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Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this third week of the January:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Sponsor ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Publishers Pipeline - low-cost or free educational software, housewares,
PC hardware, music CDs....    New this week:
Digital Stereo Headphones by Coby (Reg price $49.99, FREE after rebate)
JumpStart Spelling Grades 1-4 (Reg price $27.99, $2.99 after rebate)
Learning Center Math Grades 1-5 (Reg price $38.99, $8.99 after rebate)
Digital Camera by Argus (Reg price $159.99, $59.99 after rebate)

Family Tech: Paperless bill-paying

This week's Family Tech column (in the San Jose Mercury News) isn't just for the environmentally minded or tech-literate family finance manager. "The Case of the Unpaid Electronic Phone Bill" is for anyone interested in paperless bill delivery and payment. It spells out lessons's Larry Magid learned after he wasted an entire morning tracking down reasons why he lost phone service for four hours and getting it restored. Yet he emerged from the experience saying electronic bill-paying is "still more reliable than my having to remember to pay bills manually…. And I learned a valuable lesson about how human error combined with a lack of vigilance on my part and an over-reliance on technology can lead to a false sense of security." Reading his story may save you similar headaches, and you'll learn what such services can do for you.

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For students and educators: 'Homework helpers'

  1. Xrefer - "The Web's first reference engine"

    A "reference engine" as opposed to search engine, xrefer is a remarkable resource that came on the Web in mid-2000. We say "remarkable" because you can't go into a search engine on the Web and get results more rock-solid than those delivered from, say, the Penguin Dictionary of Economics, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, or the Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001. There are actually more than 50 such titles used in this service - dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesauri, quotation collections, who's whos - all cross-referenced. And xrefer recently signed a deal with Houghton Mifflin to add US spellings, idioms, places, and other elements that make the service more relevant to North American English speakers. Houghton Mifflin titles include the American Heritage Dictionary and Roget's Thesaurus. For students, a nice feature is an applet called "xrefer it!" that you can download and add to your browser toolbar.

  2. 101 Information Hub

    This site is a meta-collection of reference links sent in to us by one of you. It links to "free online information, tutorials, books, help, tips, lessons, guides, texts" in the following categories: Computer, Educational (reference), Entertainment (Arts & Crafts, Hobbies, etc.), Finance, Health, Home & Family (Cooking, Gardening, etc.), and other Web directories of how-to guides.


    Our thanks to for reminding us of, offering high school students free online study guides from Harvard students (and grads) who are specialists in the guides' subjects - everything from history, physics, and math to information on SATs, PSATs, GMATs, etc.

  4. "America's Story from America's Library"

    The library in question, of course, is the Library of Congress, and this is an American history site designed just for children. It's a wonderful resource for kids and parents to enjoy together. You can - among other things - "Meet Amazing Americans" (e.g., Duke Ellington, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harry Houdini), "Explore the States" (with brief vignettes on all 50), learn about favorite American pastimes and hobbies, and hear famous tunes from the past.

  5. "Wild World Interactive Atlas"

    For students of environmental issues, a joint project by the National Geographic Society and the World Wildlife Fund, sponsored by Ford Motor Company, has just launched some media-rich interactive atlases. Two are available now: "Global 200: Priority Areas for Conservation" and "Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World." In the Bering Sea Ecoregion, children can click and listen to what animals of that region sound like - e.g., the bowhead whale, gray whale, and sperm whale (all so different sounding!). The site includes a guide for teachers that includes lesson plans.

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For educators

  1. "The Technology Source"

    The Technology Source is a peer-reviewed bimonthly periodical of immediate use to college-level educators, but with lots of relevance to all educators interested in integrating technology into teaching. It's part of Horizon Site, a broader resource for educators (including seminars and conferences) on the University of North Carolina server. Each issue includes "Spotlight Site", reviewing a Web site educators can use, and "Tools", doing the same in the software category. In the Jan./Feb. '01 issue, statistics Prof. John Dutton reviews WebAssign, "homework delivery" software that is more specialized than more general tools like Blackboard or WebCT, which create whole course Web sites. For example, WebAssign can grade automatically, allow for peer grading, impose impersonal deadlines, etc. Professor Dutton explains why he likes these and other features.

    For K-12 educators, about a dozen of your colleagues have written articles about how they've integrated tech into their teaching. They're archived on Horizon Site's "Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education" page.

  2. Copyright issues in the Internet Age

    Another Horizon Site project tackles an important issue for any teacher using the Net in school: The "Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Distance Learning" page links to 16 Web resources on the subject.

