Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Proposal for Broadband Capacity in Schools: Should All Schools Have It?

by Alex Garner, Fall 2013 Intern

The access of Internet in all schools across the country has been a pressing issue, with government programs intending for 99 percent of America’s students to connect with broadband Internet within the next five years. The average American school has the same bandwidth as the average American home, and current figures show that between 29 and 39 percent of America’s students have access to high-speed Internet at school.

By 2005, the E-rate program, started by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1997 to provide schools with Internet access, had successfully connected 94 percent of American classrooms. However, roughly half of E-rate schools access the Internet at speeds of 3 megabits per second or less—too slow to stream high-definition video or other teaching platforms. Limited bandwidth forces school administrators to decide usable programs and what grades or classrooms get them. According to the blog on the US Department of Education (ED) website, “Broadband holds the potential to address issues of educational access and equity of opportunity. Broadband connections are the building blocks of a digital learning environment. . . .” The government program intended to connect schools with broadband capacity, ConnectED, is asking the FCC to make Internet access cheaper for schools through the E-rate program.

A great example of what broadband capacity can provide for a school is the Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, North Carolina. The school district developed a digital learning program with high-speed broadband capacity. As a result, schools within the district have seen improved academic performance, student engagement and graduation rates—all while decreasing funds needed per pupil. Of the 115 school districts in North Carolina, Mooresville ranked in the bottom ten in money spent per student while ranking second in student achievement. The success of the school due to their broadband capacity triggered Barack Obama to visit the school in June of 2013, when he announced the Broadband-for-Schools Project. Other countries have also realized the importance of high-speed Internet in schools: 100 percent of South Korean schools are connected to broadband, and Uruguay’s primary and secondary schools have been connected through a national program, where every primary school student has access to a free laptop.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Dr. Mark Edwards, superintendent of Mooresville Graded School District, propose in The Huffington Post that if it can be done in Mooresville, it can be done in every school district in every state. They suggest an aim that by the 2015 school year, every school should have access to 100 megabits per second, and by the end of the decade, 1 gigabit. The need for broadband in schools seems beneficial to not only prepare America’s students with skills to get good jobs in a digital age, but to also compete with countries around the world.

Did You Know?

Although it may be ideal that schools have access to 100 Mbps per 1,000 students, it’s also important to understand what this bandwidth will be used for. It’s necessary for webinars, video streaming and even online courses—but also for the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) Deputy Executive Director Dr. Geoffrey H. Fletcher notes that bandwidth necessary for administering assessments may not be as much as what’s needed on a normal day, but that some schools may need to opt for only using their internal network for assessments versus other school functions. Denise Atkinson-Shorey, an educational technology consultant in Colorado and the former president and chief information officer for the Educational Access Gateway Learning Environment Network (EAGLE-Net), seconds this thought. Some schools and districts, particularly ones in rural areas, may not have enough access to connectivity to execute assessment school-wide. The capacity for transmitting data directly affects the speed, despite the investment in making the bandwidth available at the network gateway end. Schools may also have a hard time increasing their connectivity with budget cuts and competition in appealing for public funding. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Popularity of Audiobooks

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

Audiobook sales, the Audio Publishers Association (APA) reports, are at an all-time high. Their increasing use, however, is met by resistance from those who say that deep reading requires having the text in front of you. Readers of audiobooks claim that they enhance the pleasure of reading and invite more people to read. Regardless of the debate, over the past year the share of sales going to digital audiobooks has outpaced that of CD and cassette audiobooks, making the digital format a popular way of taking in information.

There are many reasons that account for audiobooks’ growing popularity. Being able to listen to a story while doing another activity—such as driving to work or exercising—is a boon to many readers with busy schedules. The convenience of having multiple books available to you on the go on a smartphone or portable digital audio device is matched only by ebooks. However, while ebook devices have the technology to convert text to speech, this doesn’t provide the same experience as listening to an actor’s interpretation of a story. A good actor’s interpretation can add to the sheer pleasure of having a story read to you and is even considered by some to be an art form of its own. In some cases, this is done by the author herself, but in others, the publisher will hire someone to read the text. Because the additional costs of producing an audiobook are reduced by the growing demand for digital audiobooks, which do not have the same manufacturing costs as CDs or tapes, publishers have more to spend on quality voice talent.

