Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
October 30, 2002

Ghost in the Machine: Looking Glass Into the Knowledge Class I think there are some interesting insights in this column. "The knowledge class," writes the author, "is making itself visible and addressable for the first time in its history." The knowledge class is a new stratum of society and includes just about everyone who can put letters after their names. They are collectively the "ghost in the machine" of the internet. See the internet, and we see ourselves. By Len Ellis, ClickZ, October 23, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

E-Learning is not Important "What the vendors had done is take the absolute worst aspects of school and automated them." This and a dozen other zingers highlight Jay Cross's scathing indictment of the e-learning industry. Not only is the 'e' not important, says cross, even the 'learning' is not important. What is valuable is the 'doing'. The purpose of the learning, properly so-called, is to make the doing better. So what's important? Cross looks at Unisys University and Dell's Educate U to show the importance of the learning in the value chain. Improved customer support, better sales force performance - these are the objectives of (corporate) e-learning. But e-learning is useful only if it is used. What happens when a third of employees fail to register for compulsory learning? By Jay Cross, Internet Time, October, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

For-Profit U.S. Schools Sell Off Their Textbooks Though a little after the fact, this article shines some more light on the Edison Schools experiment in Philadelphia. Readers may recall that Edison was the private company hired to manage 25 of Philadelphia's "failing" schools. Edison ran into financial difficulties and, as the story suggests, sold off textbooks and equipment. New to me is this: "Chris Whittle, the company's charismatic chief executive and founder, recently told a meeting of school principals that he'd thought up an ingenious solution to the company's financial woes: Take advantage of the free supply of child labour, and force each student to work an hour a day, presumably without pay, in the school offices." Now I think that the absurdity of forced child labour speaks for itself, but apparently not, as in today's Philadelphia Enquirer is news of a study calling the evaluation of the Edison experiment "inconclusive" (another report here). This, it seems to me, is what happens when you blindly follow a philosophy to its logical absurdity. The Globe and Mail, in the very same edition, but with respect to another issue, baldly asserts that "it's a bad idea for government to dictate strategy for any business." Now I can remain neutral with respect to the issue of bank mergers. But when it comes to staffing schools I would like to suggest that forced child labour is a bad idea and the fact that a private school operator would suggest this in all seriousness shows exactly why governments must from time to time involve themselves in the marketplace, much less closely supervise the education of our children. In yet another article released today, Edison Schools management are trying to reassure Maryland officials, saying that "The company has a very strong balance sheet. ... It has cash on hand" and "We feel fine about the current year we are in." I hate to think what it would take for Edison to say it had a bad year, and I hate to think about what measures it would contemplate if it were in real financial straits. By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, October 30, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Are Journalists Too Eager to Side With Privacy Over Free Speech? This item links to a Business Week article on internet pricacy which is worth reading in its own right. The gist of the article is that while the online posting of some information, such as assessment information, may appear harmless, there are good reasons to keep it private. The commentary to which I link here offers a criticism of this approach that should also be read. It points out that "the cause of privacy is directly at odds with the ability of journalists to do their jobs." Not just journalists. Why should assessments be available to real estatae agents and lawyers, but not individual buyers and sellers. There is a need for balance in the issue of privacy, which is the point of the criticism. By Rich Gordon, PoliTechBot, October 30, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

BBC Learning The BBC has now launched a series of free online courses. There's a lot here. Some of the courses consist of a 'Trail' of related resources such as articles and essays. Others contain more elaborate resources - I spent some time playing 'Battle of the North Atlantic' during the course of my, um, research. The strongest work seems to be in history, with English, law, science, languages and weather rounding out the mix. Navigation is a bit obscure, but if you follow your interests you will be presented with layer after mayer of material. For people like me, the site means hours of fun - and late newsletters. By Various Authors, BBC, October, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Quality Auditing of Online Learning The Flexible Learning Initiative has released the latest draft of these guidelines, a checklist for performing evaluations of online learning resources. For each standard, commentary is provided along with a list of indicators of compliance. The document is available in HTML and PDF (links are to the right side of the page, under 'Project Updates'). Other material available on the site includes reports from previous auditors, project background and history, and reports from project administrators. By Marty Cielens, Australian Flexible Learning Framework , October 24, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Shibboleth Project A news release distributed Wednesday (but not yet available on the website) announced a successful test of Shibboleth, a system that "enables inter-institutional sharing of web resources subject to access controls, as is often required in classes offered jointly by multiple universities. It permits off-campus students with broadband connections to access licensed, digital-library content transparently, and allows scientists and faculty to share research web sites securely with remote colleagues." The idea is that the student's home campus provides inform ation about the student ("attribute assertions"), and this information is then used to grant access to resources at the remote university. It's an interesting idea, and yet very different from the system for resource sharing that we are working on. Thanks to CA-Net News for the release. By Press Release, Internet 2, October 29, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Resource Centres for Participatory Learning and Action Network Corrected link from yesterday. By Various Authors, Undated [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Tweed Academy Is Latest Courthouse Role In "The Future of Online Learning" I wrote that students would be able to study law in the courhouse. This has now come to pass in New York with the unveiling of a project called "The Tweed Academy." It's a humble beginning, and it doesn't (yet) have a lot to do with online learning. But it's a start. By Abby Goodnough, New York Times, October 30, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes