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By Stephen Downes
March 6, 2003

Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: Lessons Learned from Round I of the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign According to the author, "Five of the ten projects reported improved learning outcomes; four reported no significant difference; one was inconclusive. Six of the ten projects measured changes in drop-failure-withdrawal (DFW) rates; five showed improvement. All ten projects produced cost savings ranging from 16% to 77% with an average of 33%." The report lists specific techniques used to achieve improved educational results (such as continuous assessment and feedback) and cost savings (such as resource sharing and reduced instructor time). This is a pretty good report and useful as a benchmark for assessing other online learning projects. By Carol A. Twigg, Center for Academic Transformation, March, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Saba Creates Macromedia Flash MX-based SCORM Testing Tool; Contributes Tool to SCORM Community I think this is a worthwhile development, however I spent some time on the Saba site trying to find the tool, but without success. Yes, I registered, I logged in, I scouted around the back pages, I even wrote to them asking for help - no response, no avail. So, in theory this tool exists, but I can't help you find it. By Press Release, Saba, March 5, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Web Services in Serious Jeopardy This somewhat technical article launches readers into the world of the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS, but most often pronounced "bee-pell") and the Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI, pronounced "whiskey). These protocols are used to choreograph the interaction of web services - for example, if a transactions fails somewhere, then you want all of the various services involved to revert to the original pre-transaction state. As such they are an essential part of the whole web services infrastructure, but they are also, as the author describes it, the stage of a showdown between IBM and Microsoft on one side, and the W3C (and just about everybody else) on the other. At issue is royalties: Microsoft, in particular, does not want to surrender the right to charge royalties for BPEL4WS. But the W3C - and just about everybody involved with web services - is not willing to accept a royalty-based standard. Anyhow, this article is a lucid introduction to issues and the dispute, explained with a pretty good analogy, and thus suitable for the average (but interested) reader. By David Berlind, ZD Net, March 6, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Scanning Text Books - a New Form of Intellectual Property Theft? Well of course it was inevitable that the issue of textbook copying would emerge. Publishers will face the same issues as those currently faced by the music and video industry, which is why I have given developments in those fields space in this newsletter. What would really be nice would be if the publishers would learn from the lessons of their predecessors. But it looks like it's not going to happen, at least to judge from the advice offered in this article. Instead of asking why it costs sixty dollars for a hundred pages of content, the author considers ways to collect e-book money from students. Charging fees for borrowing, for example. Trust me, if you want to create a file sharing problem in academic texts, this is the way to go. By Bob McDowall, IT Analysis, March 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

New Publication to Help Teachers Examine Implications of Online Education The good news is that the Canadian Teachers' Federation (CTF) has just launched a new publication - Virtual Education, Real Educators: Issues in Online Learning - which probes the growing phenomenon of e-learning or online education. The bad news is that the publication is not available online, and that you'll have to pay ten dollars a pop to read it. This means that the very people who should be hearing the views of Canada's major teachers' asociation, people who would normally read such items online, will be left out. By Press Release, Canadian Teachers' Federation, March 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Film Studio Sends Hundreds of Letters Alleging Illegal Downloading to Colleges No word on whether the film studios are planning to compensate university officials for the work involved in tracking down students who allegedly share illicit copies of movies and videos. I wouldn't hold my breath. Nor, either, should the film industry. Going after the thousands - maybe millions - of people who share will take some time. And even if you find the computer, you have to be a bit careful about accusing the owner of an illegal act. University officials, unlike film studios, must follow due process and law. By Brock Read, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 5, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Reading The Apple Patent Tea Leaves News about a series of patents obtained by Apple on the look and feel of its desktop, including a controversial patent for the garbage can icon, filed in 2002. I have commented before about the absurdity of the recent patent land rush, but I think this one speaks for itself. By John Kheit, The Mac Observer, March 4, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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