Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
August 20, 2004

Instructional Technology Institute
I will be giving a keynote at this conference the first few days of September hosted by David Wiley (who I'm looking forward to finally meeting) in Logan, Utah. Looks like a great program, opening the first day with a talk by Lawrence Lessig. The complete program is available in PDF at this blog post; if you're able to get to the conference, I'd recommend it. By David Wiley,, August, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Some Clarifications About the Commonwealth List
Glenn O. Brown responds to the criticisms of the Creative Commonwealth proposal highlighted in this space (and echoed by a number of commentators) last Wednesday. His first point is that "It is never a foregone conclusion that a project in discussion will be adopted by Creative Commons." This gives me some hope. Moreover, he argues, commercialization in Creative Commons will "never extend beyond facilitating what, say, the folks at Magnatune are doing: helping authors declare 'some rights reserved,' then to charge, if they want to, for uses of those reserved rights." But herein lies the problem: it allows the producers of commercial work to represent them as non-commercial. Is this something the Creative Commons community wants? I sincerely doubt it. And so the debate begins. By Glenn O. Brown, Creative Commons, August 20, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Design Elements of Web-Based Learning Environments
The August edition of the International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning is now out. I include three items. This first item is a fairly straight-forward outline of the elements of an online course as can be found in the literature. When reading this, contrast it with the iLEARN example a couple of links down. The heart of this model is the tutorial. But it seems to me that the heart of the iLEARN model would be the student. By Alaa Sadik, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, August 20, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Distinctive Features of Computer-Mediated Bulletin Board Discussions
Reports on a study of online communications in university courses. "Five distinctive features of the asynchronous discussions were identified as a result of analysis of the discussion transcripts: references to personal experience, interaction, logical argument, multiple perspectives, and the expression of opinion." Consequently, argue the authors, "to take full advantage of this convergence of oral disputation and linear argument on the bulletin board, it is recommended that controversial topics be deliberately introduced into the discussion." By Peter A. Theodore and Wayne A. Nelson, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, August 20, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Pedagogical Design Strategy for Effective Technology-Based Learning: iLEARN Model
I like this approach: "Constructing learning space is like architecture. Building knowledge foundation, networking for energy and motivation, facilitating designs according to educational landscapes, selecting the best quality materials, drawing blueprints of guidelines, extending the use of space with a pedagogical scaffolding process, and applying the art of design are what the successful education architect must be prepared to do." The iLEARN model, described in this paper, is composed of the instrument (the role, the design, and the use of technology), the lead, the environment, the activities, resources and network. By Ju-Ling Shih, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, August 20, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Messenger Taps Social Nets
This is being protrayed as an enterprise story but the technique could - and should - be applied to personal learning. Basically, the idea is that you belong to a social network, and can contact the members by instant messenger. If you send a question to your network, the system examines the profiles of the members and sends it to the person most likely to have the answer. "Besides letting a user input his expertise and interests manually, SWIM can automatically mine a user's homepage and browser bookmarks to construct a keyword vector to represent the user's information identity." Via elearningpost. By Kimberly Patch, Technology Research News, July 21, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Welcome to VideoPaper Builder 2
This interesting item came through DLORN from MERLOT (I would observe that the definition of learning objects being collected by these systems is very loose indeed). "VPB2 imports hypertext (HTML text), image, and video files, and assists the user in synchronizing these files as a sing le user-navigated multimedia web document. VideoPaper Builder 2 generates menus, links, framesets and slide shows, and organizes the imported files as an HTML coded document viewable in a web browser. Videopapers can be published in CD-ROM or posted on the Internet." I tried viewing some of the results, and while the two short demos provided on-site don't impress, better (though very large) examples can also be found. By Seeing Math Telecommunications Project, Concord Consortium, August, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Moodle Meanderings
Overview of Moodle, the open source learning management system. The author liked the importance assigned to discussion, the constructivist design approach, and the support for syndication. Criticisms included the observation that "All Moodle sites tend to look the same," lack of support for IMS, and the scarcity of documentation. By Derek Morrison, Auricle, August 20, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Systemic-Structural Theory of Activity (SSTA)
Overview of this variant of Activity Theory with an explanation, diagrams, and links to a large number of academic papers. "During task performance, the object-oriented and subject-oriented aspects of activity continuously transform into one another. The object is that which is modified and explored by a subject according to the goal of activity." This page is part of a larger research site maintained by Steve Harris (who should have a blog). By Steve Harris, CASE - The Centre for Astronomy & Science Education, August, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

P2P Services in the Clear
A huge victory for file sharing. "Peer-to-peer file-sharing services Morpheus and Grokster are legal, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday." The article continues, "The decision is a blow for record labels and movie studios which sued the peer-to-peer operators claiming that the services should be held liable for the copyright infringement of their users." It is refreshing to see a court finally line up with reason. "History has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player," Thomas wrote. "Thus, it is prudent for courts to exercise caution before restructuring liability theories for the purpose of addressing specific market abuses, despite their apparent present magnitude." By Katie Dean, Wired News, August 19, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Boxing and the Cool Halls of Academe
Hockey is a lot like boxing - close enough that some wags say the two are indistinguishable - and if there are lessons to be learned in boxing, the same lessons are available to be learned in hockey. At any rate, like the author, many of my own life experiences were shaped in the arena, and while my hockey career was completely undistinguished, I would never have traded it for anything. We read from various writers that online leaning is deficient because it never puts the self at risk, because cause and consequence are inextricably tied to the body. Maybe (though I doubt it). But I have never claimed that online learning means being tied to a computer. I have always argued that the value of the medium is that it allows us to escape the classroom and live in the real world. Pierre Trudeau once said, "sports is everything." What he meant was, "living in the world is everything." Online learning extends our capacities so we can live in the world more effectively and more frequently. It frees us and gives us the ability to put ourselves "out there" in the world. By Gordon Marino, Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Language Barriers
When I was a child I learned that there were six colours in the spectrum. I even learned a little rhyme to help me remember. Red and orange, green and blue, shining yellow, purple too, all the colours that we know, live up in the rainbow. Somewhere along the line, someone added a colour: indigo. Ask me today what colour something is and I'll probably use one of the words in my rhyme. Indigo? Never use it, never even see it. Do I need the word for the colour to exist? Do I need to have learned the concept to distinguish indigo objects from others? This short article, unattributed but reading a lot like George Lakoff, suggests that concepts can exist even if the words don't. By Unattributed, The Economist, August 19, 2004 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

We the Media
If you're looking for a good week-end read, you won't go wrong with Dan Gillmor's We the Media. This site is a blog supporting the book; the entire book is available online in the left-hand column. Gillmor's book documents the transition from media as produced by large, centralized news agencies to news as produced by the people who read or view the news. "Once mere consumers of news, the audience is learning how to get a better, timelier report. It s also learning how to join the process of journalism, helping to create a massive conversation and, in some cases, doing a better job than the professionals." The lessons should be apparent to learning professionals. Right? By Dan Gillmor, August, 2004 [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

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

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