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News Items July, August, September 2000

Longer Battery Life for Mobile Computing (9/25/00)

Automatic Grading for Mathematical
Logic Course (9/22/00)

IT in K-12 Education (9/20/00)

Drexel to Provide Dictation Software to
All Students (9/20/00)

Computers in Schools May do More Harm
than Good (9/13/00)

Some Uses of Supercomputers (9/13/00)

Student Access to the Internet (9/13/00)

For-profit Internet-based Higher Education (8/30/00)

eBook-based Newspaper (7/27/00)

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Longer Battery Life for Mobile Computing

Quote from http://www.sjmercury.com/svtech/news/

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Fujitsu Ltd. plans to announce Monday that two of its new computer laptops being introduced in Japan in early November will carry power-saving chips manufactured by Transmeta Corp.

The announcement by the Japanese company comes only two weeks after Sony Corp. announced that new models of the VAIO computer PictureBook -- scheduled to reach U.S. stores in October -- would be powered by Transmeta's much-hyped Crusoe microprocessor.

The Crusoe was unveiled in January after five years of highly secretive research and development at Transmeta, an upstart player based in Santa Clara, Calif.

The chip promises to double the life of batteries, and Sony and Fujitsu laptops are poised to be among the first in what appears to be a growing parade of mobile computer products taking advantage of the revolutionary microprocessor.

Hitachi Ltd. plans to start selling Crusoe-powered notebook computers in Novembe [2000]r, while Gateway Inc. and America Online Inc. have said they plan to use Transmeta processors for their jointly developed ``Internet appliance'' products that will go on sale later this year.

Comment: Improvements in battery technology have been relatively slow, as compared to the growing power needs of portable computers. The brief news item indicates a significant breakthrough in making a portable computer that uses less power. This will quite useful in education, as it means that it will be much easier for students to carry a laptop computer or an information appliance, and have enough battery power to last the whole school day.

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Automatic Grading for Mathematical Logic Course

Grade Grinder, a software program developed by Stanford University Professor John Etchemendy, provides real-time tutoring for students working on homework assignments in their logic classes. Etchemendy and co-developer Dave Barker-Plummer believe the software's role as a tutor distinguishes it from software that merely scores students' work, an application that Etchemendy characterizes as dangerous because it encourages only the simplest forms of pedagogy, such as multiple-choice tests. The tutoring program eliminates the need for instructors to grade their students' assignments--a tedious, impractical process in afield where a question may have several hundred correct answers. Etchemendy believes that Grade Grinder best demonstrates the potential of distance learning, alleviating unnecessary work while not completely eliminating teacher-student interaction. Although he and Plummer sometimes monitor the system seeking ways to improve it, he says it is secure, and a student's instructor will be able to view only those answers the student finally submits. The software has handled nearly 220,000 assignments since its 1998 launch. (SiliconValley.com, September 21 2000) (Quoted from Edupage September 22, 2000.)

Comment: One of the keys to learning is to have high quality, timely feedback. That is why students who have individual tutoring learn more and faster than students who don't. Such individual, rapid feedback is a goal in computer-assisted learning. However, the field of Artificial Intelligence has not yet succeeded in developing programs that "understand" free form written input well enough to carry on an intelligent conversation with the learner. As a consequence, most computer-assisted learning (CAL) materials leave much to be desired.

In certain very limited areas (such as mathematical logic, as described in the short news item) it is possible to develop software that provides a high quality interaction with the student. Continued progress in AI and CAL will gradually lead to improvements in highly interactive CAL systems that will have many of the benefits of a personal (human) tutor.

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IT in K-12 Education

Technology is expected to transform America's schools over the next 10 years in the same way it has changed the world of business, and high-tech companies have done their part to encourage the education community to throw its support behind e-learning. Technology spending has reached [an annual spending level of] $6.2 billion. Business, and high-tech companies have done their part to encourage the education community to throw its support behind e-learning. IBM is involved with top research scientists in its Reinventing Education project, while Intel and Microsoft are training teachers to use technology. Apple Computer and America Online have joined 20 other companies to form the CEO Forum on Education & Technology, a Washington-based group developed to push the high-tech agenda. Although supporters such as futurist David Thornburg say Internet access in the classroom could have the same impact on education as the Gutenberg press, critics are skeptical. Some see the e-learning movement as dangerous if schools start accepting free products and services from high-tech companies in exchange for allowing firms to advertise on school computers. According to a 1997 presidential report, the nation needs to triple current spending on technology to $18 billion to reach all schools. (Business Week, September 25 2000) (Quoted from Edupage September 20, 2000.)

Comment: The Annual rate of spending for IT in K-12 education in the US is now approximately 2% of the school budget, or about $133 per student per year. The PCAST (1997) report mentioned above suggested that schools might need to spend in the range of 5% to 15% of their budgets for IT and related staff development, curriculum development, and support systems. The actual article in Business Week indicates that the current ratio of students per computer in US public schools is approximately five students per computer. (This is data from the Education Department of Quality Education Data.) About two years ago, for white collar workers in the US, the ratio was 1.05 computers per worker. If we view a student as a "white collar worker," then we need approximately five times as many computers in schools as we currently have.

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Drexel to Provide Dictation Software to All Students

Drexel University has announced it will provide students and staff with free Lernout & Hauspie speech-recognition software that will allow them to dictate documents into their computers. Lernout & Hauspie, which owns Dragon Systems, will join Drexel representatives at the university's freshman orientation to display Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred 4.0, which will be distributed on CDs to students and staff. EDUCAUSE says no other university that it is aware of has launched a campus-wide rollout of speech-recognition software. Drexel officials say they are impressed with the software's accuracy and speed, noting that speech recognition has advanced significantly in the past several years. The new software handles continuous speech and allows users to speak with little affectation, says Drexel's Kenneth Blackney. (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 20 2000) (Quoted from Edupage, September 20, 2000.)

Comment: This type of widespread adoption of voice input at the freshman level in higher education indicates that it is now a viable and valuable educational tool. We will see this tool moving relatively quickly into K-12 education. This movement will be hastened by home use of voice input systems.

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Computers in Schools May do More Harm than Good

The U.S. should postpone its push to move technology into classrooms until studies prove that computers help children learn, according to a report released Tuesday by the Alliance for Childhood, a group of educators, children's advocates, and doctors. The enthusiasm for technology in schools is fueled by the high-tech industry's desire to expand its markets, and parents' concern that their children will fall behind without computers in schools, the report says. The Alliance suggests that elementary school students learn through hands-on, real-world activities, and that the U.S. surgeon general should conduct studies on the emotional, developmental, and physical effects of computers on children, and on the ethical and social issues that might impact older students. The report says that computers present health risks such as eyestrain, obesity, and repetitive stress injuries; detract from human interaction, creativity, and hands-on learning; and do little to boost academic achievement. (SiliconValley.com, September 12 2000) (Quoted from Edupage, September 13, 2000.) The Web site for the materials discussed in this brief summary is: Accessed 9/27/00: http://www.allianceforchildhood.net/index.htm.

Comment: Changes (for example, technology-based changes in education) always have a plus and a minus side. Often it takes many years before the plusses and the minuses become clear. Moreover, it is often quite difficult to weigh the relative merits of the plus and the minus cases, and thus to make appropriate decisions about the continued implementation of the change.

We are all familiar with the trite statement: "Computers are here to stay." Moreover, we understand how IT empowers the user, in terms of being able to solve complex problems and accomplish difficult tasks. Finally, we know that it takes years of study and practice to gain a high level of IT knowledge and skill.

Thus, our school system is faced by a dual challenge:

1. How should IT be used to help students gain the knowledge and skills inherent to the "traditional" curriculum that existed before IT became available? (One possible answer is that IT should not be used in this endeavor. That is an answer inherent to the short news item given above.)

2. What should our schools be doing in terms of helping students to learn to use IT both in addressing the content areas of the traditional curriculum, and also in IT-related content areas? For example, IT is a powerful aid to writing and to doing math. Should students learn to use a word processor or graphing calculators. In addition, IT facilitates computer modeling and simulation as a powerful aid to representing and solving problems in science, engineering, social sciences, and other areas. What should students be learning about such uses of IT.

The study reported on is the news item does not attempt to answer these types of questions. Thus, it has the characteristics of "throwing out the baby with the bath water."

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Some Uses of Supercomputers

Scientists say the new Terascale Computing System (TCS), located at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, will help unravel some of the world's most complex mysteries. With 2,728 microprocessors, the TCS will process 6 trillion calculations per second, calculating as much in one day as a standard desktop computer does in 10 years. Scientists need that much power to model intricate, three-dimensional systems such as seismic movement. Other problems the new supercomputer could tackle include protein folding and the development of severe storms. However, scientist Kelvin Droegemeier says even the TCS will not have the speed necessary to provide vital information about coming storms before they hit, nor will it be able to detect the minute changes in protein folding that can lead to the development of a disease such as Alzheimer's or sickle cell anemia. Aware of this deficiency, the National Science Foundation, which is funding the construction of TCS with a $45 million grant, will ask Congress for more money to increase the capability of TCS to 20 trillion calculations per second. (USA Today, September 13 2000) (Quoted from Edupage, September 13 2000.)

