By Stephen Downes
August 22, 2005

Essential Freeware for the Mac User
Those of you Mac users who felt left out last week after my link to an article on freeware for Windows can rejoice now that the author has compiled a similar collection for the Mac. By Sudeep Bansal, Brilliant Ignorance, August 20, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

E-learning a key theme at AUSTAFE 2005
Summary of this recent conference held in Sydney. But the best bit is this link to session summaries and podcasts - congrats to Sean FitzGerald and Stephan Ridgway for putting this together. Wheeee... it's a conference in a box. And be sure to check out Sean FitzGerald's presentation wiki on MP3 players, podcasts and audio materials in learning. By Unknown, Australian Flexible Learning Framework, August, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Online Communities: Design, Theory, and Practice
This editorial introduces a special thematic section of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and is worthy of a read in its own right (the remainder of the articles are available here - no RSS (*sigh*)). In about nine paragraphs the authors provide a nice history of the concept of online community, drawing into the discussion strands of thought from sociology, psychology and anthropology. Of course, the real value in this issue is in the articles; I especially enjoyed Pillar, et.a;., on Collaborative Customer Co-Design in Online Communities. Oh yeah, and while scouting around, I found this in last month's issue: "He Will Crush You Like an Academic Ninja!": Exploring Teacher Ratings on Ratemyprofessors.com. Heh. JCMC - get an RSS feed! I hate missing stuff like this! By Jenny Preece and Diane Maloney-Krichmar, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, August, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The End of the Paper Syllabus
Just an example of what you can do once professors get past the idea that handouts have to be on paper. "The dean... told professors that — for financial and educational reasons — they should put their syllabuses online, and stop distributing them on the first day of classes." Savings? "Copies cost the college about 2 cents a page, nearly all of the university’s 11,000 students take at least some classes in the college, and syllabuses run from a page to 15 pages." By Scott Jaschik, Inside Higher Education, August 22, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Government Textbook Gets High-Tech Boost
Just an example of what a government can do once it gets past the idea that texbooks are something that you have to buy. "At UT (University of Texas), readings for mandatory political science course will be online — and free to students, public." The savings - mostly to students - on this one book amount to $300,000. Moreover, "it's easy to update it with the latest information available." By Laura Heinauer, Austin American-Statesman, August 19, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Sharing Learning Contexts Within A Distributed Conversation Model
Scott Wilson takes us on a fascinating romp through a variety of technologies to see whether they offer "a way of constructing and sharing context." None of them really does the job, he writes, though FOAF groups stands the best chance. Tom Hoffman interprets this as a technology problem, arguing in essence that RDF would do the job nicely. I see it more as a definitional problem. Wilson writes, "to enable a distributed conversation of any kind to take place requires an agreement of context among participants - that is, we have to have a way of knowing whether something is part of the conversation or not." Thus, he sees it as a boundary problem. But I don't accept that contention - why does there need to be agreement on what counts as part of the conversation? I see it as a linkinmg problem - if we can create links between one resource and the next, we can each of us construct our own version of the conversation, based on our own point of view. Can you have referencing without RDF? I think so; Hoffman, maybe less so. By Scott Wilson, Scott's Workblog, August 22, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Once a Booming Market, Educational Software for the PC Takes a Nose Dive
Who didn't see this coming (aside from the publishers of proprietary educational content, I mean)? "What happened was an explosion of new, often free technologies competing to entertain and teach children. Young children have long been a primary audience for computer learning games. But with free games and learning sites now available all over the Internet, parents are finding that they do not need to buy software that can teach the A B C's." Via Golden Swamp. Clark Aldrich also comments. By Matt Richtel, New York Times, August 22, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The 21st Century Learning Initiative in Canada
I think other Canadians will be as surprised as I was to learn that we are getting a Canadian version of John Abbott's '21st Century learning Initiative'. But that's what's on the agenda as this British writer is being brought by the Canadian Council on Learning to, um, teach us all about it. The idea behind the 21st Century Initiative is that learning ought to be based on neurology; in his 1998 Policy Paper Abbott explains that human brains have a natural inclination toward language learning and social skills, but that contemporary education works directly against that. While there is much to like in the proposal, there is also much to criticize. We both find the existing system too rigid and mechanical. But look: the same evidence that allows you to say learning is naturally 'linguistic and social' also can lead you to say (as I do) that learning is naturally 'interactive and immersive'. And there's a big difference in how this cashes out, a difference instantiated by Abbott's distrust of technology (as he said recently, "many of my countrymen have embarked on a long and dangerous love affair with the technology") and my own embrace of it. And while Abbott is quick to quote people like Gardener he - and the CCL - still seems to live in the era where it was believed that one overarching system-wide change will solve all the problems. While Abbott - and anyone else - should speak and be heard, we don't need to import a '21st Century Initiative' wholesale. We should grow our own, a thousand small initiatives, based in the quality, diversity, experience and expertise of our own people, and develop our educational policy by empowering the people who work and learn in the system rather than stipulating direction from the top. By Press Release, Canadian Council on Learning, August 22, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The RSS Version 3 Homepage
Does the world need another version of RSS? Probably not, but this development has been inevitable ever since RSS 2 was frozen. The new specification makes some logical changes to RSS 2 - most notable is the addition of ratings and category elements. Read more about it in the blog. Also, there's an eWeek article available, a Register article, Slashdot discussion, and many more links in the blogosphere. Reaction has been mostly negative, with many writers pointing out that since Atom was accepted and published as an IETF proposed standard last week, it will take over where RSS 2 leaves off. Of course, the community is a bit jumpy since Google filed to patent RSS ads and Microsoft tried to rename the format. By John Avidan, August 18, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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