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by Stephen Downes
October 3, 2007

Distance Educators and Dogma
Terry Anderson weighs in on some long-standing disputes in distance education. The first pits access against effectiveness: while technology may improve effectiveness, the purpose of distance education is to provide access, and many people do not have access to technology. The second questions the effectiveness of technology by challenging its empirical basis. Anderson essentially bites th bullet on access, conceeding that "there are learners on the trap lines in Northern Canada without even dial-up connectivity or electricity". And on effectiveness he argues that we need to redefine the criteria; "If we think of more general learning outcomes of education as a whole, the rationale for Net learning becomes more apparent." I agree with this, but I don't think he needs to give any ground on access. Traditional distance education is labour intensive and expensive; access is limited not only by access to technology but also access to teachers, funds, and other resources. Today it is cheaper - and hence more accessible - to access the internet than it is to access most any other form of learning. My involvement in distance education is based on access - and that is why I embrace internet technologies. Terry Anderson, Virtual Canuck October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: , , ] [Comment]

Laugh, and Your Learners Laugh with You. Maybe.
As one commentator says, "humour in online learning is a hard sell." But I agree with the need to take the content a bit less seriously. Humour can be tricky, but if you stay away from the stereotypes and the gutter, I think you can generally count on a reasonable response. In the meantime, the 'Enquirer' front page accompanying this article is a scream, and a nice example illustrating the topic. Cathy Moore, Making Change October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: ] [Comment]

Watch Out Blackboard - A New Course Management Site Is in Town
The site is called WizIQ, and according to this post, "it looks like a promising addition to the growing number of free educational resources." Jamie Littlefield, Online Universities Weblog October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software
Richard Stallman writes, "The rhetoric of open source has convinced many businesses and individuals to use, and even develop, free software, which has extended our community-but only at the superficial, practical level. The philosophy of open source, with its purely practical values, impedes understanding of the deeper ideas of free software; it brings many people into our community, but does not teach them to defend it." I think I am mostly on the side of 'free software', as opposed to 'open source software', as discussed in this article, because I see this as a matter of ethics, not programming efficiency. But as I have written before, my ethics are derived from my science, which could be interpreted as a question of efficiency. I think 'free software' and 'open source' really express the same thing, but in different domains, different languages. Richard Stallman, October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

bFree - Blackboard Course Content Extractor
A new version of the bFree Blackboard course extractor is available. David Moffat writes, "The program now extracts Announcements; Discussion Board entries, archives, and attachments; and Digital Drop Box and group File Exchange uploads. It continues to extract wiki entries and attachments, Staff Information and attachments, and Content Area pages, including folders, descriptions, links, and attached files of all kinds. Tests, Gradebook, Surveys, Assignments, and Pools are among the content items not yet supported. bFree will quickly create an independent web site for a course. The site can be placed on a web server or CD, or even loaded into Sakai. The web site mimics the structure of the original Blackboard course." Various Authors, University of North Carolina October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

Senor DJ Lamb: Vancouver Virtuoso of Vermin
I was asked yesterday in an email how a person develops synoptic vision, 'the ability to draw together and integrate in a visionary way'. I had to admit that I didn't know; I hadn't thought of it precisely that way. But as Jim Groom illustrates, we have a good example in Brian Lamb, who is able to draw lessons for learning through four slides on vermin and garbage. What I like about Lamb's presentations is that he embodies his thinking; this is yet another example. And what he embodies lies at the very heart of open education. Jim Groom has more on the Open Education conference just concluded in Utah here. Related: Brian Lamb links to the Media in Transitions conference. Jim Groom, bavatuesdays October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: ] [Comment]

URNs, Namespaces and Registries
I read that OpenID 2.0 is moving toward extensible resource identifiers (XRIs), a development that is, well, unclear to me. Danny Ayers recommended this article, which has been kicking around the W3C editorial process since 2001, as a case study of XRI. The first paragraph is very encouraging, and encasulates my objection to CORDRA in a nutshell: "This finding addresses the questions 'When should URNs or URIs with novel URI schemes be used to name information resources for the Web?' and 'Should registries be provided for such identifiers?'. The answers given are 'Rarely if ever' and 'Probably not'." The jury is still out on XRI (it does not work in the browser, which bothers me) Henry S. Thompson and David Orchard, W3C October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: ] [Comment]

Cave Man Didn't Have Classrooms
This article is mostly just entertaining speculation about the way cave man children were taught. But the second-last paragraph really bothers me. "The cave man was probably not conscious," writes Schank, making a sudden right turn. "If we teach to the conscious, if we say how to do something, or worse teach the theory of how something works, rather than show how to do something, we lose the student because his mind does not work that way. If experience is separated from knowledge, if what we teach is not about doing at all, then we teaching to the conscious." This can't be right. Experience is conscious, isn't it? 'Conscious learning' is reflectively aware learning, and is a good thing. I can see the point, that we shouldn't merely use language, that we shouldn't just 'tell' people things. But consciousness is not language, and 'telling' isn't 'teaching to the conscious'. Roger Schank, The Pulse October 3, 2007 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]


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Copyright 2007 Stephen Downes

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