Why buy the cow? Open Wi-Fi networks slow broadband adoption

A report by analyst firm Mintel released this week claims that “Wi-Fi pirating” could be a main reason for the slow growth of broadband adoption over recent years, reports ReadWriteWeb. According to Mintel, “home internet services saw revenues increase by only 3% over the past five years”, but surely internet use itself has been on the rise. The firm found that 72% say that they have internet access at home, but only 56% report subscribing to a service at home. Where does the discrepancy come from?

“Home internet penetration barely moved from 2006 to 2009. The slow growth in the era of Facebook, Pandora and YouTube shows that people are accessing the internet from home through different methods, even if they haven’t paid for access themselves,” said Billy Hulkower, a senior analyst at Mintel. “Younger consumers appear especially likely to use a neighbor’s Wi-Fi signal instead of subscribing at home as they are more likely to know how to find and connect to their neighbors’ service.”

Beyond these “young consumer”, guess who else appear most likely to steal Wi-Fi – those households bringing in more than $75,000 a year…

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Open textbooks gain momentum

Textbook prices increased at four times the rate of inflation from 1999 to 2009.

Officials from open-license textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge say more than 1,300 instructors at 800 colleges and universities are using their books this fall semester— doubling the 400 institutions that used Flat World texts a year ago.

New York-based Flat World Knowledge also announced a partnership with Virginia State University that could prove to be a model for how institutions can provide affordable textbooks for students who often decide not to buy expensive books that can add as much as $1,000 to an annual college bill, according to national estimates.

The proliferation of Flat World’s low-cost online books owes in large part to word of mouth in the halls of academia, said Eric Frank, the company’s founder and president.

One business professor at the University of New Hampshire used a Flat World open text last year, and after he chatted with fellow instructors, Flat World books will be used in five of the school’s courses this fall, Frank said.

“We’re seeing this buildup of momentum where one professor using our [books] turns into three or four or five professors using our books,” he said, adding that three in 10 customers were referred to Flat World products by their peers. “And that’s a very important part” of the open textbook movement, he added.

The open-license book company has seen its number of student users more than triple since last year—from 40,000 students at the end of 2009 to more than 150,000 students nationwide today, according to an Aug. 23 announcement. Flat World started with 1,000 students on 30 college campuses.

Educators have come out in support of open textbooks as Flat World has grown. Officials at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., said retention rates in courses that used open textbooks last year jumped by up to 15 percent.


How to use higher education’s ‘new toy’: Social media

EDUCAUSE panelists encouraged attendees to search for social media staff on campus.

EDUCAUSE panelists encouraged attendees to search for social media staff on their own campus.

Campus technology officials in charge of social media efforts have come to a consensus: There are no social media experts, so keep experimenting with your school’s tweeting, linking, and posting until you’ve struck the right balance.

Using social media to communicate with students in the online arenas they most prefer—Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter—was a focal point at the annual EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim, Calif., where 6,700 campus technology staff came together this week to discuss the latest in educational technology.

Robin Bradford Smail, known as a disruptive technologist at Penn State University, said during an Oct. 12 EDUCAUSE session that campus technology officials have to find and maintain a balance between being passive on Facebook and bombarding students with constant posts.

A campus is considered passive, Bradford Smail said, when the staff in charge of social media initiatives are monitoring their profiles 80 percent of the time and measuring their results—clicks and “likes”—during the remaining time.

Colleges are considered responsive when they limit Facebook monitoring to 60 percent, spending 20 percent of their time responding to student requests and comments and 20 percent measuring results.

The goal for institutions, she said, should be to monitor the school’s Facebook page half the time while incorporating a new element: initiating Facebook conversations and distributing original content that could make the college’s page a regular stop for students.

“You have to let them know that you’re interested in what they have to say,” Bradford Smail said. “Social media, at this point, is still the new toy [in higher education]. … It sort of sputters out if you don’t give it enough information and dedicate enough time to it.”

Engaging students with Facebook posts that could start a chain of comments is key for burgeoning college Facebook pages, but posting too often to the platform could drive students away, she said.

Any more than 15 Facebook posts a week, she said, “and you’re just talking to yourself.”

