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Education

The Ig Nobel Awards Celebrate Their 26th First Annual Awards Ceremony (improbable.com) 33

Thursday Harvard's Sanders Theatre hosted the 26th edition of the humorous research awards "that make people laugh, then think...intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." One of this year's winners actually lived as a goat, wearing prosthetic extensions on his arms and legs so he could travel the countryside with other goats. Long-time Slashdot reader tomhath writes: The Journal of Improbable announced these winners:

REPRODUCTION PRIZE [EGYPT] -- The late Ahmed Shafik, for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.

ECONOMICS PRIZE [NEW ZEALAND, UK] -- Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective...

PEACE PRIZE [CANADA, USA] -- Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called 'On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit'...

PERCEPTION PRIZE [JAPAN] -- Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

The Improable Research site lists the rest of this year's 10 winners, as well as every winner for the previous 25 years.
Education

How ITT Tech Screwed Students and Made Millions (gizmodo.com) 320

An anonymous Slashdot reader shares "a grim story about a company that screwed poor people, military veterans, and taxpayers to turn a profit." Gizmodo reports: By the time ITT Technical Institute closed its doors earlier this month, the for-profit college had been selling tenuous diplomas at exorbitant prices for more than 20 years...burying low-income and first-generation students in insurmountable debt, and evading regulators since the early 1990s...
ITT collected $178 million over two years just in federal education funding for veterans -- even while the company projected 33% of its students would ultimately default on their loans -- and last year 70% of the school's total revenue came directly from federal financial aid programs. Gizmodo spoke to one student who "will now spend the rest of his life paying back loans for a degree that is practically useless," after compounding interest turned his $70,000 loan into $200,000 in debt. "Like all of the former students interviewed by Gizmodo, he was placed in a job that did not require professional training" -- specifically, a game-testing position that didn't even require a high school diploma, while ITT "placed" another student in a $5.95-an-hour telemarketing job. Her assessment of ITT? "It was totally worthless."
Education

Poor Scientific Research Is Disproportionately Rewarded (economist.com) 80

A new study calculates a low probability that real effects are actually being detected in psychology, neuroscience and medicine research paper -- and then explains why. Slashdot reader ananyo writes: The average statistical power of papers culled from 44 reviews published between 1960 and 2011 was about 24%. The authors built an evolutionary computer model to suggest why and show that poor methods that get "results" will inevitably prosper. They also show that replication efforts cannot stop the degradation of the scientific record as long as science continues to reward the volume of a researcher's publications -- rather than their quality.
The article notes that in a 2015 sample of 100 psychological studies, only 36% of the results could actually be reproduced. Yet the researchers conclude that in the Darwin-esque hunt for funding, "top-performing laboratories will always be those who are able to cut corners." And the article's larger argument is until universities stop rewarding bad science, even subsequent attempts to invalidate those bogus results will be "incapable of correcting the situation no matter how rigorously it is pursued."
Education

Kindergarteners Today Get Little Time To Play, and It's Stunting Their Development (qz.com) 228

Christopher Brown Associate professor, University of Texas at Austin, writes:Researchers have demonstrated that five-year-olds are spending more time engaged in teacher-led academic learning activities than play-based learning opportunities that facilitate child-initiated investigations and foster social development among peers.During his research and investigation, Brown found that a typical kindergarten classroom sees kids and one teacher with them almost the entire school day. During this period, they engage in about 15 different academic activities, which include "decoding word drills, practicing sight words, reading to themselves and then to a buddy, counting up to 100 by ones, fives and tens, practicing simple addition, counting money, completing science activities about living things, and writing in journals on multiple occasions." Recess did not occur until the last hour of the day, and only lasted for about 15 minutes. He adds:For children between the ages of five and six, this is a tremendous amount of work. Teachers too are under pressure to cover the material. When I asked the teacher, who I interviewed for the short film, why she covered so much material in a few hours, she stated, "There's pressure on me and the kids to perform at a higher level academically." So even though the teacher admitted that the workload on kindergartners was an awful lot, she also said she was unable to do anything about changing it.
Education

Microsoft Weaponizes Minecraft In the War Over Classrooms (backchannel.com) 55

Minecraft: Education Edition offers lesson plans like "City Planning for Population Growth" and "Effects of Deforestation," and a June preview attracted more than 25,000 students and teachers from 40 different countries. Slashdot reader mirandakatz writes: In the two years since Microsoft acquired Minecraft's parent company, it's discovered a brilliant new direction to take the game: it's turning it into a tool for education, creating both an innovative approach to classroom technology and an inspired strategy for competing with Google and Apple in the ed-tech market. 'I actually never believed there would be a game that would really cross over between the commercial entertainment market and education in a mainstream way,' says cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito—but Minecraft has managed to do just that.
In 2015 Chromebooks represented over 50% of PC sales for U.S. schools, while Windows PC accounted for just 22%, the article reports. But Minecraft is the second best-selling game of all time, behind only Tetris, and in the two years since Microsoft acquired it, "Sales have doubled to almost 107 million copies sold... If you were to count each copy sold as representing one person, the resulting population would be the world's 12th largest country (after Japan)." And as the article points out, "wherever Minecraft goes, Microsoft is there."
Education

Code.org Disses Wolfram Language, Touts Apple's Swift Playgrounds (edsurge.com) 241

America is changing the way it teaches computer science. "There are now 31 states that allow CS to count towards high school graduation," according to an announcement this week by the White House, while a new Advance Placement course "will be offered in more than 2,000 U.S. classrooms this fall...the largest course launch in the history of the AP exam." But what's the best way to teach coding? theodp reports: Tech-backed Code.org, one of the leaders of the new CSforAll Consortium that was announced at the White House on Wednesday, took to its blog Thursday to say "Thanks, Tim [Cook], for supporting the effort to give every student the opportunity to learn computer science," giving a shout out to Apple for providing "resources for teachers who want to put Swift Playgrounds in their classrooms. (A day earlier, the White House said Apple developed Swift Playgrounds "in support of the President's call to action" for CS for All).

Curiously, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi argued Friday that "the Wolfram Language has serious shortcomings for broad educational use" in an EdSurge op-ed that was called a "response to a recent blog post by Stephen Wolfram" on Wolfram's ambitious plan to teach computational thinking in schools. Partovi's complaints? "It requires login for all but the simplest use cases, but doesn't provide any privacy safeguards for young children (required in the U.S. through legislation such as COPPA). Also, a serious user would need to pay for usage, making implementation inaccessible in most schools. Lastly, it's a bit difficult to use by students who struggle with English reading or writing, such as English language learners or early elementary school students."

The submission ultimately asks how should computer science be taught to teenagers. "Would you be inclined to embrace Wolfram's approach, Apple's Swift Playgrounds, Microsoft TEALS' Java-centric AP CS curriculum, or something else (e.g., R, Tableau, Excel+VBA)?"
Education

Laurene Jobs Awards $10M To Pet Charter School Network of Zuckerberg, Gates 51

theodp writes: The XQ Institute -- a nonprofit backed by Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve's widow) -- announced the winners of its $100 million competition (Warning: may be paywalled) to rethink the American high school this week. Among the 10 lucky schools winning a $10M grant was Summit Elevate ("a new high school planning to open in Fall 2018"), part of the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg-supported Summit Charter Schools network (HP CEO Meg Whitman is on Summit's Board). In announcing the grant, XQ praised Basecamp, Summit's personalized learning software platform that was developed by Facebook engineers, which Bill Gates has spent $1+ million on to get schools to adopt it (the NY Times characterized the Facebook-Summit partnership as "more of a ground-up effort to create a national demand for student-driven learning in schools"). U.S. education, it seems, is becoming The Game of Billionaires -- at last May's NewSchools Venture Summit, former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (now working for Jobs) was interviewed by former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education and Gates Foundation Program Director Jim Shelton (now working for Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan).
Communications

Stanford Engineers Propose A Technology To Break The Net Neutrality Deadlock (phys.org) 199

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Stanford engineers have invented a technology that would allow an internet user to tell network providers and online publishers when and if they want content or services to be given preferential delivery, an advance that could transform the network neutrality debate. Net neutrality, as it's often called, is the proposition that internet providers should allow equal access to all content rather than give certain applications favored status or block others. But the Stanford engineers -- Professor Nick McKeown, Associate Professor Sachin Katti and electrical engineering PhD Yiannis Yiakoumis -- say their new technology, called Network Cookies, makes it possible to have preferential delivery and an open internet. Network Cookies allow users to choose which home or mobile traffic should get favored delivery, while putting network operators and content providers on a level playing field in catering to such user-signaled preferences. "So far, net neutrality has been promoted as the best possible defense for users," Katti said. "But treating all traffic the same isn't necessarily the best way to protect users. It often restricts their options and this is why so-called exceptions from neutrality often come up. We think the best way to ensure that ISPs and content providers don't make decisions that conflict with the interests of users is to let users decide how to configure their own traffic." McKeown said Network Cookies implement user-directed preferences in ways that are consistent with the principles of net neutrality. "First, they're simple to use and powerful," McKeown said. "They enable you to fast-lane or zero-rate traffic from any application or website you want, not just the few, very popular applications. This is particularly important for smaller content providers -- and their users -- who can't afford to establish relationships with ISPs. Second, they're practical to deploy. They don't overwhelm the user or bog down user devices and network operators and they function with a variety of protocols. Finally, they can be a very practical tool for regulators, as they can help them design simple and clear policies and then audit how well different parties adhere to them." The researchers presented a technical paper on their approach at a conference in Brazil.
Businesses

'Paying Taxes Is a Lot Better Than Phony Corporate Courage, Apple' (theintercept.com) 579

theodp writes: Every fall," writes The Intercept's Sam Biddle, "internet and its resident tech mumblers congregate for The Apple Event, a quasi-pagan streaming-video rite in which Tim Cook boasts of just how much money his company is making (a lot) and just how much good it's introducing to the world (this typically involves a new iPhone). This is merely annoying most years; but in 2016, when Apple is loudly, publicly denying its tax obligations around the world, it's just gross." Biddle finds Apple's use of the word 'courage' to describe the corporate ethos that pushed the company to remove the headphone plug from the newest iPhone while offering a new pair of $160 jack-free earbuds particularly irksome: "Removing a headphone jack or adding 20 headphone jacks does not require courage; engineers are very smart, but their job does not typically require much bravery. Courage is more often found in, say, running into a burning school to rescue the students and class rodent. Or, maybe, you could call courageous the act of paying the many billions you owe around the world into the system that ensures those students have all of the resources they need in order to learn and grow. Just a hint: Collaborative spreadsheet software doesn't count [introducing new real-time collaboration features, Cook called iWork a "very important tool in education"].
Education

Stephen Wolfram Reveals Ambitious Plan to Teach Computational Thinking (stephenwolfram.com) 76

Can we teach future generations how to solve their problems with computers? Slashdot reader mirandakatz writes: Doctors, lawyers, teachers, farmers -- whatever the profession, it'll soon be full of computational thinking. Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram argues on Backchannel that it's essential we start teaching kids to talk to computers today to ensure their success in the future -- and he's got a comprehensive lesson plan.
Arguing that Wikipedia popularized "a more direct style of presenting information," Wolfram writes that computer-assisted education continues the trend, "taking things which could only be talked around, and turning them into things that can be shown through computation directly and explicitly." Wolfram's 11,000-word essay adds that "with all the knowledge and automation that we've built into the Wolfram Language we're finally now to the point where we have the technology to be able to directly teach broad computational thinking, even to kids.." (And without having to start off with loops and conditionals...)
Space

New Research Reveals Hundreds of Undiscovered Black Holes (phys.org) 75

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: New research by the University of Surrey published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society has shone light on a globular cluster of stars that could host several hundred black holes, a phenomenon that until recently was thought impossible. Globular clusters are spherical collections of stars which orbit around a galactic center such as our Milky-way galaxy. Using advanced computer simulations, the team at the University of Surrey were able to see the un-see-able by mapping a globular cluster known as NGC 6101, from which the existence of black holes within the system was deduced. These black holes are a few times larger than the Sun, and form in the gravitational collapse of massive stars at the end of their lives. It was previously thought that these black holes would almost all be expelled from their parent cluster due to the effects of supernova explosion, during the death of a star. It is only as recently as 2013 that astrophysicists found individual black holes in globular clusters via rare phenomena in which a companion star donates material to the black hole. This work, which was supported by the European Research Council (ERC), has shown that in NGC 6101 there could be several hundred black holes, overturning old theories as to how black holes form.
Medicine

Video Shows How Bacteria Invade Antibiotics And Transform Into Superbugs (npr.org) 87

guises writes: By making a giant petri dish out of bands of increasingly antibiotic-laced agar, a couple of microbiologists have created a means to watch bacterial evolution as it happens: colonies introduced to the dish expand to fill the areas in which they can survive and then mutate and spread into the areas in which they can not. It takes only eleven days for the bacteria to evolve sufficient resistance to survive in an area with a thousand times the concentration of antibiotics that would have killed the original colonies. And it makes a pretty neat video.
Cellphones

Smartphones Can Steal 3D Printing Plans By Listening To The Printer (fedscoop.com) 45

An anonymous reader quotes a report from FedScoop: Smartphones equipped with special programming can become a sophisticated spy sensor capable of stealing designs from a 3D printer -- just by measuring the noise and electromagnetic radiation the printer emits. Researchers from the University of Buffalo recently discovered how a smartphone on a bench about 8 inches away from a 3D printer could allow someone to reconstruct a simple object being printed with 94 percent accuracy. Complex objects can be copied with 90 percent accuracy. The attack basically reverse-engineers the printing blueprint by reconstructing the movement of the nozzle from the electromagnetic and acoustic energy it generates while working. Most information came from electromagnetic waves, which accounted for about 80 percent of the useful data. The remaining 20 percent came from acoustic waves. Wenyao Xu, assistant professor in the University of Buffalo's Department of Computer Science and Engineering, is the lead author of the study, "My Smartphone Knows What You Print: Exploring Smartphone-Based Side-Channel Attacks Against 3D Printers," which will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's 23rd annual Conference on Computer and Communications Security next month in Austria.
Education

University of California's Outsourcing Is Wrong, Says US Lawmaker (computerworld.com) 338

Earlier this week, University of California hired India-based IT company HCL to outsource some of its work offshore. As part of the announcement, it announced that it was laying off 17 percent of UCSF's total IT staff. The U.S. lawmaker, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) and the IEEE-USA find the outsourcing job "wrong." dcblogs writes: A decision by the University of California to lay off IT employees and send their jobs overseas is under fire from U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif) and the IEEE-USA. "How are they [the university] going to tell students to go into STEM fields when they are doing as much as they can to do a number on the engineers in their employment?" said U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif). Peter Eckstein, the president of the IEEE-USA, said what the university is doing "is just one more sad example of corporations, a major university system in this case, importing non-Americans to eliminate American IT jobs." The university recently informed about 80 IT workers at its San Francisco campus, including contract employees and vendor contractors, that it hired India-based HCL, under a $50 million contract, to manage infrastructure and networking-related services. The affected employees will leave their jobs in February, after they train their contractor replacements.
Businesses

University of California Hires India-Based IT Outsourcer, Lays Off Tech Workers (computerworld.com) 618

dcblogs writes from a report via Computerworld: The University of California is laying off a group of IT workers at its San Francisco campus as part of a plan to move work offshore. Laying off IT workers as part of a shift to offshore is somewhere between rare and unheard-of in the public sector. The layoffs will happen at the end of February, but before the final day arrives the IT employees expect to train foreign replacements from India-based IT services firm HCL. The firm is working under a university contract valued at $50 million over five years. This layoff affects 17% of UCSF's total IT staff, broken down this way: 49 IT permanent employees will lose their jobs, along with 12 contract employees and 18 vendor contractors. This number also includes 18 vacant IT positions that won't be filled, according to the university. Governments and publicly supported institutions, such as UC, have contracted with offshore outsourcers, but usually it's for new IT work or to supplement an existing project. The HCL contract with UCSF can be used by other UC campuses, which means the layoffs may expand across its 10 campuses. HCL is a top user of H-1B visa workers.
Education

ITT Tech Is Officially Closing (gizmodo.com) 420

Reader Joe_Dragon shares a Gizmodo report: ITT Technical Institute is officially closing all of its campuses following federal sanctions imposed against the company. The for-profit college announced the changes in a statement: "It is with profound regret that we must report that ITT Educational Services, Inc. will discontinue academic operations at all of its ITT Technical Institutes permanently after approximately 50 years of continuous service. With what we believe is a complete disregard by the U.S. Department of Education for due process to the company, hundreds of thousands of current students and alumni and more than 8,000 employees will be negatively affected."
ITT Tech announced it was closing all of its campuses just one week after it stopped enrolling students following a federal crackdown on for-profit colleges. ITT Tech and other higher education companies like it have been widely criticized for accepting billions of dollars in government grants and loans while failing to provide adequate job training for its students. Last year, ITT Tech received an estimated $580 million in federal money (aka taxpayer dollars), according to the Department of Education.

Businesses

Amazon Suddenly Stops Selling Student Loans (bloomberg.com) 81

"The promotion has ended," a bank spokesperson said. After more than a year of preparation, Amazon's partnership with Wells Fargo to sell student loans barely lasted six weeks. An anonymous reader quotes Bloomberg: It's another black eye for Wells Fargo's student loan business, which just last week agreed to pay $3.6 million to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to settle claims that it misled borrowers, illegally charged certain fees, and processed payments in a way designed to maximize late fees. Wells Fargo neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.
The article cites a consumer advocate who says both Amazon and Wells Fargo were hiding the high costs of the loans, as well as their inflexible terms for repayment, in a "cynical attempt to dupe current students." The Washington Post noted that interest rates for community colleges and for-profit institutions "can climb to nearly 14%."
Education

Stanford's New Alcohol Policy Isn't Based On Much Research (vice.com) 201

Sophia Carter-Kahn, reporting for Motherboard: Last week Stanford University announced a strict new alcohol policy in hopes to curb binge drinking. The new policy bans hard liquor at on-campus parties, and restricts hard alcohol in undergraduate possession to containers smaller than 750 milliliters ("a fifth"). Lisa Lapin, the vice president of university communications, clarified that the goal is to prevent medical transports [i.e. trips to the hospital]. Universities across the country are looking for new ways to deal with dangerous binge drinking. If this new restriction at Stanford is successful, it would set a precedent for how universities across the country grapple with a seemingly insurmountable alcohol problem. There's just one catch: there's little data to suggest restricting bottle size can change college drinking culture. Colleges have tried different strategies, from mailing parents flyers about alcoholism stats to policing campuses to break up parties. Dartmouth College, for example, implemented a hard alcohol ban last year. And the University of Virginia cracked down on liquor and Greek life on campus. But their efforts don't seem to be working. Drunkorexia -- skipping meals to have more room for alcohol -- is on the rise. And administrative desperation to find some way to reduce alcohol consumption has continued.
Education

Now Arriving On the New York Subway: Free E-Books, Timed For Your Commute (betanews.com) 44

Brian Fagioli, writing for BetaNews:Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of New York has announced a new promotion called "Subway Reads," which leverages the free Wi-Fi connectivity provided at the NYC subway. This initiative will help straphangers get some relief from the other nonsense by enabling them to bury themselves in a free Penguin Random House e-book short or excerpt. "As part of 'Subway Reads', Penguin Random House created a special platform to offer subway customers free access to five full-length e-shorts, including High Heat, a Jack Reacher novella by Lee Child; F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic short story, The Diamond As Big As The Ritz; 3 Truths and A Lie, a short story by Lisa Gardner; The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe; and At the Reunion Buffet by Alexander McCall Smith," says the New York State Government.Sounds like a good thing. What's your thought?
Books

Belgians Are Hunting Books, Instead Of Pokemon (reuters.com) 38

An anonymous reader shares a Reuters report:Inspired by the success of Pokemon Go, a Belgian primary school headmaster has developed an online game for people to search for books instead of cartoon monsters, attracting tens of thousands of players in weeks. While with Pokemon Go, players use a mobile device's GPS and camera to track virtual creatures around town, Aveline Gregoire's version is played through a Facebook group called "Chasseurs de livres" ("Book hunters"). Players post pictures and hints about where they have hidden a book and others go to hunt them down. Once someone has finished reading a book, they "release" it back into the wild. "While I was arranging my library, I realized I didn't have enough space for all my books. Having played Pokemon Go with my kids, I had the idea of releasing the books into nature," Gregoire told Reuters. Though it was only set up a few weeks ago, more than 40,000 people are already signed up to Gregoire's Facebook group.

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