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February 18, 2002

Ever So Slowly, Colleges Start to Count Work With Technology in Tenure Decisions OK, I guess I shouldn't be too snarky (there's plenty of time for that below): this report surveys the progress of colleges and universities in recognizing tenure. OK, it's not much of a step forward, but it's a step forward. And the article is a pretty good overview of the developments in the field. I love the comments at the end. By Jeffrey R. Young, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 22, 2002.[Refer]

The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002: Readiness for the Networked World This report is probably going to be headline news by this time tomorrow (or next week), and unfortunately so because - as some of the more detailed discussion shows - it is a deeply flawed report. Chapter summaries and teasers only are available online (which should show how the authors and publishers deeply do not get the internet), the report is intended more to promote a specific vision of the internet (and internet commerce) than it is to provide an empirical survey. I would advise people to read the report and draw their own conclusions. The online ordering search system at Oxford University Press doesn't have it listed yet - more brilliance from the e-commerce gurus - but you can find it listed for $US 65 here. As for the rest of you: well, you don't have enough money to form your own opinions (the new Information Order the Harvard Way). The report is scheduled to be released in March. By Geoffrey S. Kirkman, Peter K. Cornelius, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and Klaus Schwab, eds., World Economic Forum, March, 2002.[Refer]

The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, Chapter 1. Some Thoughts on How ICTs Could Really Change the World Not as bad as some of the other chapters in this report. The author accurately summarizes some of the major trends in network technology and them provides some deeply misleading advice on how to prepare for it. The major insight relates to the gradual shift from massively centralized systems of access to decentralized network forms of access. As he says, "A hundred million music lovers exchanging music files among themselves don't ask permission from broadcasters or music publishers." And the nature of data changes: "Disaggregated data - from a school, a clinic, a police station, a well, a store - let us see what a person sees." So what should we do? "Link the schools, cafes, churches... any place people gather in a community... to the internet." Here's a better idea: community wireless hubs. Use, writes the author, "examples of existing programs as templates for school connectivity" - and yet we know that plunking computer labs into schools isn't the way to go. By John Gage, The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, March, 2002.[Refer]

The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, Chapter 2. The Networked Readiness Index: Measuring the Preparedness of Nations for the Networked World This part of the report will be widely cited, mainly because it's from Harvard and has a nice ordered list of countries. But the ordering is a sham because the survey data is worthless. A detailed analysis of the survey's flaws would take an entire article. But some examples. How can Canada, with the world's fastest backbone network (by far), 80 percent internet usage (including near 100 percent by people under 18), and access costs less than half that of the United States rank lower in network access? Because the data are fudged: backbone and access speed are not measured at all, the access figures are misreported, and the cost of access is taken as a function of the rate for 20 hours online in terms of GDP per capita - a pretty useless measure for a nation that widely supports always-on broadband access. Instead of measuring the cost and availability of broadband access, the report disguises America's failure to deploy by surveying instead "perceptions" of broadband availability and access. A host of "business and economic climate" datum is also included - again measured by survey - in which the primary measurement seems to be the degree of deviance with U.S. law and policy. The deep thinkers at Harvard should be ashamed to be foisting this piece of flim-flammery on the public. By Geoffrey S. Kirkman, Carlos A. Osorio, and Jeffrey D. Sachs, The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, March, 2002.[Refer]

The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, Chapter 3. Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age Nothing important is done in the field of online learning outside MIT's Media Lab. That, at least, is how this chapter reads. The chapter begins with the idea that learning is not merely information acquisition (aren't you glad you have MIT to tell you this?) and suggests that most people compare online learning with viewing the television. The bulk of the paper is devoted to the author's 'Computer Clubhouses' project. Some of the concluding comments are good, but misdirected. Sure - we should rethink how people learn. But I don't think that combining grades or creating longer class periods really gets at the heart of what technology can bring to education. By Mitchel Resnick, The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, March, 2002.[Refer]

The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, Chapter 4: Ten Lessons for ICT and Education in the Developing World Based largely on experiences with the World Bank's World Links project (use this link; the document contains the wrong URL) the author outlines ten 'lessons' for online learning in the developing world. Some are common sense - technical support, wireless access, community support. But some are not. The report stresses public/private partnerships throughout, for example, while blaming the private sector's unreasonable pricing policies on 'regulatory issues'. The article favours top-heavy investment laden programs - such as expensive computer labs and "equipping schools" (insead of smaller scale personal access programs) and then says business must be involved because "a ministry of education cannot take on the task... it is simply too big a job." By Robert J. Hawkins, The Global Information Technology Report 2001-2002, 2002.[Refer]

Creating a Culture of Learning With a title that promises oh so much more than this article delivers, the answer (it seems) to disappointed online learners is to (1) show them your best razzle-dazzle, (2) give them a paper-based manual, and (3) employ blended learning. The said this is, this would work, but it would work in the way putting fins on cars work - it's comfortable, familiar and gives you the illusion that you are flying. But - importantly - you are not flying. 'Creating a culture of learning' shouldn't be about putting people back into the classroom. It should be about taking learning out of the classroom and making it a part of their everyday lives. By Elliott Masie, E-Learning Magazine, February 1, 2002.[Refer]

Wal-Mart Trumps Moore's Law OK, it's not exactly how I would make the point, but it's a point that needs to be made again and again - or so it seems - when talking with educators. It doesn't matter how much dazzle there is in your delivery if you price it out of reach of the WalMart generation. Educational institutions need to integrate new technologies not merely at the delivery level but deep within the organizational structure of instruction, and always with the dictate, "everyday low prices." By Michael Schrage, Technology Review, March, 2002.[Refer]

Technology Timeline I read from time to time that nobody can really predict the future of technology. But while unexpected developments can and do occur, most of the big milestones can be identified and predicted. The result is fascinating reading - prepare to spend the next fifteen to thirty minutes of your future absorbing this technology timeline. By Ian Pearson and Ian Neild, BT Exact Technologies, 2002.[Refer]

A Software Development Process for a Team of One What I like about this article is the way it demonstrates the thinking behind the planning and implementation of a small (one week, one person) development project. What I don't like about it is the way that it reminds me how slack so much of my own software development work is. Oh well... there's the right way, as described in this article, and then there's my way. By Philippe Kruchten, The Rational Edge, February, 2002.[Refer]

Eighteen Questions - Part One
Responses to a set of questions sent by Ben Daniel in which I talk about my background, my views on instructional technology and the future of learning, and provide advice for people new to the field. Questions 1-11 By Stephen Downes

Eighteen Questions - Part Two
Responses to a set of questions sent by Ben Daniel in which I talk about my background, my views on instructional technology and the future of learning, and provide advice for people new to the field. Questions 12-18 By Stephen Downes


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