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News Items April, May, June 2001

Online MBA Programs (6/29/01)

IBM Develops Technology for Faster Chips (6/8/01)

Competition: Traditional Versus Distance Learning (6/15/01)

University of Washington to Offer Free Online
Short Courses (6/12/01)

Web Content to Grow by a Factor of a
Million by 2010 (6/4/01)

Computer Simulation of Human Actors (5/25/01)

Walking Through Yet-to-be-built Structures (5/23/01)

Higher Density Disk Drives (5/21/01) 

Workshop on IT-Assisted Project-Based Learning (5/14/01)

Nanotechnology Research (4/27/01) 

Community Colleges Will be Able to Use "edu"
Suffix (4/13/01)

Moore's Law on "Doubling of Components" (4/13/01)

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IBM Develops Technology for Faster Chips

IBM has developed a new technology that manipulates the atoms in silicon so that computer chips can operate as much as 35% faster while using less power. The "strained" silicon, as it's called, will make its way into chip production by the end of 2003, enabling IBM to continue increasing chip performance without having to keep shrinking silicon circuits. IBM scientists found that by placing pure silicon on top of a silicon-germanium compound, the silicon atoms spread further apart, attempting to align with the more diffused atoms of the compound. The resulting strained silicon is thinner and allows electrons to flow as much as 70% faster, producing a 35% gain in processing speed. (Wall Street Journal 8 Jun 2001) http://interactive.wsj.com/articles/
SB99194839190461774.htm (sub req'd) (NewsScan Daily, 8 June 2001)

Comment: The numbers used to represent chip speeds and the continued rapid pace of change in this area tend to overwhelm the "sense making" of most peoples' minds. The Mark I was an electrical "relay" computer built at MIT shortly before World War II. It had a speed of three computations per second. During the past 60 years, the speed of computational devices has gone up by a factor of more than a trillion (that is, 10 to the 12th). Now, think about what an increase of 35% means. It means an increase by about a trillion computations per second, if we are talking about a super computer! That is an impressive piece of technological development. And, of course, it makes a significant contribution to the continued rapid gains in computer speed that we have seen since the development of the first electronic digital computers in the 1940s.

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Online MBA Programs

Strategic education consultant InterEd predicts that the number of students involved in online MBA programs could grow from 5,000 to 50,000 over the next several years. John Bear, editor of Bears' Guide to the Best MBAs by Distance Learning, says about 200 programs now offer a substantial portion of their degree component online. Still, only about 20 programs offer degrees entirely online because many traditional business schools are ambivalent about using the technology. Rice University surveyed 50 top business school deans last year and found that 32 percent felt that e-learning would hurt the quality of learning, while another 40 percent were concerned about the effectiveness of online teaching. Although the success of the University of Phoenix and other for-profit players could bring more credibility to e-learning, it remains to be seen whether employers other than tech firms will accept online degrees. (E-Learning Magazine, June 2001) (Edupage, June 27, 2001)

Comment: A Masters of Business Administration (MBA) is an important part of the career path of many people working in business. Many people who would like to earn such a degree are working full time and have a family. Thus, they are ideal candidates for a distance learning program. The brief article suggests that the number of students in such distance learning MBA programs is growing rapidly. Suppose that the prediction proves correct, and that within as few years there will be 50,000 students in such programs. That number is large enough to have a significant impact on enrollment in the "traditional" on campus MBA programs throughout the country -- especially the enrollment in the second tier programs. It averages out to 1,000 students per state -- and many states do not have that many students currently in MBA programs. It is a sign of things to come -- distance learning is going to have a major impact on enrollment in traditional on campus programs of study in many different disciplines.

