By Stephen Downes
May 23, 2003

World Education Market
It's the final day of theconference here in Lisbon, a quiet day as booths wind down and people prepare to leave. I was able to get out of the hotel and into the city for a bit yesterday evening, finally, and last night had my first good and (mostly) uninterrupted sleep since my arrival here. This link is to a few photos; I will add to this page when I get back. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, May 23, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Free University Education
The link isn't up yet (as I look Friday morning) but it will be shortly to this disussion of the Canadian industry minister's assertion that higher education should be free. While critics dismiss the proposal as unaffordable, Dave Annand writes, in this opinion piece for CBC, that the provision of tax credits for distance learning would effectively achieve this objective without costing any more than we currently spend. "The net result of providing free university education, at a distance, is that costs would be held down, students would be encouraged to learn online, and universities would have a powerful incentive to accommodate them." I agree with this assessment, but I don't agree with the use of tax credits. Tax credits never did a thing for me as a student because, in order to make use of a tax credit, you have to have a taxable income. Tax credits reward only those who already have money coming in: to be fair, we need a system that allows everyone, regardless of income, to access higher education. But that said, yes, distance learning is the way to go, and should governments ever realize how much they could save, the traditional university would find itself very quickly in crisis mode. This day is a lot sooner than most people think... By Dave Annand, May 23, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

From a link passed on by James, "there are thousands of organizations, corporations and service providers, and millions of individuals throughout the world who want to help others by providing information, guidance and expertise. There are many people who need their help. But despite all the advances in the internet, communications and search technology, it is still far too difficult for these forces to connect. That is why we're creating Wondir. The Wondir information service will strive to be a simple yet effective way for people with an information need to ask a question and get a good answer from those sources who are out there, ready to help." It sounds like a great idea - but my first reaction is, where would I get the time to contribute? I also worry about the eventual rise of Wondir-spam. But hey, these concerns don't mean the concept shouldn't be tried. Of course it should be tried! By Various Authors, May, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learning to Read And the 'W Principle'
Provocative discussion of educational theory as instantiated in American educational policy. In a nutshell, the argument is that the direct instructional approach proposed under the Bush plan is not an effective pedagogy. The author argues that the proposed plan is "cruel" and is driven by ideology, not pedagogy. The article raises, in my mind, a more general concern: as has been the case in other disciplines, it seems that scientific research itself has taken on a political dimension. This is making it increasingly difficult to make decisions of society-wide importance. There is such a huge stake in the result of this research - politically, socially, economically - that it may be impossible to hope for independent studies anymore. But if we lose our ability to rely on research... what then? Thanks, Mitchell, for the link. By Gerald Coles, Rethinking Schools, Summer, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Web Shaman Fights His Demons
More on the W3C's new patent policy. The key message is this: "The patent policy is a formal statement of what had been a generally accepted principle: Any technology adopted as a standard should be freely available to anyone who cares to use it, without the fear of being slapped with licensing fees." Call me a sceptic: I still don't think the proposal is strong enough, and I think we will see the day when some company manages to sneak a royalty-bearing patent through the W3C standards process. To the detriment of us all. By Michelle Delio, Wired News, May 22, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Now what do I do?
David Carter-Tod raises that age-old question: now that I have a blog, what do I do with it? Some good links to others' (including teachers') reflections on the same question. The discussion drifts (yes, that is the right word) into the question of personal privacy and public writing. And the question of a personal and professional points of view. I think these questions are faced by any person working in a public sphere - this includes teachers, who wrestle with it every day. Can I be seen to be making a mistake? When I have a bad day (like, say, yesterday) and I write about it, a world-wide audience of thousands gets to see me trite and petty and just not very likable. Totally unprofessional. But... perhaps I am unique, but I cannot conceive of separating the personal and the professional. Sure, it lets people see my mistakes and errors of judgement. But if my profession is separated from my thoughts, values, ambitions and even my mood swings, then it becomes something artificial, sterile. People talk a lot about 'taking responsibility' but they won't invest themselves in their work. "It's just business," they say, as though there could be no personal dimension. Or to put the same point another way: I cannot hope to understand this field, much less write about it, if I don't know how it affects people's lives. I need David's personal, as well as professional, thoughts in order to do my work well. And I live in the belief that my readers, too, benefit from the personal, as well as the professional, assessment of the work in review. By David Carter-Tod, Serious Instructional Technology, May 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

