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News Update :: Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Middlebury Bans Wikipedia as Academic Source

Vermont's Middlebury College has banned the use of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia as an acceptable source of academic information for students at Vermont's Middlebury College, United Press International reported.

The open-source, free encyclopedia lets anyone create and edit citations, which has resulted in the publication of incorrect information. Because of the errors, Middlebury's history department recently instituted the ban. Because of errors, Middlebury's history department instituted a policy that says, "Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source," according to Vermont-based Burlington Free Press.

But writing in the Middlebury Campus student newspaper, undergrad Chandler Koglmeier said, "are you really arrogant enough to say that the opinions of the general public, albeit a general public who cares enough to get on Wikipedia and post about a specific topic, don't matter? To me, this stinks of the beginnings of censorship."

The Wikipedia Foundation supports the new policy, the Free Press said. In an e-mail to the newspaper, the foundation said it is an "ideal place to start" for students; "however, it is not an authoritative source."

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Cornell Forms Committee to Examine Use of Facebook

Cornell University has formed a Facebook Task Force to help make decisions on how and whether the college should educate students on safely using social networking sites, the Ithacan Online campus news service reported. The committee, composed of 12 members of the faculty, two administrators, and three students, will also look at ways the college might use Facebook to get information to students and to create a protocol in determining whether to examine Facebook for safety and security reasons.

Brian McAree, vice president of Student Affairs and Campus Life, told the Ithacan that the task force was developed because they decided it was an issue worth looking into, not for any specific situation or reason.

"One of the things we have seen over the [last] couple of years is when room assignments go out in the summer, students go to see who their roommate is on Facebook," he said. "Then all of a sudden they may conclude that they are not going to be comfortable with this person as a roommate, and so they call Residential Life."

At the committee's first meeting last week, the group discussed whether the university’s public safety staff should regularly go on Facebook or MySpace to look for violations of the student conduct code or the law. McAree said the task force is looking to develop protocols for how Public Safety should respond. "The question that we are posing to ourselves is should we be on Facebook on a regular basis," he said. "To be honest, I don't think we have the time or personnel to do that."

For more information, click here.

Indiana Researchers Identify "Drive-by Pharming" Threat

Researchers at Indiana University School of Informatics and computer security firm Symantec have discovered a new computer security vulnerability they say could put millions of computers at risk. So far, the mode of attack--called Drive-by Pharming--has only been spotted in Symantec and in university research labs.

Drive-by pharming attacks originate from bad code embedded in a website, e-mail, or even a MySpace profile. When a user clicks on the site, the code is automatically downloaded and uses JavaScript to change the DNS settings of the user's broadband router.

Zully Ramzan, a Symantec researcher, said it was "only a matter of time before drive-by pharming becomes common. In fact, any kind of potential loss could sum up to millions of dollars. Once it goes out in the wild, the potential damage could be huge."

Pharming can also wreak havoc via identity theft. A pharmer could direct a user who is trying to visit their online banking site to an identical fake version. Once the user enters their password, the attacker can access the account on the real site and withdraw funds or even start new accounts.

For more information, click here.

University of Rome Researchers Study Tagging Patterns

Researchers at the University of Rome are trying to determine the underlying statistical properties of new forms of social media by studying how people use tags--words used to describe the content of a Web-linked article or photo.

"The idea was to try and see if we could [model] a system which is an IT system, but exposing, in a very explicit and complex way, the social component--the activity of people," said Ciro Cattuto, one of the researchers. "In this system, the linguistic element--the word, the symbol--is a dynamical entity and plays the role of a particle in statistical mechanics," he added.

The researchers determined that user behavior in collaborative tagging schemes followed a "power law" in which certain words were highly associated with the chosen tags. For instance, "design," "web," and "news" appear most frequently with "blog" and "javascript;" "web" and "xmlhttprequest" occur most often with "ajax." There is a steep dropoff where several terms appear less often with the chosen tags.

The authors say they were not surprised by the presence of a power law in their model, because this sort of curve is "the standard signature of self-organization and of human activity."

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Indiana Colleges Urge Secondary Schools to Adopt e-Transcripts

In a unanimous request, Indiana's public universities urged the state's high school guidance counselors to adopt electronic filing of transcripts. In an "open letter to Indiana high school counselors," admissions officers from all of Indiana's public universities said high school college advisors should adopt the state's e-Transcript Initiative (ETI) as "the preferred delivery method of transcripts for applications" to the state's public colleges.

The letter was signed by admissions directors from all the campuses of Ball State University, Indiana University, and Purdue University.

Since Indiana launched the ETI one year ago, the use of electronic transcripts has jumped from almost no activity to 10,000 admissions transcripts. The letter from the admissions officers pointed out that a majority of students already submit their applications online, and 90 percent submit financial aid applications and registration materials for standardized tests online.

"The broad adoption of electronic transcripts will complete the online and paperless delivery of all materials necessary for college admissions" the counselors noted. "The State of Indiana has the opportunity to be a national leader and model in this regard."

For more information, click here.

Carnegie Mellon to Offer Degree in Software Management

Carnegie Mellon West will start offering a master of science degree in software management, in part to meet demand for people educated in how to cost, develop, and fit software to the strategic aims of their businesses. The school said the discipline will be an important tool in competing in the burgeoning global economy.

"The rise of the global economy has shifted the emphasis of software engineering," said James Morris, dean of the school. " This technical, business, and organizational cross-training gives our students the perspective and contextual understanding they need to see and seize opportunities in the global market."

The program will build on the school's heritage in software engineering, administrators said. But it will also break with that tradition by giving students the kind of economic and management education they will need to succeed in next-generation distributed software organizations.

For more information, click here.

Pittsburgh Art Institute Opens Campus in Second Life

One week after announcing an online social network to facilitate collaboration, the Pittsburgh Art Institute said it was opening a student campus in Second Life, the virtual business community.

Second Life will be a forum for a new business communications course, according to the art school, that will involve "learning by doing," as well as simulation-based learning. "By providing real-world objects and scenarios, students will be able to experiment with business processes and techniques of the real world in a virtual environment," according to the school.

The impetus for opening the virtual community came from the students: "An environment such as this takes advantage of lateral and community-based learning," said Jeannie Novak, academic program director at The Art Institute Online. "We are always striving to create that within our current 2D online courses, and this certainly takes lateral learning to the next level."

Instructors say the Second Life class experience is particularly enhanced for online learners. "Students will always know they're taking a course," said Novak. "But they'll be playing a game in the process, which is what serious gaming is all about."

For more information, click here.

MIT Student Wins Lemelson Prize for Spiderman Device

Nathan Ball, an MIT mechanical engineering graduate student, has won the school's prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Ball won the award, given each year for the most ingenious and useful invention, for creating a device to help paramedics and fire fighters scramble up the side of buildings. Dubbed the Atlas Powered Rope Ascender, the device consists of a motorized pulley that can pull a heavily weighted firefighter up a building in 30 seconds.

"It is literally like what Batman or James Bond has," Ball told the MIT press office. "It is a cordless power tool that you hook onto your safety harness. It has variable speed control just like a drill."

Ball has also invented an improvement in needle-free injection technology developed at MIT's BioInstrumentation Laboratory. Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program, said, "[Ball's] battery-powered rope ascender and needle-free injection technology both have life-saving capabilities and many commercial applications."

For more information, click here.

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