Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
August 6, 2002

Quality Control in Scholarly Publishing on the Web The author starts with a good insight. "The slow and deliberate process of peer review means that papers in the published journal are a historic record, not the active literature of the field." Consequently, "For the NSDL, the conclusion is clear. We need to devise ways to identify and select the working literature, whether or not it has been formally reviewed, and to indicate to readers its probable quality." There are clues we can use to judge what is good, and the author runs through a representative set. But they are far from conclusive. A better approach seems to be typified by such sites as Epinions and Amazon where volunteers review the articles and readers review the reviewers. My advice to the author: you're half way there. Now think about how such a system could be formalized and placed within a metadata framework. The result is what I call "third party metadata" and it allows for a dynamic ranking of all sorts of online educational objects. By William Y. Arms, Journal of Electronic Publishing, August, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Evolution of an Institutional E-prints Archive at the University of Glasgow Good article describing the process and technologies used to launch an institutional e-prints archive at the University of Glasgow. Telling: "The challenge, ultimately will not be the technical implementation of an e-prints service but rather the cultural change necessary for it to become embedded and commonplace in the activities of the institution. That change will be assisted however by national programmes such as FAIR and international declarations such as that of the Budapest Open Access Initiative." By William J Nixon, Ariadne, June/July, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

CertMag’s Guide to e-Learning Fairly superficial outline of what is now common knowledge about what leads to effective e-learning but supplemented with a nice vendor checklist. By Denny Yost, Certification Magazine, December 31, 200-31 8:33 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

OpenSAML - an Open Source Security Assertion Markup Language implementation This release from Internet 2 looks like a good bet as a standard for is a standard for the formation and exchange of authentication, attribute, and authorization data as XML. But before you use OpenSAML in your million dollar application, do your homework. The FAQ advises that "Users of OpenSAML should note that there are claims regarding intellectual property and licensing requirements that have been made regarding technologies specified in SAML." I checked the OASIS page referecned but couldn't find any specifics. But the precedent for problems has already been set. By Various Authors, Internet 2, August, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

College Seeks Security in Thumbs Let's face it, the loss of a thumb is much less likely than the loss of a password. And nobody is going to guess my thumbprint. And I don't have to rotate it every three months. So I can think of many reasons why I would prefer to use my thumbprint rather than a PIN or password to access personal data. And though the article raises questions about the use of thumb prints evoking thoughts of 'Big Brother' I have no illusion that I will be giving away any more personal privacy than is already spirited away through the usual channels. The only question is: are the thumb-readers reliable enough? By Anonymous, Wired, December 31, 200-31 8:33 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Rise of the Perma-Temp Following yesterday's special issue I had an engaging back and forth discussion with Tom Abeles about the mechanics of providing a quality eduction at commodity prices. The conversation turned to the use by such online institutions as the University of Phoenix of low-paid on-demand instructional staff. My reaction was that the use of low paid labour has long been an academic tradition, a view I hold with some authority having spent seven years in the ranks. So it is noteworthy that the New York Times raised the issue this week. The advantage, as the story notes, is that the use of adjunct professors substantially reduces an institution's payroll. But as Abeles suggested to me yesterday, the use of adjunct staff concentrates power in the hands of the university administration. Where are the professors, he asked? My response was simply that, as I have been told many times, the professors are the institution. Well, maybe it's not so straightforward. But the salient point is that much of what is being done to universities, up to and including the commodification of education, if being done by professors (with dollar signs in their eyes) to themselves. By Leslie Berger, New York Times, August 4, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Social Thinking -- Software Practice "Social Thinking -- Software Practice" is a book of essays dedicated toward addressing the gap between social science and software practice. Reviewer Paul Duguid neatly turns the subject in on itself, raising, via his examination of several of the essays, the social nature of software construction (or, why software engineers aren't always to blame for bad software). For example: "Sadly the insight isn't taken a great deal further so we don't get much sense of the possible contributions theories of organization might make to understanding this gap. Such theories should help explain why corporate software is not, as some social scientists naively wished, inherently emancipatory. After all, economists from Ronald Coase to Oliver Williamson have argued that organizations form around hierarchy.... in trying to understand the relationship between the practice of software designers, the organizations for which they work, and related uses and abuses of power." By Paul Duguid, August 6, 2002 4:22 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Court Strikes Down Florida Voucher Law A Florida court rules against the legality of that state's voucher system on the grounds that the State Constitution prohibits the spending of public money in aid of churches or religious institutions. "the voucher law requires that parents must endorse the voucher checks over to the participating private and religious schools. As Judge Davey observed, allowing this two-step payment mechanism to avoid the state constitution would represent 'a colossal triumph of form over substance.'" By U.S. Newswire, August 5, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright © 2002 Stephen Downes