FCC opens up unused TV signals for broadband

In a highly anticipated move that could lead to faster, more robust Wi-Fi networks in schools, the Federal Communications Commission is opening up unused airwaves between television stations for wireless broadband networks that will be more powerful and can travel farther than today’s Wi-Fi hot spots, reports the Associated Press. The five-member FCC voted unanimously Sept. 23 to allow the use of so-called “white spaces” between TV stations to deliver broadband connections that can function like Wi-Fi networks on steroids. The agency is calling the new technology “super Wi-Fi” and hopes to see devices with the new technology start to appear within a year. Leading technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Dell, are eager to develop the market. They say television white spaces are ideally suited for broadband because they are able to penetrate walls, have plenty of capacity, and can travel several miles. Just like the spectrum used by Wi-Fi, the white spaces will be available to all users for free, with no license required. The FCC hopes they will help ease strain on the nation’s increasingly crowded airwaves as more consumers go online using laptops and data-hungry smart phones. Although the FCC first voted to allow the use of white spaces for broadband nearly two years ago, the plan ran into serious opposition from TV broadcasters and wireless microphone manufacturers worried about interference with their over-the-air signals. The FCC has taken steps to mitigate these concerns, including setting aside at least two channels for users of wireless microphones…

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New software can help ‘proofread’ Wikipedia

A new tool might help fight malicious editing that introduces incorrect or misleading information in online sites such as Wikipedia, UPI reports. University of Iowa researchers are developing a software tool that can detect potential vandalism and improve the accuracy of Wikipedia entries, a university release says. The tool is an algorithm that looks at new edits to a page and compares them to existing words in the rest of the entry, then alerts an editor or page manager if it senses a problem. There are existing tools that spot obscenities or vulgarities, or major edits, such as deletions of entire sections, or significant edits throughout a document. But those tools are built manually, with prohibited words and phrases entered by hand, so they’re time-consuming and easy to evade, the UI researchers say. Their automatic statistical language model algorithm works by finding words or vocabulary patterns that it can’t find elsewhere in the entry at any time since it was first written. For instance, when someone wrote “Pete loves PANCAKES” into the Wikipedia entry for Abraham Lincoln, the algorithm recognized the graffiti as potential vandalism after scanning the rest of the entry and not seeing any mention of pancakes…

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Facebook Places: Marketing tool or educational asset?

UK's Facebook Places ad campaign guides students to an educational web site.

UK's Facebook Places ad campaign guides students to an educational web site.

The University of Kentucky, if all goes according to the campus’s marketing plan, could pop up in 1.3 million Facebook news feeds during the fall semester—and students might just learn something about maintaining online privacy in the process.

The Lexington, Ky., university placed six-foot wooden Facebook Places logos in six campus locations with the heaviest foot traffic to encourage students to “check in” using Facebook’s geo-tagging application, which lets users show friends where they are—the campus library, for instance.

Places, which is similar to geo-tagging services Yelp, Gowalla, Booyah, and Foursquare, launched in August and drew skeptical reviews from many in higher education. Facebook users must opt into Places before the application displays the person’s location.

Kentucky’s Facebook Places push began when students returned from summer break in the first week of September. Officials said their goals were to educate students by guiding them to a university web site that preaches caution while using social media applications like Places, and boosting Kentucky’s presence in Facebook frequenters’ news feeds.

David Coomer, director of interactive services at Cornett-IMS—the advertising agency that helped the university launch the Places program—said that if the campaign can spur 10,000 check-ins this semester, Kentucky could appear in 1.3 million Facebook news feeds, because each Facebook user has an average of 130 friends who can track his or her updates.

“We would like this to really have a viral marketing element … and we knew a brochure wouldn’t lead to 10,000 check-ins,” said Coomer, adding that Places would become a “household name” within six months. “It’s a great value for the university from a marketing standpoint.”

“I don’t expect every friend to see or act on every piece of shared content on Facebook,” but having students share their location with online friends they presumably trust will prove more effective than an “all-display” ad campaign, he said.