BlogTalk presentations. I can't read PPT or PDF with my current set-up (too long a download, too unreliable an interface), but with this list of presenters I know there's some stuff worth looking at in there. By Various Authors, May, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Nation's Leading Universities Launch Consortium...
Interesting. The purpose of the consortium is to "give companies, adult learners easy access to quality online degrees (and) decision-making resources." Membership so far consists of a dozen universities offering 120 online programs between them. But what's interesting about this new organization is the focus. They are targeting the corporate market and they are playing the quality card. "Consortium membership requirements help ensure companies and employees are investing in an online learning environment where levels of quality and value are extremely high. The Consortium recently released its Online Education Guide, which includes two resources for intelligent evaluation of online learning." By Press Release, Business Wire, May 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

From the website: "Moodle is a course management system (CMS) - a software package designed to help educators create quality online courses. Such e-learning systems are sometimes also called Learning Management Systems (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLE). One of the main advantages of Moodle over other systems is a strong grounding in social constructionist pedagogy. Moodle is Open Source software, which means you are free to download it, use it, modify it and even distribute it..." By Various Authors, May, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Open Content - Open Learning
Set of web pages with links for my presentation at WEM yesterday... given my health (or lack of same) it wasn't the best presentation I've ever done... after 16 hours sleep (beginning yesterday afternoon) I feel a bit better but I'm still struggling with less than perfect health, computer problems and a general malaise, the sort of ill-will you feel toward the world when your mouse dies and everything takes longer than it should and the sites won't connect and your email program won't delete the mountain of spam that is clogging your inbox... today I worked the trade show floor (there was one presentation I wanted to see, but I couldn't find it - it has been that sort of conference...) - I discovered that the Blackboard people get snippy when you talk to them about the hack and the gag order... that the main selling point for LMSs at these shows are their exclusive content libraries... whiteboards are everywhere... but this whole show could have been staged last year, or two years ago, and nobody would have raised an eyebrow... it's like the innovation has come to a complete and utter halt... is what the commercialization of e-learning means? No, it's probably just me. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, May 22, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Personal Webpublishing as a Reflective Conversational Tool For Self-organized Learning
On the one hand, we have all the commercial applications here (publishers, broadcasters, LMS, you know...). On the other hand, we have BlogTalk in Vienna. It's an interesting contrast - too bad I couldn't go to both. Oh well. To give you an idea of what's happening in Austria, here's Seb Fiedler's BlogTalk paper, now much revised. The abstract: "This paper suggests that personal Webpublishing technologies and practices can be conceptualized as a reflective conversational learning tool for self-organized learning. Beyond the examination of the theoretical basis for such a claim, initial ideas for specific learning environment designs on the basis of a "conversational framework" are presented." By Seb Fiedler, BlogTalk, May 17, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Interesting comments..
Jumping into the middle of a conversation - James Farmer quotes Lindon Parker saying, "the ground swell appears to be having little or no impact upon cheque signers... The more I look at the EduBlog space the more I think this is all falling apart through lack of interest, not on your or the other RSS/Bloggers part but on the part of the institutions that might want to implement them." There's more, but half the links aren't working from here, so you'll have to follow them for yourself. Anyhow. Who cares whether the cheque signers support this stuff? Oh, I'm sure someone will come along with 'enterprise blog' and sell it for half a million dollars, but will that prove its worth? Of course not. If the tools work for you, use them. If not, then don't. But don't peg the usefulness of a technology to financial or institutional support. That, surely, is the road to madness. By James Farmer, May 22, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Blogs - RSS - Wikis
Comprehensive (but not exhaustive) list of links on these three related subjects. Includes links to background readings, examples, commercial software and hosting services. Good resource. By David Mattison, May 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

It's time to rebuild the Internet
I found myself nodding in agreement with a number of the suggestions offered by Ray Ozzie, the developer behind Notes and Groove. Something more dynamic, depending more on structured data, and less centralized. Email, especially, is in need of a rethink - here I am today wading throough mountains of spam, trying to find the odd item I actually want to read, and yet with no means of organizing this information. There must be a better way to do person to person communication... By Dan Farber, ZD Net, May 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Ivory Tower in the Real World
It bothers me that an educational system characterized by a continual declines in public funding is depicted as "real" - as though the alternative were somehow less than real. But that is the message in this PBS series - I haven't listed to the audio (it's just not an option with my connection here) but the text tells the story: "To maintain their elite statuses, schools like Michigan at Ann Arbor and Wisconsin at Madison -- the jewels in the crown of their respective state university systems -- are trying to wean themselves off of state budgets to gain more control over how they can do business." By Various Authors, NPR, May 20, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

W3C Aopts Patent Policy
My first reaction is that the W3C has caved to the patent people. Well, I guess that's my second reaction too. The provision allows the use of patented technology in W3C standards, but with full disclosure and on a royalty free basis. But there may be exceptions. At this point, I have to ask whether the members of the W3C have ever heard the story of the camel's nose... By Thor Olavsrud, InternetNews.Com, May 21, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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