Tech Briefs

Study: Distance Learning also Benefits Students on Campus
WASHINGTON — As colleges increased their use of the Internet to provide more distance learning classes and degrees, students on campus also reaped benefits that improved school life, a new report on the growth of college online services says.
In just a year, the number of colleges offering online degrees doubled, says a report from Market Data Retrieval, a Dun & Bradstreet educational research company. But the study shows that colleges also spent more money on technology and added computers to on-campus residence halls and classrooms.
In addition to taking Internet-based courses themselves, on-campus students also gained online access to study help, professors’ lecture notes, class registration, parking permits and tuition payment.
Researchers, who surveyed 4,000 institutions, found that seven in 10 colleges now offer some form of distance learning, including courses, lecture notes and online study groups. For the 1999-2000 academic year, 34 percent of two- and four-year colleges offered degrees via computer, compared with 15 percent a year ago.
Yet as interest in online education grows, with one computer software billionaire even offering to provide it free to all takers, researchers and other educators say it’s too soon to predict a nation of college students perched in front of dorm or home computers instead of in class.
“It would make no sense to bring people together in a physical setting and not have interpersonal interaction,” says Dr. Stanley O. Ikenberry, president of the American Council on Education. “That’s the whole reason for having a campus in the first place.”
But Ikenberry says that new technology can enhance campus scholarship. Students who get a professor’s lecture notes, download reading assignments or even buy books online actually could be free to spend more time with professors, discussing subjects and analyzing research projects.
While it is becoming commonplace for professors to instruct students with the help of a computer, the report found that just 4 percent of colleges insist that all of their students have a computer.
Distance learning’s greatest impact may be on those who never went to college. As schools facing more competition from for-profit groups create their own online offerings, a college education might one day be available for free.
Michael Saylor, chief executive of Microstrategy in Vienna, Va., told a group of Washington, D.C.,-based philanthropists last month that he will donate $100 million to create a nonprofit, tuition-free online university that would offer an “Ivy League” education to anyone.
To view the full report, visit www.schooldata.com/datapoint43.html.


Freshman Arrested for Online Hate Crime
BATON ROUGE, La. — A 20-year-old Louisiana State University freshman was arrested last month after admitting to sending racially offensive and sexually explicit e-mail messages to a female student, authorities here say.
Spencer Wong also threatened to blow up the woman’s car in one of six e-mail messages he sent, says Louisiana State Police Capt. Ricky Adams. He was charged with stalking, terrorizing, committing a hate crime and six counts of interfering with a member of an educational institution.
The victim received the first message Feb. 13. After getting more a week later, she filed a complaint, Adams says. Wong and the woman had been in a computer class together.


Microsoft Showcases Computerized Home Without the Computer
REDMOND, Wash. — Imagine coming home and having your house say hello.
No, the house doesn’t actually come out and say it. Instead, after it scans your retina on the porch, it unlocks the door for you. Once inside the lights come up, the blinds open and your favorite aria filters through the speakers.
From there, you can dial up your phone messages and e-mail on your TV, pipe the music into the kitchen while you cook dinner and look up a recipe over the Internet. If a music CD or DVD movie is loaded, you can enjoy it from any room in the house.
Home networking is not a new concept. Small companies like X10 and large ones like IBM offer the hardware and software necessary to automate and computerize a home. But it’s expensive, and requires a powerful home computer or expensive computerized hub to run it all.
Microsoft Corp., however, has designed a networked home that doesn’t need a computer.
“Every device in here has just enough of a brain to recognize every other device,” says Stacy Elliot, spokeswoman for the Microsoft Home.
Microsoft believes the greatest benefit from its networking concept comes because a computer isn’t necessary. With pre-installed software on a WebTV device and microchip-equipped appliances and home electronics, the network will be able to recognize each device and figure out what it does.
The Microsoft Home is a six-room mockup on the second floor of Microsoft’s new Executive Briefing Center. In it, every light switch has a small video screen that controls music, every TV screen can peer outside to see who’s at the door and every CD player, VCR and Internet terminal is linked.
Building a wired home without a computer at its core is somewhat ironic, considering that Microsoft has made its fortune on software for personal and business computers. However, the company’s revamped strategy includes efforts to reach out to people who still aren’t online and still don’t buy computers.
The Microsoft Home as it currently stands is expensive. Elliot wouldn’t even estimate the price, though engineer Aaron Woodman notes that the three large flat-screen TVs in the home are about $16,000 apiece. In addition, the technology isn’t necessarily futuristic, but it’ll take at least a couple of years before new homes will feature some of the Microsoft Home’s wizardry.  



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