Opinion: Community colleges must commit to change

A new report documents abysmally low student transfer and completion rates at California’s two-year schools. Two L.A.-area campuses have already begun to make changes, say directors at the University of Southern California. California’s community colleges were envisioned by the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education as a low-cost alternative for students to complete the first two years of college before transferring to a four-year school. They were also designed for students whose ultimate educational goal was to attain an associate’s degree or career certification. But a report issued last week calls into question the success of those missions…

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Barnes & Noble unveils color Nook eReader

Barnes & Noble Inc. is introducing a new Nook eReader with a color touch screen for $249 as competition in the fast-growing industry heats up ahead of the holidays, reports the Associated Press. As the first full-color touch electronic reader, the Nookcolor stands apart from black-and-white competitors like Amazon’s Kindle. The device can be used to read books, magazines, newspapers and an expanded array of children’s titles. It also takes hints from Apple Inc.’s iPad with more games, Web browsing, music streaming and its own application store. Like earlier versions, it runs on Google Inc.’s Android operating system. Barnes & Noble, which announced the product Tuesday, said it will begin taking orders for the device online and in stores on Wednesday and begins shipping in mid-November…

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eMail spam falls after Russian crackdown

You may not have noticed, but since late last month, the world supply of Viagra ads and other e-mail spam has dropped by an estimated one-fifth, reports the New York Times. With 200 billion spam messages in circulation each day, there is still plenty to go around. But police officials in Russia, a major spam exporter, say they are trying to do their part to stem the flow. On Tuesday, police officials here announced a criminal investigation of a suspected spam kingpin, Igor A. Gusev. They said he had probably fled the country. Moscow police authorities said Mr. Gusev, 31, was a central figure in the operations of SpamIt.com, which paid spammers to promote online pharmacies, sometimes quite lewdly. SpamIt.com suddenly stopped operating on Sept. 27. With less financial incentive to send their junk mail, spammers curtailed their activity by an estimated 50 billion messages a day. Why the site closed was unclear until Tuesday, when Moscow police officials met with reporters to discuss the Gusev case. The officials’ actions were a departure from Russia’s usual laissez faire approach to online crime…

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Higher ed still prefers Gmail over competitors

Sixty percent of colleges and universities outsource campus eMail services.

Sixty percent of campus technology officials use eMail hosting services for their college or university.

Although Microsoft Outlook is the preferred eMail option for many community colleges, campus technology officials are still signing up for Google Gmail accounts for their students and staff services more than any other eMail hosting services, according to a national survey released earlier this month.

The Campus Computing Project’s 2010 survey, unveiled at the EDUCAUSE educational technology conference in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 13, shows that campus technology officials at private and public four-year universities and public four-year colleges use eMail hosting services from Google for their campus eMail accounts doled out to students, faculty, and staff every year.

Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents from public universities who use eMail hosting services said their campus uses Gmail accounts, with 35 percent using Microsoft Outlook and 5 percent using Zimbra.

The disparity is even greater at private universities, where more than seven in 10 respondents said their school uses Gmail accounts, according to the research. Twenty-five percent said they use Microsoft.

Public four-year colleges show the most parity with their eMail hosting services. About half of public four-year campuses use Gmail for student accounts, and 45 percent use Microsoft, with 5 percent choosing Zimbra.

Gmail has not seen similar gains at community colleges, according to the survey. Fifty-five percent of community college IT decision makers said their two-year schools use Microsoft, and about four in 10 use Gmail accounts.

Overall, six in 10 survey respondents said their colleges or universities use eMail hosting services for students, and 15 percent for faculty members.

Kenneth C. Green, founder and director of the Campus Computing Project, said outsourcing eMail for students is easier than doing so for faculty for two reasons: Many students already have Gmail accounts, and “faculty resistance” to using a web-based service controlled by a company rather than the university still exists.

Outsourced eMail also has gained acceptance among students, he said, because today’s students enter college with as many as three personal eMail accounts that they regularly check. Adding another account provided and run by the college or university could be perceived by students as burdensome.

“eMail is no longer considered a rite of passage” for college students, Green said. “It’s much like having a cell phone and a phone number when you go to college. You don’t want to change [phones and numbers] when you get there.”

The Campus Computing Survey—which will be released in full Dec. 10—shows overall trust in Google’s eMail application despite negative headlines from periodic outages as recently as the spring.

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Firefox add-on can hijack Facebook, Twitter logins

Secured logins have been one of the most crucial issues pertaining to web security today. Eric Butler, a freelance web application developer showed how vulnerable current day websites are, reports Techtree. At the ToorCon security conference, Butler showed a Firefox add-on dubbed Firesheep that lets anyone scan a Wi-Fi network and steal login details of Facebook, Twitter and several other services. This is one heck of a dangerous extension that points out the security loophole in any website. Butler created Firesheep extension for Firefox with an altruistic aim to point out the negligence of popular web services that follow weaker security measures…

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Amazon Kindle will let you lend your eBooks. Once. Maybe.

Amazon’s Kindle Team announced on Friday that it plans to make lending for Kindle available “soon,” reports ReadWriteWeb. The feature will allow you to loan your Kindle books to other Kindle devices or Kindle app users for a two-week period. This announcement brings to the Kindle one of the key features touted by the Barnes & Noble Nook: the ability to loan out your eBooks. But there are restrictions, of course. Some echo the restrictions of a printed, physical object: While the book is on loan and not on your bookshelf, so to speak, you don’t have access to it. You can’t read it until you get the eBook back. Why the laws of physics must hold for digital texts, I surely do not know. But some of the restrictions are particular to the eBooks and are likely to frustrate book-lovers and would-be-eBook-sharers…

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Google ‘mortified’ over Wi-Fi data gathering

Google on Friday confirmed that its Street View cars had inadvertently captured e-mail messages and passwords during their image gathering missions, the result of WiFi sniffing software that was included in Street View cars without authorization, reports InformationWeek. The acknowledgment comes after data protection authorities in Canada and Spain said as much following the conclusion of investigations into Google’s WiFi data gathering in those countries. Google VP of engineering and research Alan Eustace, who first disclosed the company’s WiFi data gathering in May, apologized again and promised changes to prevent similar incidents in the future…

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Feds grant $20 million to expand college access

More than 1,700 applicants vied for ED's i3 grants.

