By Stephen Downes
September 16, 2003

Microsoft Sets Up $250M Fund for Schools
There is no doubt that $250 million to support education world-wide is an exceptionally generous gesture, one which I welcome. Like many critics, however, I am sceptical of Microsoft's claim that the funding is only to "help students around the world attain 'e-literacy.'" And, of course, the program, which offers significant discounts on Microsoft software, is being pilloried by open source advocates. I wish we could have the best of both worlds. Microsoft software (with the exception of Outlook) is in the main very good. It is mostly good value for the money. But it is closed, inflexible, proprietary, insecure and designed to be as effective at eliminating the competition as it is to be a quality product. I so wish Microsoft would embrace openness and cooperation as a business model. Then I could welcome an initiative like this with open arms, and not with the scepticism attendant with any initiative advanced by a company intending to crush the competition. Bill, are you reading? By Helen Jung, Associated Press, September 16, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

What's a Good Learning Culture
Musings from George Siemens about the best way to approach a learning system. He begins not with university or institutional priorites, but with the question, how do people learn. Like other commentators, Siemens notes that informal learning and online searches top the list, so supporting these should be a system's primary function, with access to more specialized learning and online courses being subsidiary. "The creation of a better learning environment isn't really a difficult task. The tools exist (most with open source versions), the need is evident...the only thing needed is realization of the changing nature of learner needs...and the implementation of a community-focused, feature-rich learning environment." By George Siemens, elearnspace, September 15, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Making a Video Screen Out of Thin Air
Another item from the 'cool technology' department: digital screens composed of nothing but air. Priced at $100K, these are still a little too expensive for your living room, but as always, the price will drop if the technology becomes more popular. And how could this not? By Reuters, CNN, September 15, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Developing Competency-Driven Learning Content
The key to linking training to competencies is to know which competencies to train in. This article recommends a method using performance maps ("a one-page summary graphic drawing a line of sight from company goals to individual performance"). Performance maps are obtained through a study process involving an analysis of company objectives, focus groups with "star performers" and comparisons between current skills and desired competencies. Good overview. By Joyce M. Clark, Chief Learning Officer, September, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

SchoolNet Namibia
From this page (cited by Dan Gillmor), "SchoolNet Namibia is a nonprofit provider of internet service, hardware and training to the nation's schools. Since February, 2000, close to 250 schools have received free hardware, free training on the Linux operating system and subsidized telephone service to help get the nation's young people online. It's all part of the plan to empower youth through internet access." By Various Authors, September, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Open Source Helps Education Effort in Third World
"It's about money, at the end of the day, because we're in Africa," says one service provider, and that about sums it up. When developing nations look at the cost of open source software - nothing - and the ongoing costs created by proprietary software, there is really no choice. But more than that, open source software allows developers and service providers adapt the software to their own needs. And while the argument against open source has been that it requires more support, that logic simply doesn't apply in Africa. "the logic also assumes that people are willing to keep buying new hardware to support Microsoft's latest products. In Africa, that's not just flawed logic. It's nutty, and cost fundamentally rules out Windows on much of the continent." By Dan Gillmor, San Jose Mercury News, September 14, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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