Some prefer to absorb information in an auditory way, and there are even educational and informational volumes released in audiobook format. On the other hand, having the text in front of you is useful to be able reread a line, or for reference in a classroom discussion. Then again, having the text read to you removes the temptation to skim. Critics argue that having the text before you is essential to a deep or slow reading of a text in order to better understand it. However, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of audiobooks being a legitimate form of reading is that audiobooks were originally made for the blind and continue to allow readers with disabilities to be part of the world of reading.

With a growing industry worth more than $1 billion, an increasing number of publishers who deal exclusively with audiobooks, and an expanding number of book titles being released in both hard format and as audiobooks, readers will continue to enjoy books in this format, which combines the benefits of new and progressive technology with one of the oldest forms of entertainment known to humankind—a good read.

Did You Know?

There are conflicting ideas on when silent reading was first introduced, as many believed reading aloud to be the norm in ancient history. According to Saint Augustine’s Confessions, he witnessed Saint Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, reading in his cell toward the end of the fourth century AD: “His eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.” Due to the proposed shock that Augustine felt upon witnessing this, scholars have interpreted Ambrose’s display of silent reading as one of the first. This was supported for years as the first instance of silent reading ever recorded in Western literature. However, several other references to silent reading have been discovered, both around the time of Saint Ambrose and much earlier.

In a speech called “On the Fortune of Alexander,” Plutarch notes that Alexander the Great read a letter from his mother silently, despite the shock of his soldiers, in the fourth century BC. Claudius Ptolemy is cited in Augustine’s book On the Criterion, written in the second century AD, as stating that some people read silently when they are concentrating to a great extent, as reading the words out loud would be distracting. While with his opponent Cato in the Senate in 63 BC, Julius Caesar read a love letter sent to him by Cato’s sister. Much, much later, in the year AD 349, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem suggested that women read to themselves as they wait during the ceremonies—although this was suggested to be closer to very quiet whispers rather than silent readings. Despite these occurrences, some still believe that silent reading wasn’t the norm until the tenth century AD.
(DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Where Have All the Students Gone?

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

From the 1990s, American post-secondary institutions enjoyed a boom in enrollment that remained fairly steady until 2012, but the recent significant decline has some colleges scrambling to boost their numbers. Beginning a decade earlier, high school graduates were increasingly looking to further their education by attending college. The population explosion of the 1990s, the largest in American history, coupled with the prosperous economy, resulted in a huge jump in the number of college-age Americans—not to mention the growing popularity of American universities among foreign students. The New York Times reports that college attendance rose dramatically between 1999 and 2011, from 15.2 to 20.4 million students. When the 2007 recession hit, many Americans decided to go to school instead of taking their chances on a hostile job market, and community colleges in particular saw a surge in applications from “older” Americans.

However, the college-age population ceased its inflation in 2009 and has continued to decline since. As the economy slowly recuperates, university applications are taking a backseat to job applications. A report published by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) earlier this year estimates that general enrollment fell by 2.3 percent from the Spring 2012 term to Spring 2013.

Two-year community colleges and four-year for-profit institutions felt most of the decline in enrollment. From Spring 2012 to Spring 2013, two-year public schools saw a decline of 3.6 percent while four-year for-profit enrollment took a hit of 8.7 percent. Colleges that depend more heavily on tuition revenue are particularly feeling the crunch, especially due to the recent trend of rising tuition costs and student debt, which may be discouraging people from pursuing higher education. David A. Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), said of the trend, “There are many institutions that are on the margin, economically, and are very concerned about keeping their doors open if they can’t hit their enrollment numbers.”

