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News Items January, February, March 2001

Search Engines Fail To Keep Up with
Growing Web (3/28/01)

Fair Use in Online Education Environments (3/22/01)

Distance Education in Higher Education in the US (3/7/01)

Web Access for the Blind (2/21/01)

Inconsistency Plagues Net Filters (2/17/01)

Three Out of Five Americans On the Web (2/15/01)

Bluetooth and its Competitors (2/1/09)

Progress in Virtual Realities (2/6/01)

Federal Aid to College Students Taking
Online Courses (2/1/01)

Cognitive Overload of Car Drivers (1/22/00)

New Law Directs Schools to Install Internet
Filtering Devices (1/12/00)

Chip Sales up 31% in Past Year (1/6/01)

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Search Engines Fail To Keep Up With Growing Web

Experts say search engines are having a difficult time keeping up with the amount of content on the Internet as well as the rapidly changing technology used to make that content available. There may be as many as 550 billion Web pages, experts estimate, but the most comprehensive search engines can process only a fraction of them. While it is still relatively easy to find content on a popular subject, experts say the vast catalog of business, scientific, and legal content falls under the radar of search engines. Experts call this buried content the "deep" or "invisible" Web. The problem is not simply that search engines cannot keep up with the amount of content added to the Web each day. Many sites actively work to keep search-engine software from accessing some or all of their content in order to protect their proprietary interests. Experts add that the growing amount of multimedia content available online is also problematic for search engines, which are largely geared toward text. (Reuters, 26 March 2001) (Edupage, March 28, 2001)

Comment: Google is an excellent search engine. On 3/29/01, Google indicated that their search engine was searching 1,346,966,000 Web pages. Thus, Google is accessing less than 1/4 of 1% of the total number of Web pages that the article estimates actually exist.  

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Fair Use in Online Education Environments

A recently introduced Senate bill called the Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH) would let educators using distance-learning materials in digital formats use various copyrighted material without getting permission from the content owner. The bill modernizes the Copyright Act of 1976 for the digital age, updating the fair-use distance-education provisions contained in the original legislation. TEACH would scrap the current requirement that learning must take place in a physical classroom and would ensure that the distance-learning exemption covers the temporary copies that must be created in networked file servers to transmit content over the Web. The bill would also change the current regulations to enable educators to display to students "limited" portions of "dramatic" literature, music, audiovisual, and sound recordings, as well as the total versions of non-dramatic literature and musical works. (eSchool News Online, 19 March 2001) (Edupage, March 21, 2001)

Education consulting firm WorldClass Strategies recently conducted a survey of 110 college and university faulty members engaged in online learning projects and studied 100 online courses. WorldClass Strategies President Lee Alley, formerly a college professor, said the study revealed that such programs have a great deal of progress to make. "We found the great majority of courses online are not very high quality pedagogically," he said. Online programs seemed to be paying more attention to how the sites looked and functioned than to how they worked as vehicles for instruction. In other words, Alley said, faculty members were being asked to be Web masters, not educators. He pointed to a number of ideas that educators must grasp if the online learning phenomenon is to grow. First, educators must accept that online learning will, for the most part, be self- directed by students. Also, educators must be willing to engage online students at a different level, treating them more as "cooperating instructors." Finally, Alley stressed the importance of piloting these types of programs before introducing them to a general audience. (Online Learning, March 2001) (Edupage, March 30, 2001)

Comment: The current copyright laws are a major barrier to teachers making materials available top students vis the Web. The people creating the copyright laws developed mechanisms to allow photocopying of materials to be handed out to students. But, posting something to a Website intended for one's students is a different type of situation. Such materials can easily be accessed by people who are not in the class, and they can be more inexpensively copied than can photocopied materials. Revision of the copyright laws to facilitate teacher and student use of the Web is very important to our educational system.

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Distance Learning in Higher Education

Of the more than 4,000 two- and four-year colleges in the United States, 70 percent provided online courses last year, a 22 percent rise from 1998, reported Market Retrieval Service. American Federation of Teachers vice president Bill Scheuerman stressed the need for institutions to approach e-learning with care, saying "If you're going to do it right, it's going to cost you money." Among the criteria e-learning should meet, Scheuerman suggested training for faculty and 24-hour tech support for both faculty and students. A recent survey by the AFT revealed that Web-based e-learning is the most common form of distance education, most often used for career or science and math classes, with humanities classes next. Education and child development classes were less likely to be online, the AFT found. However, not all e-learning classes meet only online. Joe Moran, who coordinates the adult education master's program at Buffalo State College, explained that his institution's program asks students to come to the classroom once a week. Moran said this arrangement lets students interact and work on cooperative assignments, two features that can be lost in a strictly Web-based operation. (Business First of Buffalo Online, 26 February 2001) (Edupage 5 March 2001)

Comment: Like many things associated with IT, Distance Learning via the Web has come upon us rather quickly. There are now tends of thousands of Web-based or Web-enhanced Distance Learning courses in higher education. These are having widely varying levels of success. Gradually, the research and practitioner body of collected knowledge and skills is growing. Gradually, both faculty and students are learning to teach and learn in this environment. However, we have a long way to go before we reach the level of teaching and learning knowledge and skills that exist in the face-to-face classroom setting environment.

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Web Access for the Blind

ASP Interliant has worked with the American Federation for the Blind (AFB) to create a feature-rich Web site intended to make e-commerce accessible to the blind and visually impaired community. The site uses technology that can "read" graphics, among other things. AFB President Carl Augusto wanted a site that was graphically appealing to those with sight but also highly accessible to the visually impaired. Augusto says the site should create a community for the blind, their care givers, and service providers and should also offer products for purchase. Interliant attached links to the site's graphics so that a screen reader can read the graphics as though they were text. The site also has a color-change option for people with low vision, which Augusto says is important and a good example of how small changes can make any site more accessible to those with disabilities. Screen readers can translate online text into Braille or a synthetic voice but cannot handle the graphics that e-commerce sites frequently use to sell products or link to other applications. Interliant CEO Herb Hribar says that the AFB site is a prototype for public-service agencies, nonprofit organizations, and commercial sites. Augusto says that the AFB site could become a host site for agencies and schools that cannot afford their own sites. (Computer Reseller News, 12 February 2001) (Edupage 21 February 2001)

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Inconsistency Plagues Net Filters

Consumer Reports released a damning assessment of the effectiveness and reliability of Internet content filters. The study examined six software filters, as well as the parental controls feature offered by America Online, and assessed how well they filtered 86 Web sites featuring drug-related, violent, or sexual content. America Online's parental controls topped the list, filtering out 86 percent of objectionable content, followed by Norton Internet Security 2001 Family Edition (80 percent), Cybersitter 2000 (78 percent), Cyber Patrol (77 percent), Internet Guard Dog (70 percent), Net Nanny (48 percent), and Cyber Snoop (10 percent). Although AOL took the lead, it also blocked out 63 percent of legitimate Web sites, such as sites on sex education or lesbian politics. The American Library Association's Judith Krug says the study underscores the unreliability of filtering devices and the need for kids to develop better Internet skills. (USA Today, 15 February 2001) (Edupage, February 16, 2001)

Comment: The issue of keeping students from accessing inappropriate websites is a very difficult one. One of the most important goals of school is it is supposed to be a "safe place." The Internet is a component of education that reaches into schools, homes, places of work, and other components of the community. In some sense, "school" is a much larger institution since the advent of widespread availability and use of the Web.

As the brief summary given above indicates, at the current time Net Filters are not able to provide the level of "school is a safe place" that most people would desire, in terms of students using the Web.

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Three Out of Five Americans On the Web

Sixty percent of U.S. citizens now have access to the Internet at home or at work or both, according to the latest numbers from Nielsen/NetRatings. That number is up only slightly from 56.5% in October, but Nielsen/NetRatings VP Allen Weiner says he expects penetration growth to pick up by the middle of this year, when industry developments like the merger of AOL and Time Warner lead to more options in high-speed services with video and audio components. "You have to remember that the Internet is relatively young and has gotten to this penetration much faster (than other media). To get back to double digits, a couple of things have to happen. There has to be plentiful, cheap bandwidth for people that will fuel more entertainment applications and more usage." A total of 168 million Americans are now online -- 41 million connecting from work, and 162 million connecting from home (35 million connect from both). (Reuters 14 Feb 2001) (NewsScan Daily, 15 February 2001)

Comment: Notice the statistic for the number of people accessing the Web from home. A significant percentage of students have access to the Web from home. Our educational system needs to take advantage of this at-home aid to education.

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Bluetooth and its Competitors

This year could prove critical to the wireless networking system Bluetooth, which has been struggling for recognition since its debut two years ago. Bluetooth is designed to connect virtually any short-range communications device seamlessly, and Ericsson and Motorola are expected to premier Bluetooth-equipped phones. In addition, the Wall Street Holiday Inn in New York City will soon operate a wireless check-in system that runs on Bluetooth. However, Bluetooth rivals such as HomeRF and 802.11B are challenging the technology for control of the market. For example, original Bluetooth backer Intel selected HomeRF for its new wireless Web devices because of its cheapness and availability. MobileStar chose 802.11B to deliver streaming audio and video to Microsoft PocketPC devices and laptops because "we require something very robust and graceful, and Bluetooth just isn't there yet," claims CEO Mark Goode. (Industry Standard, 12 February 2001) (Edupage, February 9, 2001)

Comment: We are moving rapidly toward the time when many students will be carrying short range communication devices. These will be small and inexpensive. And, of course, the placement of a receiver/transmitter in a classroom, and linking it to the Internet, will provide a means for having all students in a class having easy access to the Web. Currently, few teachers know how to teach (curriculum, instruction, assessment) in such an environment.

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A Virtual World Is Taking Shape In Research Labs

Researchers studying immersive Web technologies at universities across the country are pioneering the future of the Internet. The hope is that within 10 to 15 years Web users will be able to see 3D images, hear full-channel sound, and even feel the texture of a fur-lined coat they plan to buy online. Jaron Lanier, chief physical scientist at Advanced Network & Services, says the real benefit will come from being able to interact with other people using the entire range of human senses. However, bandwidth and processor speeds remain barriers to refining the super-sensitive subtleties of human interaction. Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) are exploring the use of haptics, a force-feedback technology that allows people to feel digital objects. Regardless of the advance of immersive Internet capabilities, some experts doubt whether this will be the end of the line using technology to replicate real life. Jaron Lanier says human senses are so refined that, although we may be wowed by new technologies, people will soon be able to quickly distinguish between the digital and corporeal. (Los Angeles Times, 5 February 2001) (Edupage 5 February 2001)

Comment: When it comes to predicting the future, people tend to look at how things currently are, and then extrapolate -- usually in a linear fashion. But, computer speed, storage capacity, and networking speeds continue to improve at an exponential rate. Extrapolations based on exponential rates of change often sound like science fiction. If the types of changes predicted in this short article prove to be correct, the educational implications are very large. The suggestion is that in a modest number of years, the use of virtual realities will become a common educational tool.

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Federal Aid to College Students Taking Online Courses

Congress may soon have legislation before it amending a 1992 law that restricts federal aid to distance-education programs--including online schools--that conduct fewer than half of their courses in traditional settings. Federal aid could significantly boost online enrollment, as well as bolster the efforts of many online higher education programs. The University of Phoenix, which has 19,000 online students, could afford to invest even more resources into its Web initiatives if the restrictions ease, says acting president Laura Palmer Noone. Analysts predict that the elimination of the ban would bring an extra $3.5 billion in federal aid to Internet-based higher education and raise enrollment to 3 million by the end of 2002, up from 1.5 million now. Federal aid, in the form of loans and grants, already accounts for one-third of all revenue earned by universities. The U.S. Department of Education has responded to online education providers by waiving the 50 percent requirements for 15 programs each year. However, the American Federation of Teachers argues that easing restrictions would have many detrimental effects, including the proliferation of fly-by-night programs and increased tuition for online classes. (Wall Street Journal, 31 January 2001) (Edupage January 31, 2001)

Comment: At the current time there are major barriers to extensive use of Distance Learning in our formal K-20 education system. This brief article points to the fiscal problems in higher education. Similar problems exist in K-12 education. Many schools and school districts do not want to use their budget to pay for students to take a course offered elsewhere.

