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Mailing Number 59 - 3 November 2005

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This opt-in roughly 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.   A useful source of market and academic information. Highly recommended. - Epic plc Email Newsletter, UK.

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Cliff Lynch on the data deluge. "I've finished the project. Where are we going to keep the 90 terabytes of poorly documented data I've got. Where do you want me to put it?" Earlier this month I was at the Educause Conference, a 7000 delegate annual US conference concerning IT in (mainly Higher) Education. I had the luck to hear Cliff Lynch, Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, doing a 50 minute keynote, mainly about the way in which research, and the drive towards digitisation of cultural assets, are generating massive quanitities of data, which is failing to be properly curated for future use. It was refreshing to hear someone speak fluently, clearly, non-technically, and at length, without power-point on a subject that matters. Cliff's speech had interesting perspectives on the way that data is probably being better curated in the UK than in the US, on the comparative merits and demerits of institutional and discipline data repositories, and on the kinds of collaborations within and between institutions needed to ensure that culturally vital data (and the software tools to access it) are not lost.    Recording of Cliff's talk.   Coalition for Networked Information web site.   Educause Conference web site.   2002 paper by Tony Hey and Anne Trefethen which originally coined the term "data deluge" [72 kB PDF].

Learning management systems - becoming a commodity? You sit up and take notice when Dell Inc., the world's biggest supplier of PCs and servers, starts selling servers with learning management systems and course content pre-installed, and an unlimited number of user-licenses per server, for less than the annual cost of employing a trainer, without even mentioning the "make" of LMS. Unfortunately not my insight, but Sam Adkins's, in this piece about Open Source Learning Management Systems from the American Society for Training and Development. There is now a definite sense that the LMS market is quickly getting simplified, with Blackboard's planned take-over of WebCT, the merger of Saba and Centra, and Open Source interest seeming to focus increasingly on Moodle and Sakai, with the latter announcing the formation of a Sakai Foundation, modelled on the Apache Foundation that runs the Open Source software that runs most of the world's web servers. At the back of my mind I wonder if the collaboration between Blackboard and Microsoft is a sign of things to come, which is a round about way of asking whether Blackboard may eventually get bought by Microsoft, i.e. go the way of Groove Networks, which Microsoft acquired earlier this year, after a period of collaboration between Microsoft and Groove.

Google: The World's Information. I happened to be in Oxford today where I'd booked a place at a public seminar organised by the Oxford Internet Institute given by Alexander Macgillivray, who is Google's Senior Product and Intellectual Property Counsel, and reportedly the primary attorney for a wide variety of Google products, including Web Search, Gmail, Print and Scholar; as well as being someone with an interesting, now rather infrequently updated web log about music, software, and law. (You may also be interested in this 2002 legal pleading for the Internet Archive [180 kB PDF] - in which Macgillivray had a hand - for the Internet Archive to be exempt from some of the prohibitions circumventing copy-protection in Section 1201 of the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act.) The abstract for the session, read as follows.

Google's stated mission is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." The presentation will give a tour of some of the ways Google tries to fulfill that mission with emphasis on the legal issues that arise.

The presentation will appear as a video archive on the OII web site, and was picked up by the BBC on 11 November. With only around 35 people in the room, and another 10 taking part from Harvard University, there were enough challenging interruptions to prevent the session being anodyne, and the few questions which were ducked related to US anti-terrorism legislation. The main interesting hint about future developments concerned translation tools, with reference made to a system under development by Google having recently won a major translation competition. (This chimes slightly with something I put in Fortnightly Mailing Number 54.) Plenty of the discussion focused on privacy policies, with Google's having been recently extensively revised.

At one level the session showed Google simply to be doing what it says is its mission, with enormous technical and business flair, and, on many but not all issues, a reasonable degree of open-ness. At another level the session highlighted the problematic nature of the mission.

Firstly, there are real dangers with a single commercial entity dominating citizen's access to information. Secondly, and generalising unscientifically from my own behaviour, Google's effectiveness encourages slackness on the part of people looking for information: they make do with what Google gives them, instead of learning how to look thoroughly, or looking at tangible, physical resources rather than only those which have been indexed. Finally, I think there is something disquieting about a single "unthinking algorithm" (the Google Pagerank technology, variants of which determine how highly ranked a resource is) mediating so much of the developed world's information access. Enormously beneficial though Google is in the way that it is widening access to a deeper range of information, it certainly is not simply a neutral tool.

Teachers are really jazz musicians. [Updated 18/7/2012] In Portrait of the online tutor as Thelonius Monk Paul Maharg who then worked at the Glasgow Graduate School of law (and who had a very classy web log on legal education, technology, rhetoric, and legal theory - now moved to ) likens (online) teaching to being a jazz musician, which for me exactly hits the spot. You have to know your stuff; you have to be able to play; and you have to have a plan, and to know what conclusions you intend to reach. But you also have to be able to adjust what you do in tune with your learners, exploit serendipitous opportunities, choose your transitions. One of those metaphors you only wish you'd thought of yourself.

Launch of Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Reusable Learning Objects. In Fortnightly Mailing Number 10, back in January 2003, I recommended Design principles for authoring dynamic, reusable learning objects, a really lucid short paper by Tom Boyle, with whom a short interview appears on the Lab Group web site. It is nice to see that on 7 November there will be the official opening of the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Reusable Learning Objects a collaboration between Cambridge, Nottingham, and London Metropolitan Universities, where Tom is based.

Resources [back to top]

Kaye and Laby. After 16 printed-based editions over the last 100 or so years, Kay and Laby's tables of physical and chemical constants are now available on the web, managed by the UK's National Physical Laboratory.

Making accessible PDF resources. Karen McCall has published some further thorough guidance on how to produce accessible documents in PDF format.

EduTools course management system comparison site. Since I last looked at it, the US Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications sponsored EduTools site has come a long way, and now features a well designed tool for comparing course management systems.

What are the problems which can inhibit large-scale data sharing and analysis in the social sciences? How are these problems being surmounted and how far have we yet to go? Find out through these short web-based tutorials on the UK's National Centre for e-Social Science web site.

Open Conference Systems (OCS). Thanks to Steve Ryan for details of OCS, a free Web publishing tool that will "create a complete Web presence for your scholarly conference", conforming to Open Archive Initiative standards in the process. It has been developed by the Public Knowledge Project at the University of British Columbia.

Oddments[back to top]

Smoking guns and red herrings. Elizabeth de la Vega recently retired after serving more than 20 years as a federal prosecutor in Minneapolis and San Jose in the US. Here is an article by her which predicts what will happen now that Dick Cheney's top aide Lewis Libby has been indicted. Rather more informative than CNN or Fox.

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