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Mailing Number 39 - 25 July 2004

205 subscribers on publication date. 11093 page-views since publication.

This opt-in usually Fortnightly Mailing summarises resources and news I come across in the course of my work which I think will be of value to others with an interest in online learning and the internet. An always useful guide - Stephen Downes, Canada.   There is something for everyone in these mailings - Jane Knight's e-Learning Centre, UK.   Recommended reading - Caroline Kotlas - CIT Infobits, USA.

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UKeU: Select Committee questions the ex-Chair and ex-Chief Executive - audio coverage. On 21 July the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee continued its investigation into the the failure of the UK eUniversity, taking evidence from Sir Anthony Cleaver and from John Beaumont. Cleaver, who had resigned as Chair of the UKeU Board as soon as HEFCE announced its intention to restructure UKeU, was coherent and confident throughout, and dominated most of the discussion. Beaumont, whose employment as Chief Executive ended earlier this month, was rather unconvincing, both on the business and the e-learning issues, as well as when put on the spot about his performance targets and about the basis on which his £50k 2002-2003 bonus was calculated. The general impression given is that until the end of 2003 HEFCE functioned rather as a disinterested "absentee landlord", leaving UKeU to get on with things, whilst simultaneously putting too many of its e-learning eggs in the UKeU basket. And I suspect that Cleaver's criticisms of the way the review/closure process was handled may lead the Education and Skills Committee to recall people from HEFCE for further questioning. For the next few (3?) weeks the whole 2.5 hour session will be available in audio from the ParliamentLive web site. You can also read the uncorrected transcript of the session.

DfES e-learning strategy update. The Department has now published a 2 page update on progress [95 kB PDF] in developing its unified e-learning strategy. This sets out to explain the relationship between the strategy and the DfES's recently published overall 5-year strategy for education, which itself emphasises:

  • tailored learning or support for individual citizens;
  • support to front line professionals, to assess and monitor learners – and to develop their own skills;
  • integrated systems, to facilitate the exchange of information and learning materials between institutions and sectors.

The e-learning strategy itself is now slated for publication in Autumn 2004.

LAMS Foundation. LAMS - the Learning Activity Management System invented by James Dalziel of Macquarie University - is to be made available in November 2004 as Open Source Software by the recently established LAMS Foundation, with LAMS undergoing trials in 100 schools in England, and an evaluation by JISC. Further details, including press releases dated, strangely, August 2004, and an informative FAQ page, are on the LAMS Foundation web site.

4 keyboards and monitors sharing one PC. Interesting report by Lucas van Grinsven and Bernhard Warner of Reuters about a pilot project in South Africa that aims to provide a single computer that can be used by four students simultaneously. HP's unique Multi-user 441 desktop, uses Linux as its operating system, with a single central processing unit supporting four keyboards and monitors, would save schools up to 60 percent of their computer costs. According to the article, HP has no plans to make the 441 available other than in underdeveloped countries.

Resources [back to top]

Eduforge. Funded by the Tertiary Education Commission in New Zealand, Eduforge describes itself as:

  • a virtual collaborative learning and exploratory environment designed for the sharing of ideas, research outcomes, open source educational software, and tools within a community of learners and researchers;
  • an open access resource allowing anyone with an interest in the exploration of teaching and learning to join the community, which encourages cross-institutional collaboration among individuals within an independent environment outside the normal boundaries of organisational infrastructure and resources.

Plenty of interest including:

NATFHE e-Learning Guidance. The main trade union for teachers in English Further and Higher Education has just published new guidance [450 kB DOC] for union members and union officials on the main employment-related issues stemming from the e-learning in colleges and universities. The document may also be of interest to institutional managers and to policy-makers who may be unaware of the industrial relations impact of e-learning.

Timeline of the Open Access Movement. I reviewed Donald Clarke's White Paper Open Source and e-Learning in Fortnightly Mailing Number 38. I mentioned the white paper's extensive and useful list of links. The Timeline is one of these, containing Peter Suber's regularly updated chronology of developments in the open access movement, which Peter describes as the worldwide effort to provide free online access to scientific and scholarly research literature, especially peer-reviewed journal articles and their preprints.

Semantic Web. The Semantic Web is said by some to be the WWW's next big thing. This report by researchers at HP Labs and at the University of Bristol contains an informal survey of some 60 semantic web applications or proposed applications, from which you can get a better sense (than from the definitions, perhaps) of what the semantic web is about. For deeper insights into the Semantic Web, the May 2004 edition of the Journal of Interactive Media in Education, which is devoted entirely to the educational semantic web, may be of interest.

Thwarted Innovation: What Happened to E-learning and Why? Robert Zemsky's and William Massy's June 2004 University of Pennsylvania report tries to answer the question "Why did the boom in e-learning go bust?". It is causing quite a stir in the US, particularly amongst people whose e-learning programmes have not gone bust!  You can access the report and a short abstract of it from this page on the OU's Knowledge Base, itself an interesting public resource which you can search from here.

Cynthia Says Portal. Thanks to Paul Warren for details of the Cynthia Says Portal, which claims to educate users in the concepts behind Web site accessibility and which provides a simple, well-designed interface [that] puts accessibility compliant code within the reach of all users, even those with little or no knowledge of Web design. A key part of the site is an interface (provided by HiSoft, the commercial partner in the portal) which allows a user to test whether or not a URL complies with the US Section 508 Guidelines, or with the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. To encourage you to buy the commercial software, you are limited to one test per minute from any single domain.

Oddments[back to top]

Transport Archive. The Transport Archive tells the story of Britain's transport system since the eighteenth century, using several thousand images, with an emphasis on waterways, railways, and aviation.

Mountains of the mind. We are at a Russian military base high up in Kyrgyzstan on the border with China, as part of a small and inexperienced climbing team.

At 6 a.m. on the morning of our flight, I pushed aside the tent-flap to see our pilot, Sergei, apparently Sellotaping the tail-rotor back on to the helicopter. He gave a cheery smile and thumbs-up. Half an hour later, when the ground crew seemed satisfied that the helicopter was in no way airworthy, fifteen of us were weighed - ominously - on an ancient set of abattoir-scales, and then ushered aboard. Also travelling with us, it appeared, were fifty watermelons, dozens of pallets of food and a dead goat. Finally, the ground crew heaved a 100lb red gas cannister into the cabin. It was placed between my legs as the rotor-blades began their slow build up of noise. 'In the case of a crash, hug it like your mother,' yelled the head mechanic through the helicopter door before he slammed it shut. It was clearly an exit line he had used before.

This is an extract from Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the mind, a fascinating and often drily witty combination of meditation on, and history of, mountains and mountaineering. If you've any interest in climbing or hill-walking you will definitely enjoy it. The whole of the first chapter is currently available from the publisher's web site.

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Last updated - 26/8/2004; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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