By Stephen Downes
August 28, 2003

Sipping Merlot's RSS Feeds
The story of the day is MERLOT's launch of its RSS feeds - 20 in all, featuring new and reviewed resources in nine different subject areas. But the highlight of the day is Alan Levine's scathing criticism of the feeds. He writes, "I've been told numerous times that MERLOT is protective of its meta-data, the crown jewels, the coin of the realm. However, I still have not seen how providing a feed of item titles, content, and a link to a MERLOT item entry URL gives anything away. In fact, it should draw more people into MERLOT. Isn't the content itself much more important than the meta-data? What is this abundant obsession with data about data? I must be thick headed or just a moonshine lovin' country fool, but I do not get why MERLOT treats their content like Dom Perignon but provides a Boones Farm flavor of RSS. It is offered from a wine steward in a new tuxedo allowing you the honor of sniffing a cork, but the product is more akin to cracking the bottle open on the tailgate of your chevy pickup." I wanted to say the same thing, but I'm far too diplomatic. ;) By Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, August 27, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Video Games in the Classroom?
A good, intelligent discussion of the (potential) use of games in education. The participants avoid stepping on cliches and approach the topic with sound fundamentals. Many useful nuggets. Like this: "Games can teach facts well and certainly could be used for this without much change in schools. But the real potential of games is to get people to think, value, and act in new ways. A game like Civilization can get the player to see that history could have happened in different ways..." Some of the questions show that people still don't get it, though. For example, one person comments, "The question about their possible place in the classroom -- in a university classroom, I presume -- is another matter." James Gee is a lot more diplomatic than I would have been: "I do believe that education at all levels needs to get out of the four walls of a classroom and a rigid schedule of the same hours for each class not matter what it is." By contrast, this is a great question: "Can video games be an interface for distance learning? Is anyone considering or doing this?" Now you're thinking! And "I guess that my interest in computer games is embedded in a larger interest in the emergence of new texts and new literacies." Whee-hoo! Do read this transcript. By James Gee, Chronicle of Higher Education, August 27, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

High-Speed Hotel
"A room with a view and high-speed may become a standard request among travelers," according to this article. "May become?" I already ask for high speed internet wherever I stay, and if they don't have it, I book elsewhere, making clear my reason. Interesting - and I would say conservative - estimates of high speed internet availability for the next few years. By Robyn Greenspan, CyberAtlas, August 28, 2003 4:55 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Principles and Strategies for the Reform of Scholarly Communication
This document outlines a publication system "in crisis" due to rising prices and narrowing profit margins for publishers, then outlines a set of "principles supported" by the Association of College and Research Libraries, including "the broadest possible access to published research and other scholarly writings," "fair and reasonable prices for scholarly information," and several more. As a result, the Association supports a series of strategies, including "the development of competitive journals, including the creation of low cost and open access journals that provide direct alternatives to high priced commercial titles" to uphold these principles. I don't think the publishers are really going to like this one. Tough. You reap what you sow. By Various Authors, Association of College and Research Libraries, August 28, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

With E-mail Dying, RSS Offers Alternative
Written mostly from the point of view of the content provider, this column argues that as email dies (and it is, without a doubt, very ill indeed), providers should look at RSS as an alternative distribution channel. The problem, for distributors, is not merely spam, "but also in what opt-in e-mail publishers are having to do to circumvent the problems. A good example is the practice by an increasing number of e-mail publishers of disguising some words that spam filters might catch and block." Quite right. I can tell I used a 'bad' word when the number of returns in my inbox jumps (I average about 50 a day), and this doesn't include the more annoying intercepts without notice. This will have an impact on online learning as well: instructors that last year used email without a problem to communicate with their students will find they have much less confidence in the technology this year. By Steve Outing, Editor & Publisher, August 27, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

City Hall Rally Protests Policy of Firing Uncertified Teachers
There is really a lot going here that doesn't add up. According to this article, New York has fired about 10,000 teachers over the last five years (though the a Department of Education spokesperson says the number was only 3,000). The teachers, previously uncertified, had failed teacher certification exams. Protesters say the test was culturally biased. Argued Jose Aguasvivas, "I even have a master's degree in bilingual elementary education. But the test is very confusing. If the test is in Spanish, then I pass it no problem." Now if people have obtained the credentials but failed the test, then there's a problem with either the credentials or the test - a big problem, since these are big numbers. By Katherine Zoepf, New York Times, August 28, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Voucher Worries Lead to Inquiry
Another problem for the voucher system (as if it needed more problems): money that disappears into the void. "Unable to account for $400,000 in tax credits, the state will take a new look at how it approves the groups that distribute those funds." By Stephen Hegarty, St. Petersburg Times, August 28, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Webcasters Slap RIAA With Antitrust Suit
The antitrust laws may be a joke, but the Webcaster Alliance is at least making a point with its lawsuit against the RIAA. Writes the Alliance, "We have watched the RIAA's actions...(which) have the effect of wiping out an entire industry of independent Webcasters who represent freedom of choice and diversity for Internet radio listeners. It is time for the RIAA to be held accountable for years of manipulating an entire industry in order to stifle the growth of independent music and control Internet content and distribution channels." I wish the Alliance the best of luck, and hope that this action will give publishers pause for second thoughts when they think about how to approach the learning content market. By Andrew Orlowski, The Register, August 28, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

e-Learning Forum Wiki
The e-learning Forum has a wiki. A wiki is a site like any other website, but is unique in that anyone may edit and add to the contents. This wiki appears to have been around for a few months but most activity has been in the last few weeks. There isn't a lot of content yet - or if there is, I can't find it. I have yet to fully engage with wikis... but we should have an e-Learning Group wiki soon (right Seb?) and perhaps I'll gain some insight. By RichardClark, e-Learning Forum, April, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Crisis in Canada’s School Libraries: The Case for Reform and Re-Investment
This report, released last June, has been making the rounds. The central premise is that there is a positive correlation between well-funded school libraries and greater student achievement. The implication, of course, is that libraries should receive more funding to buy more books and other resources. Now I am the first to admit the importance of libraries in my own development; I still remember pulling Arthur C. Clark's A Fall of Moondust off the shelf for the first time at the Township library, and John Christopher's The White Mountains in the school library. But that was in the 1970s. And that's how this report feels. It is not surprising that a report sponsored by publishers (as this one is) would advocate the buying of books, but someone has to explain to my why this is better than providing access online to all the books in the world. The report's short discussion of this - based on students' inability to find resources on the web in 1997 and 1999 - is not convincing. Its discussion of their use of databases - based on a 1990 study - is even less so. Considering the amount of money we, collectively, send to publishers, I would expect a stronger justification. By Ken Haycock, Association of Canadian Publishers, June, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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