Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
September 13, 2002

Round 2.0 A number of good insights in this article, the essence of which is to warn people that the information revolution has not ended, but only begun. For example: "We are entering an era characterized by communications among distributed machines and dispersed people, rather than being mostly about a connection between two individuals or between an individual and a machine. The old approach to telephony was about 'connections to'; the next wave is about 'connections among.'" The old communications monopolies - telephony, publishing, music - will, one way or another, be changed. "No law can stop it. Laws function only when society tacitly agrees on their worth. If you doubt that, try driving 55 mph on the interstate." By Andy Lippman, Context, August, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Integrating Intellectual Property Rights and Development Policy A significant report, just released, by the U.K. Commission on Intellectual Property Rights that looks at the impact of copyright and patent protections on developing nations. The tenor of the report is that, because developing countries hold the bulk of copyrights and patents, and because of the costs involved in maintaining and enforcing copyrights and patents, a strict regime results in developing countries paying part of the costs, but gaining none of the benefits, of a tight copyright regime. In several areas it recommends that developing nations limit or void copyright and patent protection because they would be otherwise forced to do without the knowledge or technology. There is a lot of solid information and research here that one paragraph cannot adequately describe; if you are interested in the issue then this is required reading. By John Barton (Chair), Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, September, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Devices to Assist Persons with Disabilities An interactive robot that motivates children with physical disabilities. An electronic tutor that teaches mathematics in braille. A browser that magnifies graphics and reads text out loud. These are some of the projects displayed on this page dedicated to showcasing National Science Foundation (NSF) support for devices that assist people with disabilities. By Josh Chamot, National Science Foundation, September 12, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Only In Variety Is There Freedom I have commented before that there are strong parallels between media and education. I have also commented before on the links between education and democracy. So the argument in this article that the "concentration of media ownership is eroding our democracy" has its parallels in education. At the core of this article is the replacement of a diversity of voices with a single monopoly on opinion. Insofar as public (read: government) participation in education decreases, I think there becomes a similar danger in education, especially post-secondary education, where the diversity of voices so essential to a free and educated citizenry would be in danger of being subsumed by a single-minded focus on short term economic interests. By Frank A. Blethen, I Want Media, September 12, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The NSF Middleware Initiative and Digital Rights Management Workshop One of the best sites online linking to major resources in digital rights management (DRM): "a general section on DRM, followed by information on Organizations/Standards Groups, Architectures/Models, Rights Expression Languages, Requirements for Rights Expression Languages, Other Access Expression Languages, and a Middleware category which has links to resources About Middleware and Players." Prepare for days of heavy reading to fully absorb the material found here. By Various Authors, Georgetown University, September 9, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Microsoft Exec's Web Services Blues A top Microsoft executive laments the slow pace of consumer-oriented web services. "When we look out on the landscape, we don't see enough Web sites - and, in particular, customer-facing sites - that have XML Web services interfaces that people can take advantage of." A number of computer types have been telling me recently that Microsoft's .Net initiative is in trouble generally because of technical issues. Microsoft had hoped their .Net platform would allow them "to become a 'digital safe-deposit box' for hosting and delivering that personal information to partners, while providing an array of services, ranging from commerce to communications." From my perspective, there is no way I would allow Microsoft to act as the sole broker for my personal information. No way. By Mike Ricciuti and Charles Cooper, CNet, September 12, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

School Restrooms Lack Class, Says Crusading Bathroom Man Oh I so agree with this: "If a school can't do a simple thing like keep soap in a dispenser, he says, how can it hope to teach students self-respect or inspire them to greater academic achievement?" By Robert Tomsho, Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Testing Trap Let's take it as an assumption for the moment that some schools are failing. It follows that we want to identify them so we can help them improve. And if not by testing the students, then how? Anecdotes? But that said, the standardized test is too blunt an instrument for the task. As the author notes, "Schools are often misclassified as low- or high-performing purely because of random variation in their test scores, unrelated to any educational factor." Moreover, once a failing school is found, what then? We would assume that the school should be helped. It seems to me that imposing sanctions is the exact opposite of what should be done. As the autrhor of this article says, "Low-performing schools, and the people who work in them, don't know what to do. If they did, they would be doing it already." By Richard F. Elmore, Harvard Magazine, September, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes