Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
July 22, 2002

Survey Finds That Students Use the Web but Recognize Its Limitations The Chronicle picks up on the OCLC study of attitudes toward library use by students and gives it a negative slant. While the vast majority of students use the internet for research and a strong majority feel they can sort the good from the bad, most students also feel there is not enough variety of information available to them online. This is spun with an unrelated quote into a criticism of online resources: "You have a real danger of students doing a search on the Internet and getting the Unabomber's rantings about technology and using that in a paper as if they are the same as Neil Postman's [scholarly writings]. That's the problem -- students don't see the difference in that." But this criticism is not substantiated by the study and should not be a part of a reliable report - a delicious irony that probably escaped the author. By Scott Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 19, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Copyright Aided by New Law This doesn't have directly to do with online learning (but should serve as a caution to the copyright buffs out there). The Egyptian government has finally enacted a modern copyright law to comply with its membership in WTO (a whole other debate I won't touch on here). One provision in the law is that materials that are not translated into Arabic within a three year period lose their copyright protection. Now of course there are howls of outrage, but it seems reasonable to me. If copyright owners cannot even be bothered to make their work available to a huge population, why should they enjoy continued protection? Without such a provision, the vast bulk of work would never be translated into Arabic, and this has unacceptable cultural and political implications. Presumably this also applies to educational materials. The message is: if you aren't prepared to serve a global audience, don't demand global copyright protection. By Cam McGrath, Middle East Times, July, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Challenges for a Semantic Web This paper isn't particularly deep, but it makes a really important point: the semantic web will be culturally relative. That is to say, there will not be one semantics represented (that is, there will not be one set of meanings and entities), but rather, there will be a multiplicity of semantics. As the author notes, "in the cultural sector local, regional and national variants are essential to the richness of cultural expression, and depend fundamentally on different languages and dialects. Thus a semantic web, which includes cultural, spatial (local, regional, national, global), historical and interpretative dimensions is one of the essential challenges that face us in the future." This is something that educational metadata standards writers have yet to face (and that they, for the most part, vigorously oppose when I put it to them). But it is inescapable. By Kim Veltman, Cultivate Interactive, July, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Investors May Have Repudiated the Internet, but Consumers Have Not With the dot com collapse and the current furor with the apparent collapse of WorldCom, observers may be tempted to say that the internet has lost its appeal. Perhaps on Wall Street, but not on Main Street, where the internet is becoming the dominant for of media, especially among the young. And the internet is changing their attitudes toward traditional media. "Consumers who were once content to sit back and absorb what was beamed at them are demanding more control over how and when they consume movies, television, newspapers and music. And whether it turns a profit or not, media companies are being forced to respond." This applies to education as well: instructors, take note. By Any Harmon and Felicity Barringer, New York Times, July 22, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

NetDay Index Net Day is launching a new site called the NetDay Index to track developments in educational techn ology. The initiative is aimed exclusively at school district superintendants. The idea is to poll members to determine their attitudes and thoughts on education technology. Superintendants can also join the national public relations campaign that will accompany this national index and will receive pre-release copies of the quarterly survey analysis of trends. Not to be sceptical, but I think I detect more than a bit of a marketing angle to this. My own take is that superintendants would probably do better to listen to their teachers. By Various Authors, Net Day, August, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes