Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
February 10, 2003

Looking After Life Without Leaving Office I have been recording my work hours recently. It is a reaction to the online recording system, the restrictions in which produce reports that are mostly fiction. It has been quite revealing. Yes, I spend some unproductive time at work (in my log book, it is recorded as "putzing" - I don't know whether that's a word, and I have no idea where it came from). But my log also records significant numbers of hours spent at home performing job-related tasks, such as eight hours I spent yesterday (Sunday). This article shows that I am not alone. "Businesses often clamp down on personal use of the Internet at work, citing concerns about productivity," said Roland Rust, director of the center, "but this study indicates workers more than make up for it at home." By Elizabeth Olson, New York Times, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

In Defense of Copyright Law A defense of current copyright legislation. The author takes pains to point out that you may own copyright over certain content, and therefore benefit from copyright law. That's like saying that because you have money you benefit from laws that protect people with a lot of money. It may be true in a minimal sense, but different laws could protect your money without granting carte blanche to the rich. The author also asserts that there are no "copyright police" yet, an assertion that might surprise the operators at Verizon, a service provider ordered by the court to begin acting as copyright police. By Doug Isenberg, Gigalaw.Com, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality This article is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the economics of online content. The thesis of the article is this: "In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), even if no members of the system actively work towards such an outcome." What results is what is called a "power law distribution," an ordering of popularity such that a small percentage of the sites attract a large percentage of the readers. In support of this thesis, the author examines measurements of blog popularity, inbound links, Yahoo! Groups member lists, and Livejournal users' lists of friends. Also worth examining is this list that takes advantage of this metric to discover new and interesting blogs. By Clay Shirky, Shirky.Com, February 9, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Save / Safe What do you get when you combine the concepts of the wiki, Polynesia and multimedia into a single site? A lot of German text, unusual images, and an assemblage of content that befuddles the mind. Buried in the middle of this muddle are the instructions: "surf around & see which screens you like. choose edit to edit the screen you are actually viewing. now you can re-compose all texts shown in the upload form or delete the texts and insert your own by 1) writing into the plot text - field, 2) inserting a citation or any comment & 3) defining the source of your citation / comment. create new content." (See Maya : Surreal for more) By Various Authors, Kanonmedia, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

COL Copyright Conference With 215 messages stored already (as of this posting), the Commonwealth of learning conference on copyright is off to a flying start. I must confess to having contributed more than my share of verbiage, but I think the discussion is worth a read by anyone interested in the issue. Do allocate a few hours, though. I will try to summarize my own contribution as the conference progresses; the conference organizers will also be providing a summary of the proceedings, which will be available via OLDaily when it is released. By Various Authors, Commonwealth of Learning, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Bogus Research Uncovered Last week I listed a background paper for a discussion on ITForum called Lean-In Technology, Safety Nets and Psychology . In this paper was cited the oft-repeated list of familiar teaching modes and retention rates. In the discussion that followed, this list came under closer scrutiny and a reader cited this article in which the author asserts bluntly that "the graph is a fraud." According to the author, "it appears that those percentages were probably generated by an employee of Mobil Oil Company in 1967, writing in the magazine Film and Audio-Visual Communications. D. G. Treichler didnít cite any research, but our field has unfortunately accepted his/her percentages ever since." The original (unquantified) source of the model is probably Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience, first published in 1946. By Unknown, Work-Learning Research, Sometime in 2001 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Homepage Real Estate Allocation It would be interesting to see how screen use is distributed beyond home pages. How much of available scree space is devoted to content in a typical online learning application, for example. One would hope it's greater than the 38 percent allocated in the fifty home pages surveyed in this article. By Jakob Nielsen, Alertbox, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Utilities Test Electric Internet The cable and telephone companies may live to regret their dithering on broadband access. "Coming to a home or office near you could be an electric Internet: high-speed Web access via ubiquitous power lines, of all things, making every electrical outlet an always-on Web connection. If it sounds shocking, consider this: St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. and other utilities already are testing the technology, and many consider it increasingly viable." By Associated Press, Globe and Mail, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Supporting Peer to Peer Interaction in Web-based Courses Another excellent contribution from the people at the City University of Hong Kong. This well-researched article looks at and challenges your perceptions about communication in online courses. What would you say, for example, of a study that shows that the most popular part of a WebCT course is the discussion board, even though fewer than half the messages were on-task? And suppose the same study showed that the provision of online support did not significantly reduce the dropout? This article looks at a few more studies, then highlights a set of problem areas in course-based interaction. By Graeme Daniel and Kevin Cox, Web Tools Newsletter, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright © 2003 Stephen Downes
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