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Mailing Number 16 - 2 May 2003

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Purchasing and Managing Software Licences. On 1/5/2003 the UK's National Audit Office has just published a report on the way the public sector purchases software licences. Incidentally, the report exemplifies sensible design of PDF documents for the web, with a reasonable file size despite plenty of tables and images, and single column format suitable for reading on-screen. Pity that the Executive Summary [9 page 220 kB PDF] makes no reference to open source software, unlike the Full Report [38 page 1 MB PDF], which has this to say:

An alternative option, as yet not widely used in the public sector, is open source software, which is freely available to download over the internet. Programmers develop open source software, often collaboratively, and groups of users provide mutual support when using the software. Open source programmes do not have any warranty or require users to have licences, and any department using open source systems has to provide its own technical support and would often be reliant upon user groups. Since July 2002 all public sector organisations have been required to consider open source software solutions, alongside proprietary software packages when procuring IT. Open source software is expected to become an increasingly viable alternative to proprietary software packages.

The above "requirement to consider open source solutions", if you want to follow it up, is contained in the July 2002 Office of Government Commerce Open Source Software - Guidance on Implementing Government Policy [14 page 1 MB PDF].

Spam. This 24/4/2003 report on the BBC website provides useful insights into how your email address gets chosen for use by spammers. (Thanks also to David Jennings for this bit of history about spam.)

Business impact of Linux. The rise of Linux is dividing the computer industry into winners and losers, according to the Economist in this 10/4/2003 article.

Portables and handhelds in education. On 25/6/2003 the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association (UCISA) will be holding a seminar in Liverpool about portables and hand-held computers in education.

Resources [back to top]

Learning resources from Arizona

The Maricopa Learning eXchange (MLX) is an electronic warehouse of ideas, examples, and resources (represented as "packages") that support student learning at the Maricopa Community Colleges.

I strongly recommend you to look closely at MLX. Key features include:

  • wide range of resources, created by academic staff in the Maricopa network of community colleges;
  • excellent search tools;
  • an RSS/XML news feed to enable anyone easily to include dynamically updated content from the MLX;
  • a packing slip for each resource which properly summarises the resource, its origins and purpose;
  • publication under a Creative Commons, which permits others to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work, provided the original author is given credit;
  • excellent online tutorials on how to use the resource;
  • a system by which users of a resource can lodge comments about the resource, as in "this resource worked well for these learners on this course".

.LRN. MIT and the University of Heidelberg are jointly developing an .LRN an open source learning platform, with a range of desirable features, which will run (unusually?) on AOLserver, an open-source web server distributed by AOL, and on Oracle or the open source PostgreSQL as its database application. You can keep an eye on the progress of .LRN from this page on OpenACS, the latter being described as a toolkit for building community-oriented web applications.

Papers from Nesta Futurelab. Nesta, the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, has commissioned a series of research papers - 29/7/2007 link now broken which, according to Nesta:

  • "offer a route map through the vast body of research into education and technology, a field that continues to grow in importance";
  • "give a clear vision of where gaps in our understanding lie, where our knowledge base is weakest and future directions we need to follow to make best use of technology for learning".

Several of these paper are interesting, in particular Citizenship, Technology and Learning which challenges the current optimistic wisdom about the use of ICT in education. Neil Selwyn, its author, is part of Cardiff University's "Adult Learning @ Home" project, which is examining adults' use (and non-use) of information and communications technologies in domestic and community settings and, in particular, exploring the impact of new technologies on individuals' participation in formal and informal learning. An important project, I think, because it is approaching these issues from a sceptical, cautious point of view. (There is another sceptical piece from Neil Selwyn on Sp!ked Online.)

Critique of learning objects. Strong article by Norm Friesen: Three Objections to Learning Objects, which articulates very well many of the reservations felt by people (like me!) on the periphery of the corporate drive on learning objects, under three main headings:

  • What's a learning object, anyway? - "Using a term that makes sense only in abstruse technical discussions, and that is opaque and confusing to practitioners does not make its potential benefits clear to teachers."
  • Where is the Learning in E-Learning Standards? - "Specifications and applications that are truly pedagogically neutral cannot also be pedagogically relevant."
  • Education in a Militarized Zone? - "Learning objects and e-learning standardization bear the imprint of the ideology and culture of the American military-industrial complex."

Intellectual property rights in e-Learning programmes. The English Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) has been seeking comments on what it describes as a good practice guide for higher education institutions on intellectual property rights in e-Learning programmes, a primary thrust of which seems to be to protect institutional rights in the e-learning content created by academic staff.

eLearning Reading List. Dated but nevertheless comprehensive and interesting reading list prepared by Jack M. Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of University of Massachusetts Online.

Oddments[back to top]

Graph paper. Thanks to Mike Morris for this invaluable link (certainly if you have children doing maths at school) to Holly Comp's "Mathematics Help Central" site, which contains PDF files for a wide range of graph paper.

Insecurity in QJUMP ticket ordering system. If you use the apparently flawless QJUMP train-ticket ordering system, watch out! Yesterday I received by email someone else's ticket collection information, with a reference number which would have enabled me to obtain that person's ticket from the station-based electronic ticket issuing machine, at no cost to me, and at a cost to that person. On speaking to QJUMP it appears that staff are currently having manually to re-key order information, including credit card numbers and email addresses, in order to generate the collection information email........

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Last updated - 2/2/2012; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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