News and Trends(16)

from Technology & Learning

Rating computers' effect on improved writing skills, E-rate celebrates 10th anniversary, open source spelled out in new book

Quote of the Month

"One of the emptiest slogans in the history of politics"

—Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) on No Child Left Behind, at the annual National Education Association meeting in Philadelphia last month. He added, "Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test."

Improving students' vocabulary has never been prettier, now that two new Internet tools graphically display word relations in diagrams reminiscent of a neural net. Visuwords, a free Flash-based Web application (it can also be downloaded and installed on your server), is the graphical component of WordNet, an open-source database developed at Princeton University.

VisualThesaurus is an interactive dictionary and thesaurus that creates word maps of related words branching off a keyword. Parts of speech are color-coded and users can roll over words for expanded definitions. The utility, created by Thinkmap, can be purchased with an educator's discount as a download or to be used in your Web browser.

Public Still Unsure of Technology's Impact

A recently released National Writing Project survey of more than 1,500 U.S. adults shows the general public is almost equally split over whether computers are making it more or less necessary for a person to have strong writing skills.

Linux Rising

Whether it's the increasing cost of renewing all those licenses or the growing sophistication of Linux-based applications, open source seems to be the hot topic among a slice of in-the-know educators. T&L caught up with author and ed tech guru David D. Thornburg and asked him about his new book, Open Source in Education, and the blooming enthusiasm for Linux-based operating systems sweeping schools nationwide.

What are the biggest misconceptions about open source?

DT: I think the biggest misconception is that, if it is free, it must not be very good. In reality, Linux is among the most robust operating systems ever created. While cost is a limiting factor for technology use in K-12 education, users of Linux-based computers tend to get increased performance, and can extend the life of their hardware investments with no degradation of performance over time.

Do you sense a sea change in the way schools are considering open source?

DT: There are some inroads that suggest we are nearing a point where Linux is going to really take off in K–12. First, San Diego has announced the intent to get 100,000 Linux-based laptops over the next few years—one for every child in grades three through 12. Add this to Indiana's continued growth of Linux in the classroom, and you can be sure other states are watching things very closely. My first conference sessions on Linux [two years ago] were sparsely attended. This year at NECC I had about 500 people in a room designed to hold 300 at most. They were sitting on the floor.

Where can people get your book?

DT: Novell has a link to the book at Also, people can contact me directly at, and see what open-source resources I like (and what other stuff I'm watching) at

Measuring School Safety

CDW-G recently released the results of a 381-district national survey on school safety. The CDW-G School Safety Index 2007, designed to measure both physical and technological security vulnerabilities, found respondents' districts to be dangerously at-risk in both areas. Of a possible high score of 160 points, the average district scored a 44. In the area of cyber safety, the average was 55.3 out of a possible 110. Major issues flagged include an over-reliance on safety software, lack of emphasis on safety education, the use of anonymous proxies by students to dodge security measures, and a reliance on outmoded communication like the telephone for emergencies. Identity theft is also a burgeoning problem. According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, more than 158 million records have been stolen since 2005, and schools aren't immune. In addition to the examples in the graphic above, one of the biggest security breaches ever in a U.S. K–12 school occurred in May, when confidential data for thousands of Indianapolis students was posted online.

To assess the state of your district's physical and cyber safety, visit to download the School Safety Index tool (see "100+ New Products", for a description).