PA Cyber introduces hybrid of virtual and self-paced online courses

8 Aug

finally fastTechnology news from the Finally Fast team

“FLEX” courses, a hybrid model combining some of the best features of self-paced and virtual online instruction, are being offered this year at the high school level by the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

The new FLEX curriculum is a hybrid of the self-paced Lincoln Interactive and real-time Virtual Classroom (VC) courses, said Dr. Michael J. Conti, CEO of PA Cyber.

“FLEX is a great option for students who do not want to commit to a full-time VC class, but who can benefit from the structure and live teacher interaction of synchronous instruction,” said Dr. Conti.

FLEX courses available in grades 9-12 for the 2012-2013 school year are English 10, American History, World Cultures, Earth Science, Biology, Spanish 1, French 1 and German 1. More courses are to be offered in the FLEX model if it proves to be as effective and popular as the school’s curriculum developers anticipate.

In FLEX courses, students will meet with their teacher and classmates live online one day per week (Tuesday or Thursday) for 90 minutes in Blackboard Collaborate, the online meeting program used for VC classes.

On the remaining four days, students will be required to independently complete one lesson each day in Schoology. Schoology is a secure online learning management system used by PA Cyber to create and share academic content.

Jennifer Shoaf, PA Cyber director of curriculum and instruction, said the FLEX option provides students with more structure and real-time teacher interaction than self-paced Lincoln Interactive courses, while allowing the student to work and study independently on the course material. FLEX teachers will be available for individual tutoring on a regular weekly schedule.

Because they are so new, FLEX courses are not listed in the school’s 2012-2013 course catalog. Shoaf said instructional supervisors are sharing information about FLEX courses with students and their parents, so that they can then make the best decision about which model of instruction matches the student’s learning style and educational goals: self-paced Lincoln Interactive, Virtual Classroom or FLEX. FLEX courses are available to all PA Cyber high school students with the consent of their instructional supervisors.

Every independent day begins with the student viewing a short introductory video from the teacher explaining the day’s lesson. Lessons may include working on projects, doing research, participating in discussion groups, and other tasks. Each self-paced lesson is designed to take approximately 50 minutes.

Each day’s lesson will be available at 8 a.m. If the lesson contains an assignment, the assignment will have a due date that may be that same day or a different day. The student has until midnight of the due date to turn in the assignment.

“Courses offered in the FLEX model keep students on pace,” said Shoaf. “The schedule and calendar for FLEX will be the same as for our Virtual Classroom courses, in which students start school on a certain day and end on a certain day.”

“PA Cyber continues to lead the way in educational innovation,” said Dr. Conti. “Our teachers and curriculum staff deserve credit for introducing an exciting new option in online learning.”

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Class Action Lawsuit On Behalf Of Homeowners Against Bank Of America Alleging Abuses In Its Force-Placed Flood Insurance Program Allowed To Proceed In U.S. District Court

18 Jul

Finally FastWorld News from the Finally Fast team

On Wednesday, July 11, 2012, Judge Michael Simon of the United States District Court for the District of Oregon issued a ruling that permitted the Plaintiffs’ breach of contract claims to proceed in a nationwide class action alleging that Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) improperly force-placed high-premium flood insurance policies on homeowners across the United States.

In their Complaint, Plaintiffs Ronda and Larry Arnett allege that Bank of America has a practice of force-placing flood insurance coverage above the amounts required by borrowers’ mortgage contracts and by federal law.  Bank of America asked the Court to dismiss the case, asserting that its mortgage contracts with borrowers permit it to force-place high premium flood insurance coverage in any amounts that it deems necessary.  The Court denied Bank of America’s motion to dismiss and decided that Plaintiffs’ claims alleging breach of contract and conversion of funds should proceed to trial.

“When it comes to flood insurance, Bank of America and other companies in the mortgage servicing industry have engaged in a classic bait-and-switch, in which borrowers are informed of one set of flood insurance requirements at closing and then, later, Bank of America demands additional, unwarranted flood insurance coverage,” said Shanon Carson of Berger & Montague, P.C., one of the lead attorneys for the Plaintiffs.  “Through this scheme, Bank of America has harmed tens of thousands of consumers by force-placing excessive and unnecessary flood insurance at extraordinarily high prices.  Moreover, each time Bank of America force-places flood insurance policies on its borrowers it receives a kickback from the flood insurance companies with whom Bank of America has an exclusive relationship.”

“All homeowners in the United States with mortgage loans serviced by Bank of America who have been force-placed with flood insurance policies are potentially affected by the Court’s decision in this case,” added Brett Cebulash, another of the Plaintiffs’ attorneys.  “By virtue of this decision, they will now have their day in court.”

A similar case, brought on behalf of Bank of America borrowers with home equity lines of credit (“HELOCs”), that also alleges abuses in the force-placement of flood insurance, has been brought by the same group of plaintiffs’ attorneys and is also pending before Judge Simon in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon.

Borrowers who have been subjected to force-placed insurance policies and customers of Bank of America who are potentially affected by this decision can obtain additional information by calling Shanon J. Carson, Esq. at (215) 875-4656 or Patrick F. Madden, Esq. at (215) 875-3035, both of the law firm, Berger & Montague, P.C.  Mr. Carson and Mr. Madden can also be contacted by email at scarson@bm.net or pmadden@bm.net.

The Plaintiffs in this case, Arnett, et al. v. Bank of America, N.A., Civil Action No. 11-cv-1372 (D. Or.), are represented by the law firms of Berger & Montague, P.C., Taus Cebulash & Landau LLP, and Stoll Stoll Berne Lokting & Shlachter P.C.

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USW 10-Month Campaign to Save Pennsylvania Jobs, Communities Results in Continued Operations for Philadelphia Refinery

10 Jul

finally fastLocal Business news from the Finally Fast Team

When Sunoco Inc. announced last September it would shut down the company’s Philadelphia refinery if a buyer was not found, United Steelworkers (USW) Local 10-1 leaders and members were given little hope of keeping their refinery alive. Ten months later, after a hard-fought campaign waged by the local and international union, Local 10-1 members ratified a new contract with a new owner, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, which is a joint partnership between The Carlyle Group and Sunoco.

“I am extremely proud of the local union leadership and members who refused to believe there was no hope,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “I don’t think this refinery would have been sold if there hadn’t been a union to fight for this facility and to fight for the survival of the surrounding communities.”

USW Locals 10-1, 10-901 and 10-234 led the campaign to find buyers for the two Sunoco facilities in Philadelphia and Marcus Hook and the former ConocoPhillips refinery. Last fall they contacted local, state and national elected leaders and persuaded them to help find buyers and keep the refineries operating. They researched industry trends and discussed financial strategies while writing thousands of letters, obtaining signatures for petitions, and holding rallies and demonstrations. They also involved the Building Trades and other union and community groups in the campaign.

Meanwhile the international union searched for buyers for the three refineries and reached out for assistance from the Obama Administration. Top USW officials contacted The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm with which it had a prior relationship.

“Our members worked hard to ensure there would be good, family-supporting jobs in their communities,” said USW International Vice President Tom Conway. “Most important, they clearly communicated how consumers and their local communities would be negatively impacted by the refinery shutdowns. Once the elected officials and the public understood this, positive change began.”

Conway and Gary Beevers, the USW International Vice President who heads the union’s national oil bargaining program, sat down with Phil Rinaldi, who will serve as the CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, to discuss the parameters of an agreement.

“This new three-year agreement enables the company to make large investments that will result in hundreds of new jobs,” Beevers said. “It gives the company more flexibility, while providing industry-standard wages, benefits, and health and safety protections.”

USW Local 10-1 President Jim Savage said: “We are pleased to announce the ratification of our labor agreement with Philadelphia Energy Solutions. It passed overwhelmingly by 98 percent. The terms of the agreement meet the standards consistent with the national pattern and represent the culmination of very hard work by our negotiating committee, with tremendous support from the international union. We are both proud and thankful of the efforts of so many people who worked so hard on our behalf. Nothing is impossible.”

The USW represents 600 hourly employees at the Philadelphia refinery.

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Carnegie Mellon and Lehigh Lead in Launch Of New Program To Bolster Manufacturing Innovation

27 Jun

Finally FastBusiness news from the Finally Fast team

Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with Lehigh University will manage a new $1 million manufacturing and innovation development program to help foster a renaissance in Pennsylvania manufacturing globally.

