Week of: March 24, 2008
- Schools Turn to Biometrics
School systems are embracing biometrics as a tool to make routine activities—like taking attendance or paying for lunch—easier and more efficient.
- Deal Expands Open Source Content Availability
Curriki, the nonprofit organization developed to provide access to free and open-source curricula, has partnered with Nortel LearniT to create one of the world's largest free sources of educational materials.
- SIIA's Vision K-20 Initiative
The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) has launched its Vision K-20 Initiative, designed to serve as a guide for educational institutions to implement technology district and campus-wide.
- WI's Virtual Schools Get a Reprieve
Wisconsin legislators voted to change state laws to legalize virtual schooling and thereby averting a crisis that threatened the state's existing virtual schools.
- Sharing the Power
Engineers without Borders partners with developing communities worldwide to improve their quality of life through the implementation of sustainable engineering projects.
Schools Turn to Biometrics
School systems are embracing biometrics as a tool to make routine activities—like taking attendance or paying for lunch—easier and more efficient. Biometrics comprises a number of methods for uniquely recognizing humans based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioral traits. Among schools, the biometric tool most commonly used is a fingerprint scanner. Once an initial scan of a student's fingerprint is done to establish a record, all the student has to do to pay for lunch or check out a library book is touch a finger to a touch pad. Half the school systems in West Virginia are using finger scanning. But as the technology spreads some parents and civil libertarians worry about privacy issues and potential identity theft. There are concerns that schools do not have policies in place to guide what type of information is collected, how long it is kept, and who has access to it. Nor do they have the resources to ensure that the data is stored securely. Iowa has a law banning the use of biometrics in schools and Arizona is considering a similar law. But Iowa is reconsidering its 2005 ban, with new legislation introduced that would allow schools to use the technology again. Proponents say that the concerns are unfounded, since the original student fingerprint is not saved. It is scanned and converted to a template that maps the swirls and arcs of the finger. The template is converted to a binary number and when the child scans the finger again, a new template is created and compared to the stored binary image of the original template. There is not enough information saved to recreate a real fingerprint.
Deal Expands Open Source Content Availability
Curriki, the nonprofit organization developed to provide access to free and open-source curricula, has partnered with Nortel LearniT to create one of the world's largest free sources of educational materials. Curriki currently offers a complete course of open-source instruction and assessment for K-12. The organization is dedicated to creating an educational community where users can find, create and share resources and support each other in discovering how best to integrate technology into the classroom. Nortel LearniT is a philanthropic initiative designed to prepare teachers, students, and learners of all ages to develop 21st century skills as a basis for their ongoing engagement in learning, academic success and personal achievement. Nortel LearniT includes lesson plans, video tutorials on technology skills and best-practice resources all designed to extend the constructivist 6ES instructional model. The 6ES model comprises Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate, Extend, and Standards to allow students and teachers to jointly construct new knowledge on top of their existing knowledge. Curriki's technical platform is based on the advanced collaborative, open source x-wiki software. It allows educational users to upload and share their resources and curricula, making it available to teachers and learners everywhere. Nortel LearniT's tools to train new and current users on the integrated use of technology and its comprehensive science, technology, engineering and mathematics teacher training program will be available on Curriki and teachers will be able to use these tools and resources to create new lessons and resources and publish them to both the Nortel LearniT and Curriki web sites.
SIIA's Vision K-20 Initiative
The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) has launched its Vision K-20 Initiative, designed to serve as a guide for educational institutions to implement technology district and campus-wide. The initiative aims to help stakeholders make progress toward creating a truly 21st Century learning environment. The Vision K-20 Initiative calls for a coalition of education stakeholders—including teachers, administrators, university leaders, business executives and policymakers—to prepare our students to thrive in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace. This Vision goes beyond an acknowledgment of the need for 21st Century learning to offer clearly-defined goals and benchmarks that lead to large-scale, systematic change. It outlines seven goals that address educational technology and five ways for academic institutions to measure their progress toward these goals on an annual basis. A simple online survey allows schools to measure the extent to which they are using 21st Century tools for teaching and learning, providing all members of the education community with anytime/anywhere access, offering differentiated learning options and resources to close achievement gaps, employing technology-based assessment tools and using technology to enable the enterprise. With those and other guidelines in place, K-20 institutions can use educational software and e-learning tools to support instruction and assessment, while motivating students through deepened learning and extended opportunities for creativity and collaboration.
WI's Virtual Schools Get a Reprieve
Wisconsin legislators voted to change state laws to legalize virtual schooling and thereby averting a crisis that threatened the state's existing virtual schools. In December, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled that the operation of Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA), a virtual charter school that enrolls students from across the state, violated state statutes. The ruling was specific to WIVA, but it made operators of other virtual schools statewide very nervous, since it found that state statute prohibits a school district from operating a charter school located outside the district. In the Court's opinion, open-enrollment students needed to attend a school in the district to which they open enroll. Wisconsin law required all schools, including charters, to be certified and parents cannot be the primary teachers in a public school funded with taxpayer dollars. In all, Wisconsin has 12 virtual schools in operation, serving roughly 3,400 students. Wisconsin has an open enrollment public school choice system under which students are allowed to attend any public school district that admits them. Districts, including those operating the state's various virtual schools, received $5,845 for each nonresident student in the 2006-'07 school year. The only way around the Court ruling was for the legislature to change the law. In the final compromise which is expected to solve the problem, the legislature approved legislation that will allow the virtual schools to continue operating with only a few additional requirements, but caps their overall growth at 5,250 students.
Sharing the Power
Engineers without Borders partners with developing communities worldwide to improve their quality of life through the implementation of sustainable engineering projects. One such project is the design of a "home-brewed" wind turbine that will bring electricity to off-the-grid Guatemalan villages. The goal is to design a turbine that can be manufactured locally and that will cost less than $100. The small turbine will produce 10-15 watts of electricity, enough to charge a 12-volt battery that can power simple devices like LED lights. It may not sound like much, but is an enormous improvement over the current use of kerosene lamps. The turbine was designed by the Appropriate Technology Design Team of Engineers Without Border's San Francisco chapter. Team members work to design low-tech gadgets for people in the developing world. Lab space in San Francisco is donated by a company that employs several of the Design Team members. The American engineers are challenged to think of simpler solutions, perhaps not as elegant as they would like, but more likely to be successful in difficult field conditions. Designs need to be simple enough to be assembled in local manufacturing facilities and need to use cheap and readily available materials. Engineers Without Borders has some 340 projects underway.