News and Trends(3)

Blackboard-WebCT Merger Draws Concern

By Amy Poftak

All eyes are fixed on course management system providers Blackboard and WebCT, who plan to merge early this year pending a federal antitrust inquiry. According to research firm Eduventures, the merger could give the company up to a 75 percent market share, which has generated heated conversations among CMS users.

One place to view the chatter is Blackboard and WebCT are One, a Web site that aggregates conjecture about the planned merger. Darren Cannell, assistant principal of the Saskatoon Catholic Cyber School in Saskatchewan, Canada and a WebCT-certified trainer, says he set up the site to solicit opinions from WebCT, Blackboard, and open source CMS users about what the post-merger product should look like.

"There's a whole pile of fear," says Cannell, who believes customers from both companies are anxious about being stuck with a product they have no control over, from the features to the price. These concerns are driving people to seriously explore open source tools such as Moodle, he says.

"I hope that they will take the best of both products," says Cannell about Blackboard-WebCT, who says he won't be switching to an open source system. "Most people don't believe this will happen, though."

At press time, Marie Farrar, a representative for Blackboard, said the company could not comment about the merger. A press release announcing the merger states, "Over time, Blackboard will incorporate the best features and usability characteristics from the two product lines into a new, standards-based product set."

Tackling the Tech Gender Gap

By Mark Smith

With U.S. Department of Labor statistics indicating a marked decline-more than 18 percent-in the number of women in the IT workforce, several organizations are launching new efforts to encourage girls to pursue careers in technology.

SRI International and Girls, Inc. of Alameda County have received a $875,195 National Science Foundation grant designed to help improve the technology literacy of middle school girls. The Build IT program will start in California's Alameda County and then extend nationally to 1,500 sites. The initial offering will be directed at 150 students and eventually grow to 600,000 girls; emphasis on design and communication technologies will be key components of the program.

Meanwhile, Cisco Systems and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) have teamed up to create a digital library geared toward helping girls learn more about careers in the science, technology, math, and engineering fields.

The program will include sample lesson plans for instructing girls in computing as well as career information and resources for clubs, programs, and summer camps for girls in technology.

Quote of the Month

By Susan McLester

"The United States needs a new strategy. We must start by improving teaching in public schools, where more than 85 percent of our schoolchildren are educated. If teaching remains a second-rate profession, America's economy will be driven by second-rate skills." -Lou Gerstner, former chairman and CEO of IBM, and current chairman of the Teaching Commission, in a recent Newsweek article titled "Sputnik Was Nothing."

Gerstner says the evidence of our national decline is much greater than it was in the late 1950s, when the launch of Sputnik "sent us scrambling." He goes on to call for a shake up in schools of education, which he labels "sleeping cash cows," and he challenges governors to "...pressure college presidents to raise standards, redesign programs of study, and launch university wide efforts to get top graduates, especially those with math and science majors, to enter teaching."

In a similar article in BusinessWeek Online, "Science Grads, Where Are You?", Intel CEO Craig Barrett also raises a red flag, calling for a "doubling of the number of engineering graduates each year from some 50,000 to 100,000 or more." Barrett targets America's business community, urging it to step up to the plate and get involved if we have any hope of effecting change on this scale.

Blog Watch

"I got my first wiki spam today. I'd tell you more, but I don't want the wiki terrorists to win."
-Bud the Teacher;

"The $100 laptop could change everything for developing countries...Even if it fails, it will be a spectacular failure. And, sometimes, the best success is the venture that isn't afraid to fail in a big way."
-Mousing Around (;

How Do Teens Use the 'Net?

By Mark Smith

More than half of all teens have created content for the Internet, ranging from blogs to artwork, according to a study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Nearly a fifth of teens in the study blog, with teen girls ages 15-17 being the most likely to contribute to online journals. Those who do blog were much more likely to share their own art, photos, and stories online; remix found content; create personal Web pages; and work on Web pages for friends or school projects.

The study also found that teen bloggers use the Internet heavily and are comfortable with technology. Teens from urban homes and those with broadband access were much more likely to share their artwork on the Internet; along gender lines, boys were engaged in the downloading and sharing of files more than girls, and older girls led the way in self-authored content.

Tom McHale, an educator who teaches in Pennsylvania, says he's not surprised by the study's findings, as many of his students regularly blog on Web sites such as

"Anytime our students are spending this much time publishing material for anyone to see, I think it's important we pay attention," McHale says. "It makes me wonder about the future of content creation on the Internet and how we might utilize the skills these kids are using in the classroom."