The university’s Facebook Places web site includes video tutorials on how to use the geo-tagging application, and how to adjust privacy settings so only certain friends can see your check-in in their news feed.

The web page tells students that “Facebook Places will help you share and find the hot spots on campus” and that they “should be used responsibly, and users should consider privacy and safety issues” before they check in on their smart phones.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons, a digital media expert who has tracked Kentucky’s Facebook Places ad campaign since it was launched at the start of the fall semester, said the initiative can have some educational value if school officials push safety tips along with their encouragement to check in around campus.

“They need to make sure they’re not inadvertently putting students in potentially dangerous situations,” said Fitzsimmons, who wrote a Sept. 7 blog post on the school’s Places plan. “There needs to be more education on the topic than people might expect. When you’re 18, you might think nothing bad can ever happen, but things do happen, and sometimes they’re caused by really innocent behaviors [like using social media]. … [The university] needs to help students exercise a bit of caution.”

She added: “I would think that the main purpose is marketing the university, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”

Privacy advocates, social media consultants, and some in higher education said expanding geo-tagging services could pose security risks to students with Facebook accounts.

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RIM readies its answer to iPad

The Wall Street Journal reports that BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. could unveil its new tablet computer—as well as the operating system that will power it—as early as next week at a developers’ conference in San Francisco, said people familiar with RIM’s plans. The tablet, which some inside RIM are calling the BlackPad, is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of this year, these people said. It will feature a seven-inch touch screen and one or two built-in cameras, they said. It will have Bluetooth and broadband connections but will only be able to connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone, these people said. Since the tablet won’t be sold with a cellular service, it’s not clear which carriers or retailers will sell the device…

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For-profit higher ed company opens national ad campaign

The national ad campaign by for-profit higher education provider Corinthian Colleges Inc. seeks to draw decision-makers and the broader public into a long-simmering debate over whether the federal government should tighten regulations on colleges that operate for profit, the Washington Post reports. The Obama administration has proposed 14 rules to overhaul the for-profit sector. The most contentious proposal requires programs to demonstrate that they yield “gainful employment” for their graduates and restricts or eliminates federal loan funds to programs that do not. The industry’s practices have been under particular scrutiny since the Government Accountability Office reported last month that recruiters at 15 for-profit colleges allegedly encouraged investigators posing as prospective students to commit fraud on financial aid applications or misled them about such matters as tuition costs and potential salaries after graduation…

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U. of Florida debates flat-fee tuition

The Miami Herald reports that Florida’s state university system is mulling a one-size-fits-all tuition structure for full-time students–an idea that could lead some to graduate sooner, but also carries the risk of students biting off more than they can chew.  Under the plan, which could receive final approval from the state Board of Governors as soon as November, full-time students at participating universities would pay a flat rate per semester, regardless of how many classes he or she actually takes. The pricing structure, known as block tuition, is already the norm at private universities across the country, and has been adopted by some high-profile public universities as well, including The University of Texas at Austin and UCLA.  An exact pricing model for Florida schools has yet to be hammered out, and schools may decide to charge slightly different rates. If a school chose 15 credit hours as the standard, a student taking only 12 credits would be paying for a class he or she wasn’t taking. On the plus side, a student taking 18 credits would be taking an extra class for free…

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Students: Social media blackout eye-opening, ‘annoying’

Harrisburg students admit to finding ways around the school's social media ban.

Harrisburg students admit to finding ways around the school's social media ban.

Students at Harrisburg University, where technology officials recently deprived students of social media access for one week, said the restriction was a minor inconvenience for many on campus, and showed some students just how tethered to popular social sites they had become.

IT decision makers at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania–a campus of about 600 students established in 2001–banned access to Facebook, Twitter, AOL Instant Messenger, and MySpace through the school’s network during the week of Sept. 13 as a way of showing students how ingrained the technology has become in their everyday lives.

Harrisburg also hosted a panel of social media experts during the experimental week who discussed privacy and security issues in social media, how the technology is used to communicate with mass audiences, and how the professional world has adapted to the exponential popularity of sites like Facebook.

