News Update :: Tuesday, August 15, 2006


eCollege CEO Thorne Charges Blackboard Patent 'Invalid'

eCollege chairman Oakleigh Thorne charged last week that a recent patent on electronic learning technology awarded to Blackboard Inc. is invalid.

“As one of the pioneers of online education, we launched our first customer’s eLearning program in January 1997, before Blackboard even existed,” said Oakleigh Thorne, chairman and CEO of eCollege. “In fact, we had online programs for numerous institutions up and running [for] more than a year before the filing of Blackboard’s patent application.”

“After consulting with patent counsel, we believe the patent is invalid,” he added.

Blackboard said the U.S. patent covers “core technology relating to certain systems and methods involved in offering online education, including course management systems and enterprise e-Learning systems.”

Blackboard said the patent “underpins” several of its campus and course management systems, including the Blackboard Learning System, WebCT Vista, and WebCT Campus Edition. The company said corresponding patents for the technology were issued in Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore and are pending in the European Union, China, Japan, Canada, India, Israel, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Brazil. The same day it received the patent, Blackboard filed a patent infringement suit against Desire2Learn, Inc., a learning management system developer.

eCollege’s Thorne said, “the fact that one company has been granted a patent for such a broad application and now is engaging in litigation with another eLearning provider is unfortunate for a market that traditionally has been fueled by innovation and choice. It also is unfortunate that Blackboard chose not to issue a press release when the patent was awarded this past January, at a time when the Department of Justice was investigating the antitrust ramifications of Blackboard’s merger with its competitor, WebCT.”

Michael Feldstein, a blogger who writes about online learning, said on his blog, e-Literate, that he was, “surprised there hasn’t been more uproar about this yet…the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has apparently granted Blackboard a patent for...well...pretty much anything remotely related to learning management systems. As I read it, Blackboard basically owns the patent on any sort of groupware at all that is used for teaching purposes. This could have very serious consequences for both proprietary and Open Source competitors – and I define ‘competitors’ as loosely as possible.”

For more information, click here.

Computer Scientists Profs Envision New 'Science of the Web'

A group of renowned computer science professors have authored a paper calling for the creation of an interdisciplinary “science of the Web” to focus the academic community on the Web itself as a dominant medium that will link knowledge and transform social values.

The article in last week’s issue of the journal Science was written by James Hendler, a visiting professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel J. Weitzner of the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at MIT; and Wendy Hall and Nigel Shadbolt of the school of electronics and computer science at the University of Southampton

“If we want to model the Web; if we want to understand the architectural principles that have provided for its growth; and if we want to be sure that it supports the basic social values of trustworthiness, privacy, and respect for social boundaries, then we must chart out a research agenda that targets the Web as a primary focus of attention.” This according to the team of computer scientists led Hendler.

“Despite the incredible importance of the World Wide Web…[it] has not received as much interest within the traditional computer science research world as it deserves,” said Hendler. The authors are proponents of the “semantic Web,” which is a point in the evolution of the Internet where once-isolated data will be linked via common formats to enable applications to move freely from one dataset to another. The end result will be a fusion of data that would, for instance, enable users to look at bank records from their calendars or from any other program.

For more information, click here.

Internet2 Tools Help Manage User Access to Group Research

Internet2, a higher education consortium focused on researching the next generation Internet, has introduced a set of tools to help manage the access and authentication of users involved in network-based research collaboration. The tools, called the Signet Privilege Management System and the Grouper Group Management Toolkit, are considered precursors to tools that will eventually manage user access to projects hosted by researchers working simultaneously around the globe.

The Signet and Grouper systems are byproducts of Internet2’s Middleware Initiative, a project to enhance institution-wide role- and permission-based authorization for access to higher ed resources. It is funded by Stanford University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Bristol.

Ken Klingenstein, Internet2’s director of middleware and security, said the tools will “enable organizations, both institutional and virtual, to better manage and control individuals’ access to protected resources. This is accomplished by providing a framework for the consistent application of authorization rules across all of their IT systems.”

Cornell University is using the tools to simplify how its own community members and visiting students gain access to campus services. “Better support for visiting students is one of the first goals Signet and Grouper will help us achieve,” said Andrea Beesing, assistant director for identity management. She said that previously, “providing temporary access to services has been very manual and inefficient.”

For more information, click here or here.

Intel Project Prepares Higher Ed for Processor Paradigm Shift

Intel Corp., the dominant global computer chip maker, announced a project to prepare university students and faculty computer scientists and software developers for the change from chips with single-processor engines to ones with multiple cores and threads. The shift will transform software design and require entirely new thinking in order to leverage the new processors, Intel said.

As part of the program, Intel will give 45 of the world’s top universities funding, development tools, educational materials, and on-site training to incorporate multi-core and multi-threading concepts into their computer science curricula. By the end of this year, the company expects more than three-quarters of its server, desktop, and laptop PC processors to ship as dual-core processors. Four-core, eight-core, and multi-cores are on the horizon.

Universities participating in the project include Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, and University of Washington, as well as academic institutions across Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia, Taiwan, and Europe. The first courses will be offered during the fall term and Intel expects more universities to participate in 2007.

“Intel’s support in multi-core education is critical for two reasons,” said Karsten Schwan, professor in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. “First, getting early access to advanced technology and new equipment is something that always excites students. Second, companies like Intel have a perspective that looks beyond research to see the broader potential for technology.”

For more information, click here or here.

Terrorism Expert: Campuses Have False Sense of Security

Some college campuses – especially small ones – might believe they are immune from terrorist activity. But that sense of security is false, says Paul M. Cell, chief of the Montclair State University Police Department.

“Each institution has its own unique appeal to the various terrorist causes,” says Cell, who is certified in terrorism response and prevention training for law enforcement. In addition to the more publicized dangers campuses face – the bombing of a large research university’s nuclear facilities, for example – incidents that are smaller in scope but still threatening to the campus community can also occur – such as targeting an individual staff or faculty member because of controversial research, or running a Web site that supports a terrorist organization.

Another common misconception is that a general emergency plan will be adequate in responding to such incidents, Cell says. “The most commonly overlooked security concern at many colleges and universities is the belief that just having an emergency plan is enough,” he says. “All too often, emergency plans are not exercised, updated, or properly disseminated to the community.”

On August 23, Cell will detail how to conduct thorough campus risk, threat, and vulnerability assessments for all types of institutions during a live, 90-minute audio conference on “Level Red: A Community Approach to Mitigating Campus Terrorism.” The focus will be on a multidisciplinary, multijurisdictional approach to campus preparedness.

For more information, click here.

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