Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
August 20, 2002

Building Communities - Strategies for Collaborative Learning OK, most people are going to regard this as a pretty good article about online learning communities, and it is a pretty good article. But it embodies some important errors found in the state of the art. The article correctly identifies the need for online learning communities as a means of capturing the informal or tacit knowledge that circulates within an organization or group. But then, like most accounts of online learning communities, it describes a fairly structured or formal approach to their creation, so much so that the resulting product would resemble a classroom much more than a community. Take a look at the "people approaches" described in the article, where clearly defined roles, "including the instructor, subgroups, group leaders or facilitators" are recommended, for example. Or look at the "process approach" where community leaders should create "guidelines for online and offline etiquette and obtain agreement on the behavior that will lead to successful group and individual learning outcomes." Now I ask, does that resemble how tacit knowledge is shared in the workplace or even at school? Not even close. I think there are two major things to remember, things that dictate a very different approach than is recommended here. First, informal learning is informal, so don't try to structure it with roles and behaviours. Second, informal learning is not separate, but rather, integrated into day-to-day activities. The learning is a part of and a natural outgrowth of other activities. Putting it into a nice formalized box somewhere separate from everything else simply ruins it. By Soren Kaplan, Learning Circuits, August, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Wired Students Prefer Campus News on Paper Sceptics are making a lot of hay over this article in the New York Times arguing that college students prefer to read the newspaper in pront rather than online. Forget for a moment the Times's obvious interest in this item, and forget for the moment global trends showing a significant decline in newspaper readership overall. What does this show? Simple: paper is easier to use than laptops. Newspapers cost a dollar or so, weight a fraction of a laptop, are easier to use, have much larger display surfaces, and can be thrown out when done. That's why I read printed newspapers. It seems to me, though, that what we have here are not reasons for giving up on online newspapers. What we have are design parameters for the next generation of news-reader devices. By Marcin Skomial, New York Times, August 19, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Debunking DMCA Myths An opinion article by a well known (and widely regarded) tech author charging that the dangers of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) have been exaggerated by organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "A careful look at the DMCA shows that, far from prohibiting all security research, the law does not regulate as many activities as people seem to believe." Despite the threats researchers have received from software companies, their description of encryption methods (and corresponding security flaws) are not illegal if they're sufficiently academic and presented in English. "The risk that a researcher could go to jail for giving a speech at an academic conference is essentially zero," says Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. By Declan McCullagh, CNet, August 19, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Digital Copying Rules may Change Declan McCullough (see above) is looking at only one aspect of the DMCA, though. Forget about researchers and scientists. Think about what you do on a day to day basis. Now, "in a few years, Americans may not be able to copy a song off a CD, watch a recorded DVD at a friend's house, or store a copy of a television show for more than a day." The DMCA is one part of the overall plan to make this happen: a crucial part, in fact, as it makes it illegal to circumvent any such restriction. Even if the work is public domain - such as, say, Aristotle's Politics, it is illegal to figure out how to copy it from the ebook to your hard drive. By Noel C. Paul, Christian Science Monitor, August 19, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Lesson in Education This editorial is short and to the point. "The Edison experience suggests that for-profit educational management organizations cannot satisfy the short-term expectations of shareholders while engaging in the painstaking, long-term task of education reform." By Editorial, Boston Globe, August 20, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes