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News Update :: Tuesday, January 16, 2007


BlackBoard Launches Education Social Bookmark Service

Course management system giant Blackboard has launched a social bookmarking service--"customized for education" -- and aimed at Blackboard and WebCT customers.

The service, called Scholar, will be integrated into the Blackboard Learning System. It is the first offering of the company's "Beyond Initiative," designed to connect its users "worldwide, across education segments and disciplines, and thus leverage the wisdom of the community for teaching and learning," according to Blackboard.

The service has all the features of bookmarking services like, including tagging and RSS feeds, but is designed to make it easier for students to tag Web content for a particular course or major. Course tags are automatically generated based on students' enrollments in Blackboard.

Scott Leslie, a blogger on higher education technologies, wrote on his blog EdTechPost that Blackboard will likely get "demonized" from the social Web community for offering the service. "Me," he wrote, "sure I'd love to see systems that instead of creating additional silos and enclaves, allowed users to move in an authenticated form from the institution's systems to ones out on the general Web, you know, have my cake and eat it too," Leslie wrote.

" But the customers (that's you, right) have got to demand this, not expect vendors whose whole business model is 'lock in' to simply just provide it. And the sad fact of the matter is that none of the Internet-wide identity plays seem really up to this. Yet."...

For more information, click here or here.

UK Students Offered Cash for Open Source Software

British university students are being offered cash incentives to write open source software. The UK Free Software Network (UKFSN), a Hertfordshire, England-based Internet service provider, said it will use its profits to form a fund to benefit students who write software that can be modified by its end users.

Andrew Price, a second-year computer science student at Swansea University, was the first person to be selected under the UKFSN's so-called "Profits" program. The 24-year-old was awarded £4,680 ($9,164) as an encouragement to write open code.

"There's a lot of work to be done," Price, a former president of the university's computer society, told Ping Wales, a Welsh IT news service. "A constraint I have to follow is the GNU Free Software Definition. The UKFSN program will allow me to carry on contributing to free software in my spare time instead of having to get a typical dead-end student job that would be far less fulfilling; now I can treat it like a fun job and not just a fun hobby."

UKFSN started in 2003 to fund British free software projects from the profits of its Internet service provision business. It now has about 2,500 customers. "I spent some time asking myself who the contributors to free software tend to be," UKFSN's Jason Clifford told Ping Wales. "Looking over the largest and best-known projects, such as Linux and GNU, I realized that they tend to be started by students and that students tend to get involved more readily.

"Many universities and colleges have a long history of involvement in free software projects as experience has shown that these provide invaluable benefit to both the student and the academic institution. It also occurred to me that students in this country are increasingly being squeezed financially."...

For more information, click here.

U. Illinois Robotics Researchers Discover Less Intelligence is More

Robotics researchers at the University of Illinois are helping develop a "minimalist" theory for programming robot intelligence, a method designed to pare down robot data requirements to the essentials.

The ideas are the byproduct of the SToMP project, for Sensor Topology for Minimal Planning, whose mission is to "develop and implement global topological tools to dramatically reduce the amount of sensing complexity needed to solve problems" across a variety of military applications that involve sensor networks.

"People used to think that more information is better," said Steve LaValle, a UI computer science professor who is working with UI math professor Rob Ghrist, on the project. "But …a big part of SToMP is minimalism. Instead of making expensive robots that gather tons of useless data, we are attempting to make robots that have simple, inexpensive sensors but can nevertheless get the job done. Why? Because someone understood what information is actually needed."

The UI team is working with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Rochester, Carnegie-Mellon, Melbourne University, Arizona State, and Bell Labs on the project, funded with a $7.8 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"It's not like we get lots of data and mine it to do this. We think carefully about the 'information requirements' of a task and then design minimalist robots that accomplish the task. The robots might not know things like their precise location or a map of the building, but they can accomplish tasks because they 'think' in terms of 'information spaces.'"...

For more information, click here.

Berners-Lee Wins Draper Prize, Engineering's Nobel

Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the World Wide Web, will receive the 2007 Charles Stark Draper Prize, the $500,000 annual award considered "engineering's Nobel Prize."

The Draper prize will be presented Feb. 20 in Washington, D.C. to Berners-Lee, who is now a senior researcher at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Berners-Lee "imaginatively combined ideas to create the World Wide Web, an extraordinary innovation that is rapidly transforming the way people store, access, and share information around the globe,'' according to the National Academy of Engineers (NAE), which established the Draper Prize in 1988 to honor engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society....

For more information, click here.

Schwarzenegger Proposes $95 Million For Tech Initiative

Calif. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to ask for $95 million in the state budget to create the Governor's Research and Innovation Initiative, designed boost investment in the state's "innovation sectors," including information technology, cleantech, biotech and nanotech.

Key projects targeted for funding in the state's budget include:

  • California Centers for Science and Innovation, a research effort by the University of California working in partnership with private companies in the areas of information technology and nanotechnology.
  • Petascale Computing. The budget provides the first $5 million in matching funds for the University of California's bid to build a $200 million petascale computer, the most powerful computer in the world.
  • The Helos Project, a project at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to create sustainable, super-efficient solar energy technology.
  • The Energy Biosciences Institute. The budget provides $40 million to the University of California in the event it wins a British Petroleum EBI grant for alternative fuels research.
"With some of the world's finest universities and research institutions, the Golden State has more scientists, engineers, and researchers and invests more on research and development than any other state," said Schwarzenegger. "As a leader in developing new technologies, California will reap tremendous rewards for our economy and environment from this investment in our innovation infrastructure."...

For more information, click here.

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