Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
March 13, 2003

Commontext As their website states, "Commontext is a completely new way of publishing educational materials. It addresses instructors' most common complaints about commercial textbooks by providing a permanent library of freely shared classroom texts. Instead of settling for one or more commercially published texts for students to purchase, instructors can select precisely the materials they want and either post them directly to a class Web site, or have their students download them from Commontext, at no charge. Commontext materials can even be bound and duplicated by a campus copy shop and distributed to students simply for the price of printing." By Various Authors, Undated [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Light Weight Digital Rights Management This interesting system does not prevent people from copying, but rather, allows people to copy but requires that they imprint an authenticated digital signature 'watermarked' into the copy. This allows for all sorts of personal use, but "if content leaks out to the general public, e.g. through open file sharing systems, it can easily be traced back to its origin by analyzing the embedded digital signature." It's an elegant idea, but some people may worry about registering their identity with a central service. LWDRM recognizes this. As the article notes, "It is well known that the majority of users are reluctant to register with an electronic system trying to avoid persistent surveillance. For this reason LWDRM offers a step-by-step approach, which allows the user to benefit from the system even without registration." By Unknown, Music Industry News Network, March 9, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

World's First Brain Prosthesis Revealed This story about the artificial hippocampus has been all over the web; I covered it in NewsTrolls a few days ago but not here because I didn't really see the connection with online learning. But in thinking about it, I began to see some possibilities. The hippocampus, after all, is the part of the brain that encodes experiences so they can be stored as long-term memories elsewhere in the brain. Now if we have an artificial hippocampus, we can obtain digital recordings of those experiences. This would means that a person would not have to have the actual experience in order to have a memory. So we could set up a system whereby output from an artificial hippocampus is fed directly to a person's brain (the device would be called a 'hippoplayer,' of course, since it would be like a CD player for experiential memories; kids would trade 'hippos' the way they trade songs today). There would be a market for skilled professionals, equipped with an artifical hippocampus, to do difficult things - like brain surgery, say - for recording and transmission to students. Of course, they wouldn't thereby know how to be a brain surgeon, but they would know what it feels like to successfully complete brain surgery. By Duncan Graham-Rowe, New Scientist, March 12, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Parents Should Be Aware of Ads Posing as Games Welcome to the world of advergaming, the practice whereby advertisers market to kids by creative attractive games chock full of brand name promotions. This article explores several advergaming sites, including, where a required plug-in is "a technological trojan horse for pushing slick ad messages on my 11-year-old son." Advertisers know what educators seem to have forgotten: that online gaming will catch and hold a child's attention. "Groove Alliance claims one game it developed for AT&T's long-distance service -- a Super Monkey Ball-inspired game in which players roll the AT&T's logo through 3-D mazes -- clocked an average playing time of 12 minutes." It's a problem, but I don't forsee the day when web filters block advertising aimed at children the way they block adult material. Really, the only answers are education in media awareness for children and the development of viable non-commercial alternatives, such as the game described immediately below. By Dawn C. Chmielewski, San Jose Mercury News, March 13, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Fossil Fun I spent more than half an hour putting bones together on this site - a half hour I didn't really have, which shows how addictive this site is. Really, don't click on this link unless you want to be drawn into the world of fossil fun. But do click on it if you want to see how computers can make even dry subjects come alive. This is what a child's learning game should look like, as opposed to the soft-sell come-ons described above. By Various Authors, BBC, March, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Open Source Courseware Now this isn't so hard, is it? "Why isnít there an open-source courseware package thatís as easy to use and customizable as something like Movable Type??? Is that so very much to ask? I did some poking around tonight, and didnít find anything that really excited me. This is not rocket scienceÖitís a customized content management system (CMS) application. People make them all the time." By Elizabeth Lane Lawley, mamamusings, March 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright © 2003 Stephen Downes
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.