Three educational technology officials who have headed social media projects spoke to a packed session Oct. 13 at EDUCAUSE focused on the 10 best ways to use Twitter and Facebook in college.

Shannon Ritter, admissions coordinator at Penn State, told the crowd of more than 100 that universities waste time and money when they recruit social media “gurus” to help establish a Twitter and Facebook presence designed to lure students.

“There are very likely people in your departments [who are] already passionate about what they do with social media,” she said. “Look for the people already using it, and trust that they know what they’re doing.”

Ritter added: “There are no social media experts. Anyone who tells you that—they are lying to you.”


Over 10 million students now use Google apps for education

Just about four years ago, Google launched Apps for Education – a version of Google’s online productivity tools (including Gmail and Google Docs) that is geared towards K12 schools and colleges. Now, Google just announced, there are over 10 million students, staff, faculty and alumni that are actively using Apps for Education, reports ReadWriteWeb. With the beginning of the new school year, Google must have added about 2 million new users, as the company cited 8 million users until just a few weeks ago. Just a few weeks ago, our own Audrey Watters pointed out that the number of states and school districts that are thinking about moving to cloud-based offerings like Google Apps for Education continues to increase. Moving to the cloud can provide these colleges and school districts with significant savings…

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iPad coming to Verizon Wireless and AT&T stores

Apple said Thursday that Verizon Wireless would begin selling the iPad at its stores on Oct. 28, reports the New York Times. The announcement is the latest sign that the relationship between Apple and Verizon is warming up. Verizon is expected to begin selling Apple’s iPhone early next year. Verizon will not be selling 3G versions of the iPad, which work over a cellular data network. Instead it will sell bundles that include the iPad’s Wi-Fi models and its own MiFi mobile hot spot device, which essentially allows users to connect to the Internet in any place that has 3G service. The bundles will cost $630 for a 16-gigabyte model, $730 for a 32-gigabyte model and $830 for 64 gigabytes. Verizon will offer a monthly $20 access plan to iPad customers for up to 1 gigabyte of data. In addition, Verizon will offer all three iPad models on a standalone basis…

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Tea Party frontrunner: Abolish public schools

It’s fairly common for conservative political candidates to support eliminating the federal Department of Education. But in California, tea party darling and congressional candidate David Harmer has gone further, reports Mother Jones. He’s advocated eliminating public schools entirely and returning education to “the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood,” when educational opportunities for poor people, African-Americans, women, the disabled, and others were, to say the least, extremely limited. Harmer, the son of former California Lt. Gov. John Harmer, could soon be taking his anti-public school views to Washington. Nate Silver, the New York Times’ polling guru, gives Harmer a 54.7 percent chance of ousting two-term Democrat Jerry McNerney in California’s 11th Congressional District. So far, Harmer’s views on education haven’t become a major issue in the race. (Dem attacks have focused on his work for a credit card company accused of predatory lending, as well as his later work for JPMorgan Chase.) But Harmer’s views on education—he’s referred to public schools as “socialism in education”—are far from mainstream. They don’t align with those of his own party’s gubernatorial candidate: In her final debate against former Gov. Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman advocated strengthening California’s public schools…

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Microsoft’s Bing gets a social lift from Facebook

Facebook and Microsoft announced a partnership on Wednesday that will give the results on Microsoft’s Bing search engine a social twist–and could help both companies compete against a common adversary, Google, reports the New York Times. The new feature allows people who use Facebook to see Bing search results that incorporate information from their friends, like restaurant recommendations. When a user searches for something like a movie, place or product on Bing, information about how many of their friends “liked” that item on Facebook and related links they have shared will appear alongside the results. The Facebook data will help determine how prominently these will appear, said Yusuf Mehdi, a senior vice president for online business at Microsoft…

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Report: Campus technology budgets on the mend

Community colleges are lagging behind other institutions in higher education's economic recovery.

Community colleges are lagging behind other institutions in higher education's economic recovery.

Campus technology chiefs are still seeing their department’s budget trimmed, but in far smaller numbers than in 2009, as a nationwide survey suggests that higher education is slowly beginning to recover from the national economic downturn that has downsized IT staff and shelved programs in recent years.

About four in 10 campus technology officials reported budget cuts this fall, down from 50 percent in 2009, according to the 2010 Campus Computing Survey, published by the Campus Computing Project, an organization that examines technology’s role in colleges and universities.

