Why the iPad is not ready for college this fall

School is starting in late August, and already a few universities are touting their decision to make the iPad a part of the classroom. But these universities might run into problems in making the device’s functions work for the average college student, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Unless instructors are willing to switch to digital copies of readings, students will crowd their bookbags with their precious iPad screens and large, bulky textbooks. The lack of a USB port limits the iPad’s ability to become a useful group tool in class. Transferring files from iPad to iPad heavily relies on eMail and networking and can cause problems when sharing work files. In a setting where students are sharing iPads, splitting up work to take home can be a pain. Printing is another issue students might face; although Steve Jobs says that printing will come soon, the inability to print documents from the iPad keeps it from being a well-rounded classroom tool. Other limitations include battery life—no matter how good a 10-hour battery is, remembering to charge the device is key—and the lack of multi-tasking, which can be a problem when moving between apps…

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Justice Dept. joins suit accusing Oracle of overcharging U.S.

The Justice Department has joined a whistle-blower in accusing business software giant Oracle Inc. of defrauding the federal government by overcharging for software, reports the New York Times. In a civil suit filed in federal court on July 29, the Justice Department said that Oracle had failed to give the government the same discounts on software that it provided to commercial customers. A contract in place with Oracle from 1998 to 2006 required that Oracle notify the government of fluctuations in the price of its products and to match discounts made to commercial clients, according to the complaint. The software in question was valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, the Justice Department said. Oracle declined to comment. Paul Frascella, a former Oracle employee, acted as a whistle-blower in May 2007 by lodging his own complaint against Oracle on similar grounds. In April, the government provided notice that it would look into the matter. Now it has joined Frascella’s complaint. According to the complaint, Oracle sold $1.08 billion of software under the contract in question to a wide range of government agencies, including the Defense, Education, and Justice Departments and the military…

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New OSU social media network helps students connect

Classes don’t start for another three weeks at Oklahoma State University, but freshman Tandrea Lambert already has found dozens of future classmates with similar interests, reports NewsOK.com. Lambert met her new friends online through a social media network hosted by OSU. Technology is transforming the way new students connect with each other and their campuses. About 1,800 incoming OSU students from 48 states and eight countries have registered for OKStateU 1.0, a social media web site the university launched in May. The site serves as a communication tool that allows incoming students to share or receive information about campus programs and services across multiple platforms. Only incoming OSU students are allowed to register for the site. Students can create personal profiles and share photos, videos, schedules, and more. The site also gives students access to information about more than 200 events that will take place during Welcome Week, a fall welcome experience for new students. The site was designed to help students transition to college in a way that is comfortable to them, said Terrance Smith, a graduate student and an administrator for the site. Many students use social media networks, so they are familiar with the format, Smith said…

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Educational innovation gets boost under new programs

The Investing in Innovation fund must be doled out by Sept. 30.

The Investing in Innovation fund must be doled out by Sept. 30.

A movement is under way to make it easier for entrepreneurs to navigate the lucrative and sometimes-tricky education market and introduce new technologies and products into classrooms.

An educator at the University of Pennsylvania wants to create one of the nation’s only business incubators dedicated to education entrepreneurs. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is also getting into the act with a $650 million fund to boost education innovation.

“Here’s this [market] that is huge, that is really important, that needs innovation, and there’s just nothing out there to sort of foster it,” said Doug Lynch, vice dean of Penn’s Graduate School of Education. “Let’s create a Silicon Valley around education.”

K-12 schools and degree-granting institutions spend more than $1 trillion on education annually, federal statistics show. That represents immense potential for entrepreneurs—if they can resist the lure of more established tech firms and trendier ventures like social networks.

There also are other roadblocks.

Despite constant talk of making U.S. students more competitive, Lynch said it can be nearly impossible to introduce a new product in the fractured K-12 market because of frequent changes in superintendents, policy, and curricula. Each of the nation’s 15,000 school districts has its own needs and often cumbersome purchasing process.

“It’s worse than trying to sell to the U.S. Army, in terms of the hoops you have to jump through,” Lynch said.

The incubator he envisions at Penn—called NEST, for Networking Ed-entrepreneurs for Social Transformation—would identify promising businesses and give them financial and logistical support, such as access to capital, work space, and university expertise.

Linking educational researchers, who tend to be theoretical, with entrepreneurs, who are more practical and action-oriented, could help unlock the market, said Kim Smith, co-founder of the NewSchools Venture Fund, which invests in education businesses.

“If they can figure out a way to bridge those two communities, it could be a real contribution,” said Smith, now CEO of Bellwether Education Partners.

