By Stephen Downes
September 25, 2003

The Digital Imprimatur
On a bright sping day in 1995 as I was surfing around the new world that was the web, I encountered a page with a simple message: "Something wonderful is going to happen!" The sentence is from Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End and is the harbinger (in the book) of the evolution of humanity into a new, enlightened age. The web page author's intent was to say the same thing about today's human, the web being the vehicle through which this global revolution would happen. That was eight years ago. This is today: "...a road map of precisely how I believe that could be done, potentially setting the stage for an authoritarian political and intellectual dark age global in scope and self-perpetuating, a disempowerment of the individual which extinguishes the very innovation and diversity of thought which have brought down so many tyrannies in the past." Me, I still cling, hoping against hope, to the "something wonderful is going to happen" meme, an idea that is increasingly difficult to justify. I believe that the internet could usher in a global renaissance, if we would only let it. Ah, if we could only let it. By John Walker, September 14, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Recombo CORE Catalog
Recombo has launched a course catalogue of LMS compmpatible courses. From the press release: "The catalog features more than 1,000 courses from leading publishers with each course tested for integration on leading learning management systems." No RSS feeds to allow a wider distribution, no easy way for smaller providers to get their content listed. I don't see what the advantage is here, either for purchaser or vendor, unless you're already well entrenched in the LMS and commercial content market. By Press Release, Recombo, September 23, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learning Objects: Contexts and Connections
Sometimes you ask for the cool thing and the cool thing happens. The individual chapters from Learning Objects: Contexts and Connections are now available; look under the authors' names in the left hand column. Thanks to Catherine M. Gynn. By Various Authors, TELR Research, September 25, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

She Says She's No Music Pirate. No Snoop Fan, Either
The RIAA lawsuit against Sarah Ward has been withdrawn. Just as well, since Ward's computer, a Macintosh, cannot even run Kazaa, the program she is accused of using. Despite this, the RIAA admits no error and reserves the right to sue again. I'll let U.S. Senator Sam Brownback take it from here (hyperlinks from Copyfight): "This revelation challenges the testimony of the RIAA at the hearing, and shows that the subpoena process includes no due process for ISP subscribers' accused of digital piracy. Due process, if it existed within the DMCA subpoena process, would provide accused pirates identified through the subpoena with the critical opportunity to rebut accusations of piracy and prevent the release of their identifying information to accusers." Copyfight continues, "Not long ago our Professor Felten made an important point about the DMCA subpoena process--specifically, its enormous potential for abuse. Said Ed, 'Of course, big copyright owners aren't the only people allowed to use subpoena-bots. Virtually everything that anybody writes is copyrighted, so this subpoena power is available to every writer or artist, even down to the humblest newbie blogger. Want to know who that anonymous critic is? No problem; send your subpoena-bots after them.'" By John Schwartz, New York Times, September 25, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Skype Hype Is Tripe
Greg Ritter offers some comments about my recent comparison between Skype, the free VoIP software being distributed by Kazaa, and the VoIP system being installed at Dartmouth. He writes, "Stephen and the bazillion other people writing about Skype and Dartmouth are conflating computer-to-computer VoIP with real internet telephony... Skype's VoIP is not Internet telephony. What the Dartmouth system has, that Skype does not, is an interface between the IP network and the dedicated circuit telephone network." Ritter also suggests that Skype will, at some point, connect to the ancient and overpriced traditional telephone network, and that's when "Skype ceases to be free." Well maybe - it may cost a Skype user to connect to the older system, but there is no reason to levy a fee for an IP-to-IP call. And Skype - now sitting at more than 800,000 downloads - is gaining market share even without this feature. And you do not need to, as Ritter suggests, be "tied to the computer (and a Windows computer at that) and limited to computer-to-computer calls" - IP telephony functionality can easily be added to any of a number of mobile internet devices. By Greg Ritter, Ten Reasons Why, September 25, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Canadian Hailed as Father of PC
From the 'setting the record straight' department: although most people credit the American company Apple with having invented the PC, the MCM-70 Microcomputer, developed by Canadian Mers Kutt 30 years ago, four years before the Apple, has been recognized as the first PC by the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Kutt on the long overdue recognition: "There are many reason why this is great. I think in Canada, if anybody gets recognized for something they did, it's good. In some fields - and computers is one of them - we haven't done a lot to acknowledge what has been done. We're all proud of having done it. We definitely knew we were doing something that was just a total breakthrough and that nothing else had been accomplished like that. There's a lot of people out there, and I won't mention the companies, but they write articles about themselves having built it. In Canada, we don't really look for big acknowledgments unless they sort of come your way. This was a bit of a fluke the way it all happened." By Caroline Alphonso, Globe and Mail, September 25, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Network Analysis of Knowledge Construction in Asynchronous Learning Networks
So anyhow, James Farmer wrote a bit on the structure of communication in personal publishing, I passed along some links to copnnectionism, James pondered this a bit, and Lindon commented, "I think you should just call it 'Social Publishing' and be done with it." Social publishing, social networking: this is all a topic of numerous recent studies, including the excellent analysis I cite here. The point of the paper is to test whether "it follows that different design characteristics of online discussion groups result in significant differences in network structures leading to different phases of critical thinking" and the quality of the social network analysis is as good as I have seen.

But now. The Network Analysis takes two major approaches. On the one hand, it studies the message content, the sharing and comparing of knowledge, disagreements, synthesis via negotiating meaning, testing of hypotheses, proofs and admissions of change of knowledge. On the other hand, it studies the social network: the relations between actors, the power relations, time lags, and cohesion. It should be clear that we have two different things here: the former, a semantic network, and the latter, a social network. The hypothesis, a constructivist principle, is that "knowledge is constructed cooperatively through social negotiation." So one would expect that the dynamics of the social network would be reflected in the (emergent) semantic network.

That's what this study tests: whether "A marked difference in the design of ALNs is associated with marked distinctions in the cohesion, role and power structures." And it concludes that such an association exists. But as the authors argue, "we cannot tell which of the design characteristics is the primary factor in the dynamics of the ALN. Is it the goals? The strict 'rules of the game'? The reward?" Moreover, this association almost certainly varies with the experience of the participants: a designed network structure is less necessary for experienced networkers (which is which 'ice-breakers' and similar games are so inappropriate for meetings among seasoned professionals).

Just as in logic, there is a distinction to be drawn between the syntax of an argument and the semantics of the same discourse, there is also a similar distinction to be drawn in the field of networking generally, between social (or syntactical) networking, that addresses the structure of the network, and semantical networking, that addresses the exchange of meaning (not content) in the network. By Reuven Aviv, Zippy Erlich, Gilad Ravid andAviva Geva, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, September, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Teaching Courses Online: How Much Time Does It Take?
Everyone knows that it takes a lot of time to teach online, but just how much time is that, really? That's what this study proposes to answer, and the answer is: "between 3 ½ and 7 hours per week" for classes of 25 students. "Participating in and grading the online discussions takes the greatest amount of time, however, the discussions show that the students posted 4 to 5 times as many messages as the instructor." Now this study was conducted of students in the 1999-2000 school year and was just published, leading me to ask: what took so long? Seriously, why would it take three years to compile and publish such a report? It seems to me that with the rapid pace of change, such data, at one time useful, is today hopelessly out of date. By Belinda Davis Lazarus, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, September, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Studios Moving to Block Piracy of Films Online
More coverage of the film industry's efforts to extend its propaganda campaign to the classroom (I wish I could get my propaganda campaigns into the classroom). "As early as next month the industry will begin promoting a 'stealing is bad' message in schools, teaming up with Junior Achievement on an hourlong class for fifth through ninth graders on the history of copyright law and the evils of online file sharing. The effort includes games like Starving Artist, in which students pretend to be musicians whose work is downloaded free from the Internet, and a crossword puzzle called Surfing for Trouble." With all the angst about school achievement recently, do you think these sorts of political games are the best use of students' time? By Laura M. Holson, New York Times, September 25, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Answering Vestigal Questions
The corporate presentations take a beating at the hands of Jay Cross as he continues his coverage of Online Learning 03. At the conclusion of one presentation he asks, "Why does a learning company set itself up for failure like this?" Another presentation is described as "boring, useless, and content-free." And he ponders the rapid decline of companies in the space. By Jay Cross, Internet Time Blog, September 24, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Potential of Personal Publishing in Education I: What’s Doing & Who's Doing It?
A disappointingly short article, but contains a number of useful links to actual examples of people using weblogging in learning. By James Farmer, Xplana, September 25, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Brains Can Have Wireless Upgrades: Scientist
Via Robin Good, this article offers the tantilizing possibility of connecting a wireless network to the brain. "This will enable direct mind-to-mind and mind-to-machine communications, claimed University of Reading cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick, who specializes in artificial intelligence and robotics. He is best known for his work in cybernetics, the study of control systems, especially systems that blend human nerves with electronic networks." Naturally scepticism abounds... but the central question isn't whether this will happen - it will, eventually - but rather, what happens when it does. By Lynn Tan, CNet news.Com, September 23, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

EU Software Patent Plan Gets Thumbs Up
The European Parliament has approved patents for software over the objections of critics, but with amendments that soften its impact. By Matthew Broersma, CNet News.com, September 24, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Know a friend who might enjoy this newsletter?

Feel free to forward OLDaily to your colleagues. If you received this issue from a friend and would like a free subscription of your own, you can join our mailing list at http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/website/subscribe.cgi

[ About This NewsLetter] [ OLDaily Archives] [ Send me your comments]

Copyright © 2003 Stephen Downes
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.