By Stephen Downes
June 13, 2003

Eventually the deluge of free alternatives is going to have an impact on the commercial products. From the accouncement on SEUL: "Description: Interact is an online learning and collaboration platform that was developed by the Christchurch College of Education. It is a free alternative to the likes of WebCT and Blackboard, and was designed with the intention of making it easy for students and lecturers to interact online, and focuses on constructivist and Vygotskian views of teaching and learning." Oh, and if you need more, it can act as a full portal, not just an LMS. Moreover, it is SCORM and IMS compliant. Available under the GNU Public License. By Glenn Davies, Christhchurch College of Education, June, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Stopping Time
It's a little like Zeno's Paradox: you can divide time over and over again until you reach... attoseconds. For the record, an attosecond is a slice of time equal to 10-18 seconds. What happens in such a short time? Not much, apparently, but in that time you can watch some electrons in Krypton atoms decay. What fun! By Alan Burdick, Discover, June, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

RSS Links
The history of RSS as a collection of links (which are available via archive) between March, 1999 and August, 2000. For the record, it is worth noting that Dave Winer - who now touts himself as the "co-author" of RSS - reacted to the original Netscape announcement in 1999 by slamming the company, attacking its lawyers, criticizing the the implementation, and by launching his own version, the Userland format, thereby producing the first fork of RSS within a couple of days of its announcement. As I wrote RSS aggregators in late 1999 and early 2000, it was Winer's Userland format that constantly broke my code (NewsTrolls readers will recall my aggregator, named 'Grasshopper'). The full archive of links is zipped as a set of POOL files, which can be opened and read with a text editor. By Ken MacLeod, June 11, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Recognizing Prior (Informal) Learning
George Siemens observes that "The lines between work and learning are blurred to the point where they are no longer separate activities, but activities with vital connections that feed into and direct each other." This is a point I have repeatedly tried to make to educators (most recently at CADE this week) in an effort to argue that the design of online learning must change accordingly. Siemens takes a slightly different route, placing an emphasis on Prior Learning Assessment and Review (PLAR), linking in this (very) short article to a number of resources on the topic. PLAR is, of course, the other piece of the puzzle, the one that gives informal learning its credential clout. By George Siemens, elearnspace, June 12, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Course Design Factors Influencing The Success Of Online Learning
This is only a single study, and so the usual disclaimers apply about the applicability of its findings, but the authors point of an interesting and strong correlation between student satisfaction with an online course and the degree of interactivity in the course. They even go so far as to say that the more grades are awarded for online interaction, the more students thought they interacted with other students and the instructor, the more satisfied students are with the course, the more they thought they learned from the course. The authors suggest that this combination of factors support the creation of "knowledge building communities" and is related to the degree to which students can "cross the threshold" from being outsiders to being part of the online community. PDF file. By Karen Swan, et.al., ERIC, June 13, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Microsoft Office Web Publishing Accessibility Wizard
Following up from yesterday's newsletter (and from this week's deluge of PowerPoint files from my desk), Christopher sends me this link. The software provided at this site performs the task that hundreds of engineers at Microsoft seem incapable of performing, the conversion of MS Word and PowerPoint documents into platform-nbeutral and accessible formats. "This Power Point Point Accessibility Wizard simplifies the task of converting PowerPoint presentations to text pure HTML through an easy- to-use user interface, and automates much of the conversion of Power Point Presentations to an HTML format that includes required accessibility information." I haven't tested it yet, since it requires Windows (which makes sense) and here at my office I am on Linux. But I'll load it at the home office and see how it works. Worth noting as well: I downloaded, purchased and loaded the Corel Office Suite for Windows at home last night - completely online, no phone calls needed (Microsoft, are you reading this?) - and after playing with it a bit, can't wait to use Corel's Presenter as a PowerPoint alternative. By Various Authors, University of Illinois, June, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Radio as the Learning Bridge
This item is for John Hibbs, who has been an advocate of the use of radio in distance learning as long as I have known him. This discussion paper for the IFETS mailing list describes the advantages of the use of radio in education for developing nations, but also identifies some of the barriers that have blocked its widespread use. As the author notes, " Radio can cut across geographic, cultural and literacy barriers. Given its availability, accessibility, cost-effectiveness and power, radio represents a practical and creative medium for facilitating mass education in peri-urban/rural settings." But government control of radio, high licensing fees and a dearth of advertising revenue have slowed its deployment. By Ramesh Sharma, IFETS, June 16, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Report of Research on Privacy for Electronic Government
Written to support planning in Japan toward electronic government, this comprehensive report on provacy and public policy looks at the legal, political, activist and public state of affairs regarding the issue in Canada, the United States and Europe. This is a massive document with comprehensive information and analysis. It is split into five English and seven Japanese PDF files. By Joichi Ito, Joi Ito Wiki, March, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Web Accessibility Learning Modules
This site consists of six modules (which in turn connect to a wide array of resources and readings) that cover web accessibility from beginning to end. Every course or learning designer should study this resource. Beginning with definitions of accessibility and regislative requirements (for those in the United States), the modules then provide a host of practical techniques, including very useful sections on accessible PDF, PowerPoint, Flash and streaming media files. By Candace Egan, AnnMarie Johnson, Paul Nozicka and Joan Van Duzer, Center for Distributed Learning, June, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Coping With Digital Rights Management
Slides (PowerPoint again, sorry, I need to make myself a really good HTML slide show engine) of my talk this afternoon to the eduSource Industry Forum here in Moncton about the Digital Rights Management system we are developing for Canada's national digital rights repository network. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, June 12, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

When Good Technology Goes Bad
I'm not sure I would call videoconferencing 'good technology' but this article, which examines what to do when your videoconferencing fails, provides some good advice. From rooms being reserved for other purposes to audio problems to camera issues, this author has seen (almost) everything that can go wrong. "Whenever a student would speak, we were treated to a lovely view of a wall clock. Clearly, the facilitators at the presenting site did not know that their camera was not trained on their presenter." Tee hee. By Scott Merrick, Tech Learning, June 1, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Hamlet on the Ramparts
Interesting. This site, hosted by MIT's Shakespeare Project, is an attempt to compile all known resources devoted to Hamlet, Act 1, Scenes 4 and 5, in which Hamlet meets the ghost of his father. By Various Authors, MIT, June, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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