Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
February 21, 2003

Answer Geek "Iíve been asked to create a virtual university. Can you give me some ideas?" Um, if you have to refer to this short column for the answer, then the best advice I can give (and this column should give) is: don't. I mean, really. Why not offer the one-pager on brain surgery while you're at it? By Unknown, Learning Circuits, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Terms of Engagement: Keeping Learners Online This article discusses five key elements involved in keeping learners interested and engaged in your online learning: entertainment, interaction, control, usability, and customization. Each element is described in some detail with five our six specific examples. The article is a bit light in some areas, though: it's discussion of interaction looks at things like roll-overs and drop-downs, which are mostly a nuisance, and never considers interaction with instructors or other students (though as we've seen on this list before it's the latter that learners consistently select as the most useful feature of online courses). By Jim Elsenheimer, Learning Circuits, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The European E-learning Market From the (PDF) summary of a larger document: "The survey aims to discover what the latest developments are in eLearning (i.e. the use of new technologies in training and learning) in organisations in Europe that both supply and use e-learning for the purposes of vocational training and continuing professional development." Classroom training continues to lead the way with online learning hanging in there at around ten percent and blended learning averaging about fifteen percent. The report shows a steady increase in expenditures on content and services (I wish they would break those out) and steady expenses on capital equipment. If you have 395 Euros to burn, you can buy the entire report. By Jane Massey, Tim Harrison and Terry Ward, BizMedia, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Microsoft Expands Rights Management Tool Microsoft announced today that it will be releasing a test version of its rights management server (RMS) next week. They get the concept partially right: the protection is document specific. But in order to view the document, a user would have to be able to access the Windows Server running RMS on first opening a document to authenticate the rights and decrypt the document. Otherwise, the document cannot be opened. This creates a dependency on Microsoft software in order to use the system, a concern that some commentators company discounts. "You wouldn't become anymore dependent on Windows than you would be from using Exchange or Office." Of course that's like saying that jumping out of this airplane without a parachute is no more dangerous than jumping out of any other airplane without a parachute. It's true, but it's cold comfort: if my document reader becomes no more reliable than my email access I may as well go back to pen and paper. Ironically, the Microsoft announcement today was prompted by an accidental release of confidential material on its developer network site. By CNet News, Business Week, February 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Cal Poly Campus's Faculty Faces Battle Over Proposed Anti-Pornography Resolution On the one hand, nobody wants university resources to be wasted in the viewing of pornography, especially when this material may be left on desktops, printed on network computers, or just generally within the view of people who would be offended. On the other hand, the viewing of pornography may form a part of some academic programs, be a part of a research program, or may simply be a person's choice of perfectly legal viewing material. It seems to me that the rule here should roughly reflect our approach to pornographic magazines: read what you want in private, but keep it out of general view. By Scott Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Fighting Piracy With P2P Blocking As this article notes, "the digital equivalent of a postal censor has been sorting through virtually all file-swapping traffic on the University of Wyoming's network, quietly noting every trade of an Eminem song or 'Friends' episode." Of course, it may have also picked up academic papers, contracts, personal files and images, and more. File sharing extends far beyond music and video (though the respective industries may lead you to believe otherwise). What's at issue here is whether systems operators have the right to peek inside what is essentially personal traffic, and many people (including me) say that they don't. By John Borland , ZD Net, February 20, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

TeachersPlanet As Pete MacKay summarizes, " is a community for teachers who are interested in growing their careers. The site is well organized and contains subject-specific professional guides and comprehensive resources for the classroom." You'll also find some job listings on the site, some shopping, personal tools and special interest areas. No community, though (a surprising gap), so if you're looking for a place to share war stories, you'll have to look elsewhere. By Various Authors, Undated [Refer][Research][Reflect]

e-Learning: Bridging the Apathy Gap Tough medicine for the corporate e-learning sector: "They realise that to affect the changes in attitude necessary that they need to approach their target audience as intelligent consumers rather than a block of employees." But this article captures the need for this: "take a look at your company newsletter/magazine and ask yourself how many of your colleagues would actually pay money for it?" The point is that e-learning - even corporate e-learning - must move beyond blandness and predictable propaganda and become something interesting and engaging. By Martin McInnes, eLearning Guru, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Hard Life and Restless Mind of America's Education Billionaire From elearningpost comes this link to a story about the University of Phoenix's John Sperling. The story portrays Sperling as a rebel, railing against the dusty cobwebs of academia. "'My university said they didn't need no more stinkin' students, that they had all they could handle,' Sperling acidly recalls. 'They told me to go back and behave -- be a professor.' Naturally, he ignored that advice." I think there are lessons to be learned from the success of the University of Phoenix, but I don't think this story really captures them. By Bill Breen, Fast Company, March, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

elearnspace Interview: Maish R Nichani Some great quotes in this interview as George Siemens interviews elearningpost's Maish Nichani. Elearningpost is, of course, the source for a number of the links that appear here (and vice versa; it's the synergy of blogging) and many of the attitudes espressed in the selection of materials are similar. Says Nichani, "One of the e-learning companies I worked with had Gagne's 9 events as a part of the process that every instruction had to go through. They strongly believed that this would produce high quality and effective instruction. The problem was that the learners viewed the courses as lullabies! That's the problem with heuristics--they belie designers into thinking that they know it all. Heuristics, rules, and processes are just blinders. They limit your vision. They are handy only when they are used with a heavy dose of practice. Both process and practice make a discipline." By George Siemens, elearnspace, February 18, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

We've Got The Tech, Lets Build Some Communities More from the quarterly IMS meeting held yesterday in Vancouver. This article captures the flavour of the day as a whole, noting that there is a shift underway in IMS from developing standards to developing communities. As the author writes, "specs are built by communities for communities, and at the global level at which IMS operates, that means a pretty diverse set of people. And they should all be able to have their say." By Wilbert Kraan, CETIS, February 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learning Object Repository Information Session Following from the previous post (but preceeding it in time), the community-building efforts have already started in Canada as forums are being held across the country to foster knowledge and information about learning objects and repositories. This link is to the session held in Moncton, New Brunswick a week ago. Power Point slides from four presenters are available, along with a few photos of the event. Another event is planned for Calgary shortly. By Various Authors, February 13, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright © 2003 Stephen Downes
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