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Education

H-1B Visa Alternative 'OPT' Grew 400 Percent In Eight Years, Report Finds 185

theodp writes: Almost 1.5 million foreign students have been allowed to stay and work in the U.S. after graduation as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, which is now larger than the controversial H-1B program (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). According to new Pew Research analysis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the number of students authorized to work under OPT has grown 400% since the federal government in 2008 increased the amount of time graduates with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees could remain in the United States and work. More than half of those working under OPT from 2004 to 2016 were in STEM fields, Pew found, and as a result, were eligible for the so-called STEM extension.

The OPT program added a 17-month STEM extension in 2008, shortly after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suggested it in testimony to Congress after complaining that the cap for the H-1B program had caused a serious disruption in the flow of talented STEM graduates to U.S. companies. In 2016, another 12-month extension was added after a Federal judge threatened to torpedo the STEM extension program, saying it "appears to have been adopted directly from the unanimous suggestions by Microsoft and similar industry groups." In its Top Ten Tech Issues for 2018, Microsoft expressed "concern that in 2018 the White House will announce a rollback of the extended period of Optional Practical Training for STEM graduates." Pew also took note of allegations that "visa mills" have sprung up in response to demand driven by the OPT program.
Education

Carnegie Mellon Launches Undergraduate Degree In AI (cmu.edu) 76

Earlier this week, Carnegie Mellon University announced plans to offer an undergrad degree in artificial intelligence. The news may be especially attractive for students given how much tech giants have been ramping up their AI efforts in the recent years, and how U.S. News & World Report ranked Carnegie Mellon University as the No. 1 graduate school for AI. An anonymous reader shares the announcement with us: Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science will offer a new undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence beginning this fall, providing students with in-depth knowledge of how to transform large amounts of data into actionable decisions. SCS has created the new AI degree, the first offered by a U.S. university, in response to extraordinary technical breakthroughs in AI and the growing demand by students and employers for training that prepares people for careers in AI.

The bachelor's degree program in computer science teaches students to think broadly about methods that can accomplish a wide variety of tasks across many disciplines, said Reid Simmons, research professor of robotics and computer science and director of the new AI degree program. The bachelor's degree in AI will focus more on how complex inputs -- such as vision, language and huge databases -- are used to make decisions or enhance human capabilities, he added. AI majors will receive the same solid grounding in computer science and math courses as other computer science students. In addition, they will have additional course work in AI-related subjects such as statistics and probability, computational modeling, machine learning, and symbolic computation. Simmons said the program also would include a strong emphasis on ethics and social responsibility. This will include independent study opportunities in using AI for social good, such as improving transportation, health care or education.

Communications

Are Two Spaces After a Period Better Than One? (arstechnica.com) 391

Researchers at Skidmore College conducted an eye-tracking experiment with 60 Skidmore students and found that two spaces at the end of a period slightly improved the processing of text during reading. Ars Technica reports the findings: Previous cognitive science research has been divided on the issue. Some research has suggested closer spacing of the beginning of a new sentence may allow a reader to capture more characters in their parafoveal vision -- the area of the retina just outside the area of focus, or fovea -- and thus start processing the information sooner (though experimental evidence of that was not very strong). Other prior research has inferred that an extra space prevents lateral interference in processing text, making it easier for the reader to identify the word in focus. But no prior research found by [study authors] Johnson, Bui, and Schmitt actually measured reader performance with each typographic scheme.

First, they divided their group of 60 research subjects by way of a keyboard task -- the subjects typed text dictated to them into a computer and were sorted into "one-spacers" (39 regularly put a single space between sentences) and "two-spacers" (21 hit that space bar twice consistently after a period). Every student subject used but a single space after each comma. Having identified subjects' proclivities, the researchers then gave them 21 paragraphs to read (including one practice paragraph) on a computer screen and tracked their eye movement as they read using an Eyelink 1000 video-based eye tracking system. [...] The "one-spacers" were, as a group, slower readers across the board (by about 10 words per minute), and they showed statistically insignificant variation across all four spacing practices. And "two-spacers" saw a three-percent increase in reading speed for paragraphs in their own favored spacing scheme.
The controversial part of the study has to do with the 14 point Courier New font that the researchers presented to the students. "Courier New is a fixed-width font that resembles typewritten text -- used by hardly anyone for documents," reports Ars. "Even the APA suggests using 12 point Times Roman, a proportional-width font. Fixed-width fonts make a double-space more pronounced."
Education