    For K-12 educators, the Library of Congress has prepared a clearly written page on "Copyright, Fair Use, and Responsible Use" of the collections it has put online for you to have primary sources to use in your classrooms (e.g., photos from the "America From the Great Depression to World War II" collection for teaching the novel "Jacob I Have Loved" in 7th and 8th grades). There's solid information on the copyright page that doesn't just apply to the Library's own collections. It answers basic questions such as "What is copyright?" and "For classroom use, how does 'fair use' apply?" After the latter question it gives specific "Classroom Examples" of fair use of government materials. There are also links to the US Copyright Office and other resources.

    BTW, the K-12 section is called "Learning Page", which presents lesson plans and Library of Congress resources by grade levels.

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Students & Net-ethics: One teacher's view

While we're on the subject, subscriber and junior-high teacher Margie in Texas, told us in a phone interview that the copyright issue is one of the hot topics in her classwork on Internet ethics (required in Texas public schools).

"A lot of the students use Napster, and I tell them, 'you'll argue with me about this, but it's illegal for you to copy copyrighted content like music files.' I try to alert them to the artist's perspective and the company's - how much money is lost in the industry each year based on use of Napster. Usually they do argue with me, and this year they looked at me and said, 'Oh yeah, we know we're not supposed to do that, but we're going to do it anyway. We get all that about somebody's hard work, but it's there and we're going to do it.' " Margie added, "I was pretty much speechless at that point."

We asked her what other topics she covers in Internet ethics. She told us she always talks with them about safety in chat. "I try to make them aware that what they say in a chat room might come back to haunt them, because it can be copied and shown to their parents. They all kind of look around the room when they hear that!" She said she also points out that they need to be careful about what they put in their profiles (personal description that fellow chatters can check out). "A lot of the experienced kids [with chat] are fairly well aware of the profile problem, but I think they might be a little careless with their chat."

Some of them are also very proficient with instant-messaging. "Of the ones that have [Internet] access, a lot of them use IM. I have girls in my class who can type as fast as I can - 60 and 70 words a minute, and [using that software] is where those typing skills are coming from…. I've also learned something interesting this semester: They're using IM instead of the telephone. They don't get on the phone as much."

Finally, we asked Margie if she's glad Net ethics and safety is a curriculum requirement under the "Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills." "Oh yes," she said. "Because if you've got a tool, you need to know the right way to use it. The computer's a very powerful tool and it can be a very damaging one, and they don't always think about that."

Margie kindly sent us some URLs to Web resources she uses in her teaching:

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Web News Briefs

  1. Email to El Salvador

    For some people looking for information about victims of last Saturday's tragic earthquake in El Salvador, email and cell phones were the only way to get it. According to Wired News, "Fixed-line phones aren't working in many parts of the country - either because they were physically destroyed in the quake or because calls from anxious relatives have overloaded the system. More modern communication methods have become lifelines." "Lifelines" in many ways, including for relief efforts. If you'd like to lend support and get relief news, here's the SHARE Foundation's Web site just for El Salvador. And in "Neighbors stick together in quake-relief camps," the Christian Science Monitor reports on day-to-day life in the camps (last story under "World News").

  2. ALA & the filtering law

    The American Library Association announced this week that it will contest the new US law requiring filtering on computers in public schools and libraries that receive federal funds for Internet connectivity. According to, "The ALA argues that mandating installation of the filters would obstruct rather than promote the purpose of improving public access to information for which the federal funds are intended," as well as widen the digital divide between technology and Internet have's and have-not's. The American Civil Liberties Union and The People for the American Way Foundation are also contesting the law, which gives schools and libraries three months to submit their filtering plans.

    And what about your view on filtering in libraries and its implications in your community? Do tell us what you think and why! BTW, this is a great topic for classroom (or dinner-table) debate, and we've provided lots of resources! :-)

  3. TV to DTV: Same rules apply!

    US broadcasters are claiming that to extend children's television rules to digital TV is unconstitutional, and the Center for Media Education challenges their claim. CME this week urged the Federal Communications Commission to reject the broadcast industry's arguments, saying that "the Children's Television Act was passed 10 years ago and the FCC has the authority - and the obligation - to make sure it is effectively extended for digital television." Here's CME's press release on these developments.

  4. Net's getting global

    Only a quarter of the global Internet population will reside in the US by 2005, according to Jupiter Research figures cited in The US represents 36% of the world's online population now, dropping to about 24% by 2005. Jupiter also predicts that the Asia-Pacific region will outpace the US in less than five years and expects the region to contain as much as one-third of all Internet consumers worldwide in 2005. Latin America is expected to grow from 5% of the world's online population last year to 8% in 2005.

