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Politics and Policies

President Obama offered his "back-to-school" remarks this week at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington DC. The President encouraged the students to be

"the best student that you can be. Now, that doesn't always mean that you have to have a perfect score on every assignment. It doesn't mean that you've got to get straight As all the time -- although that's not a bad goal to have. It means that you have to stay at it. You have to be determined and you have to persevere. It means you've got to work as hard as you know how to work. And it means that you've got to take some risks once in a while. You can't avoid the class that you think might be hard because you're worried about getting the best grade if that's a subject that you think you need to prepare you for your future. You've got to wonder. You've got to question. You've got to explore. And every once in a while, you need to color outside of the lines."

His speech did not include the sentence "Aren't standardized tests such a fabulous way to assess your learning?!" -- sorta funny since that's such a big piece of his education policy.

It's Banned Books Week, the annual event each year when libraries and bookstores around the country highlight the continuing problem of censorship by displaying challenged books. It's a good reminder that even with the promise of greater access to materials thanks to Internet technology, that there are still lots of places where content -- both print and digital -- is restricted. The blog Hack Library School has a great discussion about intellectual freedom and kids.

Princeton University's faculty has voted to adopt an open-access policy. This means that faculty's published research is authorized to be made freely, openly and publicly available, even if it is being published in a "closed" or subscription-only journal. Faculty can publish their articles on their websites, for example, or in some other institutional repository. The move is part of larger efforts to help ensure that scholarly research is available and accessible -- across disciplines as well as outside the walls of the university.

On Friday, the Department of Education proposed new regulations that would tie grant money given to teacher preparation programs to the performance of those teachers' students (rather than just on how the teachers themselves perform on assessments). Both the NEA and TFA are on board with the proposals.

Launches

Amazon unveiled its much-anticipated Android tablet, the Kindle Fire, this week. The tablet will be WiFi-only and it won't have a camera or a microphone, but it will give consumers access to the Amazon Android App Store, as well as to the full range of digital content -- e-books, movies, and music -- that Amazon sells. The price point is impressive -- just $199. I'm not sold on the device being a good one for schools (although I do think it'll be a successful consumer product). Over on e-Literate Michael Feldstein has a response to my lack of enthusiasm with some good points about the bandwidth problem schools face and the new Silk browser as a possible solution. I want to respond here but this is just a news roundup, right?

And speaking of the future of buying (or not buying) e-books, TorrentFreak reports that the site LibraryPirate is continuing to push the boundaries for providing college students an alternative to purchasing expensive textbooks. But it's latest initiative, "Hire a Pirate," actually takes on the textbook rental industry. Here's how it works: students indicate which digital textbook they're looking for; the LibraryPirate staff locate it on a rental service; participating students purchase a gift certificate for the full amount of the rental and send the code to LibraryPirate. After a little bit of this and a little of that, we strip the DRM from the PDF and contact the user letting them know the book is ready via torrent, says LP's admin. The student can now carry the textbook with them anywhere for as long as they want, allowing the PDF to be easily read on any device. Yes, this is copyright infringement. And TorrentFreak asks, "So, is ripping DRM from textbooks and sharing them for the purposes of gaining an education more morally acceptable than doing the same with movies, music and games? Or is it just an elaborate excuse to frame copyright infringement in a righteous manner?"

Wikipedia announced a cool new project this week that's bound to please fans of QR codes. QRpedia will allow anyone to access a complete and mobile-friendly version of a Wikipedia article, simply by scanning a QR code with your phone.

With the advent of Wikipedia, it's sometimes easy to forget that there are other encyclopedias out there. But the Encyclopedia Britannica sure doesn't want us to forget, and it'll soon be available in its entirety as an iPad app. The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg has the details, including the subscription fee which will run you$2 a month, or $24 a year. That compares with $70 a year for the Web version and about $1,400 for the "venerable print version."

The oral history project Storycorps is collecting stories about teachers and teaching. Its National Teachers Initiative aims to record some 600 stories -- stories about and interviews with teachers. Some of these stories will be broadcast on NPR and all of them will be archived in the Library of Congress.

Legalities

Facebook has been challenging a variety of websites that are using the words "face" or "book" in their names. One of its earliest trademark infringement targets was Teachbook, an online community for teachers. Although Teachbook looks nothing like the now-classic white and blue of Facebook, the social networking giant contends that the use of "book" in its name could be confusing. Teachbook has argued that the word "book" is generic, but a judge this week refused to throw out Facebook's complaint.

Events and Experiments

I'm at Startup Weekend EDU in Seattle this weekend. Over 125 folks signed up to attend to spend the weekend building an ed-tech product. More thoughts on this event to come...

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology has reprised its social media blackout for the second year in a row. The school has blocked campus Internet access to several popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn, as well as text-messaging sites. The blackout is supposed to prompt students, faculty and staff to think about how, when, and where they use social media. "We believe that technology is not inherently good or bad," says executive vice president and provost Eric Darr. "Rather, technology becomes useful or destructive in the hands of users."

Updates and Upgrades

The interactive whiteboard app for iPad, ShowMe has rolled out several new features this week, including an improved news feed and topics -- making it easier to find the great content folks are sharing with the tool.

Research and Data

The Department of Education has released data giving a state-by-state snapshot of school performance. Bonus points for releasing the data. Points deducted for releasing the data as a PowerPoint. (You can, of course, view more Department of Ed data via its dashboard.)

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Audrey Watters


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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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