By Stephen Downes
March 26, 2004

A People, Once Liberated...
I hesitate to pass this along, because it expresses more emotion than content. In DEOS, Steve Eskow has been on a month long rail against the detrimental effects of what he calls the commercialization of learning - which, it seems to me, he believes includes any use of technology or non-traditional pedagogy. In response to this post, in which he stresses "the need to protect from destruction and disappearance those aspects of the present order that were valuable" (i.e., traditional classroom based teacher-led learning), I express not only my feelings but also some anger at the expression of a view which dismisses, in my view, the legitimate aspirations of those seeking access to higher education.

My view, which I express with some force in this article, is that this type of clinging to the traditional model will have exactly the wrong effect; it will accelerate the increasing inaccessibility we see today. Classroom teaching, even if supported with technology, will not scale. If we are to provide access to all, we must abandon the idea that education is something that is done for us and support the idea that it is something we can do for ourselves. That's why we need technology in learning.

New technology, used to support new approaches to learning, is akin to the replacement of scriptoriums by literacy. Just as we no longer need people to read and write for us, we will, in the future, no longer require people to teach for us. The technology should - and will, because people demand it - allow us to teach ourselves. But clinging to the traditional model - in which writing is still done in scriptoriums (albeit, with ballpoint pens and laser printers) is to show a casual disregard for the needs and aspirations of people who not only benefit from writing, but are liberated by it.

In the process of mostly misunderstanding my argument (for which I shoulder the responsibility) as a class-based personal attack, Eskow nonetheless calls it a "remarkable document" in his reply. Yet when he talks about the "scholars who provide the instruction" that we must all (even in the internet age) depend on, and when asks, "what do we do to protect the unwary or the unscrupulous and their employers from the seductions of the instant 'universities'," he shows that he still hasn't seen the other side. Who cares whether there are fake universities or commercial education models in an era when we no longer need universities? It's like asking how we will protect the easily fooled from bad handwriting or commercial printing after the monopoly of the scriptorium has ended. By Stephen Downes, Stephen's Web, March 25, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

U.S. Online Gambling Policy Violates Law, W.T.O. Rules
American legislation banning overseas online casinos is illegal, the World Trade Organization has ruled. As this article notes, the ruling "has ignited a political, cultural and legal tinderbox" that will have repercussions well beyond the field of online gambling. For example, what would the WTO make of legislation (including accreditation legislation) that favours a certain country's online or offline universities? By Matt Richtel, New York Times, March 26, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Shareable State Persistence
IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc. has released the IMS Shareable State Persistence v1.0 Public Draft Specification. The idea here is that if you have state information in a content object - for example, the number of the last page a reader was looking at - and you need to store it somewhere, then you need a mechanism for knowing where you've stored it. This is important when multiple systems work together. A flight simulator, for example, may record the current location of an aircraft. If this information were discoverable, then a second flight simulator could find information stored by the first flight simulator and add this information into its own display. The way it works is that when a content object connects with a learning management system, it is given a "bucket" in which to store this information. The specification deals with identifying buckets and how to store information in them. The documentation is very clear; the Best Practices document, for example, gives you no context whatsoever. Begin with the fourth document (IMS Shareable State Persistence SCORM Application Profile) before trying to decode the remaining three. IMS is open for comments on this until May 26. By Various Authors, IMS, Maych 26, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Nanniebots: Hoax, Fraud, or Delusion?
A few days ago I ran coverage of a story, first covered in New Scientist, about ChatNannies, conversational robots designed to counter pedophiles in chat rooms. It was fun to speculate for a bit, but now this article (and various others) suggest that the software is an elaborate hoax. This discussion is more fun than most, not only for the wide ranging accusations of holocaust denial and gunplay scattered amidst the discussions of AI syntax parsing, but because the program's author, Jim Wightman, appears in mid-discussion and begins shooting back at his critics. And you thought user interface design was boring! By Andrew Baio, Waxy.Org, March 23, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic Maps!
Good article that takes the time to clearly explain concepts like taxonomies and ontologies before going on to a more extended discussion of topic maps and their relation to metadata. The examples are clearly laid out, however, the author should use examples from a different domain of discussion than the paper itself, because it becomes too easy to confuse the current discussion with the example. By Lars Marius Garshol, Ontopia, March, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Knowledge Communities in Japan: A Case Study
Via elearningpost comes this case study of the building of knowledge communities in Japan. The major finding seems to be that the building of nickname based informal communication systems can exist side-by-side with more formal face-to-face communities. "Use of multiple identities such as handle-name on internet had been considered incompatible with Japanese traditional culture for a long time. However, it is being gradually accepted in business community that the use of a nickname enables employees to exchange knowledge more easily, irrespective of organizational hierarchy. Interestingly, use of nickname revived altruism, another Japanese tradition of collectivism, in the new form." By Hideo Yamazaki, Knowledge Board, March 10, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Human Factor
It would be easy to miss the message in this article, which is not merely that 'simple is better' - but even if it is true that everything good is simple (which isn't really the case) it by no means follows that everything that is simple is good. It's not merely about finding the application, or interface, or design, that is simple, but also one that addresses the genuine needs of the user. Via elearningpost. By Q, Optimize, March, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Collection of National Copyright Laws Now Online
Like the website says, "Full texts of national copyright and related rights legislation of UNESCO Member States can now be accessed on the website of UNESCO's Culture Sector. The collection currently comprises about 100 laws and is constantly being updated and completed." By Various Authors, UNESCO, March 25, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2004 Stephen Downes
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