By Stephen Downes
April 7, 2005

Responding to Faculty Anxiety about Online Learning
I'll begin today's newsletter with a mea culpa and criticism of an item I ran yesterday. First, the author of Why Online Teaching Turned Me Off, Susan Sharpe, is obviously not male, as I implied in my summary. That said, the author of this item, Martha Burtis, also found my listing "generally too dismissive" and adds, "I'm not sure we are yet at the point where we can refer to the traditional, face-to-face classroom experience as the 'dark ages.'" By Martha Burtis, The Fish Wrapper, April 7, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Opposition Mounts to OMA DRM Patent Licensing Scheme
As this story notes, "Opposition to MPEG-LA's patent licensing pool for implementers of the OMA DRM 1.0 standard is mounting, as trade associations in the mobile industry and academic researchers have begun formally expressing concerns about it." Some of the opposition was to be expected, the article written by proponents of the Open Digital Rights Language. But the more staid GSM Association goes even further and "implies that any royalties on DRM patents are unacceptable." The last paragraph of this article is very misleading and should be, in my view, disregarded. By Bill Rosenblatt, DRM Watch, April 4, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Duke Puts Restrictions on Free iPod Program
Results are in from the Duke iPod experiment and while the devices will be used again next year, things will be different. This year the university handed out the devices to all students; next year they will be handed out only to students enrolled in courses that will use them. And to judge from this year, that means very few students will be getting them: "In its roster of more than 1,000 courses, Duke has only fully integrated the iPod into the coursework of 16 that's 1.6 per cent of classes." By Ina Fried, CNet News.com, April 6, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Blackboard vs. Moodle: A Comparison of Satisfaction
Seb Schmoller sent along this link to a site offering a detailed comparison between Blackboard and Moodle. The authors ask, "Can free software satisfactorily meet the needs of students, faculty, and instructional technologists for online teaching and learning?" And, according to this study, Moodle performs as well as, if not better than, Blackboard. By Kathy D. Munoz and Joan Van Duzer, Humboldt State University, February 15, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

The Case for Creative Commons Textbooks
This is a crime, isn't it? "University of California students now spend 40 percent more on textbooks than they did six years ago." This tells us what to expect from commercial publishers of educational content. This is, as the author argues, reason enough for an Open Textbook project, "the idea of establishing a global coalition... that would acquire and distribute high quality creative commons content that could be used in any of the following combinations: a) as the basis of an online course, b) as an electronic textbook, or c) as a customized printed textbook for use in a traditional college course." By Fred M. Beshears, CETIS, April 7, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

A Billion Essays
Technorati this week passed the one billion link mark, a number that causes databases to groan and commentators to stare in awe. Will Richardson: "One. Billion. Pieces of Writing. You can't deny the power of that." 8,586 of those are mine - the total number of OLDaily posts. Edu_RSS, meanwhile, has just passed the 90,000 link mark. Richardson writes, "Douglas Rushkoff calls it the "Society of Authorship" this new era that we are entering, and I like that phrase a lot. But I also like Sun Microsystems' CEO Jonathan Schwartz's description too: "The Participation Age." By Will Richardson, Weblogg-Ed, April 7, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learning to Play to Learn - Lessons in Educational Game Design
"There is," notes Ip, citing an unnamed author, "a huge gap between game designers and educators in the understanding of issues in 'using games' in education." Educators are captivated by the fancy graphics and stimulating audio. But "Good games integrate a number of complex elements (moments of decision-making, challenging goals, rewarding feedback, etc.) to create a fun play experience." By Albert Ip, Random Walk in E-Learning, April 7, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

F For Assessment
Blunt criticism of the standardized tests currently applied in U.S. schools: "in most instances these evaluations are inaccurate. That's because the standardized tests employed are flat-out wrong." Some of the tests, argue the author, are designed to elicit responses based on social profile rather than learning. "This kind of test tends to measure not what students have been taught in school but what they bring to school... they're unable to detect improved instruction in a school even when it has definitely taken place." By W. James Popham, Edutopia, April, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

From Student Work to Exemplary Educational Resources
Following a link on the EdResources mailing list I find the contents of the current issue of E-Learning - access, I guess, is normally restricted but appears to be open for a time at least (they should consider opening it permanently - the content is good and it seems a shame to lock it away from potential readers). I cite four articles from this issue, with the warning that access may be restricted at any time (so download a copy of the articles). In this first article the authors "describe in this article a way that student work can be systematically made available for use by others beyond the immediate learning context within which it is created." Good stuff. By James A. Levin, Nicholas C. Burbules and Bertram C. Bruce, E-Learning, April, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Children Online: Learning in a Virtual Community of Practice
After some preliminary discussion of the distinction between Wenger and Vygotskian theories of learning in communities, the author gets to the much more interesting discussion, "how these children are producing social capital and learning through the discursive and social practices of that community." What's interesting is that "children are learning that to be literate is to have power." And through a process of trial and error, shared negotiation and criticism, and a gradual increasing of skills, the community develops, and with it, the skills and abilities of the members. PDF. By Angela Thomas, E-Learning, April, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Can "Blended Learning" Be Redeemed?
After an extended discussion arguing that the term 'blended learning' is hollow, the authors argue that, rather than being abandoned, the term can be "redeemed" by interpreting it from the perspective of variation theory, "the idea that for learning to occur, variation must be experienced by the learner." Thus, "Blends of e-learning with other media may make it easier to help students experience the variation in the critical aspects of the topic being learnt." I am certainly in favour of diversity of experience. But it seems to me that blended learning is more about increasing the confort level of the experience for non-digital learners than it is about increasing diversity, and so this recasting has the air more of patina than redemption. PDF. By Martin Oliver and Keith Trigwell, E-Learning, April, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines
PDF. James Paul Gee asks, "How do good game designers manage to get new players to learn long, complex, and difficult games?" Here's how (quoted from the text):
- Learners feel like active agents (producers) not just passive recipients (consumers).
- Different styles of learning work better for different people.
- People take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested.
- They can manipulate powerful tools in intricate ways that extend their area of effectiveness.
- Early problems are designed to lead players to form good guesses about how to proceed when they face harder problems later on.
- Challenges feel hard, but doable. Learners feel - and get evidence - that their effort is paying off.
- Repeated cycles of learners practicing skills until they are nearly automatic, then having those skills fail in ways that cause the learners to have to think again and learn anew.
- Give verbal information just in time and on demand
- Create simplified systems, stressing a few key variables and their interactions.
- Risks and dangers greatly mitigated (one of the worst problems with school: it's too risky and punishing).
- See the skills first and foremost as a strategy for accomplishing a goal and only secondarily as a set of discrete skills.
- People learn skills, strategies, and ideas best when they see how they fit into an overall larger system to which they give meaning.
- Make the meanings of words and concepts clear through experiences the player has and activities the player carries out.
There isn't one principle here that I would disagree with in any great measure, and indeed, I find these principles definitive not merely of game-based learning but also of network learning. By James Paul Gee, E-Learning, April, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2005 Stephen Downes
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