By Stephen Downes
August 4, 2003

Edu_RSS MERLOT Continuing Coverage
Today is one of the busiest days of the year in online learning; this newsletter is packed with great content (and I saved some stuff for tomorrow). Speaking of packing, I am about to get on an airplane and fly to Vancouver for the MERLOT Conference. So I want to get some business out of the way before I go.

With all the activity in this field, it's pretty hard to be the first at anything. It's even harder to know when you've been first. That said, I'm making my pitch today for a Hat Trick of world firsts. Yup, three innovations, each of which is - so far as I can tell - a world first. Now I may be wrong, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.

The first of these is this link. Edu_RSS MERLOT Continuing Coverage is live coverage of the upcoming MERLOT conference. This page collects comments about the MERLOT 2003 conference written by individual webloggers and posted to their own weblogs. The RSS files of those weblogs are collected by Edu_RSS, searched for relevant content, and displayed here as an HTML file. The system is completely automatic; I can just turn it on and forget about it. Have a look, and if you're interested, follow the conference blogs. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

My second candidate for immortaliy is a follow-up from my "How to Create An RSS Feed..." paper I wrote last week. One of the problems with RSS is that you need a viewer - or web server software - in order to read it. I have written an RSS viewer you can use with your browser; it is written completely in Javascript, HTML, RSS and XSLT. Now because of browser security issues, it must be run on your own computer, not a website. And you have to use Internet Explorer; Mozilla's security provisions are too strict. For those who are following the SCORM debates, the RSS viewer instantiates the exact issue SCORM designers are facing: how to merge content from multiple sources on a single browser. My tool is no solution to the issue (not for a lack of trying), but at least it works. And if you have a solution that lets my code work on the web, send it to me! By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Edu_RSS Chat
The third thing I would like to show you today is the Edu_RSS Chat. This is a system that takes recent posts aggregated by Edu_RSS and puts them into a synchronous online chat. Visitors to the chat room can then read the post together and discuss it online. The chat system then takes the comments and stores them back in Edu_RSS as metadata describing the original post. This metadata is revealed when you do a search on Edu_RSS. The post selection mechanism isn't working perfectly yet (it is supposed to show current posts, but is stuck back in July), but hey, this qualifies as a world first, doesn't it? So what do you think: is it a Hat Trick? By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Conformance Programmes Gather Momentum
I honestly think that the drive toward "trusted agencies bestowing the Official Stamp of Approval on e-learning products" is misguided. Partially, this is for reasons of cost - "Getting a certificate costs vendors $35,000 (or a much more reasonable $3,500 if they are already a SIF member), plus $5,000 ($1,150) for an annual renewal or a recertification for a new version of the same product" - but also because such an approach demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how the web works. Imagine what would have happened were web pages required to be certified, and were browsers to connect only with certified web pages. Standards certification is just a short cut for lazy programming: you don't write the error checks into your software, and trust some external agency that all is OK. Certification programs are undemocratic, they prohibit the participation of free or open source software, they stifle innovation, and they generally restrict us all to the middle of the road. That's not how the web was built! By Scott Wilson, CETIS, August 1, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Copyright in Education
Just as I had hoped, the good folks at Web Tools Newsletter have followed up last week's discussion of copyright with a comprehensive set of links and discussion looking at a wide range of issues. In particular, they provide some good resources related to the nature of copyright, guidelines for educators, institutions, libraries, and distance education, and a selection of problems and solutions. By Graeme Daniel and Kevin Cox, Web Tools Newsletter, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Educators Turn to Games for Help
Wired News taps into the future of learning as it described and links to a number of initiatives using games in learning. Of note: according to the article, "The developers behind popular commercial game Neverwinter Nights made their design tools available to anyone." Also, worthy of mention is this contrast between game design and learning design, which I talked about last week. "People will object to games that have a variety of choices because they can't limit the choices their children make," Gee said. "However, if you remove that type of ambiguity, you've removed any sense of morality from the game because there are no consequences to bad decisions." Yes. Exactly. By Brad King, Wired News, August 2, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Context Referral for Authentic Assessment
This is an interesting paper with an important point. The idea is that instructors can take electronic notes about student activities as they occur. For example, "Mr. Jackson notes that Tamara is taking notes on the group’s activity but is primarily just observing her group partners do the work. He writes a brief reminder (“observer/scribe”) on his PDA alongside Tamara’s name and encourages her to work with other peers..." Now that may not seem like much, but it instantiates an important point: valuable data is created by context, by use. This is true not only of students but of entities generally. Mr. Jackson's PDA comments may end up on Tamara's records - or they may end up as valuable metadata for the description and retrieval of the content object Tamara was using. By Umer Farooq, Mark K. Singley and Richard B. Lam, Learning Technology, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Dispute Exposes Bitter Power Struggle Behind Web Logs
Dave Winer calls this summary of the battle over RSS "incendiary", and it's not really that, but this article doesn't pull any punches as it arrays the issues and the players for all to see. From where I sit (and it's a pretty good seat) the article is mostly fair and balanced and scores well in the accuracy department. By Paul Festa, CNET News.com, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