More than 1,700 applicants vied for ED's Investing in Innovation grants.

Students in Pennsylvania and Kentucky will get an extra dose of academic advising and career counseling—aided by educational technology—after the U.S. Department of Education (ED) gave $20 million to an organization aiming to boost college access among first-generation, minority, and low-income students.

The $20 million grant to the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, will be matched with a $4 million grant from the GE Foundation that will target greater college access for low-income students in Louisville, Ky., and Erie, Pa.

The federal grant was made through the Investing in Innovation program, which doled out more than $600 million in September to colleges, universities, nonprofits, and school districts nationwide. Investing in Innovation was created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

More than 1,700 organizations applied for Investing in Innovation funds this year, according to the program’s web site.

The grant will support an initiative known as “Using Data to Inform College Access Programming in the 21st-Century High School,” or Using DICAP, according to an announcement released Oct. 21 by COE.

Students at three high schools in Erie and three in Louisville will get help from local colleges and businesses in an effort to raise college access among students least likely to seek a degree after high school.

COE President Arnold Mitchem said the federal grant and the GE Foundation’s $4 million contribution would let the nonprofit establish a “systemic approach to deeply penetrate the lives of low-income, first-generation, and minority students.”

These federal and private-sector grants are the latest round of financial support for low-income students, who attend and graduate from college at a much lower rate than their middle-class counterparts.

The Next Gen Learning Challenges program, launched in late June by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and headed by nonprofit educational technology supporter Educause, will aim to raise America’s high school graduation rate—which hovers around 50 percent among Hispanic, African American, and low-income students—and ensure that college freshmen are ready for higher education without having to take non-credit-bearing remedial classes.

Only half of Americans who enroll in a postsecondary school will earn a degree, according to national statistics, with as few as 25 percent of low-income students completing a degree program.

The program’s first set of goals includes combining online courses with traditional classroom curriculum, devising ways to measure students’ learning progress using algorithms in real time, and expanding access to free online educational tools, according to the Next Gen web site.

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Florida college looks to become eBook pioneer

iPads will be among to eReader choices for Daytona State College students.

iPads will be among to eReader choices for Daytona State College students.

An all-eTextbook campus won’t just make Florida’s Daytona State College the envy of the education-technology world. The program will also save academic careers cut short when students can’t afford their books, pushing Daytona officials to find an electronic alternative and perhaps serve as a model for higher education.

Daytona State, a 35,000-student institution and a former community college, has been moving toward a “100 percent” eBook campus since 2009, using electronic texts in English, computer science, and economics courses, said Rand Spiwak, Daytona’s chief financial officer and executive vice president.

Daytona’s eBook initiative would allow students to buy electronic texts for about $20 apiece, Spiwak said, and the books would be accessible on any web-enabled eReader. The college would make affordable eReaders available to students or students could read their books on one of the thousands of on-campus computers.

And if students or faculty members still want the traditional hardback textbook, they can print out the eBook’s pages and put them in a three-ring binder.

Daytona State’s goal should be welcome news for cash-strapped students: Officials want to reduce annual textbook costs – now at around $1,100 – by 50 to 80 percent, even after the purchase of an eReader like the Apple iPad.

“When you look at why students withdraw from schools, so many of the responses are textbook related,” Spiwak said, citing a Daytona survey that showed students were taking classes without buying the pricey textbook, or using an older version of the book handed down to them from a friend or family member.

“Those people just got behind and failed,” he said.

As the college’s CFO, Spiwak said, it’s his job to find ways to keep students enrolled. Cutting book costs that can be equal to tuition costs became a “win-win” strategy.

Spiwak said the college has contacted publishers and manufacturers who might provide eReaders for students, and if all goes according to plan, the campus-wide eBook rollout should begin next summer, so campus technologists can work out any “bugs” before students return for the fall 2011 semester.

“We’ve been slow and deliberate because we didn’t have a model to emulate,” he said, adding that Daytona administrators looked for an eBook program model institution for about three months before giving up. “And we know that once this catches on, students are going to demand it.”

Daytona’s eBook program is gaining national attention just six months after a national survey showed digital textbooks may be a ways off from replacing traditional books, especially since online textbook rental services have made hardcover books more affordable in recent years.

Seventy-four percent of students surveyed by the National Association of College Stores (NACS), a nonprofit trade organization representing 3,000 campus retailers, preferred printed textbooks for their college classes.

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Blurring the line between apps and books

Stephen Elliott, a 38-year-old from San Francisco, just introduced his first piece of software for sale: an app for the iPad and iPhone called “The Adderall Diaries,” reports the New York Times. He’s not exactly a programmer–better to call him a writer. And the app that he conceived looks a lot like an electronic book. That is, most people who buy the app will do so to read the text of “The Adderall Diaries,” his “memoir of moods, masochism and murder” based on his childhood in Chicago group homes, which was published in hardcover last year by Graywolf Press. But Mr. Elliott says he has good reasons for producing his own iPad app, separate and apart from the e-book version of “Adderall Diaries” that is for sale, say, for the Kindle or the iPad reader from Apple. Rather than exploit the multimedia potential of an app book, Mr. Elliott said he wanted to include tools that cater to a special group: Stephen Elliott readers…

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