2 charged with stealing iPad users’ information

Two men who authorities say were competing to impress their fellow hackers were arrested Jan. 18 on federal charges they stole the eMail addresses of more than 100,000 Apple iPad users, including politicians and media personalities, reports the Associated Press. The theft and the AT&T security weakness that made it possible were revealed months ago, and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said there was no evidence the men used the swiped information for criminal purposes. Authorities cautioned, however, that it could theoretically have wound up in the hands of spammers and scam artists. Daniel Spitler, a 26-year-old bookstore security guard from San Francisco, and Andrew Auernheimer, 25, of Fayetteville, Ark., were charged with fraud and conspiracy to access a computer without authorization. Fishman said the men and their cohorts were engaged in “malicious one-upsmanship” as they sought to impress each other and others online. “We don’t tolerate committing crimes for street cred,” Fishman said. “Computer hacking is not a competitive sport, and security breaches are not a game.” The stolen eMail addresses, on their own, aren’t that valuable; many of them could easily have been guessed by knowing a person’s name and how his or her organization structures its eMail addresses. But once they knew a person was an iPad owner and an AT&T customer, cyber criminals and spammers could have sent eMails that looked like they came from Apple or AT&T, tricking the recipient into opening them…

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College: What’s it good for?

After four years, 36 percent of college students did not demonstrate significant improvement, the study found.

You are told that to make it in life, you must go to college. You work hard to get there. You or your parents drain savings or take out huge loans to pay for it all. And you end up learning … not much?

A controversial study of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking skills, complex reasoning, and writing by the end of their sophomore years.

Not much is asked of students, either. Half did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.

The findings are in a new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia.

An accompanying report argues against federal mandates holding schools accountable, a prospect long feared in American higher education.

“The great thing – if you can call it that – is that it’s going to spark a dialogue and focus on the actual learning issue,” said David Paris, president of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability, which is pressing the cause in higher education. “What kind of intellectual growth are we seeing in college?”

The study, an unusually large-scale effort to track student learning over time, comes as the federal government, reformers, and others argue that the U.S. must produce more college graduates to remain competitive globally.


Comcast’s legal win raises questions for education

Approval of the Comcast-NBC Universal deal could have a lasting impact on schools and colleges.

Educators and students could see new internet service options after the federal government on Jan. 18 gave Comcast Corp., the country’s largest cable company, the green light to take over NBC Universal, home of the NBC television network, in a deal that is likely to shake up the internet landscape.

Public-interest groups, meanwhile, hope consumers won’t see new restrictions on content distribution as a result of the deal.

Comcast is buying a 51-percent stake in NBC Universal from General Electric Co. for $13.8 billion in cash and assets. The deal raises many questions, however, as public-interest groups have expressed concerns about what will happen to accessibility when one of the county’s largest suppliers of broadband pipeline joins forces with one of its largest suppliers of content.

The Justice Department said it reached a settlement with Comcast and NBC Universal that allows the companies to proceed with the deal, subject to several conditions. These conditions will help ensure that the transaction cannot “chill the nascent competition posed by online competitors,” said Christine Varney, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

Among these conditions are provisions that could increase the amount of children’s programming available and help subsidize broadband service in low-income communities.

Still, education officials, especially at small college campuses and K-12 districts without massive technology budgets, have tracked Comcast’s imposition of fees for online video after a Netflix partner raised concerns about the practice in November.

And while many school and campus technology officials have supported the FCC’s “net neutrality” plans, Comcast has stood in firm opposition to the federal regulations that would prohibit broadband internet providers from slowing access for some customers or to certain websites.

The five-member Federal Communications Commission voted 4-1 to approve the Comcast-NBC Universal deal. Michael Copps, one of the commission’s three Democrats and an opponent of media consolidation, voted against the transaction.

With the deal certain to transform the entertainment industry landscape, both the FCC and Justice Department are attaching conditions to prevent Comcast from trampling competitors once it takes control of NBC’s vast media empire.


New site offers college essays, sans plagiarism

There is one counselor for every 500 students in U.S. public schools.

Being the first in his family to graduate from high school, Paris Wallace said he sympathizes with teenagers who find themselves alone in the circuitous college application process, and he hopes a new online service called the Essay Exchange can help those students get an acceptance letter this spring.

The Essay Exchange, launched last August, has a repository of about 700 essays written by current students and college graduates who shared their successful written works for $2 apiece.

For between $2 and $5, a prospective student can scroll through the essays and get a feel for the structure and subject matter that helped get another student into a college or university.

The Essay Exchange, Wallace said, isn’t for students whose parents can afford pricey SAT preparation courses or counselors who tell students which classes to take throughout high school. The site was created to help students “compete on a level playing field” with their more affluent counterparts.

“I didn’t really know what I was getting into, so I was just kind of flailing,” said Wallace, who applied to 17 schools after he finished high school in 2000. “My college search was very much self directed. … I didn’t have any idea what a good college application looked like.”

There’s a growing market for any service that promises help for students navigating the application process. There is only about one counselor for every 500 public high school students in the U.S., according to the American School Counselor Association.

In states like Minnesota, California, and Arizona, that ratio reaches about one counselor per 800 students.

Wallace and web site co-founder Rory O’Connor—both graduates of Amherst College in in Massachusetts—took several steps to ensure educators don’t label the Essay Exchange a cheat site, such as CollegePaper.org, an online service that sells completed essays and features the tagline, “Intelligence made easy.”


How much do college students learn, and study?

While The Choice tends to focus on the process of applying to college, we also consider it within our mission to ask how much learning and studying students generally do once they enroll. A new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) by a professor at New York University and another at the University of Virginia, attempts to answer questions like these in a systematic way–and, as its title suggests, its findings suggest reason for concern. In the book, and in an accompanying study being released Tuesday, the authors followed more than 2,300 undergraduates at two dozen universities, and concluded that 45 percent “demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and written communications during the first two years of college.”

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Apple again turns to Cook in CEO Jobs’ absence

If the past is any indication, Tim Cook’s mastery of inventory management and his high expectations of employees should leave Apple Inc. in good hands while its charismatic leader, Steve Jobs, takes a medical leave of absence, the Associated Press reports. Apple said Monday that Cook, the chief operating officer, will take charge of the iPhone and iPad maker as Jobs focuses on his health. Unlike Jobs’ half-year medical leave in 2009, during which he specified he’d return to work at the end of June and stuck to it, Apple did not say when, if ever, Jobs would return as CEO. That means Cook, 50, considered a logical eventual successor to Jobs, 55, could be in charge for a long time, perhaps permanently…

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Rumors point to dual-core processors, improved graphics for new iPad, iPhone

Even as the tech world came to grips with the troubling news Monday that Steve Jobs will take his second leave of absence in just two years, the iOS rumor mill continues to grind, with new, dual-core versions of the iPhone and iPad still expected to arrive in the coming months, Yahoo News reports. The latest word has it that new versions of the iPhone and the iPad are in line for a souped-up, dual-core version of Apple’s A4 system-on-a-chip, with AppleInsider reporting that the new chipset will boast far more processing and graphics power than the original — perfect, it would seem, for powering a new 2048-by-1536 iPad display (as per MacRumors), not to mention 1080p video and HDMI support for the iPad and iPhone, and perhaps even for a third-generation Apple TV…

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Va. may limit student-teacher contact on web

Virginia is considering instituting limits on web-based contact between teachers and students in order to curb inappropriate behavior, reports WTOP. A 28-page report issued by the Virginia State Board of Education is suggesting texts, e-mail and communication over social networking sites be limited to school-based systems. In the past 10 years, 120 teachers in Virginia have lost their teaching license due to sexual misconduct, with electronic contact being a common factor…

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Amid cuts, public colleges step up appeals to alumni

As state legislatures cut back support for higher education, public colleges and universities across the country are turning to their alumni, hat in hand, as never before–hiring consultants, hunting down graduates and mobilizing student phone banks to raise private money in amounts they once thought impossible, the New York Times reports. But many find themselves arriving late to the game, particularly in the Northeast, where state governments have traditionally been generous and a host of private colleges have dominated the quest for donations…

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University looks to draw students to STEM education

Many students say their teachers don't focus on STEM fields.

Arizona State University officials will invite teenagers to learn about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from experts in those fields. The campus program joins a host of initiatives that could attract more students to STEM education and cut down on the growing need for remedial college courses.

ASU on Jan. 25 will launch the STEM Network (STEMnet) – a group of university faculty members who will introduce middle and high school students to classroom activities for STEM education and teaching methods used in higher education.

STEMnet’s first four-hour session will be held at ASU’s Tempe campus Jan. 25, with a second session scheduled for May 17.

STEMnet was formed with funding from the National Science Foundation, according to the university.

ASU officials said an institution with professors and researchers who have excelled in STEM-related fields for decades would be a valuable asset in promoting STEM education among teens.

More recent stories on STEM education…

Solving the STEM education crisis

House bill would create office of STEM education

Coming soon to a classroom near you: Robot teachers?

“We have a lot of STEM research and education talent at ASU,” said Colleen Megowan, an assistant professor of science education in the campus’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “Teacher professional development and educational innovation are among our great strengths.”

Boosting middle and high school students’ interest in STEM education could help trim the ever-growing number of college students in need of remedial classes before they take credit-bearing courses in those subjects.

More than 60 percent of students in community colleges need some kind of remedial class–most often, math training–before they can take credit-bearing courses, according to recent studies.

This comes with a price tag: a study published this summer shows that community colleges spend more than $1.4 billion on remedial courses every year.