However, as is suggested by the brief article, people are addressing these fiscal problems and solutions are being developed.

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Cognitive Overload of Car Drivers

Early results from the federal government's first attempt to measure how drivers react to potential information overload from high-tech automobile gadgetry indicate one in six drivers got confused and missed their turn, and two or three of the 36 test drivers "crashed" their simulators due to sensory meltdown. The simulator used for the test included a cell phone, a forward collision-warning system, a navigation system, and an Internet-equipped computer screen. The test also included an occasional math question thrown in to test the drivers' "cognitive reserve" to determine "how much of their mental capacity is devoted to dealing with these devices and driving the car, and how much do they have left over," says Tom Granda, who oversaw the study from DOT's Office of Safety Research and Development. "What you learn very quickly is that people learn to cope, especially when it involves their lives. But just because 90% of the population can cope doesn't mean it is the right way to do it. The issue is how do you make this stuff work so that it helps and makes driving better and safer -- not worse." (AP 22 Jan 2001) (NewsScan Daily, 22 January 2001)

Comment: This example is specifically based on car drivers. Notice the use of driving simulations as part of the research methodology. In some sense, we are all faced with information overload, which is a component of Cognitive Overload. Think about what we are doing to our students!

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New Law Directs Schools to Install Internet Filtering Devices

President Clinton in December signed into law the fiscal 2001 appropriations law for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. The law includes provisions that affect schools and libraries that receive federal money for Internet connections. Although Clinton signed the new law, he had some reservations about the appropriations bill because of a proposal that requires schools and libraries to install filtering technology to block student access to pornography. Clinton did not think the filtering requirement was worth blocking the $450 billion appropriations bill, although free-speech advocates are expected to challenge the new law in court. Under the proposal, schools and libraries must devise Internet safety policies that include the use of filtering software. April 16 is the tentative deadline for drawing up the Internet safety policies, and failure to do so could result in schools' loss of federal money for technology spending. (Education Week, 10 January 2001) (Edupage, January 12, 2001)

Here is some additional information provided by the ISTE Office in Washington DC on approximately 22 January 2001:

Expect a Formal Rulemaking on the Federal Filtering Mandate. We understand that the FCC is planning a formal rulemaking on the federal filtering mandate. They consider CIPA to apply to E-Rate program year 4, for which they are currently accepting applications, and which begins July 1, 2001. The FCC has a very short turn-around time on this, and expect to issue an NPRM in a few weeks. There will probably be 30 days for comments and 15 days to reply to comments, with an expectation that a rule will be issued by April 20, 2001. The Department of Education and the IMLS are not currently planning a NPRM. They are, however, having difficulty determining what program years are under their grantmaking processes, and hope to provide guidance for some of these issues.

Comment: Many schools and school districts have already installed filtering software, with varying levels of success and varying levels of cost. A significant fraction of students have Internet access via home computers and Internet Appliances. The proportion of such students will continue to increase rapidly over the next few years. Thus, the problem of offensive Web materials faced by schools and libraries will be faced by a very large number of individual families.

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Chip Sales up 31% in Past Year (1/6/01)

Computer chip industry sales rose 31% in 2000, driven by incessant demand for the semiconductors used in mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs, according to Dataquest. The research company anticipates growth in the low 20% range for this year, mostly because of slowing PC demand and some excess inventory problems, particularly with phones and networking equipment. Dataquest says the current weakness in the chip market should be viewed as a short-term problem, largely attributable to inventory glut, but cautions that first-quarter performance for the industry will be a crucial indicator the for rest of the year, especially if there is a worldwide economic slowdown that crimps spending. Meanwhile, Intel retained its dominant position in the market with a 13.4% share, down from its 15.8% share in 1999. (Wall Street Journal 2 Jan 2001) (NewsScan Daily, 2 January 2001).

Comment: The 31% growth factor is in dollars sales. If we take into consideration steadily improving "compute power" of chips (Moore's Law) this means that the total amount of compute power sold this past year was probably close to double what it was the previous year.

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