By Stephen Downes
March 10, 2004

Learning to do Social Science Research in the Knowledge Economy: A Manifesto
Gosh, I love papers with the word 'manifesto' in the title. And while the topic of this tract diverges a bit from the usual e-learning fare, it is a nice counterpoint to Jay Cross's comments on edubabble and also some of the discussions I have had here about research methodology in public policy. The author's premise, simply put, is that social research occurs in a global context. What that means pragmatically, in my mind, is that the data never speaks for itself (however much theorists would like us to believe otherwise), that the nature of the enquiry is such that a particular cultural, social and political context is presupposed in any empirical research, and that researchers need to be aware of this from the outset. This does not speak against the validity of empirical data, but it defines some limits as to the sorts of questions raw data can answer. By Martin Terre Blanche, Collaborative Learning, March 10, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Blackboard Inc., Partners with Leading Academic Publishers
Blackboard continues to make news as it announces a deal to integrate various learning applications into the LMS. According to the press release, "The development project, titled 'ChalkBox,' will go beyond simple importation of textbook-related electronic content to accommodate more sophisticated integration between the publishers' hosted instructional applications and Blackboard-powered course web sites at client institutions." Partners in the project include Houghton Mifflin, Pearson Education and Thomson Higher Education. Now I have called on Blackboard to import open educational content but the company's affiliation with commercial publishers seems to close the door on that possibility. While this deal will no doubt improve Blackboard's prospects in its recently announced IPO, one wonders whether signing up for Blackboard also commits one to using nothing but commercial content. By Press Release, Blackboard, March 8, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Method of Evaluating Training
Nice short white paper describing what the author calls the DMAIC methodology for training return on investment (ROI). DMAIC stands for Design, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. I don't think that this paper is groundbreaking, but it is nonetheless worth a read because it maps out clearly a mechanism for relating training to organizational objectives. By Martin Schmalenbach, Potential Energy, March, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Copyright, Access and Digital Texts
Good overview of the case for open access to educational materials, with a lot of links later on in the paper to open content projects. Note that the article is several pages long; you may not notice the link to the next page at the bottom of the page. By Charlie Lowe, Across the Disciplines, March, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Merger For Rival RSS/ATOM Formats?
I think we're still a long way away from merging the various content syndication formats, but the discussion was ignited again over the weekend with a proposal from RSS 2.0 advocate Dave Winer that such a merger occur. By Ryan Naraine, InternetNews.Com, March 9, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Patrick Henry College Grooming Conservative Leaders
One of the outcomes of online learning has been enhanced support for home schooling. And one of the outcomes of the rising home schooling movement has been the development of colleges that target support to this sector. However, this development has been noted with concern by some, since the movement has allowed for the development of educational institutions with specific political and religious leanings. Such is the case with Patrick Henry College, which states explicitly, "The Mission of Patrick Henry College is to train Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding." The authors don't mean "lead" in a metaphorical sense. "Abram Olmstead knew he would fit right in at Patrick Henry College, the first college primarily for evangelical Christian home-schoolers. But what really sold him was the school's pipeline into conservative politics." Now I believe that people should have the right to choose whatever religious and political affiliation they wish. Where I express concern with this movement is that the religious and political affiliation may be being thrust upon the students involved. In their "pipeline to conservative politics" through home schooling and Patrick Henry, are these students given the opportunity to learn about, and consider, alternative points of view? I make this point not because I oppose the conservative Christian perspective, but because a nation educated in this way is running the risk of creating a generation of leaders that cannot compromise, cannot envision life in a diverse culture and world. It creates an inevitability of conflict, and this does not bode well for anyone. By David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, via Twin Cities Pioneer Press, March 8, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

SA, India, Brazil Outline Co-Operation
Distance learning is a part of this agreement, just signed in New Delhi by South Africa, India and Brazil. It will be interesting to see what comes of the cooperation between these three countries. By Jonathan Katzenellenbogen, AllAfrica.Com, March 5, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Do We Really Use Only 10 Percent of our Brains?
The answer to the question, offered in this Scientific American article, is no. If you think about it, "Losing far less than 90 percent of the brain to accident or disease has catastrophic consequences." There is a great deal of myth surrounding how the brain functions. Much of that myth is offered in papers like this one, offered by a reader on the trdev mailing list as a follow-up to the previous link. This latter paper should not be taken seriously; it contains numerous scientific and conceptual errors. It would help if we knew more about how the brain works, but we know a great deal now, and it would help more if this knowledge were reflected in common consciousness, not obscured by fable. By Barry L. Beyerstein, Scientific American, March, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2004 Stephen Downes
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