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Mailing Number 50 - 28 March 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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DfES e-Strategy. The DfES e-Strategy Harnessing Technology - Transforming Learning and Children's Services seems to have got a rather muted reception when it was launched in London on 15/3/2005, with little coverage in the educational or broadsheet media, and not even a mention on the BBC web site.

Some organisations have strongly welcomed the publication of the strategy, for example JISC, Becta, and BESA [10k kB PDF]. Others have been more critical, for example Ufi, which asserts that "there is an over-emphasis on how children and young people can interact with e-learning and not enough focus on how adults can also develop their skills using new technology".

I think the strategy is rather too influenced by the current Government mantra of "personalisation", and is:

  • overoptimistic about the value and feasibility of institutionally provided e-portfolios;
  • narrow in its listing of implementation partners, the majority of which are, effectively, already more-or-less arms of Government, with only passing reference to the BBC, which, suprisingly is not listed in the Strategy's "partners" Annex;
  • too silent on the importance of distance learning as an aspect of e-learning.

Finally, whilst it is fine for the Strategy to have a strong emphasis on its implications for learners, an opportunity has been missed in not also giving teaching and support staff a convincing vision for the future.

On the plus side, the Strategy:

  • recognises the need for a unique personal identifier for each learner;
  • makes strong and coherent recommendations concerning e-learning research;
  • seems to be moving away from use of the ghastly term "blended learning";
  • maintains more-or-less intact the unified theme of the DfES's July 2003 Consultation Document Towards a Unified e-Learning Strategy.

Most importantly, the Strategy expressly acknowledges the leverage that the inspection, funding, and assessment regimes each separately exert on the education system, and proposes practical e-learning-related actions for each. Overall an ambitious document, with potentially far-reaching and beneficial effects.

Computers at Home and School: Bad News for Educational Outcomes? Last November, economists Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann published Computers and Student Learning: Bivariate and Multivariate Evidence on the Availability and Use of Computers at Home and at School, an analysis of data from the OECD's 2000 PISA study, which questioned the benefits on the educational performance of 15 year olds of computers at home and at school, and which claimed that once controls are in place to account for family background and school characteristics, the relationship gets negative for home computers and insignificant for school computers. This caused a bit of a stir at the time. November 2004 BBC article. Last week Fuchs and Woessmann presented "Computers and Student Learning" at the Royal Economic Society Annual Conference in Nottingham. The Royal Economic Society press release [100 kB PDF] resulted predictably in some "computers do not do any good" coverage, of which this 21/3/2005 article in the Daily Telegraph is an example. One caution about the Fuchs and Woessmann study is that it is based on the 2000 not the 2003 OECD PISA data - computers at home and at school were used rather differently in the years before 2000 than 2003 - and it would be interesting to know what similar analysis of the 2003 PISA data shows. Secondly, the study's main conclusions (that a positive correlation between computer use and educational achievement - as in the PISA study - does not necessarily mean that computers are causing the achievement, and that it is the way ICT is used by learners, at home and institutionally that is the key to its effectiveness) are not that controversial.

National Centre for Text Mining. Text mining "attempts to discover new, previously unknown information by applying techniques from information retrieval, natural language processing and data"..... and "is useful in any area where there are large collections of documents". According to the newly established National Centre's web site "applications have already been developed in a number of fields: drug discovery and predictive toxicology, protein interaction, competitive intelligence, protection of the citizen, patent searching, and more". Three UK universities, in (self-funded) association with two from the US, one from Switzerland, and one from Japan, have been funded by JISC, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, to establish a National Text Mining Centre.  Newsletter.  Frequently Asked Questions.   Roadmap.

Metadata interoperability - new British Standard published. I was involved, with David Jennings, Gill Osguthorpe, Neil Smith and Ian Ibbotson, in a consortium which the British Standards Institution commissioned in 2003 to prepare the Draft for Public Comment of Parts 1 and 2 of BS 8419 - Interoperability between Metadata Systems used for Learning, Education, and Training. We completed the work in December 2003. Two parts of BS 8419 - Part 1: Code of practice for the development of application profiles, and Part 2: Code of practice for the development of interoperability between application profiles - were published by BSI on 28 February 2005. Although BS8419 is an open standard, it is not freely available. However, if you happen to work for an organisation with a subscription to British Standards, then you will be able to access either Part online, at no cost. To help you decide whether to get hold of either Part of the standard here is each Part's Scope, together with the diagram used by each Part [50 kB DOC]. You may also find useful Mike Collett's 22/2/2005 presentation on interoperability to the e-learning strand of the 2005 Asia Europe Meeting [1.1 MB PPT]. (It is best viewed with the speaker's notes visible, otherwise some of the images seem rather gratuitous!)

Resources [back to top]

How lower-literacy users read web pages. Jakob Nielsen's 14/3/2005 Alertbox should be compulsory reading for people developing web sites for the general public to access, or web-based learning materials for people with literacy difficulties.

Reusable Learning Objects. Via Fred Riley, here are some mainly free downloadable learning objects from the University of Nottingham School of Nursing.

elearnopedia. Thanks to David Jennings for highlighting the ADL Co-Lab's regularly updated, coherently organised, but horribly named, elearnopedia.

Supporting e-learners. Eight-page handout [150 kB PDF] about the practical application of the British Standards Institution's BS 8426 A code of practice for e-support in e-learning systems. BS 8426 defines e-support as "a response, during e-learning, to a learner-, system- or tutor-interaction, the purpose of which is to facilitate effective, efficient and satisfying learning". The handout contains an overview of the standard, details of how it has been applied to some specific courses, and some discussion questions. Feedback welcome on the handout, which David Jennings and I wrote for a seminar which has been postponed.

Trade union use of ICT in support of learning and E-learning in the workplace - a union negotiation guide. Two new publications from the TUC, each available for download as large PDF files, or on paper by request from the TUC. The first, by Linda Creanor and Steve Walker, summarises six case studies of trade union use of ICT in support of learning, from Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. The second, which I wrote last year for the TUC with David Jennings, is aimed mainly at union negotiators to help them represent union members' interests during consultations or negotiations about the introduction of e-learning at work.  Download or request a copy of Trade union use of ICT in support of learning.  Download or request a copy of E-learning in the workplace - a union negotiation guide.

Finding Creative Commons resources. Thanks to Rafat Ali's PaidContent for details of Yahoo's beta Creative Commons search engine, which restricts its results to resources covered by a Creative Commons licence.

Foxit. Foxit is a free, simple, fast PDF reader and extractor for PCs. It uses up very little memory and if you set it as your default PDF reader it will open PDF files with the minimum of fuss, and much more quickly than Adobe Acrobat. Foxit Software home page.

ITsafe. ITsafe is the new UK Government Alerting and Advisory Service for Information and Communications Technologies Security. It is a service you might want to ensure that any online distance learner has subscribed to. Sign up.

When an email bounces... may not know why, and you may want to find out. If your service provider uses Microsoft Exchange to send email (many do), then this page explains the meaning of the Delivery Status Notification code you get with the delivery failure notice.

Oddments[back to top]

At last, from MIT's Media Lab, a functional alarm clock....

Clocky, inspired by kittens

....which rolls away from you and hides in a new place every day. Full 28 March (not 1 April) story in the Register..

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Last updated - 29/3/2005; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

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