Comment: In the past, there have been two main ways to "do" science: experimental and theoretical. Now a third way has emerged: computer modeling and simulation. Computer modeling of complex systems such as protein folding, weather, and seismic movements provide a new and powerful approach to dealing with some important and challenging problems.

Some of today's microcomputers are now functioning in the 1-2 billion operations per second range. The supercomputers discussed in this news article are about 10,000 times as fast as such desktop microcomputers.

Our educational system needs to prepare students to appropriately work with modeling and simulation as a way of representing and attempting to solve complex problems. While all of the examples in the news item are drawn from the sciences, there are equally challenging problems in the social sciences and other fields that are now being addressed through use of computer modeling and simulation.

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Student Access to the Internet

An Angus Reid Group survey of 10,000 students ages 12 to 24 in sixteen countries found that the U.S. ranked fifth in terms of percentage of full-time students who access the Internet at their school or home, following Sweden, Canada, Taiwan, and the U.K. The following list shows percentages for full-time and part-time students in each of the countries surveyed: Sweden (78, 80); Canada (74, 71); Taiwan (63, 45); U.K. (59, 49); U.S. (59, 68); Netherlands (58, 62); Australia (57, 61); South Korea (37, 47); Mexico (33, 32); Japan (28, 23); Italy (28, 38); Spain (28, 19); Germany (25, 31); France (25, 21); Brazil (21, 36); China (13, 9). (The Globe and Mail 11 Sep 2000) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/ (Quoted from NewsScan Daily, 13 September 2000.)

Comment: Educators in the United States generally assume that the US is far ahead of other countries in the use of IT in education. This report suggests that in terms of students in the 12-24 years old range, and focusing specifically on use of the Internet, several countries are ahead of the US.

Over the long run, access to and use of the Internet will be a routine activity for essentially all students in the US. As we move toward increasing access and use, the issue becomes one of whether this access and use is appropriate in terms of enhancing the quality of education that students are receiving. The new article given above does not address issues of how the Internet is being used and whether this enhances the quality of education that students are receiving.

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For-profit Internet-based Higher Education

Harcourt Higher Education has joined the exclusive ranks of for-profit Internet-based providers of higher education, having received approval from the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education to award two-year associates degrees and four-year bachelor's degrees. The University of Phoenix, Nova Southeastern University in Florida, and Jones International University in Colorado are the only other for-profit entities in the Internet-based education space. The 1,000 students that are expected to enroll in the first year will apply for admission, attend classes, go to the library, take tests, participate in classroom discussions, and eventually graduate online. Each three-credit-hour course will cost $900, and revenues are projected to reach $18 million in the first year. There are expectations of breaking even in 2003, and of having an enrollment of 20,000 students by 2005, when tuition revenue should reach $45 million. (Boston Globe, August 25 2000) (Quoted from Edupage, August 30, 2000.)

Comment: Accreditation and formal, coherent programs of study are key aspects of formal education. Accreditation means that the credits earned can be transferred to other institutions and programs of study. Distance learning (especially, distance learning based on use of the Internet) is bringing a new dimension and new competition into our formal educational systems.

This new dimension/competition is already proving to be a powerful change agent in higher education. Public and private colleges and universities recognize the opportunities and the challenges of distance learning. Many are developing distance learning courses and programs to serve their current and potential students. Thus, we are now at the beginning of a major change in higher education that includes competition between public institution, private non-profit institutions, and for-profit institutions of higher education.

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eBook-based Newspaper

(AUSTRALIA) -- Some of Australia's major media organizations are testing new technology designed to make the printed newspaper obsolete. Sources at News Ltd. say the company plans to begin phasing out newsprint as early as next year, moving readers over to a variety of new devices. The company has been working with prototypes of the electronic reader Softbook, which is flexible, lightweight and capable of storing more than 10,000 pages of text and graphics. It even has audio capabilities so customers can have the news read to them. The price of Softbook is expected to fall to around US$100 in 2001, and the company believes it can recoup the cost of distributing the devices free to all of its newspaper home delivery subscribers within 20 weeks. (Ifra Trend Report, trendreport@ifra.com, 26 July 2000.)

Comment: Think about the possibility that every student has a battery-powered, easily portable eBook with a very readable screen and a large storage capacity. How would this affect education? A school district (perhaps a state) would negotiate with book publishers to secure the rights to download the various books a student uses during a year. Imagine a high school student carrying the equivalent of several books for each course, with the total weight being less than a pound. Imagine a teacher assigning a couple of chapters out of a supplementary book for a course, and this quickly being downloaded to each student's eBook. Imagine that textbook companies could update their texts incrementally, rather than every six years.

Softbook is one brand of relatively small, easily portable electronic books. The Web address for the company is http://www.softbook.com/. Right now, this brand of eBook costs considerably more than $100.

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