Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
July 9, 2002

Software Group's Anti-Piracy Campaign Targets Students OK, this is pure propaganda, designed to support a political and economic agenda, that is being distributed as a free "curriculum". The message is that the practice that the promoters call software "piracy" is morally wrong. I think that this is still an open question, especially in the light of the various free software and free content movements expressing their views in the courts and in the press. Will this curriculum provide the views of those people, such as myself, who thing that altruism and sharing are values to be cherished and promoted? I thought not. But if not, then this material has no business being taught in our schools. By Cara Branigan, eSchool News, July 3, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Russians Propose International Effort to Land Crew on Mars Count me as among those who support the Russian initiative. And let me add another incentive to sweeten the pot. Don't think of the mission to Mars as nothing more than space exploration. Think of it as one of the best educational opportunities around, a way to captivate a generation of students and to entice them into learning esoteric disciplines such as mathematics, languages, geology and physics. I could work. It would work. It has worked - remember Sputnik? (p.s. if this actually comes to pass I want a Martian rock sample for having suggested the idea.) By Associated Press, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 6, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Ugly Lie About Vouchers I think that this is an important point to make. The promise of vouchers is that they enable parents to make choices about their children's education. But many parents, particularly those of low income and a poor educational background, fail to make any choice at all (much less a good choice). This supports the argument that by adbicating its responsibility to ensure the education of children, the government places itself in a position where it will oversee the non-education of many of the nation's children. By Jane Ehrenfeld, Washington Post, July 8, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Showing Up... And Other Dumb School Rules I personally do not think that the measurement of days attended is really a good indication of educational performance. I say that having achieved, in my fourth year of university, a personal best year - I attended fully two thirds of all my classes. So I'm not really in favour of the opinion expressed in this story (though I leave room for the possibility that the author is writing in the ironic voice), particularly since the fultility of an attendance policy is actually pointed out in the article: "what's even more amazing than the absenteeism that prompted local attendance policy upgrades is that part-time pupils have until now been able to squeak by unscathed: They actually pass their exams and graduate. Does anybody besides me see the need for a step beyond attendance enforcement? Like teaching in such a way that it would be impossible for a chronically absent student to squeak by?" By Wanda Freeman, Northwest Arkansas Times, July 6, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

European Administrations Should Share Software Resources A report released by Interchange of Data between Administrations (IDA), part of the European Commission, argues that administrators should share software. This nothing other than anathema to most commercial software companies, since they prefer that each individual user pruchase a separate license. Even worse, the study recommends the creation of a software clearing house to which administrations can "donate" software. Now this study is referring to software developed by administrators, and not to the (highly illegal) sharing of commercial software, but it's hard to ignore the fact that once such a facility is established there will be an inclination to replace commercial software with internally developed or open source solutions. By Anonymous, IDA, June, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Promising Chapter in E-Book Story Here's a rare article, one predicting a positive future for ebooks. Keep in mind that the source is Wired News, an agency with a demonstrable preference for the format. That said, the author digs up some encouraging statistics from eBookWeb, a web site specializing in ebooks: 500,000 page views per month and improved ebooks sales by a number of vendors, including McGraw-Hill with an increase of 55 percent over this time last year. I would be very hestitant to paint a rosy picture just yet, but this may be the beginning of a shift in the wind. Or perhaps just the beginning of a new marketing campaign. Hard to tell. By M.J. Rose, Wired news, July 9, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Moodle From the website: "Moodle is a software package for producing internet-based courses and web sites (including this one). Moodle is an ongoing research and development project designed to support a social constructionist pedagogy. Moodle is given away freely as Open Source software (under the GNU Public License). It will run on any computer that can run PHP, and supports almost every brand of database." The page contains links to sample courses using Moodle and a background paper explaining the concept. By Martin Dougiamas, Moodle, December 31, 200-31 8:33 p.m. [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Thomson and HIPAA Academy Launch HIPAA Certification and Learning Solutions to Healthcare Industry Just a press release, this item is nonetheless an example of an emerging trend, non-standard certification. This time the certification authority is a publishing company, the Thomson Corporation, working in concert with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Authority. An additional point worth making is this: from time to time I have commented on the inherent conflict of interest that occurs when training providers are the same entities as certification authorities. Typically, university professors have pooh-poohed this argument as a non-issue. But when both the training and the certification are provided by a private entity, a book publisher, is it a non-issue any more? I don't think so. By Press Release, Thomson Learning, July 9, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Do Libraries Really Need Books? Any doubt about the tone of this article is removed in the subtitle: "Controversial projects at some colleges move the printed word out of sight." This is, of course, a ridiculous way to describe the use of electronic texts instead of dead tree products. The article describes, as the title implies, the growing reliance of college libraries on electronic texts - largely at their students' urging. But the subtext is that instructors should require that students consult "primary sources" (that is, the printed text, which is still assumed to be primary, an assumption that needs to be questioned). "If you allow a student in your course to get an A, and he or she has not consulted primary sources, and you have not required them to use print sources, there's no way the library can make that happen." By Scott Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 12, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes