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napser humming along on most campuses

AP photo/Dan Krauss In the 1960s, many college campuses were battlegrounds for the free-speech movement. Now in the new millennium, universities are battlegrounds for what could be termed the free-music movement, in which computer programs like the notorious Napster use the MP3 format to let consumers freely download and share near-CD- quality music.

The Recording Industry Association of America and the best-selling heavy metal band Metallica have sued Napster in an attempt to shut it down, calling it blatant piracy. But a federal appeals court granted Napster a stay, allowing it to continue operations until a trial. What's got universities involved is that their powerful computer systems make it easier for students to use MP3 sites like Napster. It's estimated that 70 percent of MP3 exchanges take place via academic systems. Indeed, the RIAA has launched an education campaign on campuses designed to stem the tide of free tunes. But a lawyer for Metallica also wrote to a dozen U.S. schools asking them to restrict use of MP3 sites on their systems.

So far, however, it seems most schools are taking a wait-and-see approach. A recent survey of 50 schools found that only a third have blocked access to MP3 sites—among them Brown University, Oregon State University, and Northwestern University. Not all schools restrict music downloading because of legal fears. Some schools worry that heavy use of MP3 sites overloads campus systems, affecting genuine academic needs.

A random check of three universities by Prism found none that was banning MP3 usage. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology—one of the recipients of the Metallica letter—says it won't bar access. "MIT has had a long history of providing its faculty, staff, and students with uncensored access to the Internet and its vast array of resources," James D. Bruce, vice president for information systems, wrote back. But, he added, MIT likewise does not condone copyright infringement and will investigate specific allegations. The University of Michigan, also a recipient of the letter, says it will not prohibit access to MP3 sites "at this point." And Rutgers University simply says it has no policy on downloading music. For the time being at least, it seems that the RIAA's best chance of pulling the MP3 plug is convincing America's undergrads that the moral high ground is shelling out $15 per CD rather than downloading all the free music they want online. And that's about as likely as a successful relaunch of eight-track tape players.

just the right touch

SYDNEY, Australia—Small kids love imitating adult behavior, so give 'em a keyboard and mouse, right? Well, maybe.

Australian researchers, reacting to anecdotal evidence, are testing the theory that tiny tykes prefer touchscreen technology and, therefore, derive more benefit from it than from conventional classroom computers. "Small children want to paint a picture," says Geoff Romeo, an education researcher at Melbourne's Monash University. "They can use the keyboard and/or mouse—or they can go directly to the screen and stub their finger against a can of spray-paint. Which do you think is the likelier choice? Common sense shouts touchscreen," he says, "and so does plenty of anecdotal evidence from teachers."

Indeed, as Romeo sees it, "for some children, the physicality of the mouse and keyboard are restrictive. Some children may be reluctant to use them because they aren't ready or don't have the motor skills experience." But there may be cognitive reasons, not just physical or mechanical reasons, why it's good to have a touchscreen. Actually doing something—drawing a box, using text, or doing anything else on the screen with your finger—may be less abstract than using a mouse. So a touchscreen may be a more effective teaching tool.

Romeo, working with a research team from the university's faculty of education, acknowledges his group is on a "fishing expedition." In a pilot research project at two Melbourne schools, they are observing 130 children divided into three groups: 6- and 7-year-olds, 4- and 5-year-olds and (in a kindergarten setting) 3- and 4- year-olds. Computers are set up so they can use the keyboard and mouse, or take the touchscreen option. The researchers plan to publish a report early next year, leading to larger follow-up studies that could eventually change computer education for young children. "If it is proved conclusively that the tykes prefer touchscreen technology we'll have to work on how to use this preference to their best educational benefit," says Romeo.

tuition bills surge at universities

illustration by Steve DininnoProsperity may reign across the width and breadth of the United States, but not all states are reaping its rewards. Many states that rely on sales taxes rather than income taxes for revenue, or those that have not fully benefited from the New Economy, are facing revenue crunches. As a result, some state universities are passing along hefty tuition increases after a decade of stability.

To further underscore the dichotomy, some states—like California and Virginia, which have clearly ridden the crest of the high-tech wave—are freezing and even rolling back tuitions. "There is a really wide range this year," says Travis J. Reindl, policy analyst at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Tennessee is a classic example. It has no income tax, but its sales tax revenues have been hit by changes in the economy. As more and more commerce moves online, it enters a tax-free zone; also, many sales taxes exempt services—not helpful in a service-dominated economy. And states with aging populations are also hit: the elderly are heavy consumers of sales-tax-free goods and big users of state-funded services. Universities make tempting targets in tight-budget times for state lawmakers because their funding isn't mandated and they have outside revenue streams, mainly tuition. The University of Tennessee raised tuition this academic year by 10 percent, to $3,412. Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge hiked tuition 18 percent to $3,351, while tuition rose a whopping 22 percent to $1,860 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The College Board says that tuition hikes were routine during the '80s, and the average increase peaked at 12.5 percent in 1990-91. Hikes have stayed in the low single digits in recent years, but that downward cycle may have bottomed out. The College Board reports that college tuition and fees in 2000-2001 had increased from 4.4 to 5.2 percent at four-year institutions. Indeed, Reindl says, several other states are contemplating tuition hikes for next year. Iowa, which like many Midwestern states "is bleeding young people," is among them, he says. Rising tuitions could intensify the exodus.

The budget problems in some states couldn't come at a worse time. Schools are desperately in need of cash to help pay rising salaries to keep faculty from absconding into the private sector and high-paying tech jobs. "The dot-coms are coming after many teachers," Reindl warns
 

Tuition
1999-2000

Tutition
2000-2001

Percentage Increase

University of New Hampshire

$6,937

$7,395

7%

University of Canvas

$1,045

$1,133

8%

University of Tennesee at Knoxville

$3,104

$3,412

10%

Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge

$2,851

$3,351

18%

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

$1,528

$1,860

22%

.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education

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