$2 billion that could change online education

The federal government could expand the open education model made popular by MIT.

It wasn’t the $12 billion in community college funding that officials hoped for in 2010, but a $2 billion federal grant program unveiled in January could encourage two-year schools to develop open education material that would be freely available online.

Officials from the federal departments of Education (ED) and Labor introduced the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grants Program on Jan. 20, inviting community colleges—and other two-year degree-granting institutions—to apply for up to $5 million per institution, or up to $20 million to applicants who apply for funds in a consortium of schools.

ED will dole out about $500 million in 2011, and $2 billion will be distributed in the next four years overall, according to the announcement.

The federal program is about one-sixth of what community colleges were hoping for under the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), a $12 billion program introduced by President Obama that would have constituted the largest-ever investment in two-year college funding.

Getting the AGI through Congress proved untenable, so the $2 billion jobs-training package was included in the federal health care bill. Advocates of open education resources said the reduced amount could be a critical step toward mainstreaming openly available college courses on the web.

Beth Noveck, a professor at New York Law School and former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer and Director of the White House Open Government Initiative, said in a statement that the grant initiative is a “historic step forward for open education.”

In a Jan. 20 blog post, Noveck said that under the terms of the grant program, if a community college uses federal funds to make an educational video game, “everyone will have the benefit of that knowledge,” and “anyone can translate it into Spanish or Russian or use it as the basis to create a new game.”

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Stimulus funding brings broadband to rural homes, schools

President Obama emphasized the importance of high-speed internet access in his State of the Union address.

Up in rural northern Vermont, it took until the 1960s to run power lines to some towns—decades after the rest of America got turned on. These days, it’s the digital revolution that remains but a rumor in much of rural America.

Dial-up user Val Houde knows this as well as anybody. After moving to East Burke, Vt., four years ago, the 51-year-old mother of four took a correspondence course for medical transcription, hoping to work from home.

She plunked down $800, took the course, then found out the software wasn’t compatible with dial-up internet, the only kind available to her.

Selling items on eBay, watching videos, playing games online? Forget it.

The connection from her home computer is so slow, her online life is one of delays, degraded quality, and “buffering” warning messages. So she waits until the day a provider extends broadband to her house.

“I feel like these companies, they don’t care about these little pockets of places,” she said one night recently, showing a visitor her computer’s slow internet service. “And I know we’re not the only ones.”

For Houde and millions of other Americans laboring under slow or no internet service, help is on the way.

Bolstered by billions in federal stimulus money, an effort to expand broadband internet access to rural areas is under way, an ambitious 21st-century infrastructure project with parallels to the New Deal electrification of the nation’s hinterlands in the 1930s and 1940s—and one with important implications for rural education.

President Barack Obama emphasized the importance of high-speed internet access in his State of the Union address last week.

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Ivy League case tests Rockefeller drug law change

According to the Associated Press, they were students who juggled an elite education with criminal extracurriculars, dealing an array of drugs from Ivy League dorm rooms and frat houses, prosecutors say. But beneath the surface of academic success, some of the Columbia University students charged in a campus drug takedown struggled with substance abuse, their lawyers say. Attorneys for two of the five students plan to ask a court to prescribe treatment instead of prison–one of the most high-profile tests so far of a recent overhaul of New York’s once-notoriously stringent drug laws. The outcome will be watched closely by opponents and proponents of 2009 changes to mitigate what were known as the Rockefeller drug laws. Backers called the lesser punishments a more effective and humane approach to drug crime; critics said they gave drug peddlers a pass…

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Define gender gap? Look up Wikipedia’s contributor list

In 10 short years, Wikipedia has accomplished some remarkable goals. More than 3.5 million articles in English? Done. More than 250 languages? Sure. But another number has proved to be an intractable obstacle for the online encyclopedia: surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women, reports the New York Times. About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University. Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but she is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women…

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Old technology finds role in Egyptian protests

On 27 January, Egypt fell off the internet as virtually all international connections were cut following an order from the government. But older technologies proved their worth as net activists and protesters used them to get round the block, reports BBC News. Protesters are also circulating information about how to avoid communication controls inside Egypt. Dial-up modems are one of the most popular routes for Egyptians to get back online. Long lists of international numbers that connect to dial-up modems are circulating in Egypt thanks to net activists We Re-Build, Telecomix and others…

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Verizon to acquire Terremark

Verizon Communications said that it was buying Terremark Worldwide, a provider of information technology services, for $1.4 billion, the Associated Press reports. Verizon plans to pay $19 a share for Terremark. That represents a 35 percent premium to Terremark’s closing stock price on Thursday. Terremark provides cloud computing services, which let companies store data and run software on remote servers instead of their own computers. It also provides technology infrastructure services…

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US students stressed out: study

First-year students on US campuses are experiencing record levels of stress, according to a study showing increasing financial and academic pressures on young people entering university, reports the AFP. The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study, which surveyed 200,000 students entering their freshman year on American campuses last year, was released Thursday and found that just under 52 percent reported their emotional health was very good or “above average.” That figure represents a major decline from 1985, the first year of the self-ratings survey, when nearly two-thirds of incoming freshmen placed themselves in those categories. It’s also a decline of 3.4 percentage points from 2009…

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Netflix CEO wades into net neutrality debates

Netflix, the DVD mail-order-company-turned-online-video-giant, is firing back at cable and telecom firms as it weighs in on an increasingly thorny debate over net neutrality, the Washington Post reports. In a blog Thursday, Netflix published a ranking of how internet service providers perform in delivering Netflix’s online streaming videos. Chartered gets highest marks for delivering videos at high speeds, therefore better resolution. Clearwire is ranked last in the United States (of course, Clearwire is a wireless firm, which isn’t exactly an apples to apple comparison). Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cox rank high. And after reporting strong fourth-quarter earnings, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in a letter to shareholders that the practice by Internet service providers such as Comcast of charging networking firms such as Level 3 more to bring videos and other content to users is “inappropriate…

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Community Colleges: Where’s our $12 billion?

The Obama administration has touted community colleges as the one institution in higher education that can best adapt to the nation’s economic realities and still deliver the education and training Americans so desperately need, reports NPR. During a 2009 speech, President Obama promised $12 billion for community colleges. But they never saw any of that money because the president couldn’t sell his plan to Congress. Now the ongoing cuts in state funding for higher education are so deep that community colleges are struggling to deliver the very services they’ve been praised for…

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Brooklyn College revokes instructor’s appointment to teach Mideast politics

Last fall, it was an assigned book that brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict home to Brooklyn College. A wealthy alumnus said he was cutting the college out of his will because all incoming freshmen had been asked to read “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America,” by Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor there.

This week, it was a course — a graduate seminar on Middle East politics scheduled for the spring semester. The focus of the dispute was the adjunct professor who had been appointed to teach it, a doctoral student whose writings raised hackles even before he set foot in the classroom.

On Thursday, the professor, Kristofer Petersen-Overton, said he had learned a day earlier that the college was rescinding his appointment, saying he lacked the academic qualifications to teach such a high-level course, reports the New York Times. But the timing of that decision has led Mr. Petersen-Overton and others to question whether the decisive factor might have been politics…

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