“Manufacturing adds more than $75 billion in value each year to our state’s economy, and it is paramount that we do all that we can to grow that sector of our economy,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett. “Through partnering with our world-class research institutions, we can provide the tools needed for Pennsylvania companies to create jobs and compete in the global economy.”

The Research for Advanced Manufacturing in Pennsylvania program (RAMP) is funded through the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Discovered in PA – Developed in PA (D2PA) program. The D2PA program, created by the Corbett administration, is designed to build capacity to better support Pennsylvania’s businesses and to spur creativity and innovation in the allocation of economic development services.

The RAMP program is designed to tap the research and innovation capabilities of both CMU and Lehigh and provide technical and economic benefits to the state’s small-, medium- and large-sized manufacturing companies by enabling knowledge transfer, the discovery of new technologies and retention of highly skilled students, according to Matthew A. Sanfilippo, executive director of CMU’s Institute for Complex Engineered Systems (ICES).

RAMP will operate as a competitive funding program that provides small incentive grants (one to one and one-half years in duration) to faculty-led teams at both CMU and Lehigh that engage in short-term innovation projects in cooperation with a Pennsylvania manufacturing company. Each successful RAMP proposal will be awarded between $25,000 and $75,000 to help support graduate students working with successful participating companies.

“This program is designed to help Pennsylvania companies invent and develop advanced manufacturing capabilities to compete in a global marketplace,” said Gary Fedder, ICES director and a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the Robotics Institute.

“Additionally, RAMP will build off the successful history at Lehigh and CMU of partnering with Pennsylvania’s companies and provide a gateway for these companies to tap into the unique technical capabilities that are available at these research universities,” added Richard Sause, director of Lehigh’s ATLSS Engineering Research Center.

The new program falls on the heels of the U.S. government’s tack to forge new ways to collaborate on discovery, commercialization and the building of workforce skills to ensure that advanced manufacturing creates jobs in the United States.

CMU research has shown that moving manufacturing overseas to developing countries can reduce the economic viability of emerging technologies.

“We find that in the case of early-stage industries with immature processes that when U.S. firms shift production from the U.S. to countries like China, the most advanced technologies that were developed in the U.S. no longer pay,” said Erica Fuchs, an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon. “With changes in the innovation ecosystem over the last few decades, policy and other funding mechanisms to support manufacturing, technology development and commercialization activities by these small- and medium-sized enterprises may be of growing importance to regional and national economic development.”

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Jim Beam® Partners With Six Bold Artists to Launch the 2012 Live Music Series in Support of Military Musicians

13 Jun

finally fastThis summer, Jim Beam® is building on its bold music legacy while continuing its ongoing commitment to our nation’s troops with the 2012 Live Music Series. The Jim Beam® Live Music Series is a string of six live concerts, each featuring one of six artists who has partnered with the world’s No. 1 bourbon to bring bold music experiences to fans across the country – Kid Rock, Daughtry, David Gray, Darius Rucker, Bush and Train. Extending the program beyond live concerts, Jim Beam is offering bold, legendary cover songs recorded by the Live Music Series artists on JimBeam.com/LiveMusicSeries*.

Together with Rolling Stone, Jim Beam is leveraging the publication’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Each of the six Live Music Series artists have chosen and recorded a song from Rolling Stone’s historic list and are offering it to fans exclusively on JimBeam.com/LiveMusicSeries during the promotion period. Beginning in June, specially marked bottles of Jim Beam®, Jim Beam Black®, Red Stag by Jim Beam® and Devil’s Cut® bourbons will be marked with offer details and instructions on how to download tracks from the six artists on JimBeam.com/LiveMusicSeries. Fans across the country can also join the Live Music Series experience by visiting the website to view portions of the live concerts that will be streaming online. Additional content – including exclusive artist interviews – will also be available on JimBeam.com/LiveMusicSeries.

“I’m proud to extend my relationship with Jim Beam for the second year of their Live Music Series. We’ve had a great time celebrating with fans of both music and bourbon, and I am excited to continue the party for another year,” said Kid Rock.

2012′s Live Music Series builds on Jim Beam’s tradition of groundbreaking music programs. In 2010, the world’s No. 1 bourbon launched a breakthrough consumer program for both the spirits and music industry by offering exclusive Kid Rock music downloads on specially marked boxes of Jim Beam® and Red Stag by Jim Beam® bourbons. And last year, in 2011, the company boldly expanded the Jim Beam music platform by launching the first Live Music Series, offering fans a wide array of live performances throughout the year as well as giving fans a wider selection of exclusive content. The 2012 Live Music Series furthers Jim Beam’s rich heritage in music and expands the program this year to benefit U.S. troops.

