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by Stephen Downes
July 31, 2008

State of Learning in Canada: Toward a Learning Future
An interesting report that states a lot of what might be expected and contains an unsurprising call for action. Among other things, the report states:
- all too often, the importance of child care as a vital precursor to formal learning is undervalued or unrecognized.
- informal learning makes an important contribution to later success.
- student debt load has more than doubled since 1990, representing an additional economic barrier to PSE participation.
- recognition of adults' prior learning and experience needs to be broadened.
- we can no longer afford to view the purpose of education and learning primarily as the preparation of young people for the labour market.
There's a lot to like in this report, and one would like to see some of the recommendations translated into policy, research and funding.

Here's the full report in PDF and here's the Executive Summary. But look also at the document titled What we've learned since 2007 - as I read it I recall thinking how clearly this shows that people like Ken DeRosa (see below) are full of hooey. We see clearly the effect of socio-economic status on learning, and we see clearly that non-educational interventions - such as improvements in health care, child care, and nutrition - have a significant impact on learning. Unattributed, Canadian Council on Learning, July 31, 2008 [Link] [Tags: , , , ] [Comment]

UK ISPs in Agreement with Content Industries On Illegal File-Sharing
UK ISPs have signed a ground-breaking deal to send "informative letters" to their customers found to be engaged in file sharing. Ground-breaking because this involves the ISPs somehow finding out what their customers are doing, which means snooping into the contents of files uploaded and downloaded (because a lot of legitimate content is also shared in the same way). Bill Jones, DRM Watch, July 31, 2008 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

Outsource Your Work with a Smile
This is very interesting. Michelle Lentz links to and summarizes New York Times coverage of Serebra Connect, an offshoot of Vancouver-based e-learning company Serebra Learning (formerly FirstClass Systems, with a name change in 2001). Buyers post a task - graphic art, PowerPoint slides, scripting and programming - and sellers, many of them former Serebra students from around the world - bid on the project. The coverage takes a "feel good about it" slant to the program, because the sellers are people working in developing nations around the world. And there is some element to that, I suppose - but let's be clear, when you're outsourcing something for a tenth of what it would cost you otherwise, altruism isn't exactly the dominant motive here. Also notable is the linkage between the training and the marketplace. "It's different from similar sites like Elance or, he said, because it is linked with classes, which gives students credibility when marketing their skills to potential buyers." It also explains why Serebra might think providing free online courses and exams to developing nations might be a good idea. Michelle Lentz, Write Technology, July 31, 2008 [Link] [Tags: , , ] [Comment]

Background Papers
Summaries of background papers provided by the 'Broader, BOLDER Approach to Education' education lobby in the United States. Without offering an endorsement, I will say that at least this much is true: "Successful programs do not exclusively focus on academic remediation. Rather, they provide disadvantaged children with the cultural, organizational, athletic, and academic enrichment activities that middle-class parents routinely make available to their own children."

The background documents have attracted what appears to be politically motivated criticism, for example, by Ken DeRosa, who suggests the research does not support the program goals. "What I find is a lot of observational studies that find various correlations... The causal jump is then assumed." DeRosa then raises, as an example, school lunch programs. "Actually, we do that already.... I'm confused." The criticism is capricious and malicious. The document does not once mention school lunches. And even if it did, there is significant room to argue that the $2.57 allocated per lunch is insufficient. But even so, school lunches - the sort of thing that (presumably) would be recommended by Broader Bolder, are - insofar as they go - a success. How this becomes a reason to criticize the strategy is a mystery. Various Authors, Broader, BOLDER Approach to Education, July 31, 2008 [Link] [Tags: , , , ] [Comment]

Leading Learning and New Skills
Summary of responses to some "leading questions" asked by Tony Karrer in last month's Big Question. Karrer basically asks whether e-learning professionals should become fluent in web 2.0 learning technologies, and whether they should be leading corporations in their adoption. Harold Jarche comes closest toi my own view: "Enabling learning is about being a learner yourself, sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm and then taking a back seat. In a flattened learning system there are fewer experts and more fellow learners on paths that may cross. With practice, one can become a guide who has already walked a path." Tony Karrer, eLearning Technology, July 31, 2008 [Link] [Tags: ] [Comment]

First It Was Downloads. Now It's Organic Chemistry.
The battle over digital copies of textbooks is just heating up. "College students may be the angriest group of captive customers to be found anywhere. Consider the cost of a legitimate copy of one of the textbooks listed at the Pirate Bay, John McMurry's 'Organic Chemistry.' A new copy has a list price of $209.95; discounted." Moreover, "Used book sales return nothing to publishers and authors. Digital publishing, however, offers textbook publishers a way to effectively destroy the secondary market for textbooks." Where the textbook conflict diverges from music downloads is that, in learning, students access a learning management system (LMS). I have no doubt that at least some LMS vendors are thinking of ways to enforce textbook purchases. Randall Stross, International Herald Tribune, July 31, 2008 [Link] [Tags: ] [Comment]

IMS Common Cartridge Specification
Just announced: "The documents and schemas comprising the Common Cartridge v1.0 specification have been released for public review and comment for a period of 60 days, closing on 2008 September 22." The most interesting aspect of the specification, to me, is the inclusion of an 'authorization model' governing access to digital contents by users in an LMS. The specification also provides "an integrated approach to exchanging content exploiting: a consistent model for packaging content; metadata (based on simple Dublin Core) [and] Assessment (harnessing a commonly used set of question types)." Some weirdness on the IMS site: you are advised that you cannot print the HTML pages; you have to go register with IMS to get a PDF. Various Authors, IMS Global, July 31, 2008 [Link] [Tags: , , , , ] [Comment]

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Copyright 2008 Stephen Downes

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