Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
October 3, 2002

News-Reader Software Can Do Your Web Surfing For You Overview article of the experience of using news reading software to sample news articles from around the world. Don't forget to check the list of reader software in the column on the right hand side (it looks a bit like an advertisement, but it's not). News readers have been around for a couple of years now following the introduction of Carmen's but are only recently gaining press coverage such as this. I ask: why can't learning be like that? Why can't we have a learning content reader? Well we can - and we will. Mark my words. By Michael Bazeley, San Jose Mercury News, October 3, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Copyright: Fundamental Gap? VNU's OLNews sent out some advice to educators on copyright issues last Tuesday, advice that seemed to me so one-sided and misguided that I was prompted to send back a missive in return. The essence of the response was that academics and instructional designers ought to stop blithely following the doctrine of blind adherence to copyright and to begin circumventing the copyright machinery by not using proprietary materials and by not signing their own copyrights over to publishers. This response was, of course, completely ignored - and there my exercise of speech would have ended in pre-internet days, stymied by the control of publishers over content. But this is the information age and I have a website (indeed - this is why I have a website), and so I can treat my audience - probably as large as OLNews's, and with significant overlap - to my response without VNU's cooperation (I would link to the original article but a diligent search of the VNU website failed to reveal a web version). By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, October 3, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Students Shunning Animal Dissection Ritual It was a grade nine biology class and we were supposed to do dissections. The teacher announced that anyone who did not want to cut open dead animals could opt out of it if they wished. Had I not been given the opportunity, I would probably have gone through with the dissection, but on being given the chance, I opted out. But I had to remain in the classroom while others did their dissections and the image of a headless fish remains bright in my memory to this day. I just don't like seeing dismembered and disentrailed animals (for this reason I never ever watch horror movies). I guess I'm not alone. And, thanks to online simulations, thousands of students who would not have been given the choice I was given are now able to opt out completely. Good. And to the teacher who says "This is an issue of academic freedom. A well-trained teacher has the knowledge and experience to know how best to use dissection," I say this: you may know how to teach, but I have the right to control what sort of gory images are seared or not seared into my brain for the rest of my life (I wonder how many of our political beliefs as adults are created by things like experiences of dead fish in childhood). By AP, CNN, October 2, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Panelists Consider the 'Business Case' For Open-Source I think this could be a significant shift in the way open source should be depicted: "When you look at the Free Software Foundation's Web site, they have an explanation right on the page: 'Not free as in beer, free as in speech.' We're not terribly interested -- from a business point of view -- in 'free as in speech,' but we don't think of 'free as in beer' as the best way to build a business either. We like to think of it as 'free as in market.'" Yes. That's an excellent point. In my own work I am constantly advocating open source and open standards (and open access, for that matter) as a means of creating a "learning marketplace." The marketplace works, from a business perspective. By Stacy Cowley, Linux World, October 2, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Distance Learning at the Tipping Point This report from EduVentures discusses the current status of fully online distance learning programs (which, I might add, is an uninterrupted and continual increase in enrollments and revenues), lists a series of success factors for online learning, and looks at options for colleges and universities regarding outsourcing. Unfortunately, the report is biased significantly (the clearest example is the chart on page 15) by EduVentures' partnership with eCollege. You'd think after all the fuss recently with tainted stock analysts' recommendations that consulting and research companies such as Eduventures would have learned that this sort of practice falls into, um, an ethical grey area. But no. This link is directly to the PDF but you may have to work your way through a cumbersome registration prodcedure in order to get to it. By Sean Gallagher, EduVentures, September, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Itís Taking Off, But What Should We Call It? The questions posed by Masie at the beginning of this column also posed several times at Online Learning 2002, so I sincerely doubt that they originated with him. That said, the observation is valid: many more people are learning informally from the web that formally through online courses. In fact, you - the regular OLDaily reader - are learning informally right now. No tests, no tuition. So it seems, suggests Masie, that we need to "define our arena in the broader sense of both formal and tacit learning programmes." Yes! That's what I've been trying to say. Masie also discusses aspects of customized learning in the same column, observing three trends: upselling through learning, expense reduction by replacing long-duration support calls, and customer loyalty. These make sense to me (when (and if) I write my paper "E-Learning and Strawberry Jam" I will add to these comments (you take this jar of strawberry jam, see, and you add e-learning to it....). That said: it seems to me that customization will probably be best accomplished via the selection of resources than via the creation of a single resource that can be transformed. Why? In a few words: the former is a much simpler system to set up. By Elliott Masie, IT Training, October, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Durable Memento Your word for the day is "daguerreotype" - a type of photographic portrait - and your person for the day is Augustus Washington, the son of a former slave who in the mid 1800s became a noted daguerreotypists and moved to Liberia in 1853. This exhibit of his life and work is hosted by the National Portrait Gallery and is offered here as an example of the truly unique, original and valuable educational content that can - and should - be found on the web. A teacher's guide is also available. Thanks to Spartacus Educational for passing this along. By Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery, November, 2000 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learning and Teaching Information Technology: Computer Skills in Context Although today's students are raised on computer screens and internet access, the authors argue, they may not be prepared to use the internet. "Can the student who operates a computer well enough to play a game, send e-mail or surf the Web be considered computer literate? Will a student who uses computers in school only for running tutorials or an integrated learning system have the skills necessary to survive in our society?" To support their case they present a compelling list of skills that should be associated with computer literacy, skills ranging from information seeking strategies to location and access of information to the appropriate use of information. This is a good guide and I think the authors have made their case. We need to look at computer literacy in a new light, and to ask again whether students are computer literate. By Michael B. Eisenberg and Doug Johnson, ERIC Digest, September, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Emerging Behavior of Complex Collaborative Networks This is a difficult document to slog through, but worth the effort if you are interested in virtual communities or virtual organizations. The paper is a summary of discussions at a workshop designed to study the behaviour of complex collaborative networks. As such, it raises more problems than it solves. It appears that no formal approach is sufficient to capture organizational forms and behaviour. But it appears clear that such organizations result in what may be called emergent phenomena - patterns of activity that occur not by direction, but as a consequence of the autonomous activities of each member of the group. But this is insufficiently understood: no company is about to invest in the expectation of emergent phenomena that cannot be adequately predicted or described. We need to understand the impacts of leadership, cooperation, competition and turbulence in online groups. By Various Authors, ThinkCreative, June, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright © 2002 Stephen Downes