Democrats are proposing no increases in Pell Grants over the next two years and a modest increase over the five years that follow.

“We’re hoping by then our economy will be better, we will be out of the doldrums and we’ll be able to address the situation at that time,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. “What we’re doing here is taking care of the next few years.”

The maximum Pell Grant, which a House-passed bill last year would have raised to $6,900 over 10 years, will now only increase to $5,900. The current maximum grant for the coming school year is $5,500.

“This isn’t even maintaining a fiction of maintaining the status quo,” said Mark Kantrowitz, who runs the Web site finaid.org. “This is going to lose ground.”

Consolidating the college aid package with health care could make it easier to pass the college aid plan in the Senate, where it seemed unable to muster 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles. And it would give House Democrats a popular incentive to sweeten a vote for health care changes.

The House plans to take up the legislation this weekend. The Senate would follow next week.

The new bill would spend $13.6 billion to fill a financial hole in the Pell Grant program, but would still leave a $5.5 billion shortfall. Officials say a poor jobs market has driven potential workers to colleges and technical schools, putting a strain on the program.

Student aid reform advocates were energized last week when Congressional leaders said the legislation had new life.

The lending overhaul—pushed in recent weeks by Education Secretary Arne Duncan—would allow the federal government to lend money directly to students, instead of having students go through commercial lenders. Duncan said SAFRA would save taxpayers $87 billion over 10 years by doing away with subsidies to private lending companies, who then tack on interest to student loan payments.

Democrats on the fence about the lending bill have said in recent weeks that Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) would increase the national deficit during an era of record-breaking debt.

Campus Progress, an organization pushing for direct lending, refuted these claims, echoing Duncan’s stance that federal projections show billions of dollars in savings over the next decade when compared with the current Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.

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Online education expert: Discipline is key

Peery says indentifying confused students is sometimes difficult for online instructors.

Peery says identifying confused students is sometimes difficult for online instructors.

Irresistible prime-time television and quick snacks that turn into 20-minute breaks are the ever-tempting enemies of online learning, according to Maryland’s distance educator of the year, who says proactive and dedicated students get the most out of web-based classes and the freedom they provide.

Tammy Peery, chair of the English Department at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus, was recognized as her state’s top online instructor March 4 by the Maryland Distance Learning Association.

Peery, a teacher at the three-campus, 60,000-student community college since 1999, grabbed the association’s attention with her role in developing Montgomery Common Courses, online classes that feature the same content for all students in different sections of a college course.

Any student can maintain solid grades in distance courses, Peery said, but students who take online classes to adapt to the changing job market—single parents and military servicemen and women among them—have always been the standouts.

“They are people who really need that education and really want the education,” said Peery, 39, who taught at Maryland’s Frederick Community College before starting at Montgomery College. “They want to improve themselves, so they really thrive and they’re amazingly hard workers. … They want to better themselves, but their circumstances are such that they can’t be tied to a particular place and time [to attend classes].”

Those students also share a common trait, she said: “They’re all so disciplined.”

Students in lecture halls have professors and teaching assistants there to coax attention through even the driest lectures—a luxury that distance learners don’t have.

“There’s no one standing there saying, ‘You have to stay focused for the next hour,’ or ‘I’m going to collect your paper now,’” Peery said. “[Online students] can’t watch TV when they’re supposed to be doing [school] work, and that’s tough.”

Web-based classes also require adjustment from faculty members used to life in the lecture hall, she said. During a classroom lesson, Peery kept an eye out for what she termed a “confused face,” or a clear look from a student after a key concept had sailed over his or her head.

“Online, I can’t see [a] confused face,” she said, adding that she can tell her web-based students are confused about a topic if their participation on class message boards suddenly plummets. “Students have to be proactive and have the guts to ask questions and not wait for me to call on them.”

Peery’s 11 years in distance education have seen a major shift in the capabilities and perception of online courses. Earning a degree via the internet wasn’t widely accepted as equal to brick-and-mortar college classes until online enrollments skyrocketed in the middle of the 2000s.

An annual study, based on responses from more than 2,500 colleges and universities and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, reported a 17-percent increase in online course enrollment last year, with more than one-fourth of U.S. college students taking at least one web-based class during the fall 2008 semester.

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Duncan: Ban NCAA teams with low grad rates

Duncan drew attention to low college graduation rates as March Madness began March 18.

Duncan drew attention to low college graduation rates as March Madness began March 18.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says college basketball teams that don’t graduate at least 40 percent of their players should be banned from postseason play.

Duncan said in remarks delivered in a conference call March 17 that his idea represents a low bar, and over time it should be raised.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams says a ban based on graduation rates unfairly penalizes current players for the academic performance of athletes from years ago. He says the NCAA already has a system in place that penalizes schools if they do not meet academic benchmarks.

Under Duncan’s idea, a dozen teams in this year’s men’s NCAA tournament would be ineligible based on findings of report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

That includes a No. 1 seed, Kentucky, which graduated 31 percent of its players over the period measured by the institute.

Duncan and President Barack Obama have set a goal of having 60 percent of Americans graduate from college by 2020.

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RandomDorm: Chatroulette for the college set

Using the video chat service Chatroulette can be highly entertaining, but there’s always the chance of encountering something unsavory on the service, which randomly matches strangers for video interaction. One entrepreneur is hoping to limit the chances of that, at least for the collegiate set, with a new web site called RandomDorm, reports the New York Times. RandomDorm takes the thrilling serendipity of being paired with an anonymous stranger in a video chat room and limits it to college campuses. Participants need a college eMail address to access the web service. Or, they can sign in using Facebook as long as the primary eMail address tied to that account ends with “.edu.” Tying the users to a specific identity in theory will make them more accountable, although it’s unclear whether RandomDorm’s limited pool will increase the chances of seeing someone chugging beers online or performing more extreme college antics. For now, RandomDorm is limited to students at schools in the United States, but in the future, the company hopes to open it up to international universities, as long as there is demand…

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