By Stephen Downes
October 6, 2003

Professor Warcraft
Games are better educators than you think, argues the author, and the evidence for this is the deep knowledge gamers have of fictional worlds. "The fact that they generally teach us about fictional worlds or nonacademic issues is secondary to the fact that history, literature, geography, art, and pretty much anything else can be taught effectively in a game environment." The author contrasts current trends in e-learning - "affordable, disposable learning modules so easy and cheap to create that it's better to produce new courses than update old ones" - and suggests that games could adapt to this world. In the gaming community, the equivalent of a learning object is a 'mod' - a player-authored replacement for an original part of the game. Mods can include not only replacement game pieces (such as a 'warrior' tile) but also actual chuncks of game logic - the Civilization games are good examples of this. Where things get interesting - and where I am headed with learning objects (even if nobody else is) - is when the mods for a learning gaming environment are supplied and applied automatically via dynamic syndicated feeds of learning objects and other resources. It would be like the mobility of a chess piece increasing and decreasing based on shifting prices on the stock market. By Matt Sakey, IGDA, October, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The BBC - Educational Resources
In a natural follow-up to last week's look at the educational resources offered by Australia Broadcasting, Web Tools looks today at the British Broadcasting Corporation's generous array of offerings. The BBC has had to cross a number of hurdles en route to providing free online learning content, and these are documented here. Web Tools also lists some major BBC learning sites and education news sources. BBC Learning, "the heart of the matter", is well indexed, as are the WebGuides, Open University, and the World Service. By Graeme Daniel and Kevin Cox, Web Tools Newsletter, October 6, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Benefactor withdraws $200 million for charters
Why, one might ask, would there be "legislative bickering" over a proposal to spend $200 million building 15 charter schools? Well, let's look at this the other way: why didn't philanthropist Bob Thompson donate $200 million to the Detroit area school boards to spend where it was most needed? It's one thing to be generous; it's quite another to use your wealth to circumvent the normal process of having voters decide priorities and having experts identify solutions. There is no doubt that Thompson's heart is in the right place, but being wealthy does not suddenly give you unique insight into educational policy (and this is the problem with 'social policy by charity' in general). By Mark Hornbeck, Detroit News, October 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

States Put The Brakes On Prepaid Tuition Plans
You may recall my somewhat less than warm reception to pre-paid tuition plans several weeks ago. It turns out that I was not the only one to have misgivings and several states have now called a halt to the program before it turns into a nightmare. "The problem... is that states now face double-digit tuition hikes – not the 5 to 7 percent increases that most states banked on when they developed their prepaid plans," creating an actuarial shortfall. Yeah, who could have seen that coming? By Pamela M. Prah, Stateline.Com, October 1, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

OUP supports Oxford University Library Services "Open Archives" Initiative
The Oxford University Press has more to lose than most by posting its articles for free online. Nonetheless, it has decided to post OUP articles by Oxford University professors for free online access. By Press Release, Oxford University Press, october 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

In Search of Solutions for Scholarly Publishing
Trandscript of the discussion with Cathy Davidson, author of the article Understanding the Economic Burden of Scholarly Publishing, covered here last week. Some fascinating (and puzzling) comments: "In the short run, once commercial publishers find they cannot price-gauge, I'm sure they will get out of the business." Um, no, that's not how it works. The format of the discussion is frustrating: participants get only one question, and are nto able to challenge the sometimes dubious responses. Gosh, it's all so sanitized. I'd like to see Peter Suber or Stevan Harnad actually exchange comments with her. By Karen Winkler, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 2, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Unintended Consequences: Five Years Under the DMCA
Good overview of the impact of the digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), including links to and descriptions of dozens of cases ranging from the fights over garage door openera and tonor cartridges to the censorship of Slashdot and 2600 to the charges and lawsuits against individuals. "As an increasing number of copyright works are wrapped in technological protection measures, it is likely that the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions will be applied in further unforeseen contexts, hindering the legitimate activities of innovators, researchers, the press, and the public at large." By Various Authors, Electronic Frontier Foundation, October, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Florida Dorms Lock Out P2P Users
Stopping students from sharing files is a good thing, right? Consider this method: "Icarus then scans their computer, detects any worms, viruses or programs that act as a server, such as Kazaa. Students are then given instructions on how to disable offending programs." Essentially, the program prevents any file sharing, not merely the sharing of copyright files, and it does so by monitoring individual computers. While the recording industry calls the program "a tremendous success story" others argue that it's "an invasive and annoying system that further deters students from living in dorms" and that "it's essentially turning interactive computing into television. This has huge implications for academic freedom." By Katie Dean, Wired News, October 3, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Their First Test is Affording the Textbooks
Another article about the increasing cost of textbooks, this one filled with numerous statistics. Such as: "In 2000, students spent $5.2-billion on new books and $1.8-billion on used books, according to the National Association of College Stores. A year later, new books sales had increased to $6.1-billion. But used books sales dropped to $1.6-billion." Careful, though, some of the data is fishy. The dollar bill graphic, for example, fudges the distribution of revenue from book sales by describing the publishers' income in several different categories, some 'after tax'. By Anita Kumar, St. Petersburg Times, September 29, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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