Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
May 20, 2002

Pentagon Commitment Helps Advance E-Learning Standard Garden variety survey article on the Pentagon's committment to online learning. The last paragraph contains a nugget, something I've been touting for many years: "The eventual advantage is that we're going to provide a digital knowledge environment where chunks of knowledge are going to be shareable and reusable. If they exist somewhere, you will be able to find them," said the Pentagon's Parmentier. "Eventually we'll have a world where knowledge flows like water or electricity." Yes. But is anyone really thinking about the implications of this? Think: you don't have to go to the town square for water any more. What does that mean? By Ellen McCarthy, Washington Post, May 14, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Training Becomes More Animated Maybe the empirical results will prove me wrong, but I doubt it. I just don't think that Peedy the Parrot, a 3-D talking animated character, sets the right tone for a government department training program. Leaving aside the fact that it treats viewers like Grade 2 students, let me ask this: how is it that you get a student to focus on the material by adding aminations that distract them from it? By Dibya Sarkar , FCW.Com, May 17, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Philadelphians Jittery Over Plan to Privatize 20 Schools Much was made over Philadelphia's recent decision to assign management of dozens of schols to private contractors. What the administrators didn't count on, however, is that one of its major contractors - Edison Schools Inc. - might become suddenly and dramatically financially unstable. Now they are having second thoughts in Philadelphia as they learn, some for the first time, one of the stark realities of running public services through private contractors: public services, unlike businesses, cannot be allowed to fail. By Jacques Steinberg, New York Times, May 17, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Web Line Art Line art is an image intended to be embedded in (and read as) text. A mathematical formula or a graph, for example, may qualify as line art. This useful article provides some basic tips on how to create compact and readable line art. By John Winn, Dartmouth College, May 20, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Constellations for Learning One of four articles in the current EDUCAUSE Review that loks at the impact of More's Law on the future of education (See for the others). Distributed as a monster PDF file (1.1 megabytes) this article (wisely) skips over most of the issues raised by the EDUCAUSE theme with some platitudes and gets to the heart of the matter while discussing wireless access while learning. "When is it OK to use the devices? All of the time? Facilities designers and planners need to be aware of changes in common courtesies and practices and need to provide for them." That said, there is a certain sense in which the author is out of touch with the new reality. He writes, "Facilities must allow students, especially those working in groups, to interact with each other and with their computing devices." Well sure. Of course. But it's not a question of "allowing" students, something that becomes clear when you ask the converse question: how would you stop them? By Charles Kerns, EDUCAUSE Review, May, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Mobile Computing for Teaching and Learning at Wake Forest - What Are the Critical Infrastructure Services? Forget the audio chat that headlines this resource. Or perhaps play it in the background while you look at the wealth of materials assembled to support this discussion. Most of the discussion centered around mobile or wireless learning. In particular, the discussion introduced PocketClassroom, software developed at Wake Forest University that turns a PocketPC equipped with a wireless card into a web server, a presentation controller, and a feedback device for a classroom instructor or for any speaker making a presentation to an audience. By David G. Brown and Jay Dominick, CREN, May 16, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Technological and Pedagogical Convergence between Work-based and Campus-based Learning I have slected three articles from the current issue of Educational Technology & Society, the IEEE Learning Technology Task Force journal (see The IEEE format does not lend itself to essays of this nature. Though many of them would have had something useful to say, the usefulness has been squeezed out by the format. About half of each essay is devoted to summarizing previous work. Most of the rest of each essay summarizes a specific project. Useful discussion is limited to one or two paragraphs.

The current article is a case in point. It describes a project where a work-based cohort was merged with a university-based cohort for the final four weeks of a university course. The author concludes that "The different understandings (often tacit) of learning, training, competency and capability held by university and industry staff need to be made explicit." Yes, and an academic article, such as this, would be a great place to do that! Sadly, it turns out that this is no such forum and our curiosity remains unsated.

I do not blame the author for this. The same pattern is repeated in paper after paper. The guardians of Educational Technology & Society ought to consider again whether their format is furthering scholarship or hindering it. By David F. Radcliff, Educational Technology & Society, May, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Web-based Corporate Learning in Siberia: Reflections on an American Model The point of this paper is to look for differences in web based learning in Russia as compared to similar experiences in the United States. So far as I can judge, the author found no significant differences and indeed comments that "many similarities with US experience were apparent." This should be less surprising than it seems as the present state of the web and web based learning are the product of an international, and not uniquely American, process of development. Similarly, "usefulness, timeliness, and instructional quality" are values shared around the world. By Richard Schreck, Educational Technology & Society, May, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Academics in Academia: the Forgotten Resource in the Rush to New Technologies There is a promise of something more in this paper but unfortunately the life has been squeezed out of it. What remains is a discussion of how adopting new methods of teaching and research can actually improve, not diminish, an academic's job prospects and job satisfaction. The new method include online teaching and learning as well as the use of adjuncts (usually students) to perform lower level academic tasks. By Tim S Roberts, Educational Technology & Society, May, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Policy for Continuous Learning in the Public Service of Canada Researchers frequently comment that the most difficult barriers to the deployment of online learning are often policy barriers. This policy is a model of procedures that can be put into place in an organization - in this case the Public Service of Canada - that begin to overcome those barriers. By creating an expectation that staff will learn continuously, and by putting the resources in place to ensure that such learning is possible, a policy framework such as this can go a long way. Note that the policy is technologically neutral. That, also, is as it should be. By Secretariat, Treasury Board of Canada, May 15, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

How Dangerous is Online Chat for Kids? Summary of a House Subcommittee hearing called "Chatting On-Line: A Dangerous Proposition for Children" held in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Interesting contrast between what the legislators apparently wanted to hear - that there is a need for new legislation - and what presenters felt was the best approach - increased education for children along with the enforecement of current legislation. I am with the latter camp: "The value of empowering our children, through education with the knowledge and critical-thinking skills that they need to be able to independently assess the every-day situations they will encounter while online cannot be overstressed... Education and empowerment are key." By Jamie McCarthy, Slashdot, May 14, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes