Sony unveils TVs with Google’s web-surfing system

Sony’s lineup of sleek televisions boasting Google’s Web-surfing system will go on sale Saturday, testing how much consumers are willing to pay to combine access to the entire Internet with their regular TV programming, reports the Associated Press. The high-definition sets unveiled Tuesday evening in New York will have LCD screens ranging from 24 inches to 46 inches, with recommended retail prices from $600 to $1,400. Sony will begin selling the new sets in its online store Saturday, and they should be available in Best Buy Co.’s U.S. stores by early next week. Pre-orders are currently being taken at both Sony’s and Best Buy’s websites. Sony’s price for its Google TV sets is $200 to $400 higher than comparable TVs without the highly touted software, a differential that threatens to dampen sales at a time the still-shaky economy is causing more households to pinch their pennies…

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Purdue’s student achievement technology goes national

A tech tool can helps students stay on track for success.

Course Signals is an educational technology tool that can help improve student achievement and lead to better student retention.

A Purdue University-piloted tool that uses educational technology—and online “signals”—to warn some students that their grades are dropping, offer study-habit suggestions, and provide positive reinforcement to students who are acing quizzes and exams is being released nationally.

Course Signals” is being made available to higher-education institutions through a joint effort by SunGard Higher Education and Purdue University to help increase student achievement. Course Signals was developed at the university and piloted for three semesters before its 2009 launch. (See “Tech helps students adopt good study habits.”)

“We found in our research that this can improve student [achievement] an average of one letter grade for many students,” said Gerry McCartney, Purdue’s chief information officer, vice president for information technology, and Olga Oesterle England Professor of Information Technology. “Course Signals is an important step forward for higher education that can be implemented successfully at many universities and community colleges across the nation to improve student retention and success.”

Course Signals is an educational technology solution that is built upon a predictive model developed by John Campbell, associate vice president for academic technologies at Purdue. The solution allows an institution to combine information already available within campus systems (including student information systems, learning management systems, and gradebooks) to determine whether a student is at risk of failing or withdrawing from a course as early as the second week of the semester or quarter.

Based on the data, the solution displays a red, yellow, or green signal to students and faculty, indicating a student’s achievement status in a course in real time. A red light indicates a high likelihood of failing; yellow indicates a potential problem of succeeding; and green signals a high likelihood of student achievement. Students view the signal within the institution’s learning management system and also receive it via eMail. Along with the signal, students receive suggested resources and recommended courses of action from faculty as needed.

In its initial release, Course Signals will work with SunGard Higher Education’s Banner Digital Campus and Oracle’s PeopleSoft student information systems.  It also supports various releases of learning management systems from Blackboard Inc. Integration with other student information systems and learning management systems is planned.

At Purdue, students logging into their Blackboard learning management system accounts receive frequently updated feedback indicators similar to traffic lights indicating their standing in each class. Each Purdue faculty member using the online system assigns a signal to their students.

“The predictive model in Course Signals gives students a good indication very early in the course of how they are performing and whether they are starting to lag behind others in the class.  This very early alert to the student is extremely valuable, even in populations where you might not think it is necessary,” Campbell said.  “Signals is helping Purdue improve [student] retention rates by identifying underperforming students early on and providing them with course-specific advice on how to change their trajectory.”

Purdue officials said faculty members who have used Signals often receive thank-you eMails from students grateful for an early heads-up after an early stretch of mediocre or failing grades.

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Gates Foundation launches $20 million program to expand technology use

The initiative will fund practices that help prepare students for college completion.

The initiative will fund practices that help prepare students for college completion.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Oct. 11 announced the Next Generation Learning Challenges, a collaborative, multi-year initiative that aims to help dramatically improve college readiness and college completion in the United States through the use of technology tools and educational technology. The program will award grants to organizations and innovators to expand promising technology tools to more students, teachers, and schools. It is led by the nonprofit EDUCAUSE, which works to advance higher education through the use of information technology.

Next Generation Learning Challenges released the first of a series of requests for proposals (RFPs) on Oct. 11 to solicit funding proposals for technology applications that can improve postsecondary education. This round of funding will total up to $20 million, including grants that range from $250,000 to $750,000. Applicants with top-rated proposals will receive funds to expand their programs and demonstrate effectiveness in serving larger numbers of students. Proposals are due Nov. 19, 2010; winners are expected to be announced by March 31, 2011.

“American education has been the best in the world, but we’re falling below our own high standards of excellence for high school and college attainment,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re living in a tremendous age of innovation. We should harness new technologies and innovation to help all students get the education they need to succeed.”

Next Generation Learning Challenges invites proposals from technologists and institutions within the education community, but also innovators and entrepreneurs outside the traditional education arena that can show promising results. The initiative will fund RFPs approximately every six to 12 months. The RFP released on Oct. 11 seeks proposals that address four specific challenges:
• Increasing the use of blended learning models, which combine face-to-face instruction with online learning activities;
• Deepening students’ learning and engagement through the use of interactive applications, such as digital games, interactive video, immersive simulations, and social media;
• Supporting the availability of high-quality open courseware, particularly for high-enrollment introductory classes like math, science, and English, which often have low rates of student success; and
• Helping institutions, instructors, and students benefit from learning analytics, which can monitor student progress in real-time and customize proven supports and interventions.

Organizations collaborating on the effort include the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Each offers deep, practical expertise in educational instruction, leadership, and management.

A postsecondary degree or credential is crucial for both a strong economy and the financial security of American families. Careers requiring postsecondary education or training will make up 63 percent of all job openings by 2018. However, while access to higher education has improved, the rate of college completion has not. By age 30, fewer than half of all Americans have earned a college degree. For low-income and minority students, the situation is even bleaker.

The Gates Foundation also released a white paper outlining how educational technology can help students and educators dramatically improve student outcomes, both in high schools and in postsecondary education.

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The story behind ‘Free Public WiFi’-It’s not

You’ve probably seen it a thousand times and even thought “Hey, why not?” but it never seems to work, says ReadWriteWeb. Don’t worry – you’re not alone – and this weekend NPR ferreted out the story behind the ever present and never functional “Free Public WiFi”. Everywhere you go, there it is…but it isn’t because the government finally started offering ubiquitous WiFi for public use without you knowing. Instead, it’s a bug in Windows XP that started years ago and has spread computer to computer, like a virus. According to wireless security expert Joshua Wright, the bug has been around for about four years now and, although mostly harmless, could provide an entry point for mal-intentioned visitors…

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Windows phone 7 revealed: What you need to know

Microsoft officially unveiled its new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7, at a press event in New York City, reports ReadWriteWeb. CEO Steve Ballmer described the new line of Windows Phones as “different” and more modern, in both design and principles. With Windows Phone 7, the focus is on how “real people want to use their phones,” he said.  Besides being different, a key point Microsoft needs to drive home if wanting to compete in a crowded mobile landscape, there was also a big focus on personalization. “We also wanted these to be wonderfully mine, or yours, or yours, or the next person. Here’s my phone, the way I’ve made it wonderfully mine,” explained Ballmer. “My photos, my email, my start screen, my activities, my world… and of course, my avatar.”

The Software : Microsoft Corporate VP Joe Belifore described the phone’s final software as an operating system that helps you get things done. “We wanted to figure out how to build a phone that simplifies the basics,” he said…

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The best way to avoid data loss on campus

A misplace USB can be a nightmare of college IT officials.

Misplaced portable storage devices can be a nightmare for campus technology officials.

Misplaced USB drives or other portable storage devices account for several of the most recent security-breach instances in higher education. And campus technology chiefs have a simple solution for preventing such data loss from occurring, security experts say: Transport files on the web, where campus technology officials can track them.

Colleges and universities, like corporations and government agencies, see Social Security numbers, birth dates, account numbers, and other sensitive information stolen every year after an employee reports a portable storage device missing.

New York University’s Langone Medical Center reported in August that patient records, home addresses, and other information had been lost on a missing USB drive that contained diagnostic test results for about 250 patients. And at Rice University last month, more than 4,000 students and staff members had their Social Security numbers compromised when a portable storage device was reported stolen.

Like Rice did, universities typically provide free credit-monitoring services to ensure that any fraudulent purchases are detected and corrected in the event of data loss.

The potential for portable storage devices to be left on a desk or dropped from a pocket or briefcase makes web programs designed to send large files a logical alternative for campus technology officials who have been burned by an embarrassing security breach.

“Some people take great care of their USB drives, and some don’t,” said Hugh Garber, an official for Ipswitch, a Massachusetts-based company specializing in secure and managed file transfer. “And very often, it’s … your hardest-working employee who’s trying hard and not trying to be malicious. They’re trying to move information and do something better than it’s ever been done.”

An Ipswitch survey conducted at an international security conference in May showed that four in 10 respondents had used “personally owned [portable] storage devices” to back up work files every month. Eighty-eight percent said they used USB or thumb drives to move company information, according to the survey.

Portable storage devices can be made more secure through encryption or requiring a fingerprint to open certain files on the device, Garber said, but sending data-intensive files via the web creates a record of the transfer that campus technology staff can refer back to.

“It’s really no more technical than sending an eMail,” Garber said about using web programs for sending large files that might have too many gigabytes for a standard eMail system to handle. “Nothing is Fort Knox, of course, but creating a log of what’s being sent out is really what’s important.”

While Ipswitch offers its own web-based program for sending large files of up to two gigabytes, there are many other online services that let users attach and send massive files securely. TransferBigFiles.com, for example, allows users to attach up to 25 files of 100 megabytes, or two gigabytes for account holders.

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New web code draws concern over risks to privacy

In the next few years, a powerful new suite of capabilities will become available to web developers that could give marketers and advertisers access to many more details about computer users’ online activities, reports the New York Times. Nearly everyone who uses the internet will face the privacy risks that come with those capabilities, which are an integral part of the web language that will soon power the Internet: HTML 5. The new web code, the fifth version of Hypertext Markup Language used to create web pages, is already in limited use, and it promises to usher in a new era of Internet browsing within the next few years. It will make it easier for users to view multimedia content without downloading extra software; check e-mail offline; or find a favorite restaurant or shop on a smartphone…

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Five questions–and answers–about Facebook Groups

Another week, another Facebook controversy — this time, over the site’s just-relaunched “Groups” feature, which lets you create instant private or public spaces for your friends, co-workers, fellow hobbyists, you name it, says Ben Patterson, technology writer for Yahoo! News. (Also read “Facebook ‘Groups’ could boost privacy, collaboration.”) By designating smaller circles of friends within your overall list of Facebook pals (which, for some online social butterflies, can easily run into the thousands), you can post updates, photos, videos, and URLs to your individual subsets without bothering everyone on Facebook with the minutiae of, say, your breakfast menu, or how quickly you crossed the finish line in your latest half-marathon.  But it didn’t take long for a controversy to flare up: namely, the fact that your Facebook friends can add you to any group they so choose–as long as they’re already members of said group–without your permission.
So, here are five questions–and answers–for how to weather the current Facebook Groups storm…

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NJ senator calls for anti-bully law after suicide

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said Wednesday he’ll introduce legislation requiring colleges to adopt a code of conduct that prohibits bullying and harassment following the suicide of a student whose gay sexual encounter in his dorm room was broadcast online, reports the Associated Press. Lautenberg, D–N.J., made the announcement at a town meeting on the Rutgers University campus in memory of 18–year–old freshman Tyler Clementi. Lautenberg said his bill would require colleges and universities that receive federal student aid to create policies prohibiting harassment of any student. Such policies are not currently required by federal law, he said. The bill also would provide funding for schools to establish programs to deter harassment of students…

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Microsoft readies new phone launch with AT&T

Microsoft Corp is set to unveil a new line of phones running its Windows software today, as it attempts to pull back market share from Apple Inc’s iPhone and Google Inc’s Android system in the fast-growing market for multi-featured ‘smartphones’ Reuters reports. The world’s largest software company is hoping that the new phones, from handset makers such as Samsung, LG and HTC, will propel it back into the mobile market, which many see as the key to the future of computing. The new phones, initially available on AT&T Inc’s network, have already been shown off in prototype form, and are much closer in look and feel to Apple’s iPhone, with colorful touch-screens and ’tiles’ for easy access to e-mail, the web, music and other applications. Some analysts say they represent Microsoft’s last chance to catch up with rivals, which overtook them in the past few years. Handsets are not expected to appear in stores for a month, so their success may not be judged until the new year…

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