According to the Times, the most dramatic examples of this trend creating problems for schools are found at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Loyola University New Orleans. Both colleges found acceptances to be approximately just two-thirds of what they had expected upon the May 1 deadline, resulting in emergency budget cuts of millions of dollars. While many schools often boost their enrollment at this point by accepting waiting list candidates, St. Mary’s and Loyola had to take a step further and make a serious effort to reach out to prospective students. Loyola gathered administrators and professors who generally are not involved in the admissions process to join officials in making calls to applicants who had not accepted offers, hoping they would reconsider. St. Mary’s, on the other hand, reopened admissions; both institutions collected some additional students, but enrollment has remained relatively low this fall. Virginia’s Randolph College, in a similar situation, even mailed out letters this summer to prospective students who had not applied there, if they had a strong academic background to recommend them.

The decline of the college-age population is projected to last through 2016. Will for-profit schools continue to feel the pain? Is the end of yearly tuition spikes in sight, or will they find some other way to entice Americans into going back to school?

Did You Know?

Even though the amount of students looking to start a college education directly after high school graduation seems to be dropping, those schools still reining in applicants are doing even more than that—they’re maintaining them. U.S. News reported that the average student retention rate reported in 2012 was 75 percent: “Those rates reflect the four-year average of incoming freshman between fall 2007 and fall 2010 who returned to campus the following fall.” Based on data covering first-year students that entered college between the fall semesters of 2007 and 2010, Columbia University and Yale University, had the highest freshman retention rates of 99 percent. The University of Chicago pulled into third place with a rate of 98.3 percent, while Amherst College, California Institute of Technology, Harvey Mudd College, Princeton University and Stanford University all boasted a 98 percent retention rate. The survey received responses from over 1,800 colleges and universities that self-reported information about their academic programs to ensure a detailed collection. The full list of reported retention rates can be viewed online. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Little Free Libraries: Making a Big Splash in a Little Way

by Melissa Mui, Fall 2013 Intern

When Todd Bol built a miniature single-room schoolhouse, placed it in his front lawn and filled it with free books, he did not expect to attract a lot of attention. Honoring his mother, a lifelong school teacher, Bol built the structure (about the size of a large mailbox) and filled it with his own books. He hoped that some passerby would stop to take a look, or even take one home and replace it with a book of their own. This was the simple start of the now global nonprofit Little Free Library. Started in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin, the ever-growing movement now stretches across all 50 states and over 32 countries. A lot of love and hard work went into creating this seemingly over-night success.

Rick Brooks, seasoned in creating and managing nonprofit projects, saw the structure and instantly fell in love. Partnering with Bol, the two began to build more of the libraries, placing them in areas high in foot-traffic and hoping to spread the love of reading. As more people began to use the little libraries, Bol and Brooks realized that people wanted to create their own. The miniature libraries started to pop up around their town and in neighboring ones. In response they built an online community, connecting the libraries and their owners around the world.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to set up a new library. It can be made out of any material and modeled to look like anything. Some people have crafted libraries out of wood from wreckages, others have modeled theirs after London phone booths; the possibilities are endless. Pre-made libraries are also available for sale in many different designs on the Little Free Library website. Registering a library only costs $35, which comes with great perks: creators become official “stewards,” receive an official Little Free Library plaque to mount on their structure and the addresses of all the registered libraries are added to a virtual map.

Anyone desiring to support Little Free Library, who is unable to have their own structure due to lack of location, can help host a library to be sent to those in need. On their website, Bol and Brooks offer a donation page to collect money for making and shipping fully stocked Little Free Libraries to countries and readers who would otherwise lack access to books. This program is a great way to help support literacy both at the community level and in places where people cannot afford to buy books for themselves or their children. Individuals or groups, such as high school and colleges groups, can donate as a team. Hudson High School in Wisconsin made twelve libraries for a partner school in Africa with students helping every step of the way. From the shop class to the art department, the school helped build and paint the structures. Media students ran stories about the effort, inspiring the community as a whole to sponsor the books to fill each library. Their support was felt throughout the process, and the school remained in contact with the African students once the libraries were officially set up.

It doesn’t matter if you are an avid reader or educator—Little Free Libraries have something for everyone. Supporting improvement in literacy for all ages, this nonprofit is making a big name for itself, demonstrating that good things can in fact come in small packages.

Did You Know?

Nancy Humphreys, a writer and librarian, notes that the most important goal of the Little Free Libraries is the encouragement of reading—making the world a better place for authors and readers alike. While the benefits for a reader may be more obvious (free books!), Humphreys notes some advantages that Little Free Libraries can offer authors. In her blog, Author Maps, she suggests that authors put a copy of their published book in one of the Little Free Libraries and observe how quickly it gets taken from the shelves. For those looking for reader feedback, she suggests creating a review copy that contains tear-out postage paid postcards. Whoever picks up the book may be more likely to submit a response if most of the work is already done for them—all they have to do is read the book, write a quick review, and pop it back in the mail. These suggestions may help circulate books around local communities, encouraging discussions and sharing. This word-of-mouth approach, Humphrey notes, is the best way to promote sales. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Encouraging Kids to Read: Letting Them P.I.C.K. Their Own Books

by Alex Garner, Fall 2013 Intern

With so many books to choose from, a child may find picking a book to be an overwhelming and difficult task. Selecting books is a valuable and independent skill for kids to learn, instilling an importance of books in their lives. Teaching children to pick books for themselves can be a simple step-by-step process with easy rules and guidelines.

Scholastic’s advice to P.I.C.K. creates an acronym for the process—P stands for Purpose, I for Interest, C for Comprehend and K for Know the Words. Walking children through these steps will help them think independently about books and aid them when they are on their own.

First, the letter P (Purpose) should trigger the children to ask themselves whether they are reading for pleasure, school or just to learn something. They should know why they are reading the book in the first place, which also reinforces the different functions of books. The question of purpose can emphasize the pleasure of books, allowing children to form their own relationships with books outside of school.
Second, the letter I (Interest) indicates to a child to look for books he or she is interested in. This can be done easily, whether by analyzing the front cover, reading the back cover copy, looking at chapter titles or flipping through photos and drawings in the book. By spending time in libraries or at home perusing through different books, children may also discover new interests they didn’t know about before. This can make kids excited about looking through new books!

Third, the letter C (Comprehend) signifies the importance of the child’s understanding of what he or she will read, and whether or not it is appropriate for their abilities. Children can determine this on their own by asking themselves whether they understood and remember what they just read, and whether they were able to read most of the words. A parent can also ask them about what they just read, which shows a child that the parent is interested as well.

Last, the letter K (Know the Words) helps figure out a books appropriateness with the “Five-Finger Rule”: zero or one unknown words means the book is too easy, two or three unknown words means the book is just right, and four or more unknown words means the book is too difficult. Always encourage a child to ask for help with unknown words—this gives them independence while also letting them know others want to help them further their reading skills.

Once they have developed the skills to choose a book, a great way for children to reflect on their readings is to fill out an analysis of their experience, with resources like The International Reading Association (IRA)’s worksheet. Activities like this are a great way for children to keep track of what they have read and learned, and there are many more activities to explore on their website. It is also important to let children know that it is all right if they do not like a particular book—let them know that they will be able to find others they will love. These independent systems are empowering and enable children to pick books for themselves.

The IRA also gives the advice to say “yes” as often as you can, even if the book seems too short, too easy or contains too many pictures—if a child wants to read a book, let them. And if a child wants to read something beyond their ability, parents and teachers can solve the problem by reading aloud together, which is also a great bonding experience!

Did You Know?

According to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) describes an essential link between reading, socioeconomic opportunity, and civil involvement.” Furthermore they note that reading for pleasure increases employment opportunities and even mathematic achievement. Reading is often seen as the connection to higher education success—independent from personal development, degree level or work goals. Despite these analyses, the National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES) reports that the national literacy level is declining. Not only that, but the NEA also notes that Americans’ “reading comprehension skills are eroding.” Twenty percent of students in the United States that complete a four-year degree and thirty percent of students that complete a two-year degree only have basic quantitative literacy skills. Even tasks such as calculating the total cost of a purchase order, or estimating the miles left in a tank of gas may not be easy for them. The general hope is that an increase in literacy levels will prevent such inabilities in the future. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Marketing of Ebooks

by Nick Perricone, Fall 2013 Intern

Publishers are finding innovative ways to market ebooks to a wide audience. Print and ebook retailing, while often done by the same businesses and for the same market, have differences in the ways the products are marketed and sold. The class of readers likely to read an ebook is the same as those who read books, but the type of distribution of the texts varies for ebooks and print books. Because of these differences, ebook publishers are developing innovative ways of distributing their titles.

One way some publishers are increasing sales of their ebooks is by marketing them as free of digital rights management (DRM) software: coding which restricts the number of devices ebooks can be read on without additional cost. Baen Books of North Carolina, for example, is a pioneer of this marketing strategy.

Another difference between ebook and print retailing is in the way publishers sell ebook forms of their products to libraries. Major publishers are worried that borrowing an ebook from a library database is as simple a process as purchasing one, and that thus more people will choose to borrow rather than purchase. But rather than not distributing these ebooks to libraries at all, some publishers are restricting how their popular titles are rented, to ensure access is fair for all parties—libraries, publishers and borrowers. This access is all the more important as public awareness of libraries renting out ebooks is increasing.

Other ways publishers are retailing their ebooks are through paid subscription services, which allow users to browse available material including books and videos before purchasing it. Reading Rainbow, the free educational app resurgence of the popular children’s television series on PBS, is an example of this paid subscription service. Now owned by RRKidz, Reading Rainbow claims that 46,000 books are read and more than 41,000 videos are watched on its service every week.

Some publishers are marketing interactive features to parents and educators. Scholastic’s free ebook application Storia allows parents to monitor the reading activity and progress of their child. It also offers ebooks with text, audio and games.

Aside from marketing for children’s literature, two other companies are doing big things with interactive media: Demibooks and Inkling. Demibooks has Storytime, which hosts interactive ebooks with animation, video and sound. All the books on Storytime have been designed with its special software called Composer, a subscription service that helps ebook developers create book apps ready for purchase. Similarly, Inkling, which hosts books on medical, business, fitness, cooking and more, has Habitat, which anyone can download and use to publish their ebook to Inkling’s digital storefront.

One final way a particular publisher is marketing its digital comic books is by advertising free copies for download. Dark Horse Digital, part of Dark Horse Comics, recently celebrated its anniversary by doing so, and recorded one million downloads.

From children’s educational media to developing book apps for consumption, these approaches show the variety of ways publishers and small companies are marketing ebooks.

Did You Know?

When people think of ereaders, the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook might come to mind. But neither of these were the first ereaders on the market—nor will they likely be the last. Sony was the first to produce anything reminiscent of an ereader. The company created the Data Discman, intended as a research device, which enabled people to access their encyclopedias and reference books in digital format on the go. This ereader predecessor, which originally cost $500, could be used at the time to read publications such as the King James Bible and USA Today. It was released in 1991—seven years before the first “battle” of ereader models took place. This initial battle, which took place years before the competition between the Kindle and the Nook, occurred among NuvoMedia’s Rocketbook and Softbook Press’s SoftBook. The original Rocketbook held 4,000 pages, but the Pro version could hold around 40 books. The SoftBook, on the other hand, could hold about 100,000 pages. The SoftBook cost $600 (even more expensive than today’s newest iPad) or gave the buyer the option to pay $300 up front, then continue with a $20 per month “content package” plan. The Rocketbook did essentially what the original Kindle did, apart from wireless downloads. But because there was not a market for it at the time, it fell by the wayside. Eventually both the NuvoMedia and Softbook Press were purchased by Gemstar Ebook Group—but even they were forced to pull back on their ereader operations in 2003. These devices were simply ahead of the market, a market whose customers would not see the benefits of an ereader for a few more years. (DYK by Emeli Warren)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Are You Ready for Eye-D?

by Rachel Hill, Fall 2013 Intern

“Biometrics,” or the use of pattern recognition and algorithms to identify people based on physical characteristics often in a range of security programs, is all the rage in technology this year as people grow increasingly concerned about threats of hacking and identity theft. The newest trend is iris recognition, much more sophisticated than its fingerprint predecessor, as irises are even more complex and distinctive as individual identifiers.

Many schools are interested in the new technology as a supplementary or alternate method of identification and tracking to that easily forgotten, misplaced or stolen accessory: the ID badge. Security companies that manufacture iris recognition technology are anxious to plant their roots across a range of institutions, from elementary schools and universities to airports and high-security establishments like banks.

Blinkspot in South Dakota makes iris recognition technology for elementary school buses that look like binoculars, into which children look when they board and disembark. The machines will not only honk if the child is on the wrong bus, but also trigger a mobile app to send a message to the a parent’s or guardian’s email or phone with location, time and date. IrisID in New Jersey provides the scanning technology used by Winthrop University in South Carolina for the test run they conducted this June during freshman orientation. Another company called EyeLock manufactures the eye scanners that are currently in use in foreign airports, as well as at Bank of America’s headquarters in North Carolina.

This technology works by using an algorithm to find the best image of the iris from video footage, so it is a hands-free, simple technology that processes the images in less than two seconds. The image created is actually a small “encrypted digital template,” a 512-byte binary code representation of the biometric data, against which future images of the iris can be matched to verify identity. The encryption helps protect biometric data from being hacked and reconfigured to steal identities. Furthermore, the companies themselves do not store this information but provide it only to the institution that employs their technology.

While iris recognition is the latest in security technology, it is not, as companies have implied because of high levels of encryption and iris specificity, perfectly secure or unhackable. Companies producing this technology similarly insist, like this claim on EyeLock’s official website, that it “provides the most accurate identification and access control solutions available in the market,” which is likely true, but they provide no statistics to support that point. The digital template can be reverse-engineered to reconstruct an image of the iris, just as with encrypted fingerprint data. At a cybersecurity conference this year, researchers from Spain demonstrated a method of recreating an image from the binary code template, which they then stretched into a circle and fed into the iris scanner; they reported an 87 percent success rate because the scanner failed to recognize that the image was not of an actual human eye, an oversight that must be adjusted to protect this sensitive data from hacking.

If iris recognition technology is implemented in schools, communication is key. Because no laws currently exist regulating biometric data collection and what information institutions can share with the government, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests that iris technology may represent a grave invasion of privacy. Some parents in Florida have already spoken out against the unauthorized scanning of their children’s eyes by the school district and their recent security partner Eye-Swipe Nano. While the new security program might allay some fears about student safety, parents were outraged that they didn’t learn about the initiative until after data collection had already begun. Schools must educate parents and students on the security and convenience benefits of the technology, as well as how their biometric data will be used and protected, for the newly-accessible technology to have a proper place in school safety.

Did You Know?

When people hear “iris scans,” they may think of a system that scans an eye with infrared light. This, however, is different than iris recognition, which is a technique that takes a picture of the iris via video, solely used for identification purposes. According to Iris ID, retinal recognition is “the best of breed authentication process available today.” Unlike retinal scanning, recognition uses a method that does not require any contact and is much faster—it can be performed from distances as far as three to ten inches. It’s stable, because the pattern formed in an iris remains unchanged once a person is ten months old. The network of blood vessels in an eye is so unique that not even twins share the same configuration. Iris scans are also not limited to people with sight, as they are dependent on the existence of an iris, not on the ability to see. The method can work either by itself or in conjunction with existing security systems, but it’s reliable in the fact that an iris’s distinctive pattern is not susceptible to theft—using one’s iris for identification is much safer than, say, a password, ID or key. The systems that store the data, however, are not impenetrable to hackers, introducing one side of the argument against using the system in defense of privacy. (DYK by Emeli Warren)