Supporting our Troops through Music

Jim Beam is continuing its commitment to the troops through a partnership with Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization providing emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and Wounded Warriors. As part of the 2012 Live Music Series, the world’s No. 1 bourbon will donate more than $100,000 to the organization, a portion of which will be used to purchase musical instruments for soldiers both in the U.S. and overseas who have a passion for music. Jim Beam will present Operation Homefront with a check for $100,000 onstage at Kid Rock’s concert in Boston on June 1 – the first show in the Live Music Series. Fans across the country can join in and show their support by texting the word SALUTE to 27722 to add $5 to their phone bills as a donation to Operation Homefront(1). Jim Beam will also be contributing to the troops and military musicians by matching the number of Live Music Series downloads redeemed on JimBeam.com/LiveMusicSeries and donating those to soldiers 21 years of age or older through Operation Homefront.

“For more than five years, Jim Beam has supported the troops and the families they leave behind through Operation Homefront,” said Rob Mason, Senior Director, US Bourbon, Beam Inc. “The Live Music Series is the perfect way to build on that commitment and give back to the soldiers who have a passion for music.”

VIP Sweepstakes

In addition to the live concert experiences and exclusive content available at JimBeam.com/LiveMusicSeries, including the artists’ cover tracks from Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, Jim Beam is supporting the 2012 Live Music Series with advertising, media, PR and social media. Jim Beam is also hosting trivia nights in each of the concerts’ cities and hosting a nationwide sweepstakes** for a chance to win a VIP experience at the final 2012 Live Music Series concert event.

Fans 21 years of age or older can join the Live Music Series experience by entering for a chance to win a VIP trip to the final Live Music Series concert on JimBeam.com/LiveMusicSeries. The grand prize includes backstage access; a meet-and-greet with the band; an autographed Live Music Series customized guitar and the opportunity to be the Jim Beam® Live Music Series blogger for the day.

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Corbett Administration Recognizes Nine Employers for Efforts to Keep Pennsylvanians Working

29 May

finallyfastNine employers and training providers today received Governor’s Achievement Awards for outstanding hiring and workforce development success.

Representatives of state workforce development agencies recognized the businesses for their accomplishments at the 28th annual Pennsylvania Partners Employment, Training & Education Conference, being held at the Hershey Lodge & Convention Center through Friday.

“The businesses recognized today are what Pennsylvania needs to strengthen its economy and improve its workforce,” Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway said. “Their dedication to workforce development and to overcoming workplace employment barriers will aid Pennsylvania in building a strong economic future.”

Hearthway was represented at the awards ceremony by Michelle Staton, deputy secretary for workforce development.

“We’re pleased to honor groups from our workforce who provide inspiration and opportunities for older adults, as well as employers who make an effort to seek and retain older employees,” Department of Aging Secretary Brian Duke said. “We thank employers for their dedication to providing opportunities for older Pennsylvanians re-entering the workforce after personal challenges.”

Duke was represented at the awards ceremony by David Gingerich, acting deputy secretary for aging.

“These innovative employers have created successful business models that will directly impact our state’s success,” Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary D. Alexander said. “Their commitment to individuals and the community are the building blocks that Pennsylvania will continue to support and build upon.”

Alexander was represented at the awards ceremony by Tim Costa, executive deputy secretary of the Department of Public Welfare.

“Bradford Area School District’s collaboration with the local petroleum and natural gas industry is an excellent example of a public-private partnership in action,” Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said. “Our public schools are meeting the needs of a critical industry for Pennsylvania’s growth by providing students with career skills that will benefit them well into the future. This working relationship ensures that graduates can meet the region’s workforce demands, as well as provides high-paying jobs in one of the fastest growing career areas in Pennsylvania. This partnership is to be applauded.”

Tomalis was represented at the awards ceremony by Lee Burket, director of the Bureau of Career and Technical Education.

The awards are jointly sponsored by state workforce development agencies – the departments of Aging, Labor & Industry, Education, and Public Welfare – and Pennsylvania Partners to recognize exceptional employers and training providers who promote outstanding hiring and workforce development practices.

