Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
September 23, 2002

Live from Online Learning 2002 I had a great meeting with Jay Cross yesterday evening at the Canadian reception at Online Learning 2002 (I link here to Jay's blog of the conference). It was a great start to what has thus far been a disappointing conference. There is no wireless access available (so much for being leading edge!). Confused delegates find themselves standing to access the net from the bank of computers provided (I guess if you don't provide chairs people won't use the computers for as long - ah, the return of customer centered conferencing). And because of registration problems I have been restricted to the trade show floor. There, vendors vie with increasingly overt sales tactics as the few delegates rattle through the large room like peas in a tin can. There is an air of desperation in the air as the Sun magician tries to outdraw the Docent yo-yo artists and as the staff at each booth begin to realize that they've reached the end of the line: the LMS market is saturated, nobody is doing anything new, and you still can't get a coffee after three. More, much more, to come when I wrangle better access... By Various Desperate Vendors, September 23, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Spam: Out of Control I woke up this morning to a barrage of spam. I found myself deleting twenty or so email message (many of which were offensive to even my fairly liberal sensibilities) before encountering the first item of worth. Using the worst software in the world (Microsoft Outlook), deleting spam is a tedious and time-consuming affair. And it is getting worse, as the daily deluge increases by a dozen messages a day. "Brightmail, which detected under 700,000 unique spam attacks in March 2001, counted over 5 million in August 2002." This series of articles looks at the impact of spam and what it's going to cost us to get rid of it - not just in terms of money, but also in terms of the free flow of information. By Various Authors, ZD Net, September 19, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Internet, Epistemology and Ontology Information on the internet is not physical. But it is not merely virtual, either. The email message, "Dinner is at eight. Don't be late," connotes a real state of affairs, not a merely imaginary realm. "It seems to be a third basic ontological kind," asserts the author. If you can hack through the dense jargon in this article (normal people don't use the word "axiological" when they mean "ethical") you are rewarded with a sense that some underlying philosophical assumptions about the nature of existence, reality and morality are being rewritten by this half-way state of existence. By Dave Boersema, Journal of Education, Community and Values, August, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Schools in Quebec Use Linux If you are considering the deployment of Linux in your schools to lower IT costs and free up funds for instruction and other frills, then you may want to contact the Commission scolaire des Hauts-Cantons where the 'Linux en classe' (“Linux in the Classroom”), the project has benefited 500 young users in four schools so far. By Sophie Vandeputte, European Schoolnet News, September, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Questions Arise Over Laptops' Use as Learning Tool Criticism of Maine's one month old laptop program comes by way of Israel where a similar 1994 program, according to the authors, failed to generate any improvement in test scores. Leaving aside the state of laptop technology in 1994, what seems to be mising from this article is any reference to Israel's significant technological growth over the last decade as dozens of online companies have made a global mark (the one that springs most readily to mind is ICQ, the company that invented instant messaging). Of course, none of the skills and attitudes needed to generate such a boom would be detected in standardized tests. But the result is undeniable. So does the problem lie in the laptop program, or in the way it was evaluated? By Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe, September 22, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Obstacles Limit Online Classrooms This article looks at some of the difficulties surrounding the use of online classrooms. But it misses the most significant problem. Look at this story from the article: Most of the students send instant text messages to Franke saying they understand. But a red line appears on one student's name. He's raising his hand electronically. Franke clicks on the boy's name, giving him a chance to speak to his teacher and classmates.'I know you just went over this,' said the youth. 'But I would like it explained one more time.'" Sounds great, right? But now what is the rest of the class doing? Do the people who already understood sit twiddling their thumbs online while the instructor explains it one more time? No, of course not. They're probably gaming somewhere. Or chatting via IM. A good model for learning? Hardly. By John Welsh, Minneapolis Pioneer Press, September 23, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learn for free online As the deadline approaches for the publication of the first group of MIT`s free online courses (slated for September 30) news coverage about the implications of the move is heating up. This BBC article provides a background and overview of the MIT initiative. By Unknown, BBC News, September 23, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Google News Google has just relaunched its online news service (probably a bit sooner than intended after screen shots were released on some outlets last week). It is an impressive debut, with news up to the minute from hundreds of sources around the world. This is what any news site could have done but (because they thought that the brand was more important than the product) they all failed to do. Here is the lesson: there is now no longer any need to go to a newspaper home page; Google will give you the best overall picture there is. So: if you are a learning services provider, do you continue to plug away at making your own offering the site of choice, or do you prepare for the day when there is a single network linking all similar educational offerings (hint: it`s not the former). By Various Authors, Google, September 23, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright © 2002 Stephen Downes