Penn, an Ivy League university in Philadelphia, has already held two summits on education entrepreneurship and hosted its first business plan competition, sponsored by the school and the Milken Family Foundation.

The top prize went to Digital Proctor, which creators say can identify typists through keystroke biometrics and thereby make it easier for teachers to root out test fraud. Digital Proctor beat out competitors from 27 states and three countries to win $25,000.

In an interview, Digital Proctor CEO Shaun Sims said investors’ lack of familiarity with the education industry means entrepreneurs must make a double pitch: first on the market overall, then on the actual product they’ve developed.

An incubator would “create an ecosystem for education” that attracts entrepreneurs who might otherwise venture into more investment-friendly efforts, he said.

“You’re going to get the country’s best talent working in this market instead of going to Silicon Valley working on the next social network,” Sims said.

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Students trust high Google search rankings too much

As seasoned internet veterans know, just because a site shows up high on Google’s search rankings doesn’t mean it’s the most credible source on a topic. But that bit of wisdom apparently has not made it all the way down to the current generation of college students, Ars Technica reports. According to research out of Northwestern University, students barely care about who or what is showing up when they click on that top link—a behavior that undoubtedly affects their quality of research when doing schoolwork. The researchers observed 102 college freshmen performing searches on a computer for specific information. Most students clicked on the first search result no matter what it was, and more than a quarter of respondents said explicitly that they chose it because it was the first result. Only 10 percent of the participants mentioned the author or author’s credentials when performing their research, and according to screen captures of those students, “none actually followed through by verifying either the identification or the qualifications of the authors.” Students did acknowledge that certain web sites—mostly those ending in .gov, .edu—were more credible than others because they weren’t written by “just anybody.” However, some felt the same way about .org sites and were unaware that .org domains could be sold to anyone (and therefore have about the same credibility as any .com out there)…

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In price war, new Kindle sells for $139

Amazon.com will introduce two new versions of its Kindle eReader on July 29, and one will sell for $139, reports the New York Times—the lowest price yet for the device. By firing another shot in an eReader price war leading up to the year-end holiday shopping season, the e-commerce giant turned consumer electronics manufacturer is signaling it intends to do battle with Apple and its iPad, as well as the other makers of eReaders like Sony and Barnes & Noble. Unlike previous Kindles, the $139 “Kindle Wi-Fi” will connect to the internet using only Wi-Fi instead of a cell-phone network as other Kindles do. Amazon is also introducing a model to replace the Kindle 2, which it will sell for the same price as that model, $189. Both new Kindles are smaller and lighter, with higher contrast screens and crisper text. Amazon hopes that at $10 less than the least expensive reading devices from Barnes & Noble and Sony, the new $139 Kindle has broken the psychological price barrier for even occasional readers. The new Kindles, which will ship Aug. 27, have the same six-inch reading area as earlier Kindles but weigh about 15 percent less and are 21 percent smaller. The Kindles have twice the storage, up to 3,500 books…

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Learning a language from an expert, on the web

The internet, with its unparalleled ability to connect people throughout the world, is changing the way that many people learn languages, reports the New York Times. There is no still way to avoid the hard slog through vocabulary lists and grammar rules, but the books, tapes, and even CDs of yesteryear are being replaced by eMail, video chats, and social networks. Livemocha, a Seattle company with $14 million in venture capital financing, mixes a social network with lessons for more than 38 of the world’s more common languages. The initial lessons are free, but unlocking some of the additional features requires a fee to Livemocha (starting at $10 for a set of lessons) or an agreement to correct the work of others. The lessons, whether they are flashcards, quizzes, audio recordings, or written and spoken essays, are delivered through a web browser. Michael Schutzler, Livemocha’s chief executive, says the web site’s advantage is the ability to practice with a real person. “The great irony is that even if you have years of classroom Spanish, you don’t have a lot of confidence to go into a bar and have a conversation,” he said. The casual connections with real people throughout the world, however brief, are not just fun and surprising but reveal more about how the language is really used…

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Study suggests Wikipedia is accurate … and a little dull

Eight out of 10 students say they use Wikipedia for background knowledge.

Eight out of 10 students say they use Wikipedia for background knowledge.

Wikipedia enthusiasts may have a new way to argue their case to professors skeptical of the online encyclopedia: Cancer researchers said in June that Wikipedia was nearly as accurate as a well-respected, peer-reviewed database, although the wiki entries were a bit more boring.

Yaacov Lawrence, an assistant professor in Thomas Jefferson University’s Department of Radiation Oncology in Philadelphia, examined 10 types of cancer and compared Wikipedia’s information to statistics in the National Cancer Institute’s Physician Data Query, a peer-reviewed oncology database.

About 2 percent of the information from both web-based resources differed from textbook sources, Lawrence found. Lawrence used algorithms to judge the readability of each cancer entry, and based on word length and sentence length, the Wikipedia entries were much more difficult to comprehend.

He discussed his findings at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago, which ran from June 4-8.

“The accuracy [of Wikipedia] was good, but I think that there is more to a good encyclopedia than accuracy,” Lawrence said in an interview with eCampus News. “There is depth of coverage, readability, understanding, [and] engagement. We found that Wikipedia was better at discussing hard-known facts, but poor at discussing controversial issues.”

For an online treasure trove of 3.3 million articles, almost 21 million pages, and 12.7 million registered users, examining 10 cancer-related entries for a research project doesn’t mean Wikipedia–a site that lets anyone with an account and a web connection edit text–is comparable to data compiled and reviewed by professionals in a scientific field, Lawrence said.

“There needs to be a much larger survey done because if 1 percent of [Wikipedia] articles are severely flawed,” the Thomas Jefferson University research would probably not find those inaccuracies, he said. “Every source of academic information is subject to bias and requires verification.”

Starting last fall, entries written by new Wikipedia users must be edited by regular contributors, and changes to the biographies of celebrities or controversial figures will be reviewed before they go live on the site, said Erik Moeller, deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, adding in a blog post that “false information can do the most serious harm to an individual.”

The policy shift came after years of criticism by many in academia who saw the anonymity of Wikipedia contributors as a drawback for serious research.

Like many educators, Raymond MacDermott, an associate professor of economics at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., said Wikipedia is a good “starting point” for students delving into an unfamiliar topic, but the vast encyclopedia shouldn’t be the only resource a student cites in a research paper.

“I don’t dock points for students who use Wikipedia, but I might ridicule them for it,” MacDermott said. “Students still need to take [Wikipedia] with a grain or salt.”

MacDermott tells his students to examine sources cited in Wikipedia entries that are listed at the bottom of each page.

For instance, Wikipedia’s entry on the internet includes “notes” that include “world internet usage” and references such as the Media Freedom Internet Cookbook. The entry also includes a link to the history of the internet at the bottom of the web page.

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Momentum building for federal online privacy rules

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., plans to introduce an online privacy bill that would create standards for how consumer information is collected and used for marketing, reports the Washington Post. The bill also would give users more control over how their internet activity and profiles are accessed by advertisers and web sites. Kerry’s bill, announced in a July 27 news release during a hearing on online privacy held by the Senate commerce committee, follows two privacy bills introduced in the House in recent months aimed at protecting sensitive information such as health and financial data. Kerry said he hopes his bill will be passed at the beginning of the next Congress. The legislative proposals add momentum to a push by consumer groups to create stronger federal rules for how companies such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon.com, and Google can track user activity and place ads based on that information. Facebook faced criticism for creating complex changes to its privacy polices last year that made some data more publicly available. Apple and AT&T were criticized for a data breach that revealed the network identities of iPad users, while Google said it accidentally snooped on residential Wi-Fi networks as it collected information for location-based applications. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, meanwhile, noted during the hearing that web sites and advertisers have been working to come up with their own rules for how to collect and use information in a way that doesn’t violate privacy rights…

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New Titanic expedition will create 3D map of wreck

A team of scientists will launch an expedition to the Titanic next month to assess the deteriorating condition of the world’s most famous shipwreck and create a detailed three-dimensional map that will “virtually raise the Titanic” for the public, reports the Associated Press. The expedition to the site two-and-a-half miles beneath the North Atlantic is billed as the most advanced scientific mission to the Titanic wreck since its discovery 25 years ago. The 20-day expedition is to leave St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Aug. 18 under a partnership between RMS Titanic Inc., which has exclusive salvage rights to the wreck, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The expedition will not collect artifacts but will probe a 2-by-3-mile debris field where hundreds of thousands of artifacts remain scattered. Some of the world’s most frequent visitors to the site will be part of the expedition, along with a who’s who of underwater scientists and organizations such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Organizers say the new scientific data and images ultimately will be accessible to the public. “For the first time, we’re really going to treat it as an archaeological site with two things in mind,” said David Gallo, an expedition leader and Woods Hole scientist. “One is to preserve the legacy of the ship by enhancing the story of the Titanic itself. The second part is to really understand what the state of the ship is.”

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