Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
January 30, 2003

FTC Eyes 'Educational' Marketers The penalty - a fine of $75,000 - is nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Not even. The real penalty being paid by The Student Marketing Group and its nonprofit subsidiary, the Educational Research Center of America, is that they will no longer be able to collect student data for "educational purposes" and sell that data to marketers. Well, not without paying another $75K, at least. By Kendra Mayfield, Wired News, January 30, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

RIAA Trains Anti-Piracy Guns on Universities "We deeply regret that in view of his record we have had to fire the manager of our baseball team." Yup, sometimes the vote of confidence lasts exactly one day. As in this case. A day after the RIAA won the right to force Verizon to release customer names, but said it wouldn't impose the same requirement on universities, we see 175 specific students instructed by Indiana University (IU) to delete music and movie files from their computers. This after the university received word from the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America that users of IU's network were illegally distributing copyrighted material. It would be nice to see the universities stand with the students in this ongoing debate, but that was probably too much to expect. By Beth Cox, InternetNews, January 30, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Open Access Journal Business Guides The Budapest Open Archives Initiative has just released two important and comprehensive guides: Guide to Business Planning for Converting a Subscription-based Journal to Open Access (991K PDF) and Guide to Business Planning for Launching a New Open Access Journal (686K PDF). These are comprehensive documents and are (probably) essential if you want to convince your administrators to dump the subscription-based journals. By Raym Crow and Howard Goldstein, Budapest Open Archives Initiative, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

LaunchCast I spent several hours last night exploring Yahoo!'s LaunchCast service, which yesterday announced a premium subscription service. LaunchCast is the Yahoo! version of web radio, but it is a lot more sophisticated than any previous version I have seen. In particular, it allows you to select genres and artists to tailor your radio feed. It also allows you to evaluate the songs you hear to more precisely define your tastes. If you are interested in my tastes in music, you can view my personal station, Radio Downes. At $4 per month or $35 per year it could be competitively priced. But you can't just pick a song and listen to it; music distributors will not allow that. Moreoever, though the selection is extensive, it is limited to certain artists or certain labels: you won't be hearing your favorite indy band here. So, on the one hand, it's a great interface, on the other hand, it smacks of continuing monopoly. All of which is more evidence, to me at least, that the music industry is less interested in fostering creativity than in owning it. By Various Authors, Yahoo!, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Tool to Explain Affirmative Action If you wonder why I get hepped up about apparently pointless issues (such as, say, the debate between aggregation and federated search in learning object repositories), this article will lead part way toward an understanding. And I like how it explains it: people's selections are based on how the choices are presented. If products are organized by brand, people will tend to buy from a small set of brands. If they are organize by type, people will by from a small set of types. So if you want to encourage diversity in selection, you need to consider carefully how choices are presented. The author ties this all into affirmative action, and a case could be made there. But that's only one instance of a much wider application of this theory. By Virginia Postrel, New York Times, Janauary 30, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

When Greatness Grates The flavour of this article is captured brilliantly by the small photo of a statute of Churchill sporting a grass mohawk haircut. What is greatness, and how do we recognize it - particularly since greatness comes so often associated with other attributes that disturb polite society. As greatness becomes something determined by popular vote - as in the BBC's recent "greatest Britons" poll, the essence of greatness is eroded. "Kylie Minogue has been named Greatest Living Australian. Not much competition, you might say, but what it is that Kylie does better than any other Aussie? The term 'great' is a vital critical tool. It should not be wasted on a sprightly singer with a shapely butt." Perhaps. But my view is that here are more great people - great artists, great scientists, great philosophers - living today that have lived through all of history. If the distinction of greatness is becoming eroded, it may well be because the incidence of greatness has become common. By Norman Lebrecht, Evening Standard, January 29, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Can Artists Inspire Scientists? This item focuses on work at the National Research Council of Canada's Vancouver location, but it is an initiative that is important to the organization as a whole. It may seem odd to hire artists to work at an institution dominated by scientists and researchers, but the NRC's artist-in-residence program is expected to benefit both artists and scientists. The interaction between them finds a focus in their common desire to discover new ways of seeing, and pushes their bounds by helping them see new things. By Stephen Strauss, Globe and Mail, January 29, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Mythical Threat of Genetic Determinism I am an empiricist, which means, in essence, that I believe that knowledge comes from experience. This places me in close company with those who agree that, to use the old expression, our character is determined by nurture, not nature. Genius is produced by exceptional circumstances, not exceptional genertics. Not only is what we learn shaped by education, so is our capacity to learn. That is why I am impatient with commentators who assert as a universal truth that people need this or that support system in order to learn. It's not so. We will see evidence of this soon enough, I think, as children today are being placed in a richer and more diverse informational ecology than any in history. By Daniel C. Dennett, Chronicle of Higher Education, January 31, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Open Content Network From the website: "The Open Content Network is a collaborative effort to help deliver large, freely-downloadable content using peer-to-peer technology. The network is essentially a huge 'virtual web server' that links together thousands of computers for the purpose of helping out over-burdened web sites. Using a new Peer-to-Peer technology, called the 'Content-Addressable Web', indviduals will be able to help distribute free content by donating their spare bandwidth and disk space to the network." This concept is a bit tricky; don't expect to figure out what's going on by reading this website unless you have some technical background. By Various Authors, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Where All Grades Are Above Average I have long maintained that there is an element of conflict of interest involved when the people that provide the learning are also the people who evaluate the learning. The consequences of this are evident in this article as the author describes the impact of grade inflation over the decades. I cannot vouch for his data (but there's no reasn to doubt it), but the causality is clear. "It's almost impossible for a professor to grade honestly. If I sprinkle my classroom with the C's some students deserve, my class will suffer from declining enrollments in future years. In the marketplace mentality of higher education, low enrollments are taken as a sign of poor-quality instruction." By Stuart Rojstaczer, Washington Post, January 28, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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