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Competition: Traditional Versus Distance Learning

The line between university-based and corporate-based e-learning is blurring. For-profit companies now operate accredited universities and sell e-learning software to universities, while traditional universities have undertaken for-profit online ventures and sell their own e-learning software. However, Gartner Group analyst Clark Aldrich believes that traditional universities could be falling behind in the e-learning market because their corporate-based rivals boast better funding, courses that have a clear objective, and freedom from the politics and bureaucracy of academia. The most prestigious universities risk damaging their brand if an online venture fails. (Online Learning, June 2001) (Edupage, June 15, 2001)

Comment: The same discussion holds for precollege education and for various components of informal education. Gradually, people will get used to the idea that Distance Learning is an valuable addition to the choices they have as they engage in lifelong learning. Gradually they will learn to learn in a distance learning environment. Gradually, for-profit companies will play an increasing role in our formal and informal education systems.

 

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University of Washington to Offer Free Online Short Courses

The University of Washington has announced plans to offer abbreviated versions of its courses online at no charge. The online courses will cover a wide range of topics, from jazz history to business writing, with each designed to take about two hours to complete. "We wanted it to be long enough to be a meaningful experience and not so short that it would just be a teaser," explained Bill Corrigan, the university's director of distance-learning design. The courses will also serve a marketing purpose, as university officials hope that those who take the abbreviated versions will be intrigued enough to sign up for the full versions. The University of Washington's announcement follows the news earlier this year that MIT would provide its course materials online at no charge. (Chronicle of Higher Education Online, 6 June 2001) (Edupage, June 11, 2001)

Comment: I found this announcement to be particularly interesting because the proposed short courses will be valuable to many precollege students. On a more general note, we will gradually see more and more Distance Learning courses (of various lengths) that require no intervention by a human instructor. Some of these courses, and some pieces of these courses, will be made available free on the Web. This will provide a type of "competition" in education, and it will provide an increased range of aids to learning to students of all ages.

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Web Content to Grow by a Factor of a Million by 2010

At the 2001 BusinessWeek Telecommunications Summit, IBM director of Internet technology and strategy Mike Nelson discussed the future of the Next Generation Internet. Nelson's team estimated that the amount of data on the Web will increase by a factor of one million by 2010 and will be measured in zettabytes instead of the current petabytes metric. New technologies must be developed in order to sort and secure that information, and Nelson said that his group is trying to devise a Next Generation Internet prototype in order to comprehend the faster data rates that will come with pervasive wireless connections. Other trends driving IBM's Next Generation Internet efforts include widespread, affordable broadband within the next three to five years, and the proliferation of Linux open source platform and software to enable system interoperability. "We estimate that in three years, half the people using the Internet will not be using a PC. They'll be using it in kiosks, televisions, refrigerators, cell phones, and who knows what else," Nelson said. (Dallas Morning News Online, 31 May 2001) (Edupage, June 1, 2001)

Comment: After reading the above news item, review the news item Search Engines Fail To Keep Up With Growing Web (3/28/01). The best of current search engines are indexing less than one percent of the content of the Web--the current content being estimated to be in excess of 500 billion Web pages. Still, when I do a Web search, I often get thousands of hits. Now, imagine multiplying these numbers by a million. Two things seem clear to me:
  1. We will become more and more dependent on search engines.
  2. Students need high quality education on how to make effective use of a search engine and the information that cam be retrieved from the Web.

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Computer Simulation of Human Actors

As film makers create increasingly realistic digital simulations of human actors, Hollywood is busy debating how far this effort should go. The lead animator for "Final Fantasy," the first film with an entire cast of hyper-realistic, computer-generated human characters, says: "We're giving people something they've never seen before. We have the ability to make our actors do what we want, but still make it look believable. We're able to create an entirely new world with no limitations. We can put characters in more dangerous situations, make them superhuman." The screenwriter for "The Truman Show " and the upcoming movie "Simone" agrees: "We're coming to the point where you won't know if an actor or newscaster is computerized or flesh and blood. What's more, you won't care, as long as they impress us or move us." But not everyone in Hollywood is reading from the same script on this issue: "I think it's perverse," says the executive whose company provided digital effects for "Titanic." I assume that everything's possible, and at some point you'll be able to create absolutely photorealistic synthetic actors which will be impossible to tell from the real thing. The question is why? Because you can? That's not a good enough reason." http://www.latimes.com/business/cutting/
lat_fantasy010508.htm (NewsScan Daily, 25 May 2001)

