Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
July 1, 2002

A Fine Triumph

Congratulations to our readers in Brazil who are today probably too busy celebrating their World Cup victory to think about such ordinary things as online learning. By Various Authors, June 30, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Victory For Vouchers Coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that school vouchers are constitutional. The decision epresents a defeat for opponents of the program, who argued that vouchers promote private and religious education. Supporters of vouchers argued that the system promotes school choice. Experiences in other states suggest that the voucher system will accelerate the trend toward online learning. It will also accelerate a fragmentation of the education system, in my opinion potentially creating the sort of two tier system that has come to characterize U.S. health care: the very best for the well off, but nothing at all for the poor. By Jodie Morse, Time, June 30, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Textbook Publishers Learn to Avoid Messing With Texas I have stated any number of times that there is a social purpose to education over and above a merely economic purpose. This article describing the influence of conservative groups in Texas over the selection and content of textboks is ample illustration of that point. But it also raises the question of the sort of social agendas that ought to be promoted in schols. In this article lobbyists frankly admit promoting an agenda I would find disturbing, one where "books were criticized as 'anti-technology,' 'anti-Christian' and 'anti-American,' and for saying there was scientific consensus that global warming was changing the earth's climate." These are things I think should be matters of choice, not the content of an education. On the other hand, argue the lobbyists, the changes to textbooks are examples of "democracy in action." By Alexander Stille, New York Times, June 29, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Rosetta Project Ambitious and very worthwhile project to create a permanent archive of the world's languages. The archive currently stands at 1,255 different languages. The resulting archive will be publicly available in three different media: a micro-etched nickel disk with 2,000 year life expectancy; a single volume monumental reference book; and through this growing online archive. By Various Authors, The Long Now Foundation, June, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Influence of Culture on Usability It's almost refreshing to read an essay in which the thesis being tested is found to be unconfirmed by the evidence. But this is what happens in this essay. The proposal that cultural differences translate into usability differences is put to the test. For the most part, the author finds no significant correlation, the sole exception being a mapping from the degree of collectivism exhibited by the culture. This isn't the easiest paper to read - I found myself reviewing quite a bit - but is recommended for anyone looking at cross cultural issues in learning. PDF format. By Thomas Vöhringer-Kuhnt, Freie Universität Berlin, June, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Spreading the Word We'll no doubt find publishers complaining that this is illegal too. The Free Book program involves leaving copies of books in public places with the intent that they be found and read. A sticker on the book identifies it as a free book, and readers can register the found book on the Free Book website. "More than 10,500 people, who call themselves 'bookcrossers,' have been united by a love of reading, serendipity and sleuthing." By Julian Guthrie, San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Pakistan's Virtual University: Where It Stands and How It Can Improve Some tough but necessary criticism of Pakistan's online course design and delivery, including a critique of the writing and page design. It also looks at language issues (the courses are delivered in English, but English is poorly understood by many students) and instructional issues. The author concludes that "Where it slips up is in choosing the right kind of individuals that it should be directing its lecture courses to. VU's courses would best be developed for the mature audience of university and college lecturers." This is an interesting observation, but perhaps to the point. You need language skills and access in order to benefit from online learning. But, if this is true, then how can online learning benefit the many millions of people without language skills and access, the people who are most of all in need of an education? Tough issues. By By Q. Isa Daudpota, Spider, July, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Distance Learning in Pakistan Background to the previous article. This item looks at the state of distance learning in Pakistan. Some good discussion of some of the major issue facing the country, including how to address the shortage of quality instructors, the problems posed by the brain drain, and potential uses of the MIT open courseware to support distance learning in Pakistan. Includes links to some major Pakistani distance learning institutions. By Q. Isa Daudpota, Spider, June, 2001 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

How Academic Librarians Can Influence Students’ Web-Based Information Choices Useful paper on students' information needs written from the context of providing improved library services. This essay is a little odd, though, in that the recommendations do not address the students' needs. According to the study, "students report having a difficult time finding complete articles that include charts, tables, and photographs." So what is recommended? An "emphasis on... accuracy, authority, timeliness, and privacy... integration of the library’s electronic resources with faculty, administrative, and other campus websites," and similarly administrative fetaures. PDF format. By Unknown, Online Computer Library Center, June, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Attendee-Centered Conference Design This item contains just a flavour of what should be a larger work. The author hints at some user-hostile conference design strategies, such as the fixed mic and the deferred question period. I could name so many more. Little things, like the need for signs. Big things, like completely inappropriate (and ill-informed) keynote speakers. Odd things, like the lack of online registration. Necessary things, like the need for a cybercafe or (better) wireless LAN. By Meg Hourihan, O'Reilly Network, March 19, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright © 2002 Stephen Downes