By Stephen Downes
December 3, 2003

The Spoke
Microsoft has very quietly launched a new blogging service, The Spoke, which is, as InfoWorld describes it, " targeted at tech-savvy people in their teens and 20s." According to the article, it's "part of Microsoft's Academic Developer initiative." Interesting. Anyhow, I created my own blog on the service, Downes Contra Microsoft, and began subversive operations immediately, calling for categories on 'Perl' and 'Open Source'. "TheSpoke is an online community for young leaders that are tech savvy and opinionated. TheSpoke provides tools to collaborate, discuss and debate the future of technology." Somehow, I think that the Slashdot community would be more interested in this little enterprise. By Various Authors, Microsoft, December, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

There's a Noose in the Hoose - iTunes Shoppers Discover DRM
Worth reiterating: the battle over digital rights management is not about getting people to pay for resources, it's about control over the distribution of resources. "Thanks to the connivance of get-rich-quick computer companies, who have this year tried to market DRM, the dying industries have an opportunity: not only to control the distribution of popular culture, but of course its price, too." If I cannot distribute my content through a system without signing over copyright, without giving the system owners a tariff, it's a monopoly. By Andrew Orlowski, The Register, December 2, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

ITU Digital Access Index: World’s First Global ICT Ranking
I'm sure it's not the "world's first" (the text explains why they think other rankings were not "global") but the results are nonetheless interesting as the survey combines the availability and affordability of communications technologies with an educational index. There are some flaws: countries with higher rates of informal learning, reflective of better internet access, will drop on the list, since the survey measures enrollments and not achievement. Also, the suggestion that internet access is 'more affordable' in the United States than Canada reveals another bias, since internet is actually considerably cheaper here than there. The survey uses 'lowest possible access cost' rather than typical cost, and the use of per capita income does not take into account greater social support (such as health care) in Canada. Nor does such an average take into account income disparities. By Various Authors, International Telecommunication Union, November 24, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Living Democratically in the Learning Environment
I have long maintained that freedom is about more than just rights, and that democracy is about more than just elections. If you cannot live freely, for whatever reason, then you are not free, no matter what the constitution may say. And if a nation's institutions are not democratic, then the nation is not democratic, no matter how many elections are held. The educational system does not stand up well to this sort of scrutiny, as the student's typical lesson in social justice consists of restraint, control, and arbitrary exercise of power. It is with this in mind that I read this article in which the author describes efforts to teach democracy in Kosovo. What sort of lesson is being learned? "What," asks the author, "do our learning environments tell us about our practice of democratic living? What are our images of an educator, instructor or teacher - who is also seen as a role model by society?" As an outline for a workshop this document does not contain all the answers I would like, but it is an excellent start to an essential discussion. By Helen Siemens, Best Practices in E-Learning, December, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Outsourcing to India in Business Week and at MIT...
The point of this short item is to complain about two things: first, that MIT's OpenCourseWare was developed using Microsoft products, and second, that much of the back-end work was done in India. I can't get over the logic of the first - "We read a Gartner Group report that said the Microsoft system was the simplest to use among the commercial vendors and that open-source toolkits weren't worth considering." Sheesh. No wonder there's a recession on. The second complaint is more problematic. I don't see why people in India are somehow less deserving of jobs than people in the United States or anywhere else. And I am concerned about an environment where it becomes a damning crtiticism to point out that work was contracted to India or any other country. This isn't about the 'race to the bottom' (a legitimate concern, but not the issue here). This is about basic fairness. Be sure to read the comments to this article: eye-opening (and in places disturbing). By Philip Greenspun, Philip Greenspun's Weblog, December 1, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Student Assessment in Higher Education
This new site "aims to be a resource to assist both researchers and practitioners in the field of student assessment in higher education. This covers all aspects related to assessment of student learning; the validity or otherwise of multiple choice quizzes; the value of closed-book versus open-book examinations; the use of examinations as opposed to other forms of assessment; group and self assessment; and a whole host of other related topics." By Tim Roberts, Lecturer and Joanne McInnerney, Central Queensland University, December, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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