  5. Video games & aggressive behavior: A study

    A Stanford University study of 3rd- and 4th-graders in San Jose, Calif., has found that aggressive behavior can be reversed by cutting the time children spend playing video games or watching TV, according to UK-based At the start of the study children had been watching an average of 15.5 hours of TV a week and playing video games three hours a week. Researchers taught them how to reduce time spent on these activities and hooked their TVs up to a device that limited their TV-using time. Seven months later they'd cut TV viewing to nine hours, videos to 3.5, and video game use by half to 1.5 hours, reports, adding the study found that "aggressive incidents by the children in the school playground decreased by around 25%" in that group, compared to a control of kids of the same age. Here's a summary in the "Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine". For an example of what we're talking about here, the New York Times reviews "Half-Life: Counter-Strike," "a game that puts the discomfort back into having a bullet pass through one's brain."

  6. PC price wars

    Now is a good time to buy a PC, according to ZDNet. Executive editor David Coursey says "there may be - emphasis may - some panic price-cutting in the next few weeks, and it may not last very long," and then explains why." You'll appreciate supporting and opposing views from readers in "Talkback" at the bottom of the article.

  7. HateWatch to stop watching

    One of the Web's biggest anti-hate resources,, is shutting down. According to Wired News, "Founder David Goldman said Wednesday he had completed his mission of educating people about bigotry on the Web and providing them with the tools to combat it." Other organizations fighting hate and intolerance say the fight is far from over. For other anti-hate resources on the Web, see "The Hate Directory" and our item "Decoding hate" last October.

  8. Digital music update

    For e-music fans, Wired News offers a snapshot of the latest. It looks at what Emusic,,, and have been up to (layoffs, potential acquisitions, etc.), writing that "the story unfolding isn't necessarily one of doom and gloom, although the digital music sector isn't developing as everyone expected." For those who don't mind actually paying for music, the good news is Napster now makes music shopping easier, according to More insights into the state of the industry come from a New York Times look at the two-day music and technology conference organized by the new Future of Music Coalition.

  9. Small-screen distance learning

    Teachers can now take professional development courses on palmtops! According to Wired News, Classroom Connect is now offering its "Teaching to Standards" course on handhelds.

  10. Filming with Legos

    Grownups have been making movies with Lego bricks for several years, according to the New York Times. Maybe, by putting its MovieMaker Set on the market this past Christmas, Lego was trying to add weight to the children's end of the filmmaking scale. After all, Lego makes toys for kids, right? Well, not entirely. We already know that the average user age of the original Lego Mindstorms robot-making kits is in the low-20s. Why wouldn't a filmmaking kit have just as broad an appeal? It does, and the Times gives the URL of a Web site with a directory of "brick films" made mostly by teens and adults, some with adult subject matter that some parents wouldn't want kids to see. Lego is holding a contest right now "to reward the best films made with MovieMaker by people 18 and under" (there is an adult category). Deadline for entries: March 31, '01. Winners will be part of a film festival to be held in Los Angeles next fall.

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Digital divide narrowing?

The focus is shifting away from income as a barrier to Internet access, according to a study by the Employment Policy Foundation. As the USIIA Bulletin reports, the EPF says "the economic segment of the digital divide will resolve itself by 2009 without federal programs or intervention. The study finds that upper-income households will achieve 95% penetration of personal computers by 2007 and that lower-income households will follow within two years. The study also finds little difference in use of the Internet between the two groups." The USIIA adds that the study is contested by the White House and other supporters of federal digital divide programs, even though attention at the FCC and other federal agencies is shifting to three other barriers to Net access: "geographic isolation, limitations imposed by disabilities, and an educational divide based on the complexity of technology and the ability of the average person to master the skills required to use the technology."

However, a survey of inner-city residents of five northeastern US cities seems to suggest the contrary - that the high cost of computer equipment and Net access is still quite a barrier to Internet adoption. That's from a survey report at And here's a New York Times piece about how one effort to bridge the income digital divide - a program to donate computers to students in lower-income households - has its pluses and minuses. As for the ethnic/cultural aspect, yet another study - by Access Worldwide Communications, Inc. - shows that "Internet access by multicultural audiences has doubled in the past two years." Even so, the survey found, adoption is still slower because of perceptions about the Internet that differ from the broader population. Here are some of the perceptions, as reported by Cyberatlas:

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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