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By Stephen Downes
January 8, 2003

Customer-owned Networks: ZapMail and the Telecommunications Industry There are some people out there (I won't name names; they know who they are) who think that what people want in things like learning object repositories, digital rights management and other content exchanges are services. Such people should read this column, which describes how Feberal Express laboured under a similar delusion when it launched its ill-fated centralized fax service, ZapMail. The author is intent to draw the parallel with such things as Wi-Fi and Voice over IP (and is right to do so), but the application of the argument in education is evident. The providers of LCMS software, content packages and similar products look eye-to-eye at each other as the competition, but what they don't get is that their major competition comes not from each other but from their customers. Do you think Elsevier's content library is so different from ZapMail? Do you think Merlot is so different from ZapMail? Think again. By Clay Shirky, Shirky.Com, January 7, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Charter Schools Build on a Decade of Experimentation In a nutshell: "The real truth, say some observers, is that as yet there are no absolute truths about the charter-school movement." But "the changes they'll make to public education in the long run may be far more dramatic than can yet be imagined." Diversity, as John Stuart Mill pointed out a century ago, breeds innovation. But I will be very frank about this: these innovations are essentially experiments with involutary human subjects. When some (inevitably) fail, who will pick up the pieces? I don't see anyone addressing this point, at least, not in this article. By Marjorie Coeyman, Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

OpenEAI Educational Middleware Launch Imminent This open source project will define an XML based message format and protocol with standardised APIs in Java for enterprise integration. According to CETIS's Wilbert Kraan, the project (mainly for reasons of timing) sounds a lot like the Open Knowledge initiative. By Wilbert Kraan, CETIS, January 8, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

SURA Optical Networking Cookbook From the website: "The SURA Optical Networking Cookbook is a practical resource that details the ingredients required for optical networking and offers "recipes" in the form of case studies that illustrate a variety of optical networking implementations. The cookbook draws heavily upon the advanced networking activities of the higher education and research communities and serves as a tool to share knowledge, expertise and best practices gained in advanced networking by R&E, government, and industry." By Various Authors, Southeastern Universities Research Association, October, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Educationalists Still in pre-launch mode, the purpose of Educationalists is to "connect education specialists with the schools that need them." It looks like an appealing idea, and the interface seems easy to use. The proof of this concept, though, will be in the usage. By Various Authors, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

In a Digital World, Encyclopedias Strive for Relevance Interesting look at the role of enclyclopedias in the digital era. The main point of the article is that such publications remain relevant, despite the information glut, especially as a "safe" reference for children (an interesting marketing ploy). It also argues that the market for paper-based versions remains strong. "Matt Thibeau, World Book's vice president of marketing and sales, said having printed volumes on hand in schools helps promote literacy and allows students to explore with more serendipity than they might online. 'There is just something emotional about learning by turning pages of a book,' he said." For him, maybe. He probably never had to lug the set through a dozen moves in as many years (as I have). By Mark Walsh, Education Week, January 8, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

BlogStreet Interesting and useful utility that allows readers to locate blog RSS feeds and that ranks them in order of their blogrolls (a measure that biases in favour of those blogs that incorporate blogrolling technology (and against those that send out email newsletters and therefore don't need to be blogrolled)). By Various Authors, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

How New York Exams Rewrite Literature (A Sequel) If you are wondering why this item has an impact on online learning, read it in conjunction with the story about scientific papers being removed from online archives (below). "The state promised complete paragraphs with no deletions, but an excerpt from Kafka (on the importance of literature) changes his words and removes the middle of a paragraph without using ellipses, in the process deleting mentions of God and suicide... a passage on people's conception of time from Aldous Huxley (a product of England's colonial era) deletes the paragraphs on how unpunctual 'the Oriental' is... The state version cuts out the passages with the most harrowing and moving accounts of the epidemic, as when children played on piles of coffins stacked outside an undertaker's home. It removes virtually all references to government officials' mishandling the epidemic. It deletes the references to religious leaders like Billy Sunday, who promised that God would protect the virtuous, even as worshipers dropped dead at his services." By Michael Winerip, New York Times, January 8, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

What Is Public About Public Education? There are several ways to read this article. It asks the reader to ponder what is "public" about public education, and then suggests that the distinction between public and private education is a lot less clear than some might think. Indeed, it suggests in passing, it might be argued that a host of schools we call "private" schools should actually be called "public schools." Well. This is a lot like laws that allow "no fat" products to contain fat, or "dolphin safe" tuna to have actually involved the killing of dolphins. At least from where I sit, at least. By Frederick M. Hess, Education Week, January 8, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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