Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
December 9, 2002

Teaching Timidity to Kids Last week I saw Michael Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine' and I've been thinking about it since. Among many other points, Moore suggests that Americans are being driven toward a culture of fear. Not that that's hard, these days. Moore suggests that there are racial overtone to this culture, but I think that the fear being packaged and sold is more general than that. This article is a good companion to Moore's interpretation. Like Moore, it says we are over-reacting to perceived dangers to ourselves and especially to our children. "Parents have always been concerned about their kids, but now they feel as if they're fighting a war and have no allies." I think that advertisers are in no small part willing purveyors of fear, knowing, as they do, that fear sells. Now what I wonder is what percentage of the demand for online learning, home schooling, charter schools, and other educational alternatives are driven by this sort of fear. I think there may be connection, at least, a partial one. Something to think about. By Laura Sessions Stepp, Washington Post, December 8, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Ten Taxonomy Myths Yes, you will read more in this newsletter about taxonomies (sometimes classified under the heading of 'ontologies'). If you are currently wrangling over some set of standardized taxonomies for your department or institution (and if you don't have time to read authors like Saul Kripke, W.V.O. Quine and George Lakoff to get a good grounding in the nuances of classification and naming), then at least read the highlighted yellow text in this article. It won't remedy all of your problems, but it will address some of the most common pitfalls. By Unknown, Montague Institute Review, November, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

LMS and LCMS: What's the Difference? I think eLearningPost contains the most cogent reaction to this article: "Wish we could get more case studies on how LMS and LCMS are being used rather than plain-vanilla writeups explaining the differences between them." Even more to the point, though: as you the lists of features for an LMS or an LCMS, ask yourself: do I need that functionality? For example, do you need a tool that contains a learning object repository (as opposed to, say, one that merely gives you access to one)? Do you need integration with HR? Content integration? Skills management? I stand by this: today's LMSs and LSMSs are foisting on buyers a lot of (expensive) functionality that is not needed. Give me a (free) web browser, as a learner, and I'm set for e-learning. The rest is administrative overhead (and we have a lot of nerve charging that back to the learner). By Leonard Greenberg, Learning Circuits, December 9, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Epistemological Foundations for CSCL: A Comparison of Three Models of Innovative Knowledge Communities CSCL (an acronym never defined in this paper) stands for 'Computer-supported Collaborative Learning.' The authors describe three models of CSCL based on three epistemological approaches to learning communities (such as the classroom). Of course, approaching the subject this way allows for many more models, as theories of knowledge are numerous. Perhaps the title should have been, 'Three Contemporary Models...' Anyhow, there is a nice chart about halfway through the paper comparing aspects of learning communities for each of the three models: a tacit knowledge based model, a practices based model, and an expertise based model. And I think the general approach - basing the design of learning community on epistemological foundations - is sound. Oh, hey, and the authors cite N.R. Hanson. By Sami Paavola, Lasse Lipponen, & Kai Hakkarainen, Epistemological Foundations for CSCL, Fall, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Email at Work This study is not going to be of any relief to those of you who think you are swamped with email. For according to the authors, you're in the minority. "Contrary to the perception that wired American workers are buried in email, the large majority of those who use email at work say their experience with email is manageable. They say they spend a modest amount of their typical workday reading and writing email. A portion of those emails probably replace telephone calls or faxes or traditional mail." By Deborah Fallows, Pew Internet & American Life Project, December 8, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Soul Searching Over Peer Review I think the central point of this article lies in the following observation: "Academia is playing a double game with journals. On the one hand, serious researchers know it doesn't necessarily mean anything, if a paper gets published. On the other hand, the promotion system and even the job market treat refereed publications as tangible achievements." As a result, "As a result, the career prospects of a scientist with scores of hack publications are far better than those of one who publishes a few quality papers." I think that until academics address this fundamental problem in the system, no prgress will be made in the field of scholarly publication. Which would be too bad. By Phil Surguy, National Post, December 2, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Democracy and Education: The Missing Link May Be Ours I am in the main sympathetic with the view expressed in this article. Wriotes, the author, "I am specifically asking researchers in the field of education to consider how greater public access to educational research is consistent with our understanding of what we do to foster education and further democratic participation." This goes beyond merely plastering our webistes with free content; it speaks to the politics of engagement and reflection. How can we have anything like a reasonable and rational population if all instances of reason and rationality are locked behind a firewall? By John Willinsky, Harvard Educational Review, Fall, 2002 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Countertop Chemistry Great recipes you can use to teach chemistry in the home, and most of them don't even explode. By Unknown, The Science House, Undated (2001) [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2002 Stephen Downes