Ask Slashdot: Do Citizen Science Platforms Exist? (arstechnica.com) 105

Loren Chorley writes: After reading about a new surge in the trend for citizen science (also known as community science, civic science or networked science), I was intrigued by the idea and wondered if there are websites that do this in a crowd sourced and open sourced manner. I know sites like YouTube allow people to show off their scientific experiments, but they don't facilitate uploading all their data or linking studies together to draw more advanced conclusions, or making methodologies like you'd see in academia straight forward and available through a simple interface. What about rating of experiments for peer review, revisions and refinement, requirement lists, step-by-step instructions for repeatability, ease of access, and simple language for people who don't find academia accessible? Does something like this exist already? Do you, Slashdot, think this is something useful, or that people are interested in? Or would the potential for fraud and misinformation be too great?
Cloud

Microsoft Is Moving Kinect to the Cloud (theverge.com) 37

At the annual Build conference, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella announced that Kinect is moving to the cloud. "Kinect, when we first launched it in 2010, was a speech-first, gaze-first, vision-first device. It was used in gaming, and then, later on, it came to the PC, and it was used in many applications: medical, industrial, robotics, education," said Nadella. "We've been inspired by what developers have done, and since Kinect, we've made a tremendous amount of progress when it comes to some of the foundational technologies in HoloLens. So we're taking those advances and packaging them up as Project Kinect for Azure." The Verge reports: It's big news after the depth camera and microphone accessory that originally debuted on the Xbox 360 was basically declared dead last October when Microsoft stopped manufacturing it. Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft, explained in a LinkedIn blog post that Project Kinect for Azure would combine the depth sensor with Azure AI services that could help developers make devices that will be more precise "with less power consumption." Kipman also notes that AI deep learning on depth images could lead to "cheaper-to-deploy AI algorithms" that require smaller networks to operate.
Canada

Canada Facing 'Brain Drain' As Young Tech Talent Leaves For Silicon Valley (theglobeandmail.com) 326

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Globe and Mail: Canada's best and brightest computer engineering graduates are leaving for jobs in Silicon Valley at alarmingly high rates, fueling a worse "brain drain" than the mass exodus by Canadian doctors two decades ago, according to a new study. The study, led by Zachary Spicer, a senior associate with the Munk School of Global Affairs' Innovation Policy Lab at University of Toronto, found one-in-four recent science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates from three of the country's top universities -- University of Waterloo, University of British Columbia and U of T -- were working outside Canada. The numbers were higher for graduates of computer engineering and computer science (30 percent), engineering science (27 percent) and software engineering, where two out three graduates were working outside Canada, mostly in the United States. Nearly 44 percent of those working abroad were employed as software engineers, with Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon listed as top employers.
Education

Ask Slashdot: What Should I Study? 214

A fellow Slashdot reader is seeking advice on a new field of study: After many years at the same company, I'm now thinking of a change. At my current place of work, I have worked on many different projects, from server side development, to UI development, and most recently, a lot of data science work. If I were to rate myself, I consider myself to be a good developer, thorough, conscientious and always willing to learn new things. Even my recent foray into data science (though not entirely new, since my graduate studies specialized in machine learning) has had reasonable success, and ideally, I'd really like to continue working in this space.

But, I'm starting to feel in a rut and I'm looking for a change. And looking outside my company, I'm not sure how to begin. Should I hit the books again? Should I focus on any specific technologies? I haven't particularly kept up with new technology -- after working for so long, I tend to think of that as something I can learn, when I need to. Any advice on how I should go about preparing for interviews? I'm quite willing to put in a few months of work into prep, so all suggestions are welcome!
Education