MT as Courseware?
The $39 alternative to six figure learning management systems, Moveable Type is a blogging tool that could also double as courseware. Or so this author things (and I'm inclined to agree) as she has set up a demo media course in the software and is preparing to move ahead. Now there's still a way to go here, of course. But it opens up the possibility of a student checking all of their courses through a single-screen RSS reader. Hm? By Elizabeth Lane Lawley, mamamusings, August 4, 2003 1:23 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

EdNA Online
Australians have something they can be proud of today as EdNA unveails its lush new website. I cannot gush enough, nor can I write enough about it in this tiny space. So I will quote from the press release, and trust me, I will be coming back to this topic. "The new generation EdNA Online provides a host of new features and services including distributed search, MyEdNA personalisation, online community spaces for education and training groups, and web services in XML/RSS format for EdNA Online content including news, newsletters, noticeboards, search and browse. The new generation EdNA Online uses flexible, scalable technologies such as XML and RSS which rely on structured data for maximum benefit. 'RSS is short for Rich Site Summary - some call it really simple syndication,' says Mr White. 'The importance is this - it enables us to deliver the EdNA Online store of content and information, which belongs to all Australians, to any education and training site. This means that other websites can leverage work already undertaken by the EdNA collaboration.'" I hope everybody involved in national learning repository projects take a long, close look at EdNA... and learn. By Press Release, EdNA, August 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Downloaders Disregard Legal, Copyright Issues
This is it, in a nutshell: "According to the data from both Jupiter and Pew, Internet users hold little regard for the legal and copyright issues surrounding file-sharing. Jupiter's survey shows that only 17 percent of online adults say that they've cut back on their file-sharing due to fear of legal consequences, and the 2003 Pew survey found that 67 percent of downloaders and 65 percent of file-sharers say they do not care if the music is copyrighted." By Robyn Greenspan, CyberAtlas, August, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learning Objects: Research and Development (R&D) Implications...
My colleague Rod Savoie makes his mark with this thoughtful review of 2002 Flexible Learning Leaders Peter Higgs, Sam Meredith and Tim Hand's Technology for Sharing: - Researching Learning Objects and Digital Rights Management. If you didn't get a chance to read the book-length report, you should definitely read the review, which captures the essence of it. Savoie also offers some useful critiques. But in sum, he writes (and I agree), "the report serves throughout as a remarkable guide to R&D and implementation leads, full of visionary open-ended questions and concerns found throughout the worldwide Learning Objects discourse" By Rod Savoie, The Knowledge Tree, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Gragam Hart writes, in GlobalEd, "The Australian Government International Education Network have recently released a new online database containing a tremendous collection of resources. The National Database for Research into International Education contains details of over 2440 books, articles, conference papers and reports on various aspects of international education from publishers in Australia and overseas. The database includes links to online documents where available and links to a range of organisations and publishers involved in international education. The database is updated monthly and access is open to all." By Various Authors, July, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Stealing vs. Copyright Infringment
This is obvious, isn't it? "Stealing is walking into a Art Gallery and taking a painting under your arm and leaving. Copyright Infringement is going to a national gallery and taking a digital photograph of a painting, then going home and printing it for placement on your wall." Everybody, and I mean everybody, can tell the difference. And so long a content producers insist that the two are the same thing, they will have no credibility at all. By Greg Ritter, quoting Matt Haughey, Ten Reasons Why, August 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

An Essay on W3C's Design Principles
This is a nice essay and it covers the major aspects of the web's design principles: simplicity, usability, device-independency, and a dozen more. But for all that, it misses the web's most important principles, or so it seems to me. The web is distributed, meaning that the entire thing isn't stored on a single computer. And it is open, in the sense that anyone can create a web site. Without these, the rest doesn't matter. It really doesn't. By Bert Bos, August 4, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

RSS Explorer
Nifty idea. "RSSExplorer is a tool that looks for RSS feeds while you browse. On every page you visit it looks for the autodiscovery link. If it finds one it displays it. You can then subscribe to the feed by clicking a button." Of course, you still need an RSS viewer. But it's still a great idea. By Barry Paul, Planet-Hood, July, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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