Research has shown that the proliferation of Facebook and Twitter use does not impact student grades, but some Harrisburg students said the social media blackout created a much different classroom experience–one where students were not perusing Facebook without paying a shred of attention to their professor.

“I see a lot of student in class sit on Facebook the entire time, which I find surprising [because] they are paying for this education and just [using] Facebook the whole time,” said Jason Hyer, a Harrisburg senior and an intern in the university’s IT department.

Hyer said the social media blackout week was meant to be a “hurdle, not a complete block,” because any student or faculty member with a web-connected smart phone could circumvent the campus’s internet network and access the banned web sites.

The experiment, he said, raised awareness among students who may be unaware of how often they queued up their favorite social sites every day.

“The intention was to make students think why they are going through this trouble to get on” Facebook and Twitter, Hyer said.

Amanda Zuck, a junior at Harrisburg, said her initial reaction to the school’s social media blackout announcement could be summed up in one word: “Annoyance.”

“The first few days it was a little frustrating not having [access] to social media,” said Zuck, 20, adding that the social media ban forced her to change her well-rehearsed Facebook-updating habits. “I frequently went to Facebook or to look at my IM only to remember that it wasn’t available … but as the week progressed I learned to deal with it and just check it before I left home or after I got home.”

Zuck said she worked around Harrisburg’s social media ban once during the experimental week when she used a friend’s laptop that had access to a private network and updated her Facebook status. Still, having to make such drastic efforts to log onto Facebook, she said, showed students how distracting the ever-present web sites have become.

“You can tell the good students who really care and want to learn by how little they are on Facebook in class,” Zuck said.

Sherrie Madia, director of communications at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and coauthor of The Social Media Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business Exponentially with Social Media, said the student reaction to Harrisburg’s blackout should serve as a warning to educators and parents concerned about how students will adjust in the workplace.

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House OKs more degrees for community colleges

Community colleges could offer four-year degrees in nursing, under legislation passed by the House and now headed to the Senate, where the state’s 15 universities hope to block it, the Detroit Free Press reports. Four-year degrees also could be obtained at community colleges in culinary arts and maritime and cement technology. The proposed expansion has sparked an intense turf war between community colleges that say it would make four-year degrees more accessible, especially to older students, and four-year universities that view it as an expensive encroachment on their academic realm. About 10 of Michigan’s 28 community colleges probably would take advantage of the expansion to four-year degrees, said Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Association of Community Colleges.

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Value of college degree is growing, study says

Despite rising tuition and student-loan debt levels, the long-term payoff from earning a college degree is growing, according to a report to be issued Tuesday by the College Board, reports The New York Times. Workers with a college degree earned much more and were much less likely to be unemployed than those with only a high school diploma, according to the report, “Education Pays: the Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society.” According to the report, the median earnings of full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees were $55,700 in 2008 — $21,900 more than those of workers who finished only high school. And the pay premium for those with bachelor’s degrees has grown substantially in recent years. Among those ages 25 to 34, women with college degrees earned 79 percent more than those with high school diplomas, and men, 74 percent more. A decade ago, women with college degrees had a 60 percent pay premium and men 54 percent.

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Google reports on government requests and censorship

Google has lately found itself on the receiving end of criticism from privacy and transparency advocates. But with two new tools, Google is trying to convince them that the company is on their side, The New York Times reports. On Tuesday, Google will introduce a new tool called the Transparency Report, at google.com/transparencyreport/. It publishes where and when Internet traffic to Google sites is blocked, and the blockages are annotated with details when possible. For instance, the tool shows that YouTube has been blocked in Iran since the disputed presidential election in June 2009. The Transparency Report will also be the home for Google’s government requests tool, a map that shows every time a government has asked Google to take down or hand over information, and what percentage of the time Google has complied. Google introduced it in April and updates it every six months. Government requests could be court orders to remove hateful content or a subpoena to pass along information about a Google user.

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