Bill Gates kicks off college tour

While the world faces enormous challenges such as feeding its populations, developing clean energy, and fighting diseases, many of its best and brightest citizens are focused on other issues. Kicking off a three-state college tour April 19, philanthropist and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said he would like to see some of this brain power shifted to issues like education, CNET reports. “Are the brightest minds working on the hardest problems?” Gates said during a talk at the University of California at Berkeley. “I think the answer is probably not.” College students, with their youth and open minds, represent an important opportunity to get more people working on these issues, Gates said. Too many, he said are going into entertainment and other areas. Even those going to science, he noted, are often working on problems such as developing a cure for baldness. Gates is also speaking this week at Stanford University, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology…

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Data analysis tool offered to campuses free of charge

Having SAS's analytics software available on the web has changed the way professors teach their courses.

Having SAS's analytics software on the web has changed the way faculty teach their courses.

Faculty and students on 200 campuses nationwide will have free access to advanced data management and analytics software via cloud computing beginning in the fall 2010 semester, after business software company SAS last week opened its OnDemand for Academics program to more higher-education customers at no charge.

The web-hosted analytics software has gained traction in higher education in recent years, and education technology experts said the free offer could expand the software’s presence at colleges where IT departments have seen deep cuts during the country’s economic downturn.

The OnDemand for Academics tool would join a growing list of campus technologies hosted on the internet—a strategy known as cloud computing—which allows access to the most up-to-date programs without using costly on-campus servers. This means students can access the online tool from anywhere they have an internet connection and won’t be forced to buy the software for their laptops or make a trip to the school computer lab to use the SAS analytics program, saving money for the university and time for IT staff—many of whom have a larger workload after budget cuts have trimmed staff numbers in recent years.

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Teens prefer texting vs. calling … except to parents

For teenagers, texting on mobile phones has dethroned actual voice calls when it comes to connecting with their friends, according to a new report released today by the Pew Research Center, Live Science reports. The report also shows that when teenagers do bother with an old-school phone call, it’s more often to contact their parents than their peers. This trend reflects a digital divide between generations of mobile phone users but also some psychological strategizing on the part of teens. Among its many advantages, teens interviewed as part of a focus group said texting is a quick way to say “hi,” report where they and their friends are and to get to the point. “Teens tell us how [texting is] more efficient, how they don’t have to go through the preamble and niceties [of a phone conversation],” said Amanda Lenhart, a co-author of the new study and a senior research specialist who directs the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s research on teens, children and families. But for socially nuanced situations when the inflection and expression of a voice takes precedence over the brevity of emoticons and crafty punctuation, phone calling is still preferred.

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Kindle to expand beyond Amazon?

It’s a tricky little issue: What if you designed a piece of hardware and were also the only one who sold the software for it? Yahoo News reports that you’d basically have to work twice as hard at sales to get the job done. That’s the problem Amazon is now grappling with regarding the Kindle. While Amazon is a huge retailer (it just hit #100 on the Fortune 500), it’s still a dwarf compared with the big mainstream retail outfits like Walmart, and with no physical stores where people can actually try out the device, its clout is ultimately limited. To make the Kindle into a hit, Amazon’s got a lot of heavy lifting to do, promoting both the reader and the eBooks for it, both of which can only be purchased at one place. That may be about to change: Amazon may soon begin selling the Kindle through other retailers, particularly Target. (I’ve heard Best Buy mentioned in whispers as well.)…

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Report examines violent attacks on U.S. college campuses

A report by federal law enforcement officers, released last week on the third anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, offers the first comprehensive analysis of violent attacks carried out on U.S. college campuses in the past century and finds that more than half have occurred in the past 20 years, the Washington Post reports. Researchers looked at public records of 272 incidents of “targeted violence” at colleges since 1900. The study, “Campus Attacks,” was a joint effort of the Secret Service, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Education. The report offers a foundation of research for the discipline of threat assessment, a growing facet of college administration that seeks to predict and prevent Virginia Tech-style attacks. On April 16, 2007, Tech student Seung Hui Cho, 23, killed 32 people and himself in one of the nation’s deadliest attacks…

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iPad too much for some campus networks

The New York Times reports that the iPad has been touted as the next big thing in higher education technology, especially as more textbooks make the digital conversation, but according to a Wall Street Journal report, not all college campus networks can handle the mobile tablets. George Washington University students and faculty members who sprung for an iPad can’t access the campus wireless network. Princeton University has blocked about two dozen iPads that were messing up the university network. Seton Hill University, which is equipping every student with an iPad, has had to quadruple its bandwidth and charge students a $500-per-semester technology fee. Cornell University is also seeing networking and connectivity issues, similar to what happened with the iPhone hit…

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Supreme Court hears text-messaging privacy case

The U.S. Supreme Court will likely rule that government employees should have no expectation of privacy when they send text messages using their business phones.

The Supreme Court will decide whether government employees should have any expectation of privacy when they send text messages using work-issued phones.

In a case with implications for public schools and colleges, the U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to rule against public employees who claimed a local government violated their right to privacy by reading racy text messages they sent through their employers’ account.

Several justices said April 19 that the employer, the Ontario, Calif., police department, acted reasonably in monitoring the text messages in view of its written policy warning employees they have no guarantee of privacy in the use of office computer and electronics equipment.

Justice Stephen Breyer said he didn’t see “anything, quite honestly, unreasonable about that.”

While the case involves government workers, the decision could have broader privacy implications as courts continue to sort out privacy issues in the digital age. Many employers tell workers there is no guarantee of privacy in any communications sent over their company- or government-provided computers, cell phones, or pagers.

The case arose when the Ontario police department decided to audit text-message usage to see whether its SWAT team officers were using their accounts too often for personal reasons. Three police officers and another employee complained that the department improperly snooped on their electronic exchanges, including many that were said to be sexually explicit.

An Ontario police official earlier had informally told officers that no one would look further if officers personally paid for charges above a monthly allowance.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the informal policy was enough to give the officers a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their text messages and establish that their constitutional rights had been violated. The appeals court also faulted the text-messaging service for turning over transcripts of the messages without the officers’ consent. The court declined to hear the appeal of USA Mobility Wireless Inc., which bought the text-messaging service involved in the case.

The Obama administration is backing the city, arguing that the written policy, not any informal warning, is what matters. “The computer help desk cannot supplant the chief’s desk. That simple, clear rule should have decided this case,” Justice Department lawyer Neal Katyal said.

More broadly, Katyal said, the appeals court ruling calls into question policies put in place by governments across the country. “Thousands of employers rely on these policies, and millions of employees,” he said.

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Colleges appeal to students with green policies

Universities are touting green initiatives to draw eco-conscious students.

Universities are touting green initiatives to draw eco-conscious students.

Small private colleges and large research universities alike have adopted green policies in recent years in an effort to trim energy bills, encourage sustainability, and lure environmentally conscious students to their campuses. Now, a college counseling company has named five schools in particular as the most eco-friendly.

Such lists could carry weight among prospective students. In fact, nearly seven in 10 high school students surveyed by the Princeton Review last year said they would evaluate a college’s environmental policies and commitments before attending classes there. And with Earth Day approaching on April 22, schools are touting their green credentials in the annual springtime recruiting blitz.

IvyWise, a counseling company based in New York City and headed by admissions expert Katherine Cohen, released its list last week of schools that appeal to the greenest of prospective students: the University of Washington at Seattle, Arizona State University, Bates College, Emory University, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, for example, was recognized for its Bates Bike Co-op, which gives participating students a bike lock key that can be used to unlock bikes kept in convenient spots across the campus. Students pay a $10 annual fee for Co-op membership, and with more than 90 percent of Bates students living on campus, the program has proven popular, with an anonymous donor giving a new fleet of bikes to the college in 2009.

Emory University in Atlanta made the IvyWise list based partly on its commitment to procure three-quarters of its food ingredients from sustainable sources by 2015. Emory—which launched a web site highlighting the campus’s green buildings and sustainability-related classes—offers a course in environmental journalism.

The IvyWise list of eco-friendly institutions also was based on a university’s natural surroundings, such as the mountainous terrain that attracts students to UC Boulder. Boulder Environmental Center, one of the country’s oldest of its kind, organizes student meetings that focus on a range of eco-friendly initiatives, including wildlife projects, ride sharing, efficiency, and earth education. The university also hosts the annual Conference on World Affairs, which draws environmental experts from across the globe.

Higher-education officials said establishing and publicizing green programs and curriculum can help prospective students make a final decision after spending months weighing their college options for the following year.

Jeannie Matheison, a sustainability advisor at the University of Idaho’s Sustainability Center, said course offerings that reflect an acute awareness of environmental issues such as climate change and food shortages can be a long-term recruiting tool for admissions offices.

Idaho’s Sustainability Center has funded almost $200,000 in two native vegetation gardens, a rainwater harvest garden, a green roof, multiple recycling initiatives, composting of university food and farm waste, and other initiatives in recent years, according to the center’s web site.

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Universities looking to federal government for funds

Public university presidents from across the nation are meeting this month to talk about replacing dwindling state support for their campuses with more dollars from the federal government, reports the Associated Press. Universities already get some federal funding—most notably for research—but University of Washington President Mark Emmert said he believes it would be in the nation’s best interest for the federal government to get more involved in supporting the day-to-day needs of public research universities. Emmert will host one of the five regional meetings the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities is convening. The others are in Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. Emmert didn’t have any details on how the federal government might get more involved in state universities, saying they were just beginning the conversation. He said it would take a collection of solutions to maintain the quality of higher education in this country; getting more money from the federal government is just one part. State dollars built the nation’s public universities, but most legislatures have been cutting support for higher education to help balance state budgets during the recession. Emmert doubts that state support for university budgets will improve anytime soon, and he believes this should be a national concern. “Individual states are making these individual decisions, but across the whole country … this amazing asset that we have is eroding rapidly, and there’s no one looking at it from a systemic level at the national level,” he said…

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For Google’s next act: Printing from any device to any printer

Having made encyclopedias, paper maps, and newspapers redundant, Google is now out to do the same for printer drivers, NewsFactor reports. The search giant said April 15 that it is developing a cloud-based solution for driverless printing from any device. In a posting on its Chromium Blog, Group Product Manager Mike Jazayeri wrote that “developing and maintaining print subsystems for every combination of hardware and operating system,” including the large and growing number of mobile devices, “simply isn’t feasible.” He noted that all major computing devices and operating systems have one component in common—access to the cloud. With that in mind, the company is introducing “some preliminary designs” for its Google Cloud Print project, which will be a service that allows any application on “any device to print to any printer…”

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