Some YouTube Stars Are Being Paid To Sell Academic Cheating (bbc.com) 125

A BBC investigation has found that more than 250 YouTube channels are being paid to sell academic cheating. Specifically, they are promoting EduBirdie, which allows students to buy essays, rather than doing the work themselves. From the report: The BBC Trending investigation uncovered more than 1,400 videos with a total of more than 700 million views containing EduBirdie adverts selling cheating to students and school pupils. EduBirdie is based in Ukraine, but aims its services at pupils and students across the globe. Essay writing services are not illegal, but if students submit work they have paid for someone else to do the penalties can be severe. The company is not just aiming to capture the attention of university students with its advertising. Popular YouTubers, some as young as 12, are being paid to personally endorse the service. In some of the videos YouTubers say if you cannot be bothered to do the work, EduBirdie has a "super smart nerd" who will do it for you. The adverts appear in videos on YouTube channels covering a range of subjects, including pranks, dating, gaming, music and fashion. Following the BBC's investigation, both have now removed videos with EduBirdie adverts from YouTube. A YouTube spokesman told the BBC: "YouTube creators may include paid endorsements as part of their content only if the product or service they are endorsing complies with our advertising policies. We will be working with creators going forward so they better understand that in video promotions must not promote dishonest activity."
Robotics

The Smithsonian's New Tour Guide Is a Robot (cnet.com) 49

Last week, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, revealed its new employee -- an interactive robot named Pepper. According to Softbank, the company that created the 4-foot-tall humanoid robot, Pepper will help guide museum visitors through the museum and provide insight on different exhibits. CNET reports: Pepper is programmed to answer commonly asked questions and tell stories. The robot can react and make gestures, and is equipped with an interactive touch screen. To entertain museum visitors, Pepper often dances and poses for selfies, which will undoubtably attract a crowd. In each of the different museum branches, the Pepper robots perform different docent duties. For example, at the National Museum of African Art, Pepper can translate phrases in the Kiswahili (Swahili) language. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Pepper robots guide visitors to the Rosa Parks VR experience. Pepper robots are also programmed to teach visiting students coding and software engineering in the Smithsonian's teen educational space ARTLAB+.
Education

Wages Aren't the Only Reason Teachers Are Striking (axios.com) 514

An anonymous reader shares a report: Schools in 39 of 50 states have seen decreases in funding for instructional materials for their students, according to data from the Urban Institute. These conditions have sparked a wave of teacher activism across the country. Educators have had to pay for supplies themselves to provide new materials for students at times. Teachers' salaries aren't enough to pay for materials, either. In some cases they have to pay for materials for dozens of children. Teachers are having to teach students with materials that are defective, outdated and inefficient because of a lack of funding going to state education budgets -- particularly in Republican states.
Education

Bill Gates: U.S. Education Harder to Improve Than Infant Mortality Rates (xconomy.com) 252

gthuang88 writes: In a Q&A with Harvard students, Bill Gates said his foundation's work on K-12 education in the U.S. has had little impact, at least compared to its success in reducing infant mortality in developing countries. The challenge with education, he said, is that it is "essentially a social construct" that depends on creating the right culture of accountability and interactions -- and funding, of course. Gates said if he had a magic wand for the U.S., he would fix education, and for the rest of the world, nutrition.

He also said if he were a college student now, he would study artificial intelligence -- and that he was jealous that someone in the room could solve the problem of creating an AI that can read a book and pass an AP exam.

Gates predicted this generation of graduates will "solve" cancer, as well as the pesky problem of infectious diseases.

And even though his foundation's 20-year effort has failed to improve educaion -- "we'll keep going."
Education

High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University (npr.org) 578

An anonymous reader shares an NPR report: While a shortage of workers is pushing wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor's degree is softening, even as the price -- and the average debt into which it plunges students -- keeps going up. But high school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor's that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy. "Parents want success for their kids," said Mike Clifton, who teaches machining at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, about 20 miles from Seattle. "They get stuck on [four-year bachelor's degrees], and they're not seeing the shortage there is in tradespeople until they hire a plumber and have to write a check."

In a new report, the Washington State Auditor found that good jobs in the skilled trades are going begging because students are being almost universally steered to bachelor's degrees. Among other things, the Washington auditor recommended that career guidance -- including choices that require less than four years in college -- start as early as the seventh grade. "There is an emphasis on the four-year university track" in high schools, said Chris Cortines, who co-authored the report. Yet, nationwide, three out of 10 high school grads who go to four-year public universities haven't earned degrees within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. At four-year private colleges, that number is more than 1 in 5.

Education

A Well-Known Expert On Student Loans Is Not Real (chronicle.com) 173

mi shares a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Drew Cloud is everywhere. The self-described journalist who specializes in student-loan debt has been quoted in major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and CNBC, and is a fixture in the smaller, specialized blogosphere of student debt. But he's a fiction, and "his" site -- an invention of a student-loan refinancing company.

"Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education," wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU (the company that owns Cloud's website, The Student Loan Report). Before that admission, however, Cloud had corresponded at length with many journalists, pitching them stories and offering email interviews, many of which were published. When The Chronicle attempted to contact him through the address last week, Cloud said he was traveling and had limited access to his account. He didn't respond to additional inquiries. And on Monday, as The Chronicle continued to seek comment, Cloud suddenly evaporated. His once-prominent placement on The Student Loan Report had been removed. His bylines were replaced with "SLR Editor." Matherson confirmed on Tuesday that Cloud was an invention. Pressed on whether he regretted deceiving news organizations with a fake source, Matherson said Cloud "was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the Wordpress website."

Education

Kazakhstan Is Changing Its Alphabet From Cyrillic To Latin-Based Style Favored By the West (bbc.com) 288

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant -- and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan's current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population -- a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev's iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it "ugly." The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy'bli'kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes. The BBC article goes on to explain the economics of such a change, citing a restuarant owner that marketed his business using the first version of the alphabet. "All his marketing materials, the labelling on napkin holders and menus, and even the massive sign outside the building will have to be replaced," reports the BBC. "In his attempt to get ahead by launching in the new alphabet, [the owner] had not predicted that the government would revise it. He thinks it will cost about $3,000 to change the spelling of the name on everything to the new version, Sabiz." The full transition to the Latin-based script is expected to be completed by 2025, impacting this owner and many other small business owners.
Government

Could We Fund a Universal Basic Income with Universal Basic Assets? (fastcompany.com) 415

Universal Basic Incomes aren't really the issue, argues Fast Company staff writer Ben Schiller. "It's how you find $2 trillion to pay for it." One answer may come in the form of "universal basic assets" (UBA). UBA can mean a fund of publicly-owned infrastructure or revenue streams -- like Alaska's Permanent Fund which pays residents up to $2,000 a year from state oil taxes. Or, it can mean actual assets that drive down the cost of living, like tuition-free education and free public broadband. There are lots of proposals going around now that fall into these two camps...

Entrepreneur Peter Barnes has called for the creation of a Sky Trust that would both limit the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and provide revenue from carbon taxes. These "carbon dividends" solve two problems at once: income inequality and climate change. He would also tax corporations for using natural resources, on the thinking that the atmosphere, minerals and fresh water around us represent a "joint inheritance." He would also tax speculative financial transactions and use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The U.K. think-tank IPPR recently proposed a similar "sovereign wealth fund owned by and run in the interests of citizens." It would finance the fund with "a scrip tax of up to 3% requiring businesses to issue equity to the government, or pay a tax of equivalent value," sales of land owned by the U.K. monarchy, and higher inheritance taxes.

Blockchain can help. Blockchain technology could offer a way to divide publicly-owned infrastructure so it's genuinely publicly-owned. We could issue tokenized securities in the assets around us giving everyone a stake in their environment. Then they could trade those tokens on exchanges, like they were cryptocurrencies, or use the tokens as collateral on loans.

Education

100 Top Colleges Vow To Enroll More Low-Income Students (npr.org) 96

Research shows that just 3 percent of high-achieving, low-income students attend America's most selective colleges. And, it's not that these students just aren't there -- every year tens of thousands of top students who don't come from wealthy families never even apply to elite colleges. Universities are taking note -- and banding together under something called the American Talent Initiative -- a network backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Aspen Institute and the research firm Ithaka S+R. To join the club, schools have to graduate 70 percent of their students in six years -- a qualification that leaves just under 300 schools in the U.S. eligible. Nearly a third of those schools -- exactly 100 -- have signed on. Their goal? Enroll 50,000 additional low- and moderate-income students by 2025. From a report: Each school has its own goals, too -- many want to increase the number of Pell Grant students on campus, others aim to improve graduation rates -- but they're all on board to share strategies, learn from each other's missteps and provide data to monitor their progress.
Businesses

One Laptop Per Child's $100 Laptop Was Going To Change the World -- Then it All Went Wrong (theverge.com) 271

Adi Robertson, reporting for The Verge: In late 2005, tech visionary and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte pulled the cloth cover off a small green computer with a bright yellow crank. The device was the first working prototype for Negroponte's new nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), dubbed "the green machine" or simply "the $100 laptop." And it was like nothing that Negroponte's audience -- at either his panel at a UN-sponsored tech summit in Tunis, or around the globe -- had ever seen. After UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered a glowing introduction, Negroponte explained exactly why. The $100 laptop would have all the features of an ordinary computer but require so little electricity that a child could power it with a hand crank.

[...] But OLPC's overwhelming focus on high-tech hardware worried some skeptics, including participants in the Tunis summit. One attendee said she'd rather have "clean water and real schools" than laptops, and another saw OLPC as an American marketing ploy. "Under the guise of non-profitability, hundreds of millions of these laptops will be flogged off to our governments," he complained. In the tech world, people were skeptical of the laptop's design, too. Intel chairman Craig Barrett scathingly dubbed OLPC's toy-like prototype "the $100 gadget," and Bill Gates hated the screen in particular. "Geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text," he told reporters.

[...] After announcing "the $100 Laptop," OLPC had one job to do: make a laptop that cost $100. As the team developed the XO-1, they slowly realized that this wasn't going to happen. According to Bender, OLPC pushed the laptop's cost to a low of $130, but only by cutting so many corners that the laptop barely worked. Its price rose to around $180, and even then, the design had major tradeoffs. [...]

Education

Former Senior VP of Apple Tony Fadell Says Company Needs To Tackle Smartphone Addiction (wired.co.uk) 75

In an op-ed published on Wired, former SVP at Apple Tony Fadell argues that smartphone manufacturers -- Apple in particular -- need to do a better job of educating users about how often they use their mobile phones, and the resulting dangers that overuse might bring about. An excerpt: Take healthy eating as an analogy: we have advice from scientists and nutritionists on how much protein and carbohydrate we should include in our diet; we have standardised scales to measure our weight against; and we have norms for how much we should exercise. But when it comes to digital "nourishment", we don't know what a "vegetable", a "protein" or a "fat" is. What is "overweight" or "underweight"? What does a healthy, moderate digital life look like? I think that manufacturers and app developers need to take on this responsibility, before government regulators decide to step in -- as with nutritional labelling. Interestingly, we already have digital-detox clinics in the US. I have friends who have sent their children to them. But we need basic tools to help us before it comes to that. I believe that for Apple to maintain and even grow its customer base it can solve this problem at the platform level, by empowering users to understand more about how they use their devices. To do this, it should let people track their digital activity in detail and across all devices.
Businesses

Firms Relabelling Low-Skilled Jobs As Apprenticeships, Says Report (bbc.com) 58

Fast food giants, coffee shops and retailers are relabelling low-skilled jobs as apprenticeships and gaining subsidies for training, a report says. BBC: The study by centre-right think tank Reform says many firms have rebranded existing roles after being obliged to contribute cash to on-the-job training. It adds that 40% of government-approved apprenticeship standards do not meet a traditional definition of them. The government says "quality" is at the heart of its apprenticeship reforms. As part of the changes, it introduced an apprenticeship levy on organisations paying more than $4.3m in salaries a year. They have to pay 0.5% of their wages total into a "digital account" held by HMRC. They then "spend" these contributions on apprenticeship training delivered by registered providers. They can also get back up to 90% of the cost of training. But they are also entitled to pay apprentices lower than the standard minimum wage.
China

Trade War Or Not, China is Closing the Gap on US in Technology IP Race (reuters.com) 149

China's rising investment in research and expansion of its higher education system mean that it is fast closing the gap with the United States in intellectual property and the struggle to be the No.1 global technology power, according to patent experts. From a report: While U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of punitive tariffs on high-tech U.S. exports could slow Beijing's momentum, it won't turn back the tide, they say. Washington's allegation that the Chinese have engaged in intellectual property theft over many years -- which is denied by Beijing -- is a central reason for the worsening trade conflict between the U.S. and China. Forecasts for how long it will take for Beijing to close the technological gap vary -- though several patent specialists say it could happen in the next decade.

And China is already leapfrogging ahead in a couple of areas. "With the number of scientists China is training every year it will eventually catch up, regardless of what the U.S. does," said David Shen, head of IP for China at global law firm Allen & Overy. Indeed, IP lawyers now see President Xi Jinping's pledge earlier this week to protect foreign IP rights as projecting confidence in China's position as a leading innovator in sectors such as telecommunications and online payments, as well as its ability to catch up in other areas.

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