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Online education, which can be an effective tool for leveling the playing field for rural schools, is catching on accross the country. "A combination of higher proficiency standards and tighter budgets are prompting school officials to look more closely than ever at online education," David Harrison of reports. Susan Patrick, president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, told him, "Budgets are being cut. We can’t do more with less by continuing to do the same thing we’ve always done."

Just two states do not offer online courses. In most schools online courses are blended with in-school classes, "but 27 states allow students to attend virtual schools full-time," Harrison writes. "Online courses allow students to work at their own pace, with advanced students moving through the curriculum quickly while others might get more of the attention they need from teachers."

Online education allows poor rural districts to still offer advanced classes without having to recruit specialized teachers. "The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, has embraced online learning, provided it’s taught by licensed and trained teachers and as long as it doesn’t completely replace in-school teaching," Harrison writes.

State-run virtual education programs enrolled roughly 450,000 students last year up from 40 percent the year before, the online learning group reports. Florida and North Carolina lead the way; Florida enrolled 220,000 online students, while North Carolina has the fastest growing program, now reaching 80,000, Harrison reports. (Read more)

Posted by Jon Hale


Do Google's search results look a little different this morning? Maybe they should. The Mountain View, Calif., company announced changes to its proprietary search equations Thursday night that affect more than a tenth of its old results.


blog post outlines how Google proposes to lower the boom on uninformative sites that have been gaming its search algorithm a little too well. Google's Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts wrote:

Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking--a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries--and we wanted to let people know what's going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites--sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites--sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

In that post, Singhal and Cutts say this U.S.-only change wasn't based on input collected from Google's just-released Personal Blocklist extension for its Chrome browser--but that its revised search results fit well with those that Blocklist users saw after rejecting unwanted sites.

(Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan described the effects of these changes in more detail Thursday.)

That would be unwelcome news for the growing ranks of "content farm" sites that start by identifying popular Google search terms, devote a minimum amount of time and effort to cranking out pages that fit with those queries and then move on to the next topic.

I'm not breaking any news to say that I've seen Google lose its way before. Most recently, I struck out searching for an answer to a seemingly simple question--how many movies Netflix offers for instant online viewing--then got a useful link almost immediately via Twitter.

The Google query I remember trying then now seems to deliver slightly better results. But without screenshots of my earlier, unproductive search results, I can't offer an exact comparison. You tell me: Does Google seem to be steering you straighter this morning, or do you close the browser window feeling just as confused as ever.

Posted By Rob Pegoraro



MediaShift Idea Lab

MIT's Center for Future Civic Media has done a variety of breakthrough civic systems with phones. Examples range from Leo Burd's What's Upplatform to the Call4Action class and its cool student projects.

We at C4 love these projects, but working with phones has always been a bear. A lot of programming is necessary. In many cases, people start with the phone and end up building custom infrastructure that begin to represent an actual content management system. Projects like Ushahidior our earlier txtMob are really just simple CMSs with a few custom features for texting inputs.

So Leo Burd has been working on making the Drupal CMS more friendly for the billions of people around the world who only have access to basic telephony rather than smart phones and the web. Leo is launching the first release of the voice over Internet protocol Drupal platform at DrupalCon next week.

Here's what Leo wrote about this exciting project:

VoIP Drupal is an innovative framework that brings the power of voice and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites.

VoIP Drupal can be used to build hybrid applications that combine regular touchtone phones, web, SMS, Twitter, IM and other communication tools in a variety of ways, including:

* Click-to-call functions
* Voice- and SMS-based Go Out to Vote campaigns
* 2-1-1 and 3-1-1 lines
* Phone-based community surveys
* PTA reminders
* Story recording / playback
* Group voicemail
* Geo-based callblasts aimed at specific streets or locations
* And much more!

In technical terms, the goal of VoIP Drupal is to provide a common API and scripting system that interoperate with popular Internet-telephony servers (Asterisk, FreeSwitch, Tropo, Twilio, etc) dramatically reducing the learning and development costs associated with the construction of communication systems that combine voice and text technologies together.

The following VoIP servers are currently supported:

Tropo, through the voiptropo.module (available soon)
Twilio, through the voiptwilio.module

This project is under continuous development. If you would like to get involved in the project or ask questions, discussion is taking place on the VoIP Drupal Group. You can find more information in the VoIP Drupal Handbook.

The VoIP Drupal platform has originally been conceived and implemented by C4, with major contributions from Civic Actions.