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Science News: Bits and Bytes

Learning on the Net

Weber State University is moving ahead with the virtual education vision touted by Gov. Mike Leavitt: it is offering 19 Internet-based courses this fall.

Classes range from chemistry to library science, botany and nursing.

"We have consciously chosen courses that fulfill general-education requirements and are working toward offering degree-program sequences," said Peg Wherry, director of distance learning.

The university also has made student services such as academic advisement, admissions, financial aid, career advisement and tutoring available online through WSU Online (

"We know that many of our students work full time," said Provost Dave Eisler. "WSU Online gives these students an opportunity to take courses that are time and place independent."

The school has tried to ensure students taking online courses can interact with peers and faculty by providing lecture rooms, discussion halls and chat rooms.

Techno-savvy women

Women business owners are more actively adopting new technology to boost their firms, says a national study.

The study, sponsored by IBM and the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, shows women business owners increased their computer investments 60 percent to $170.3 billion in the past year.

Other findings:

- 23 percent of women business owners have a home page, compared to 16 percent of men business owners.

- 47 percent subscribe to an online service, versus 41 percent of men owners.

- 51 percent use the Internet frequently for business communication.

The companies surveyed nearly 800 women- and men-owned business across the country.

AOL gets face lift

America Online has revamped its content, adding new channels and giving face lifts to old standbys.

The changes begin this week and are a prelude to launch of the next version of AOL software. America Online, with nine million members, is the largest online service provider in the country.

The company says the new channel line-up will make it easier for members to find information quickly. And, the channels are aimed at providing members with more relevant information that is updated throughout the day.

New offerings include AOL Today, an online guide; the Influence Channel, a cutting-edge look at people, the arts, business, upscale living and fashion; the Families Channel, for on-the-go parents; and the WorkPlace Channel, with information and resources on careers.

Smart card hits N.Y.

A long awaited test of smart cards got underway this week in New York.

The smart cards have computer chips that allow them to be loaded with cash value at ATMs or special kiosks. The cards can then be used at participating stores to make purchases.

More than 600 merchants, from pharmacies to delis and dry cleaners, on the Upper West Side have agreed to take the cards, which are being issued by Citibank and Chase Manhattan Bank. MasterCard and Visa are also backing the project.

Smart cards, which are widely used in Europe, are billed as a way for consumers to avoid carrying lots of cash and for merchants to handle transactions more efficiently and cheaply.