By Stephen Downes
November 5, 2003

AACE Phoenix
November weather has settled in over New Brunswick, and this morning's round of snow and sleet has been followed by a generally gloomy day. 6 a.m. tomorrow I'm on an airplane, headed for AACE in Phoenix, which you would think would fill me with some joy, but my registration already appears to have been messed up, there's no way to fix it online, and there's no speaker or schedule information on the website, expect for the usual keynotes and invitees. So I'm headed right into the land of 'not getting it.'

I'm on a DRM panel opposite Robby Robson, Magda Mourad and Harry Piccariello, an elite group in which I am no doubt out of place. Except... except... someone has to fight the good fight, even if it means airline food, the exhaustion of U.S. customs, and immersion into a largely self-congratulatory medley of e-learning professionals locked in pre-digital age modes of commerce, commodification, and hierarchical group-think. Some of the links just below reflect my dissatisfaction, and perhaps I'm more critical than I should be, but there are days when I think that the entire industry has gone blind, that what they're up to has less to do with the provision of education than self promotion, institutional promotion, and, of course, a good run of profit.

Last weekend I spend a long time on a draft of a technical paper, redefining and redesigning the content and metadata relationship (right-click and download; it's in text format). But who will believe it if they don't even get what it's all about, what it's all for. If you want an open and accessible content distribution network, it's pretty clear how to go about it - but what if that is not what you want? Maybe people will read this paper - who knows? But what will they see?

Last weekend (in between sections) I also reread Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols. Days like this, I need Nietzsche, need him like a warm rum and the taste of a last stale cigarette before the end of a cold and sleet-laden November day. Need him like a dirty old coat that's been with me around the world and is up, maybe, for one more time into the breach under the eclipse of the autumn moon.

Maintaining cheerfulness in the midst of a gloomy affair, fraught with immeasurable responsibility, is no small feat; and yet what is needed more than cheerfulness? Nothing succeeds if prankishness has no part in it. Excess of strength alone is the proof of strength. A revaluation of all values, this question mark, so black, so tremendous that it casts shadows upon the man who puts it down--such a destiny of a task compels one to run into the sun every moment to shake off a heavy, all-too-heavy seriousness.

I don't know whether I can show people the Resource profiles paper yet - I really should finish writing it. I don't know whether I can show people this one either, but I'm tired of waiting. And I think about it. Am I allowed to release these? Am I becoming what I fear?

In the latter item I write,

"So few people - Gibson among them - have grasped what it means to live and learn in the information age. Along with predicting the decline of America as a world power, precisely because the locus of innovation shifted elsewhere, he depicts life in a state of constant flux. Douglas Rushkoff describes people who have adapted to this new reality as people who 'ride the wave' - it is no coincidence, he asserts, the modes, means and manners of those who surf the waves, surf with skateboards, and surf the internet are so similar. It is not possible to grasp and hold a reality - those people who, for example, are only just now coming to grips with blogs will read with dismay the ebbing of this phenomenon, but this is life as usual in Cyberia (the inhabitants of which grin at the idea of some newspaper columnist who believes he has finally 'got it'). The *only* way to survive in such an environment is to be free - not free in the sense of being able to vote for one's dictators every few years, but really free, in the sense of living (and working, and learning) autonomously, that is, in a self-directed (not isolated) manner. The very technology that makes self-directed (and self-motivated) learning possible, also makes it necessary. You don't get the benefits of becoming an agricultural society without also having to live on farms; you don't get the benefits of becoming an information society without also having to live in information."

Like a bird
on the wire
Like the drunk
in a midnight choir
I have tried
in my way
To be free


By Various Authors, November 7, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

LOM/CanCore Open-Source Software Components Released
CITIS summary of recently released software components from CanCore which designed to provide the building blocks for a digital library. Though you would never know it by reading this article, these components were developed at Athabasca University as a part of the eduSource project (and were the subject of a great deal of discussion and wrangling by the wider eduSource development team) and will be soon joined by a wider range of applications and tools (why they were attributed to CanCore is a bit of a mystery). I love Wilbert Kraan's summary: "It's essentially a cheap and cheerful digital repository that's very easy to implement." Brian Lamb comments, "Hmm, well… I kind of know what all those things are… Then there’s the stated rationale for these components, 'to greatly simplify the challenging task of developing learning object repositories —all without adding in any way to development costs.' Well, I can get down with that. But what do I do with them? How do these components fit in to what I or other LO projects at UBC are trying to do?" That's more like my reaction. By Wilbert Kraan, CETIS, October 30, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Recipe for Interoperability in Practice
Demonstration of practical interoperability between a learning object content repository (the JORUM Intralibrary) and a virtual learning environment (PIONEER), mediated by the RELOAD Editor, with a walk-though of the steps involved. This is what I call the 'library' or 'CD-ROM' model of learning object distribution and reuse, and exemplifies what are to me are many bad practices, beginning with the closed-access repository, continuing through the use of content packages for simple tasks, the manual classification requirement... and the zillion-step process (with 8 separate screen shots) for the simple joining of two discrete elements. I know this is just a demonstration and all, but really, this can't be how it works in its final form. The article itself is downloadable as an IMS content package - and yes, there it is with metadata, images, the works, all wrapped up in a nice zipped archive, and if I put in the time and expense I can get in the end exactly what I got by clicking on a link in my email. What has all this bought us? Am I being heretical? Try as I might, I simply cannot get excited by a technology that has as its end objective the re-creation of closed-content CD-style content distribution. There's so much more to see by looking forward than by looking backward. By Colin Milligan, CETIS, October 8, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Getting the Mix Right Again: An Updated and Theoretical Rationale for Interaction
"This paper," writes the author, "attempts to provide a theoretical rationale and guide for instructional designers and teachers interested in developing distance education systems that are both effective and efficient in meeting diverse student learning needs." The heart of the theory is Anderson's equivalency theorem: "Deep and meaningful formal learning is supported as long as one of the three forms of interaction (student–teacher; student-student; student-content) is at a high level. The other two may be offered at minimal levels, or even eliminated, without degrading the educational experience." This is a controversial thesis, insofar as it avers that a high level of interaction between student and content is just as good as that between, say, student and teacher. But of course we need to keep in mind that this isn't a simple principle of substitutivity (as I'm sure many commentators will misinterpret it). Not all students interact meaningfully with content, and therefore require interaction with a teacher. But some students will prefer to interact with the content, or with other students. Each student is different, and each student requires one or another mix, so long as the overall level of interaction is maintained. By Terry Anderson, IRRODL, October, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

On the Concepts of Usability and Reusability of Learning Objects
I'm not so happy with the definition of the usability of a learning object adopted by this paper - "Usability in e-Learning is defined by the ability of a learning object to support or enable […] a very particular concrete cognitive goal.” So I'm uncomfortable with some of the details of the definition of reusability offered: "the aggregation of the adequacy of the learning object to each of its possible contexts of use, multiplied by the number of those contexts." Still, I think that the overall approach has merit, and some suggestions - "Perhaps more sophisticated encapsulation techniques may provide more information regarding contexts of use." - are very much in line with my own thinking. More soon. By Miguel-Angel Sicilia and Elena García, IRRODL, October, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Ontology Development 101: A Guide to Creating Your First Ontology
Nice, detailed exolication of the concept of ontologies. The article could be a bit stronger on why they are created and how they are used, but provides an in depth description that leaves readers clear about what they are and how they're created. As a beer drinker, the wine analogy is a bit opaque to me. By Natalya F. Noy and Deborah L. McGuinness, Stanford University, October, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Future Of Web Conferencing: Good Interviews Roland Piquepaille
The latest in a series of interviews by Robin Good (links to the rest are at the bottom of the article). As usual, the key hurdle in this technology, as with most, is not technological but rather human factors. "I worked for US companies in multinational environments. Even face-to-face meetings were sometimes difficult. Conference calls were obviously even more difficult. Web conferencing is better, because you can see the body language of the people you are talking to." By Luigi Canali De Rossi, Robin Good, November 5, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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