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April 4, 2002

Distributed Program to Translate Many Languages OK, there are all sorts of quality-control issues, and the logistics are daunting. But the concept is novel and exciting. "The World Wide Lexicon (WWL) project will need multilingual volunteers to download a software program. This will automatically detect when the computer user is less busy and ask them to translate a word or phrase." The results of the collected translations will be incorporated into a world translation database for use in other online applications. "It's a clever twist on distributed computing," says [Brian] McConnell. "In this case the computers are people's brains. By Unknown, New Scientist, April 2, 2002.[Refer]

Interview with Richard McDermott, McDermott Consulting Interview with Richard McDermott, co-author of the recently released book, Cultivating Communities of Practice. You should probably read this article in order to get a certain perspective on communities of practice. It's not one that I share, really. I am one of the sort of people that McDermott thinks "do more harm than good" because I tend to resist measurements of "value received" from communities of practice. It's like measuring the ROI of water-cooler conversations: sure, you could do it, but what then? Structured water-cooler conversations? Streamlined (no talk about hockey, please) water-cooler conversations? I also draw a distinction between communities of practice - which center around a discipline or area of interest - and online communication within a single organization, which centers around an enterprise. The two are very different things, with very different inputs, outcomes and values. Now it's not that I, as McDermott suggests, "misunderstand what it takes to become genuinely influential in a business." It's that I think that a community of practice, properly understood, related to individual - not business - objectives. By Jim Cashel, Online Community Report, 2001.[Refer]

Killing the Biggest Myth of Web Design It's called "dumbing down" and the point of this article is to argue that web readers want no part of it. "Users don't read. Users don't scroll. Users need small words, small sentences, bullet lists, anchor links, pats on the head, and milk and cookies before bedtime. Each of these panels I attend leaves another small, burning hole in my stomach." Well, yeah... I leave things at their most delicious, complicated best on OLDaily and people don't complain. But there's a difference that perhaps escapes this author between making online writing accessible and writing for the lowest common denominator. I think it's worth taking the time to think about how to present information so it's easy to access and read. Sure - if it's good, people will read it no matter what. But why make their lives miserable? By Derek M. Powaze, Design for Community, March 28, 2002.[Refer]

Read All About It: Online Learning Facing 80% Attrition Rates We've all heard stories of dramatically high drop-out rates in e-learning. Can they be true? Well yes, but an explanation is in order, argues the author. Not all e-learning is equal, and some of it is wildly inappropriate to the task - "much of the technology currently used is unnecessarily specialised and tends to alienate rather than include people. Some of the complex learning management systems could be seen as the aid equivalent to the $50,000 tractor in Ethiopia. The cost of failures in these over-complicated systems is high..." This article is work looking at for the graphics alone (oh, but do read the words too). By Jim Flood, Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, April, 2002.[Refer]

Collaborative Software The navigation is a bit difficult but the information is useful to anyone looking at online collaboration tools. This website summarizes a variety of survey and evaluation reults to help distance educators and their students to select appropriate methods of course development and delivery. For Canadian readers, the website supplements the Canadian Association for Distance Education's next Wise & Witty Weekday teleconference session scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, 2002 from 2:00 P.M. to 3:15 P.M. (Atlantic Time). Contact the distance learning program or department at your nearest college or university to access this event. By Jon Baggaley, AU Centre for Distance Education, April 10, 2002.[Refer]

New School Tools Good survey article with many examples describing the trend toward portable computing devices (such as Palms or laptops) being deployed in U.S. schools. The article contains the obligatory cautionary note from an uninformed sceptic ("Giving kids laptops is not the place to start") but this is overwhelmed by stories of programs and experiences using the new technology. Take home: "About 15 percent of school districts nationwide have some kind of laptop initiative, according to technology consultant Sol Rockman." By Katherine Corcoran, San Jose Mercury News, April 4, 2002.[Refer]


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