The news is even better for private, nonprofit colleges and universities, where only 24 percent of campus technology officials saw their budgets slashed this year, compared with 56 percent in 2009.

Private four-year schools that reported IT budget decreases dropped from 41 percent in 2009 to 31 percent this year, according to the web-based survey, which included 523 respondents.

The positive trend didn’t extend to community colleges, however. Almost half of respondents from two-year schools said their campus technology budgets had been reduced—a marked increase from 2009, when 38 percent reported IT budget cuts.

Growing enrollment numbers complicate the persistent fiscal problems of community colleges. A survey released last spring by the League for Innovation in the Community College and the Campus Computing Project revealed that about two-thirds of respondents from community colleges saw enrollment increases of at least 10 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, said the latest report provided a “modicum of good news about money [in higher education],” while showing that IT decision makers on most campuses likely would continue to face tough times.

“The ongoing financial pressures confronting campus [technology] budgets continue to play havoc with the efforts of campus IT leaders to respond to the rising demand for IT resources and services, and the concurrent need to invest in the campus IT infrastructure,” Green said in a statement.

The 2010 Campus Computing Survey also tracked the slow but steady migration away from learning management system giant Blackboard, which remains the industry leader by a wide margin. Seven in 10 colleges said they used the Blackboard platform in 2006. That number dropped to 57 percent this year, and the survey shows Blackboard’s competitors are gaining a foothold among IT decision makers.

The number of campuses that use the Desire2Learn learning management system has jumped from 2 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2010. The open-source learning management system Sakai also has seen gains—although minor—over the past four years, according to the survey.


Panel: Troubles abound in online learning regulation

Panelists say they encounter difficulties in online learning regulations from state to state.

Panelists say they encounter difficulties in regulations for online education programs from state to state.

Difficulties in adopting national standards to regulate online education programs sparked a lively debate during a panel discussion at the Oct. 12 Presidents’ Forum on Online Learning in the 21st Century, hosted by Excelsior College.

The panel, moderated by Sally Johnstone of Winona State University, addressed the complexity of managing standards for online education programs across state lines. Panelists addressed struggles specific to their own states, as well as national issues to consider as the standards debate continues.

“I would characterize New York’s interest as being one of concern about the quality of education that New York residents receive, whether that education takes place in a traditional classroom setting or online,” said Byron Connell, associate commissioner in higher education for the New York State Education Department. “Therefore, our concern is that there be strong assurances of quality for online [education] programs across the country so we don’t sit there and fret over the quality of the education that our residents are engaging.”

David Dies, executive secretary for the Wisconsin Educational Approval Board, echoed similar sentiments regarding standards for online education programs.

“It really boils down to a level of trust,” Dies said. “Do we have faith in the other states’ abilities, the functions that they’re performing, and can we in some way accept the work that they’ve done to satisfy our requirements?”

But regulating the industry has proven far more complex than some supporters originally thought.

“There are hundreds of online institutions. We don’t have the ability to perform as our statutes say we’re supposed to do, so we’ve had to find some creative ways to continue to perform our consumer protection responsibilities that are core to our operations,” said Dies.

In addition to the massive number of institutions offering online education programs, each state has different regulatory policies, making a blanket rule of law nearly impossible.

David Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, is attempting to sort through the different attitudes toward online learning regulation.

“I’ve got two states that are what you might call accreditation junkies. They believe in pretty strong regulation of the for-profit sector,” he said. “I’ve got a bunch of states that sort of do the job because they have to, and then I have three that are laissez-faire states. They don’t give a damn whether these institutions do much or not.”

And the lack of communication between the different states’ regulatory boards hampers the process, panelists said.


Obama to highlight benefits of college tax credit

President Barack Obama wants Congress to make permanent a $2,500 college tuition tax credit that’s set to expire at the end of the year, reports the Associated Press. The American Opportunity Tax Credit was part of the $814 billion economic stimulus bill Obama signed early in 2009. He had proposed making the tax credit permanent in his 2011 budget proposal, but Congress has not acted on his request. Obama planned an event Wednesday at the White House with area college students to discuss how they benefited from the tax credit, and why it should be made permanent…

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