By Stephen Downes
March 18, 2005

Registry of Standard Biological Parts
I honestly don't know what to make of this (quite literally) but it is also the most amazing thing I've seen in a while. I don't completely understand it - the 'about' page is awful. The idea is to be able to define biological parts as sequences of DNA. There may be a software component - at one point it tried to send me what appeared to be a perl script. These parts are then assembled to create larger biological functions. It is all in support of the Intercollegiate Genetically Engineered Machine competition. One day somebody will write an intuitive interface (or at least a legible About page) and kids will be able to use these parts to create all manner of monsters. Virtual monsters, of course. By Various Authors, MIT, March, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Macromedia Announces Higher Education Advisory Council
According to the press release, "The council is a strategic Macromedia Education initiative designed to foster innovation in the design, development and implementation of communication and information technologies in higher education." The list of appointees is probably a part of a strategic initiative between Macromedia and MERLOT (Google the appointee names with MERLOT and you'll see what I mean), which in turn may mean a push toward Flash or similar learning objects in MERLOT, or perhaps a Flash-enabled MERLOT (a la Flickr). Via University Business. Probably a follow-up on this announcement from last October. More on Macromedia, MERLOT and WebCT. By Press Release, Macromedia, March 10, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Connecting the Dots
Entry-level discussion of recommender systems with some sample sites (such as Musicplasma.com, Music-map.com - neither of which really worked on my computer). The author sense the appeal of the systems, though, and correctly observes that adjectives (ie., metadata) are not needed in order to enable the system to work. "This novel, tech-enhanced way of discovering new CDs and movies seems no less accurate than our now slightly outmoded means of assessment: actual reviews." And interestingly, "Perhaps we’re heading in this direction because we haven’t got the time to read an article about a band we’ve never heard of." By Sarah Lazarovic, CBC, March 17, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Canadian Council on Learning
The Canadian Council on Learning, "a national, independent, not-for-profit corporation that is committed to improving learning across the country and across all walks of life," has launched its website. Not a lot of information yet, but a governance structure and organizational structure have been defined. A speech by president and CEO Paul Cappon is also available. CCL received $85 million in March of 2004 from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and announced its "knowledge centres" at a "Newsmaker Breakfast" last November. Business as usual. By Various Authors, Macrh, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Bringing Theory Into Practice
This is a pretty good slide show looking at aspects of learner-centered learning and in particular some properties of learning (learning is engaged, learning is social, learning is locally owned) and the evolving roles of students and instructors. One quibble. The author cites this from the Chronicle: "Giving professors gadgets without training can do more harm than good in the classroom." This may sound like common sense, but let's think about this. Professors are highly educated, as educated as any in society. They are not infants. Can professors not learn for themselves how to use a gadget? Instead of providing training each time a new gadget is introduced, we should be asking why professors learn for themselves, and address the cause, whether it lies in the gadget or in the professors. More from the NLII Spring Session. By Malcolm B. Brown , EDUCAUSE Resources, NLII Meetings, March, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Literature Review – Faculty Participation in Online Distance Education: Barriers and Motivators
The spring, 2005, edition of the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration is now available. I list three papers, beginning with this one. Good overview of some articles in this topic highlighted by a chart added as an appendix, though I wish the author had surveyed more papers and reports (thirteen are surveyed). Though the papers are surveyed are all over the map (which raises questions about methodology, since presumably they are studying the same subject) they cluster around two major points: lack of technological support, and lack of time. Of course, I phrase these differently: a need for better technology, and a need for a more efficient design and delivery process. By Loréal L. Maguire, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Spring, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Best Practices: A Triangulated Support Approach in Transitioning Faculty to Online Teaching
The triangle, in a sentence: "Successfully moving faculty to a new instructional paradigm requires the support of the department, faculty peers, and university support staff." the paper is a reasonable if conservative assessment of these three types of support. By David Covington, Donna Petherbridge and Sarah Egan Warren, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Spring, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Preparing Instructors for Quality Online Instruction
Some people will like this paper, which is why I'm including it, but I didn't. From where I sit, it's a classic case of drowning the reader through needless citations (do we need Volery (2000), for example, to tell us that "online delivery is a form of distributed learning enabled by the Internet?"). This close attention to citation comes at the cost of common sense. I see no correlation between holding a PhD and being a successful online instructor, but the authors state the need for this qualification. And while I agree training in WebCT should be more user friendly, I am puzzled as to why this criticism of a specific product appears in a general paper. And I find the suggestion that "Instructors need to take courses to better understand technology" to be ludicrous. By Yi Yang and Linda F. Cornelious, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Spring, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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