Pennsylvania Partners, an association of workforce development professionals in each of the state’s 23 workforce investment areas, sponsors this annual conference, which attracts more than 800 private and public job training experts.

Department of Labor & Industry and Pennsylvania Partners

Governor’s Workforce Development Awards

Eastern Pennsylvania

  • Michael Foods, Inc., Schuylkill County

Central Pennsylvania

  • Metaldyne Sintered Components, Elk County

Western Pennsylvania

  • Acutect Precision Machining, Crawford County

Department of Labor & Industry Office of Vocational Rehabilitation

Governor’s Award for Employers Hiring Workers with Disabilities

  • U.S. Department of Defense Commissary Agency, Carlisle Barracks, Cumberland County

Department of Aging

Hall of Fame of Champions of Older Workers 2010 Outstanding Employer

  • Lowe’s Home Improvement, Schuylkill County

Department of Education

Education Workforce Leadership Award

  • Bradford Area High School, McKean Count

Department of Public Welfare

Employer Honor Roll Awards

  • Wash Cycle Laundry, Philadelphia County; nominated by Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation
  • Walmart, Delaware County; nominated by the Delaware County Office of Employment and Training
  • Dollar General, Luzerne County; nominated by EDSI of Luzerne County in Wilkes-Barre

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Consumers Show High Degree of Trust in Online Health Information, Report Success in Self-Diagnosis

24 May

Finally FastTech news from Finally Fast

Even when it comes to their own health, consumers trust online information, with three in ten Americans reporting that they “always” or “frequently” turn to the Internet to find answers to medical questions and 65 percent of those seeking medical information online saying they trust the information, according to a new survey from Wolters Kluwer Health. Among consumers seeking medical information online, 63 percent claim to have never misdiagnosed themselves when using online medical information resources.

Easier access to online medical information may also have a positive impact on the doctor-patient relationship, with two-thirds, 67 percent, of Americans that seek medical information online stating that this has made them better informed as patients. Nearly half, or 48 percent, of consumers say they turn to the Internet to find answers to medical questions in order to be more informed about a medical condition before a doctor’s visit. Interestingly, with so many consumers seeking medical information online, only 4 percent report having experienced “cyberchondria” – a term coined to describe how people become convinced that they have an illness or condition they don’t actually have based on information they read on the Internet.

Findings come from a recent Wolters Kluwer Health survey conducted by IPSOS among more than 1,000 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older. Survey questions focused on uncovering consumer perceptions of and practices around using online resources and information to answer medical questions as well as exploring consumer self-diagnosis habits.

An earlier survey conducted in late 2011 (Wolters Kluwer Health Point-of-Care survey of more than 300 U.S. physicians, also conducted by IPSOS) shows some interesting comparison points between physician online habits and views and those of consumers. Like consumers, physicians also turn to the Internet for much of their information, citing general browsers such as Google and Yahoo as a frequent source of information for 46 percent of survey respondents. Professional journals remain the number one resource for physicians, however, used by 68 percent as a frequent source.

While consumers claim to rarely misdiagnose themselves, physicians will often change a diagnosis based on information they find online. In fact, 63 percent of physicians surveyed reported having changed an initial diagnosis based on new information accessed via online resources and support tools. Meanwhile, while most physicians believe easier access to medical knowledge by patients has had a positive impact on the doctor/patient relationship, one in five say that this has been detrimental, leading to misinformation and incorrect self-diagnosis.

“The prevalence of online resources and information in the healthcare industry has led to significant changes in how physicians and consumers alike research and access healthcare information and has even impacted how clinicians practice medicine,” said Linda Peitzman, Chief Medical Officer, Wolters Kluwer Health. “Clinical decision support tools have changed the medical industry for the better in many areas, eliminating manual errors and measurably improving quality of care, but all resources are not created equal. This is why it’s critical to always consider the source.”

Among other findings:

  • Among Americans who would rely on the Internet to diagnose an illness, more than three-quarters (77 percent) say they would then discuss the information with their doctor to verify a diagnosis
  •  Only 15 percent of Americans who turn to the Internet for medical information say they at least sometimes misdiagnose themselves
  •   Twenty nine percent of those who go online for medical information, including 38 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34, cite “accessibility” as the reason they would turn to the Internet versus visiting a doctor to diagnose or treat an illness

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