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April 8, 2002

OLWeekly Something has happened this week that I can't explain. It's like a sea change, that indistinguishable moment where the weather turns, unidentifiable but noticable, the point where all the deck hands look together at the sky and begin to work with a little more seriousness, a little more urgency. There was probably such a day some time in the late 1800s when people looked around and realized, for the first time, that they were living in an industrial society. It's like that, where we have passed from the moment that defines what was, and into the moment that defines what will be. I think it happened Wednesday.

Not a passing into the information age or the space age, not any of the labels journalists and critics have tried to attach to our new society. If I had to put a label on it, perhaps I'd call it the network age, or even the age of emergence, but that doesn't quite label it either. Anyway, names don't matter. What matters is, something changed, and I can feel the change. Try to put a finger on it. Read the articles in OLWeekly (http://www.downes.ca/news/OLWeekly) from the bottom to the top, from Monday to Friday, and see if you don't feel with me the shifting of the wind. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, April 12, 2002.[Refer]

Francisco J. Varela It was some time in 1989 or 1990, I think. I still have the notes, somewhere in my files. I walked across the campus at the University of Alberta from the Philosophy Department, where I was working on a PhD, to the Medical Sciences building to hear Francisco Varela give a talk on immunology. Valera, I had been told, approached cognitive processes as self-organizing networks, something I had been thinking as a result of my own belief that human reason is founded on similarity. Demonstrating some simple neural networks, Varela animated the process whereby patterns emerge from the activities of independent, but interconnected, agents. My understanding of the world changed on that day.

A few weeks later, sitting at the top of the hill at the Edmonton Folk Festival, alone (as you could be then), I scribbled the (long) manuscript of what would become my dissertation proposal, "The Network Phenomenon: Empiricism and the New Connectionism." My dissertation committee declined the topic, prefering some ordinary work on mental representation and mental content. I submitted a (short) proposal, which was accepted. But my PhD studies ended on the day my proposal was rejected, and my real work as a researcher began. The letters behind the name (which I never did attain) mean nothing.

"If everybody would agree that their current reality is A reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could all agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everyone on the planet, rather than each group being sold on a particular way of doing things." - Francisco Varela By Anonymous.[Refer]

Brain "The brain is made up of neurons and supporting and nutritive structures, is enclosed within the skull, and is continuous with the spinal cord through the foramen magnum. The brain is where thoughts reside as chemical and electrical processes." By Anonymous, KurzweilAI.net.[Refer]

The Brain BrainEKP is a system for organizing and sharing information. BrainEKP connects your people, processes, and information in a single interface so you can see and share your thinking. By TheBrain Technologies Corp.[Refer]

The Emergent Self "I'm not really interested in the classical artificial-intelligence and information-processing metaphors of brain studies. The brain can't be understood as a computer, in any interesting sense, and I part company with the people who think that the brain does rely on symbolic representation. The same intuitions cut across other biological fields. Deconstruct the notion that the brain is processing information and making a representation of the world. Deconstruct the militaristic notion that the immune system is about defense and looking out for invaders. Deconstruct the notion that evolution is about optimizing fitness to live in the conditions present in some kind of niche." By Francisco Varela, Edge, May 6, 2001.[Refer]

Seeing Around Corners This article is about creating models of society - artificial societies - using network technologies. The technology is an outgrowth of an exercise every first year programmer goes through (or at least did in 1986, when I did it), the creation of a program called 'Life'. Forget about the themes of the article - population growth, corruption, ethnic conflict (for these just reporesent the Flavour of the Day) - and focus on the science underlying it: about the idea that there are patterns in the activities of interconnected entities (including, but not limited to, humans). By The Atlantic Online, Jonathan Rauch, April, 2002.[Refer]

New Public Network: The Next Wave in Distributed Processing? The article asks whether "web services a revolution in computing, a way for vendors to squeeze pay-per-use subscription fees out of users, or just hype." The answer, in my view, is yes, yes and yes. This reasonably clear and comprehensive look at web services (and some of the underlying technology) animates the potential inherent in the next generation interget, but is reasonably level-headed about the risks. Many links to resources and gurther reading. By Andy Dornan, Network Magazine, April 5, 2002.[Refer]

IBM, Microsoft Plot Net Takeover OK, it's not just me. This article suggests that IBM and Microsoft are planning to essentially take over the internet by ensuring that they have the right to charge royalties for widely used protocols such as SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI. It's hard to notice, but this article is serveral pages long (follow the link at the lower right hand corner). It describes the increasingly tense relationship between the two companies and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which insists that the underlying standards must be available to everyone on a royalty-free basis. By David Berlind, ZDNet Tech Update, April 11, 2002.[Refer]

Google Unveils Web Search Engine Query API The new Google service, launched Thursday (currently free in Beta mode) allows program developers to directly access Google's database from within an application. The service uses Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL). By Paul Krill, InfoWorld, April 11, 2002.[Refer]

Inventing the Future Many of the themes explored in OLDaily - from grid computing to instant messaging to weblogs - are explored in this article and assembled: "All of these things come together into what I'm calling 'the emergent Internet operating system.' The facilities being pioneered by thousands of individual hackers and entrepreneurs will, without question, be integrated into a standardized platform that enables a next generation of applications. The question is, who will own that platform? By Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly Network, April 9, 2002.[Refer]

Michigan Virtual University Online Course Design Standards A useful resource (the link is available from this press release or go directly to http://standards.mivu.org/) serving essentially as a checklist for online course standards. A course evaluation tool is provided (but you have to fill in a form and they make you promise not to share the download link). By Press Release, Michigan Virtual University, April 10, 2002.[Refer]

The Technology Source with The George Lucas Educational Foundation I'm live online tomorrow (Friday, April 12) with another Technology Source author forum. This time, I will be interviewing web site administrators Milton Chen, Sara Armstrong from the George Lucas Educational Foundation. The online session starts at 1:00pm Eastern Time (5:00pm GMT (I think)) - give yourself a little lead time to sign up. By Stephen Downes, The Technology Source, April 12, 2002.[Refer]

Re: A Moral Imperative Connecting the dots. The response to John Hibb's piece on DEOS has been, well, prolific. Steve Eskow questioned the effectiveness of development education. Clint Brooks, along with several others, saw Hibbs as attacking American values. Of most interest, though, is this recent post from Brad Jensen, who writes: "Civilization has grown to the point where we cannot tolerate ignorance - not the ignorance of people who do not believe as we do, but the ignorance of people who are only connected to civilization through information that is filtered by others. This is no longer acceptable. We need to take a small part of the energy we are spending on dealing with the symptoms, and deal with the problem. Everyone in the world has the right to speak, and to know, without someone else making that decision for them." By Various Authors, DEOS-L, April 11, 2002.[Refer]

Borg Journalism Still connecting the dots: over the next few months (see my calendar - http://www.downes.ca/me/calendar.htm) I will be talking several times about syndicated learning, or as I title my presentation for CADE, distance learning in the daily news. OLDaily is an example of syndicated learning. It is my answer to Hibbs's dilemma (and Jensen's proposal). But take the idea of the learning newsletter a step further, and it becomes network learning. "It's not the individual weblog that fascinates me. It's when you tap the collective power of thousands of weblogs that you start to see all sort of interesting behavior emerge. It's a property of what scientists call complex adaptive systems and it's enabling weblogs as a collective to become more than the sum of its parts." The idea here is that the network of connected weblogs forms a system, and moreover, a system in which no individual assumes greater control over the others, except as he or she gains through personal reputation, as granted by the readers. What should be noted by online instructors is the method behind becoming part of this chorus. "True assimilation requires a journalist to learn about blogrolling, to follow referer links, to read dozens of blogs, to learn how to follow distributed conversations across scores of blogs. It's an intense level of involvement and commitment." By John Hiler, Microcontent News, April 1, 2002.[Refer]

Are Bloggers Journalists? Follow-up article to the previous one in which the standards for what I'll call serious blogging (or professional blogging) are considered. Some things to note: while weblogs are inherently biased and unedited, their usefulness to readers is based on trust. This entails that the weblogger be open about their biases, to issue caveats when their sources aren't certain, and to provide people with an opportunity to respond. What's really interesting is the shift from trust in an institution, such as the New York Times, to trust in individuals, such as Dan Gillmor. This is how a distributed information infrastructure filters poor content: through what has come to be called a web of trust. It doesn't even need to be formal to work: you trust me (right?) and pass on my recommendations to people who trust you; I, in turn, have a network of sources I trust, and I pass on what they write to you. And so it goes, as with journalism, so also with learning content. By John Hiler, Microcontent News, April 11, 2002.[Refer]

The Virtual Museum of Canada Be warned: I spent a couple of hours on this site this morning! Peter MacKay (http://www.theteacherlist.ca) writes, "The Virtual Museum of Canada celebrates the stories and treasures that have come to define Canada over the centuries. Here you will find innovative multimedia content that educates, inspires and fascinates! At the core of these magnificent narratives are hundreds of museums. While a few are internationally admired giants, many are small gems that owe their existence to the passionate dedication of volunteers. Be sure to check out the Teachers' Centre!" By Various contributors.[Refer]

Tech Firm Nailed For Internal MP3 Sharing It used to be that people just played the radio at the workplace. Today I prefer streaming media - (http://www.thegameskidsplay.com). But why consume all that bandwidth if you could just as easily set up an MP3 server on the company network? Well, the RIAA doesn't see it that way, having just forced Integrated Information Systems (IIS) into a million dollar settlement for copyright infringement. Well. In what world is the functional equivalent of the office radio now worth a million dollars? (My cynical self thinks that this is all a set-up: that the RIAA asked IIS to set up the network, get caught, and appear to pay an outrageous (but conveniently out-of-court) settlement to scare other companies into compliance. Nobody in their right mind would pay a million dollars otherwise). By Steven Bonisteel, Newsbytes, April 10, 2002.[Refer]

IBM To Unveil Antipiracy Software I've been thinking about this, as you know. Let's take another tack on it: music, video and other content vendors won't sell their wares online (they say) until mechanisms are in place to prevent unauthorized copying (I refuse to call it "piracy" - attacking a vessel with armed force is "piracy" and it is disingenuous of publishers to compare the simple act of copying with this violent act). And thinking about it, I have to ask: do we want these wares so badly? Is it worth the price? What would we get? We would pay monopolistic prices, get content we can't even use outside a strict set of restrictions, and for this we must tolerate intrusive encryption and monitoring software on our computers. Why are we even comtemplating such a regime (much less considering legislation that would force all computer manufacturers to comply with it)? Here's a better idea: make it cheaper and easier to buy online content than it is to steal it. Oh - but then I guess you wouldn't have monopolistic pricing and spyware, would you? By Hiawatha Bray, NewsFactor Network, April 9, 2002.[Refer]

Case Studies of Organisations with Established Learning Cultures The management gurus tell us that organizations should develop a learning culture. And there is a consensus that individuals in an organization need to engage in lifelong learning. But beyond these sweeping statements, the literature falls short in describing how this is to be achieved. This report goes a long way toward addressing that need. Looking at six organizations that have established a learning culture, the authors question workplace learning as it is actually performed (it is often used as a communications tool, for example) and whether it really benefits workers. They note that workplace learning is often tied to workplace culture, and that "learning in the organisational context extend[s] beyond the concept of a well-established orthodox training system, and link[s] closely to the behaviours, attitudes, values and structures operating in organisations." Indeed, "These learning practices are designed not only to improve organisational performance but also potentially to secure greater commitment by employees to the enterprise." That said, workplace learning develops when employees assume responsibility not only for their own learning but also for their own work: when they are involved in work process reviews, for example, or when they contribute collaboratively to a management information system, "These systems can be seen to form a crucible for learning," providing a space for interaction and a space where formal learning can be embedded. Other factors influencing learning include the adoption of a market and entrepreneurship orientation, the creation of continuous learning opportunities, and the encouragement of collaboration and team learning. By Robyn Johnston and Geof Hawke, National Centre for Vocational Education Research, April, 2002.[Refer]

Online Delivery in the Vocational Education and Training Sector: Improving Cost Effectiveness While the author acknowledges the difficulties inherent in generalizing from case studies, he has done a nice job of surveying strategies for increasing the cost effectiveness of different forms of online learning. Readers will appreciate the literature reviews outline the measurement of both cost and effectiveness. Showing clearly in the study's results is the dramatic impact of interaction on effectiveness. The report identifies a number of ways to reduce costs, including the redefinition of work functions and the coordination of learning support systems. Following the 50 page (PDF format) report are detailed descriptions of the case studies. By Richard Curtain, National Centre for Vocational Education Research, April, 2002.[Refer]

Maximising Confidence in Assessment Decision-making This high quality resource contains everything you need to evaluate your assessment practices. Developed by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research in Australia, this package provides detailed instruction, checklists, forms and examples to present a comprehensive overview of the assessment review process. If you are involved in assessment at all, don't miss this item. By Robyn Booth, Berwyn Clayton, Robyn House and Sue Ray, National Centre for Vocational Education Research, April, 2002.[Refer]

Full-time Grads Have an Edge When Firms Hire Evidence that distance and online learning still suffer from a credibility gap: "Half of the 214 employers who responded to a Straits Times survey prefer to hire graduates who have taken full-time courses. Only 4 per cent of them favour those who did distance learning." The reasons for their scepticism include "doubts about the admission and examination standards of distance-learning programmes." By Jane Lee, Straits Times, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani Addresses Thousands of Delegates at e-learning Conference & Expo Most of us subjected to the email marketing barrage over the last few weeks had but one question on our mind: what does Rudolph Giuliani know about online learning anyway? The answer, following this morning's anticlimactic keynote at the 12th annual e-learning Conference Expo 2002 is: not much. The former New York mayor outlined instead five principles of leadership and his experiences in running many different size organizations. The main impact of this item: now (at last!) the relentless advertising will stop. By Press Release, Advanstar Technology Group, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Comparing Palestinian and Israeli Textbooks Politics and education: how could anyone believe that they are completely separate disciplines? This article is an interesting read. It is worth keeping in mind that the textbooks of any nation would reveal a similar bias; this is nothing unique to Palestinians and Israelis. By RuthFirer and SamiAdwan, Arabic Media Internet Network, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Nebraska Researchers Measure the Extent of Link Rot in Distance Education Link rot is what happens when somebody moves a website, thus invalidating every link pointing to that site. I must admit that I have been an unwitting culprit - I wonder how many error 404s Assiniboine generates from people looking for me, all because someone there wouldn't run a simply three-line redirect script. Nobody has solved link rot, not even Google (which still lists my entire Assiniboine site from three years ago). No surprise, then, is the effect of link rot on online courses (more surprising, though, is the speed with which it occurs). By Vincent Kiernan, Chronicle of Higher Education, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Online Sales of Used Books Draw Protest Suppose you were prohibited from selling your vehicle as a used car because your sale would cut into the earnings of those who build new cars. That argument seems pretty ridiculous, but it is essentially the same one being advanced by authors opposed to Amazon selling used books. "Amazon's practice does damage to the publishing industry, decreasing royalty payments to authors and profits to publishers," the guild wrote in its message. "There's no good reason for authors to be complicit in undermining their own sales." You know, days like this, I think that a lot of the lobbying is being done by people who have no idea how commerce works. Take me, for example. I pick up a book by John Brunner for a quarter in a used book shop (the real investment, of course, is the time it will take to read the book). I read it, I like it, I pick up a few more used Brunner books, then I start scouring Chapter's for his latest release. That's how it works. Cut off used book sales and it's like you've cut off the oxygen. The same logic applies to most content, online or offline. The software I buy is the software I've been using for free for a while. The NY Times when I'm south of the border I buy because I've become used to reading it for free online. The text I recommend for my class is the one a colleague loaned me over the summer. I don't know what authors and publishers think will replace the churn of ideas that constitutes a free information exchange, but I can tell you this: if you kill off that churn, as today's copyright commandos advocate, you kill off the fuel that drives the information economy. By David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

