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eLearning Update: Competition, CourseSites, and Carmen?

Here's some news and notes from the online learning world this week:

The Southern Regional Education Board and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning have announced five finalists for their second annual National Online Teacher of the Year Award.

Kristin Kipp from Jefferson County's 21st-Century Virtual Academy in Colorado, Thomas Landon from Virtual Virginia, Dianna Miller from Florida Virtual School, Emily Parrish from North Carolina Virtual Public School, and Andrew Vanden Heuvel from Michigan Virtual School are on the shortlist for the honor, a list that has grown from three finalists in the first year of the award. Florida Virtual and Virtual Virginia both have finalists for the award for the second time. Florida Virtual's Teresa Dove, an Algebra teacher, won in 2010.

This year's winner will be announced at during the SREB's Education Technology Cooperative's Teaching and Learning Symposium, on March 10 in Atlanta. At stake is a day with U.S. ed-tech chief Karen Cator and trip to iNACOL'S Virtual School Symposium in November.

Blackboard Inc. has launched a free cloud-based tool called CourseSites, which will allow K-12 and higher education instructors a platform to host their own custom online courses or add an online component to a traditional course.

The system is based on the company's newest version of Blackboard Learn, an online teaching and learning platform, and is designed for instructors who may not have access to a learning management system. Those who register and create a profile may create up to five websites through the platform, and will also be afforded use of features like instant messaging, voice conferencing, assessment, self-assessment, and content authoring tools provided by Blackboard's partners.

The Learning Company is now offering versions of popular educational games Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Oregon Trail that can be played on popular social-networking site Facebook. No word yet on whether the reprized version of Carmen is actually capable of stealing Facebook, Twitter, or G-Chat, or if she still sticks to physical structures like the Golden Gate Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

The introduction of the games builds on the trend of reprising old educational content for a new medium. For example, Dr. Seuss books and content from old PBS Kids shows are counted among the educational iPhone app offerings.

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