By Stephen Downes
July 21, 2005

A Networked, Media-Rich Programming Environment...
There's a lot here, but follow this line of thinking: imagine that there is a language, but instead of words, this language is made up of small computer programs called 'blocks'. Imagine that these blocks can be combined to express thoughts. And that they don't just have to be organized in a sequence, but can be set up in patterns, inserted into common appliances, used, indeed, anywhere we might use a word today. Imagine a network that allows people to automatically send and receive blocks in predefined configurations and places.

OK, this, or at least part of this, is the world of Scratch, a concept advanced by Mitchel Resnick and his colleagues. The blocks are available ready-made for kids, who in turn can arrange them (visually) to create larger functioning wholes. It is also the way I have always thought of learning objects, at least, before the publishing industry got a hold of them and made them like bits of a textbook. Scratch will be written in Squeak, an open-source implementation of the Smalltalk-80 language. I had always thought (and still think) they should be written in a form of XML (and to that end have been following developments in o:XML for the last year or so.

Still. Scratch is what I've always looked for in learning objects. Building-block programming. Programmable manipulation of rich media. Deep shareability. Seamless integration with the physical world. Support for multiple languages. And not a learning outcome or multiple-choice test in sight. And I have alwaqys thought of RSS and similar formats - aqnd the RSS content network, with associated formats, as being the medium in which a Scratch-type language would be spoken. By students to students.

Via Will Richardson, who offers more discussion and links. By Mitchel Resnick, Yasmin Kafai and John Maeda, BLC05, July, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Understanding the Greasemonkey Vulnerability
If you haven't heard, Greasmonkey - a Firefox extension that allows you to write DHTML scripts that apply on remote pages - was discovered to have a major vulnerability. Never exploited (it was discivewred by Greasmonkey developers themselves) it is nonetheless serious enough to require that all Greasemonkey users update immediately. This article explains the vulnerability - and gives you an idea just how complex client-side scripting can be. By Simon Willison, Simon Willison's Weblog, July 20, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Introducing IMS ePortfolio
Two parts (Part one, Part two) of a description of the IMS e-portfolio specification (a third part ios forthcoming), clearly written and offering a depth of understanding. And while I appreciate the explanation of how IMS creates specifications, I still think this is the wrong way to do it: "the whole process, from charter to final specification, can take place with (a) No actual implementations to test whether the spec works and (b) No initial submissions of existing implementations to start things off." Or as I've said of LOM, it was written by people who never had to parse the documents for a living. By Scott Wilson, Scott's Workblog, July 18-19, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Students Say High Schools Let Them Down
Well I may as well link to the new York Times article; everyone else has. I like Jeremy Hiebert's take: "What interests me about these kinds of articles is the lack of vision for what might work better -- usually the only idea is to raise standards and test more aggressively, but when are people going to realize that it's not working?" By Michael Janofsky, New York Times, July 16, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Persistent Identity (or not)
Nils Peterson looks at the question of persistent identity - picking up from my commentary on Catherine Howell's reply to Andrew Middleton. He asks, "how do I know that 'fratboy' on aol and 'cougar21' at Washington State University are the same individual?" Well, fair enough - and one would think that if 'fratboy' said "I am Nils Peterson" and 'cougar21' said "I am Nils Peterson" that this should be good enough. Or more to the point - as good as you're going to get. Importantly, "for each of a person's communities of discourse a different (but stable) identity might be workable, and also a way that multiple identities, with varying levels of persistence, can be woven together to provide a picture of a single individual across communities." By Nils Peterson, July 21, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

What Mean Ye Collaboration Tools?
Alan Levine and I will be joining Philip Long at the EDUCAUSE Seminars on Academic Computing (SAC) in a couple of weeks. We are jointly presenting a seminar on collaboration technologies. The idea is "more than just demmo-ing and gloating about the tools, what the interesting things done with them?" By Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, July 20, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Beyond the Horseless Carriage: Harnessing the potential of ICT in education and training
Written in April and released some time later (the first blog cite is from elearnopedia June 30, which I missed, and then just today in elearnspace - they should add RSS to this page), this paper, written by the CEO of education.au, is more important for the direction it signals than what it says. Citing observations that education has lagged in the adoption of thechnology, the author suggests that "a new theory of learning, to provide a pedagogical framework for the digital age which is based on connectedness, is required urgently." George Siemens's Connectivism, an approach I also support, is cited favorably in this regard. By Gerry White, education.au, April 4, 2005 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2005 Stephen Downes
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