The Keyboard Campus I think that one of the most telling arguments in favour of electronic publishing is the fact that the reviews of this book - portions of which appeard on the web five years ago - are just starting to come out. The fact that it is David Noble's book just makes the argument all the more delicious. Written for people who are likely to be supportive of Noble's hypothesis (that technology and commodification are ruining education), this review accurately taps into the weaknesses of Noble's presentation: the mischaracterization of online learning, the broad-brush generalizations. By Stephen Brier and Roy Rosenzweig, The Nation, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Recognizing the Champions From yesterday, with a working link this time. By Elsa Schelin and Gene Smarte, E-Learning Magazine, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Leadership In Turmoil: the Learning Imperative The main point of this article is that greater leaning is achieved during periods of difficulty or stress. But what I like is the way the author looks at "second-order learning" in difficult learning situations. Three modes of second-order learning are enumerated: return mapping, in which a recently completed project is subjected to intense and disciplined scrutiny; scenario building; and leading change, which involves being forced to confront an intentional disruption. By J.B. Kassarjian, Babson Insight, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Moonlighting for an Unaccredited University This Chronicle article leads with a "tsk tsk" attitute but strives for balance in the end as it looks at professors who make a few dollars on the side teaching for unaccredited institutions. "Most Kennedy-Western professors interviewed say the institution's lack of accreditation doesn't concern them. "My job is to educate people, however they choose to do it," says Kambiz Farahmand... "It's someone else's job to legitimize their diploma. Whatever they get from me is good." By Andrea L. Foster, Chronicle of Higher Education, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

E-learning Companies are Facing Difficulties This is no surprise to OLDaily readers as we ran contrary to the hype of only a few months ago to predict this downturn. The bad news is that it will get worse before it gets better as the e-learning marketplace becomes saturated and all the big contracts have been snapped up. The companies that can successfully make the transition to providing services to smaller institutions and companies will survive the coming "Darwinian process" as they alone will be able to reach new markets. By Ross Kerber, Boston Globe, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Recognizing the Champions As much as it pleases me to see Rory McGreal make the list, it seems to me that the focus on e-learning "champions" misses the point. While in mass and popular media there is an endless need to trumpet the top ten this or that, the internet is and always has been, as I believe Douglas Rushkoff put it, created by the chorus, a mass of people working together with no clear leader, no clear 'champion" to trumpet. Put it this way: who built the world wide web? Not Tim Berners-Lee, though he developed the underlying protocol. No, it was the millions of individuals who installed web servers, authored web pages, and in so doing became part of the chorus. Similarly, then: who pioneered e-learning? The champions listed in this article, but for each one I can list another ten equally qualified to join this list. By Elsa Schelin and Gene Smarte, E-Learning Magazine, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

Journalistic Pivot Points From the "where I intend to go with OLDaily" department: all I need to do to make this work is get my wireless connection at the conference. Then I can recreate this experience: "I was blogging a session on wireless technology, and wrote something about SkyPilot, one of the presenting companies. Duncan Davidson, SkyPilot's CEO, finished his presentation and sat on the podium, reading on his laptop, while other people talked. Then, in the Q&A, he corrected something I'd written in the blog. In other words, he'd caught this in near-real time and had better information (he should). I immediately posted another paragraph, which began, 'I've been corrected....' Whoa. I'm still not entirely sure what happened. But I do know this. My journey in journalism hit a pivot in that moment. Maybe journalism itself hit a pivot point, as pretentious as that sounds." By Dan Gillmor, SiliconValley.Com, December 31, 200-31.[Refer]

World Wide Web Security My apologies for the, um, extra copies of OLDaily you received this morning. And for the confusion this evening. I still don't know how they were sent, but I can tell you I spent the better part of the day trying to find security holes in my web server (as opposed to, say, writing about pedagogy in learning objects as I was supposed to). At any rate, my Newsletter script now has a brand new lock on it, and with some luck, your inbox will be spared any further assaults. The link at the bottom of your Newsletter should be working properly as well allowing you to change your user information, email address, or even to *gasp* unsubscribe. By Anonymous.[Refer]

The Test Mess John Hibbs wrote to DEOS the other day about the need to put education before warfare. It was a passionate plea and one that I wholeheartedly support (you probably saw the link, "John Hibbs connects the dots," in OLDaily last week). Well, someone wrote into DEOS and complained, saying that an education list is no place for politics. I haven't read any of the replies (assuming there are any), but I have this to say: if you don't see where politics and education merge, then you just haven't been watching the field.

It's not just about Islamic education in Afghanistan, either. Education is in most societies about much more than merely teaching Johnny and Jane how to read and write. It's about instilling a wide set of cultural mores, values and propositions: for some people, it's even about patriotism (which is the 20th century nationalist version of chanting verses from the Koran).

Thus we turn to the present link, a detailed analysis of the push toward standardized testing in the United States. The movement reflects a growing homogenization of education, a reflection of the fact that we live in a connected age, a statement, even, of the idea that a child's education in California ought to be at least roughly similar to a child's education in Des Moines (or Barcelona? the implications of internationalization - a natural outgrowth of online learning and general testing services - are staggering).

The author of this piece has some sobering conclusions: "At the bottom of the conundrum of testing is a problem in the nature of policy, and underneath that a problem in the nature of human understanding. The policy problem is that, for political reasons, you cannot go around making exceptions for people who feel they can do without some given reform.... The problem of human understanding is that people do not readily grasp a reality radically different from their own. It is, for example, taken for granted among activist Scarsdale parents, as it is among the crusaders at CARE, that testing is even more harmful for disadvantaged children than it is for their own, that 'drill and kill' can only crush young minds, that the real problem is money, et cetera. I asked a group of 13 Scarsdale mothers who had gathered to evangelize me if any of them had ever spent a significant amount of time in an inner-city school. There was an embarrassed silence; they hadn't. The truth was that they simply couldn't imagine a school where eighth graders didn't know the meaning of 'foe' and hadn't acquired the skills that their children had acquired unconsciously."

I have written elsewhere that the trend toward testing is inevitable as we move toward a greater diversity of educational opportunities, a diversity accelerated by the rise of new learning technologies. This prediction remains, in my mind, sound, but with it comes an increasing question: how do we test, test fairly, and at the same time view learning - and what should be learned - with something other than our localized understanding of what constitutes a Good Citizen. By James Traub, New York Times, April 7, 2002.[Refer]

Laptops Going Home With Students The Maine laptop experiment - in which students in the state are given their own laptops - is if nothing else an interesting source of new debates. Forget about whether or not students should be given laptops: the new issue here is whether they should be allowed to take the laptops home. On the one hand it seems so logical (what's the point of giving them laptops otherwise). On the other hand is the "drop factor" - "When you're dealing with kids 12, 13 and 14 years old, accidents can happen at that age." By Tess Nacelewicz, Portland Press Herald, April 8, 2002.[Refer]

OASIS Members Form Technical Committee to Advance XML Rights Language OASIS is a not-for-profit consortium working toward the development, convergence and adoption of e-business standards. The substance of this announcement is that its members have formed the OASIS Rights Language Technical Committee to advance a common XML rights language standard for the digital rights management (DRM) marketplace. So far, of course, this is a whole lot of nothing. But whatever comes out of this (or some similar) initiative will have wide application in e-learning. By Press Release, OASIS, April 2, 2002.[Refer]

The Evolution of the Learning Content Management System This article traces the evolution of online learning through to the development of learning content management systems (LCMSs) but its real value is in the last section where it surveys the business advantage of using an LCMS. This one sentence says it all: "LCMS applications allow for the rapid creation, delivery and evolution of proprietary content in support of product launches." By Shelley R. Robbins, Learning Circuits, April, 2002.[Refer]


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