Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
January 16, 2003

Design and Reusability of Learning Objects in an Academic Context: A New Economy of Education? If you missed it when I posted it on this site, the USDLA Journal has published the text of the talk I gave in Milan. This paper brings together a number of themes expressed in my recent work: current trends in learning object repositories, problems with those trends, principles that lead to a better approach, and an outline of that approach. By Stephen Downes, USDLA Journal, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Blogs Refine Enterprise Focus All you really need to publish a blog is a website, a text editor and an FTP server for uploads. If you want to splurge, you can spend $50 and get a blogging tool. But I've already seen "enterprise weblog solutions" selling for $50,000 and more. This article doesn't list them: it's just a part of the background buzz intended to be read by executives to create demand. My advice? Don't buy large, centralized and "secure" enterprise blogging software. Encourage employees to develop a distributed and grass-roots approach to blogging. That way, it won't hardly cost you a dime, and you'll get a much better product. By Cathleen Moore, InfoWorld, January 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

In Praise of the Purple Cow This item doesn't have a lot to do with e-learning, but it has been making the rounds of e-learning lists and with good reason. The basic message is simple: if you want to be successful with your product, do something different and useful. Stand out from the crowd. Be innovative. Do things that "just aren't done" in your field or your organization. We have seen venture after venture in e-learning fail precisely because they are following the rules. But what will be successful will be the initiative that breaks the rules, the initiative that stares the big universities and the big companies in the face and laughs. By Seth Godin, Fast Company, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Sleeping With the Enemy? This author is concerned that senior managers are beginning to "talk nonsense" about commercial journal publishers in public meetings. "Like most individuals and organisations on the planet we need other people to help us along the way, and commercial publishers provide libraries with services that we should value, not disparage." So what are these services? Circulation statistics from electronic collections. The "cost of an electronic archive, and the systems needed to support e-journal access." And finally, marketing and promotion. Oh yeah, that's worth hundreds of thousands a year! Well, it would be if I couldn't get exactly the same thing with a free Apache server, a thousand dollar computer, and an internet connection for a few hundred a month. Give me a break. Most of the costs cited by publishers of electronic archives have nothing to do with distributing content and everything to do with security and account processing, things that are necessary only because of the fee-based subscription model endorsed by those very publishers providing the service. By Philip Calvert, Emerald Library Link, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Exposing Information Resources for E-learning - Harvesting and Searching IMS metadata Using the OAI Protocol for Metadata Harvesting and Z39.50 Nice technical document that I wish people working on development in a large national learning object initiative (which will go nameless, to protect the guilty) would read. Especially, what they should read is the ease and simplicity with which academic resouces and learning objects can be represented within the context of the same metadata harvesting system, in this case, the Open Archives Initiative. By Steve Richardson and Andy Powell, Ariadne, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Sharing History of Science and Medicine Gateway Metadata Using OAI-PMH After a fairly standard description of the Open Archives Initiative, metadata harvesting and RSS, the author provides an insightful list of some of the problems and issues involved in setting up a repository. The major issues: staff time overhead (especially for categorization, which is a silly waste of time); copyright; different information formats; and collection development. By David Little, Ariadne, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Taproots for a New Century: Tapping the Best of Traditional and Progressive Education The author tries to find a common ground between the "intertwined taproots" of conservative and progressive approaches to education, presenting a set of ten commandments on two tablets (one conservative, the other progressive). "Traditionalists," he writes, "need to stop ridiculing progressives as anti-intellectual bleeding hearts, and progressives need to stop deriding traditionalists as pedantic, insensitive crushers of freedom." I think there's some merit to the ten points listed, but the author's approach will satisfy neither adherent, since what they oppose is precisely what is not listed on the other's tablet, and what they support is precisely what this compromise will not give them. To pick one example: I have no particular issue with the need to keep the disciplines separate, as the author suggests, but when the list of disciplines to be "kept holy" does not include, say, critical thinking and reflection, it gets my dander up. Sure, keep the disciplines holy: but which disciplines? Therein lies the rub. By David B. Ackerman, Phi Delta Kappan, January 2, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Cocoon Following up from some of the work I'm doing in Edmonton this week: readers may be interested in this Apache project called "Cocoon." The purpose of Cocoon is to provide XML data handling capacities. Based on a "pipeline" model, it takes web content expressed in XML and provides output in a variety of formats, including HTML, PDF and RTF (to name only a few). Cocoon also supports XML data handling and search capacities. I conducted a search yesterday and found a few resources (there aren't many). There are three books on the subject; I had a look at all three and settled on the one by Matthew Langham and Carstebn Ziegeler and published by New Riders. The Cocoon Wiki is also a great source of infomation. By Various Authors, Apache Software Foundation, January, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Power Lines Promising for Internet Expansion The use of power lines to supply broadband internet access may represent another leap forward for connectivity. According to this article, the engineering problems have been solved and we are waiting only for regulatory approval and business models. By Associated Press, Globe and Mail, January 16, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Supreme Court Endorses Copyright Theft Readers of my most recent article will not be surprised to read that my reaction to the Supreme Court's decision to allow extended copyright terms is exactly the same as this author's: "Swipe a CD from a record store and you'll get arrested. But when Congress authorizes the entertainment industry to steal from you -- well, that's the American way. We learned as much on Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress can repeatedly extend copyright terms, as it did most recently in 1998 when it added 20 years to the terms for new and existing works. The law, a brazen heist, was called the Copyright Term Extension Act. It was better known as the Sonny Bono act, so named after its chief sponsor even though Disney and other giant media corporations were the money and muscle behind it. Who got robbed? You did. I did." By Dan Gillmor, San Jose Mercury News, January 15, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Silent Five More reaction today to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the copyright extension act. My own take is just what it was at the beginning of the hearing: the danger with taking a legalistic approach to such issues is that you are forced to rely on the law as it is written, and if the law contains inherent injustices, then these will be reflected in the court's decision. That's the case here. Nothing in law prevents the U.S. Legislature from extending the terms in response to political pressure, so the court ruled (rationally) that they could. Whether it is right or wrong to extend the term is something the court couldn't - and shouldn't - consider. By Lawrence Lessig, Lessig Blog, January 16, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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