Comment: Trained actors and actresses often play the role of teachers in Computer-Assisted Learning materials and in other educational materials that make use of audio and video. The short article given above makes it clear that eventually some of these "teachers" will be computer-generated characters. And, keep in mind that there has already been considerable use of computer-generated characters that interact with a computer user. Now, stretch your mind a little bit, and you might imagine a two way audio, two way video distance learning class occurring in which both the teacher and some of the participants are computer generated, in real time. Hmmm. Or, why embed this piece of the discussion into distance learning? Instead, think of a student having an individual tutor and educational mentor--that is computer generated. This idea has existed in science fiction for a long time. This piece of science fiction is now emerging on the horizons of reality.

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Walking Through Yet-to-be-built Structures

The f ollowing is quoted from an NSF news release [Online. Accessed 5/23/01: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/press/01/pr0146.htm.

Computer scientists at the University of North Carolina (UNC) are helping architects and engineers to create extremely detailed virtual structures that designers can "walk through," letting them head off potential problems before a spade of dirt is overturned or a bolt is fastened.

The WalkThru Project, led by UNC computer science professors Fred Brooks and Dinesh Manocha, is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Advanced Computational Infrastructure and Research. The UNC team develops new algorithms and software for advanced prototyping that could yield safer yet more cost-efficient buildings and vessels.

The overall goal is to create interactive computer graphics systems that let a viewer experience complex 3D spatial models by simulating walk-throughs of the actual facility," said Brooks, who started the project in the mid-1980s.

The computer scientists take very large CAD/CAM (computer assisted design and manufacture) models and render them as fully navigable 3D environments, including a tanker with 82-million separate elements and a 13-million-element electric power station. Until now, such complex virtual structures yielded slow, jerky graphics that did not permit real-time navigation and manipulation.

Comment: It is easy to see that such "virtual reality" work has a huge potential in education. And, as microcomputers continue to become more powerful, it seems clear that eventually our students will have routine access to such learning aids.

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Higher Density Disk Drives

IBM disk technology researchers have broken what had been regarded as a fundamental limit in disk density, and the company's Travelstar product line of notebook hard disks can now be produced with densities up 25.7 billion bits a square inch; by 2003 IBM will be able to achieve disk density on the Travelstar line to 100 billion bits per square inch. With disk drive density doubling every 12 months, the technology is advancing even faster than the rate of Gordon Moore's celebrated "Moore's Law," which predicted a doubling of transistor density (and computer power) every 18 months.(New York Times 21 May 2001) http://www.nytimes.com/
2001/05/21/technology/21DISK.html (NewsScan Daily, 21 May 2001)

Comment: The "power" of an IT system comes from a combination of computer speed, storage, communications bandwidth, and the software the system is using. Moore's Law predicts increases in computer speed and in random access memory. For quite awhile, improvements in magnetic disk memory have been occurring at a faster pace than Moore's Law. And, for quite awhile, improvements in bandwidth have been occurring at a faster pace than improvements in magnetic disk memory. Software, however, does not improve at nearly the pace of the various hardware components in an IT system.

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Workshop on IT-Assisted Project-Based Learning

On 5/14/01 Dr. David Moursund presented a full day workshop on IT-Assisted Project-Based Learning for college faculty. The audience was a mixture of Arts and Sciences faculty, and College of Education faculty. The workshop was sponsored by a Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to use Technology grant in Montana. A relatively detailed document on the workshop, and a lot of references on Project-Based Learning, are available at Workshop on IT-Assisted Project-Based Learning [Online]. Accessed 5/11/01: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~moursund/montana/

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Nanotechnology Technology Report from NSF

The Potential of Nanotechnology. Science and technology on the scale of a nanometer--one billionth of a meter--is revolutionary. Nanotechnology refers to the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules, making it possible to build machines on the scale of human cells or create materials and structures from the bottom up, building in desired properties. Nanotechnology could change the way almost everything, from medicines to computers to automobile tires to objects not yet imagined, is designed and made.

A National Priority. Nanotechnology is at an exploratory stage. Long-term, fundamental research is needed to discover new phenomena, understand the basic building blocks, develop processes and tools at the nanoscale, create innovative technologies, and educate and train a new workforce. Federal investment is critical to reaching these goals and keeping the United States at the forefront.

The Administration's Commitment. In January 2000, President Clinton established the National Nanotechnology Initiative, an effort led by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to strengthen critical scientific disciplines and encourage interdisciplinary research and education.

The Fiscal 2001 Budget. Federal agencies will spend about $420 million in fiscal 2001 for nanotechnology research and development, about 70 percent of which will be designated for university-based research. The budget includes $150 million for NSF, up from $97 million in fiscal 2000. Other agencies supporting nanotechnology include the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology. (Report from the National Science Foundation Accessed 4/27/01: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/media/2000/fsnano.htm.)

Comment: Computer technology is continuing to make rapid progress. But, there are other fields of technology that are also making rapid progress. Nanotechnology and genetics provide excellent examples. This is why people should not talk about "technology" in education when they really mean computer technology or information technology.

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Community Colleges Will be Able to Use "edu" Suffix  

The Commerce Department has announced that oversight of the .edu top-level domain will be transferred from VeriSign to EDUCAUSE. EDUCAUSE will move forward with plans to open the .edu address, which currently consists of no more than 6,000 names, to all community colleges, said EDUCAUSE vice president Mark Luker. Luker says the idea has been discussed several times over the past year and has "very strong support." Currently, only four- year universities can use the .edu address, along with the 25 percent or so of community colleges that managed to obtain the hot property before the restriction was put in place. The other 75 percent usually resort to listing themselves with a state government Web address and .us. The Commerce Department's decision to transfer the .edu address to EDUCAUSE is drawing praise from all corners, even .edu's previous facilitator, VeriSign. Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education, said the education community welcomed the change from VeriSign. "The community as a whole is more comfortable with dealing with an operation that understands how higher education operates and is sensitive to some of the values and nuances that might otherwise escape VeriSign." (Associated Press, 11 April 2001) (Edupage 13 April, 2001)

Comment: Community Colleges represent a significant component of the higher education system. The news reported in the above article is a highly desirable step forward.

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Moore's Law on "Doubling of Components" Likely to Continue for Next Decade

A consortium of high-tech chip makers and three U.S. labs plan to demonstrate a prototype chip-making machine that they say could extend Moore's Law for at least another decade. The device uses extreme ultraviolet lithography technology to trace ultrasmall lines of circuitry on silicon wafers. The group, which includes Intel, IBM and Motorola, says the technique will be capable of creating circuits that are as small as 20% to 7% the size of the smallest possible with conventional lithography. The EUV process uses high-powered lasers -- originally developed by the military -- which are bounced off a series of mirrors to etch the tiny circuits. (Wall Street Journal 11 Apr 2001) http://interactive.wsj.com/articles/
SB986946649587680984.htm (NewsScan Daily, 11 April 2001)

Comment: Very roughly speaking, Moore's Law suggests a doubling in microcomputer capabilities every 18 months. Over a decade, this suggests microcomputer capabilities might increase by a factor of approximately 100, at little or no change in cost (in terms of constant dollars). This continuing rapid improvement in computer systems continues to be a major challenge to our educational system. Students (and educators) need to be learning basic principles of IT use that will endure over time. And, they need to be open to new applications that cannot be effectively accomplished with toadies' computer systems.

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