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Mailing Number 19 - 20 June 2003

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University of Oxford to host Advisory Service for Open Source Software. JISC has just announced the appointment of the University of Oxford as the host institution for the JISC Advisory Service for Open Source Software, for the period July 2003 to July 2005. The service will collate and disseminate information about the availability, and the respective strengths and weaknesses, of Open Source Software products relevant to UK further and higher education. (I will include a link to the service's web site when the site goes live. Perhaps this area of Oxford University's site is indicative.)

Resources [back to top]

Maggie Harnwell's literacy and numeracy site. Last fortnight's mention of Andrew Moore's English teaching resource site prompted Keith Burnett to tell me about Maggie Harnwell's excellent adult literacy and numeracy site. This contains materials mapped to the Adult Literacy Core Curriculum and the Numeracy Core Curriculum. As Keith says, one impressive feature of the site is its "detailed statement level mapping".

Epic Group white papers. Epic is a major UK e-learning company. From its web site you can request copies from a range of over 20 Epic white papers, for example on E-tutoring, or Accessibility and e-learning, or Simulations and e-learning. Do not let Epic's references to "thought leadership" put you off. Those of the white papers I have read have been clear, comprehensive and neutral. The e-tutoring paper had what I thought was a particularly clear taxonomy of tutor interventions. Pity that the white papers, though free, are not freely available on the web. They deserve much wider distribution than they will get, inaccessible to and un-indexed by search engines.

Computing is too hard...... it's time we stop our preoccupation with faster and more powerful and start making them smarter, says IBM. Having featured an IBM article about communities of practice, my site was quickly crawled by an IBM "spider", which helpfully left a detailed, even lucid, explanation of its actions and of how spiders work. (Note how, as a spam prevention measure, the page contains a small graphic image as its email contact address.) Which brings me to the point of this item, an overview of IBM's "perspectives on the state of information technology", focused largely on "autonomic computing", defined by IBM as "an approach to self-managed computing systems with a minimum of human interference". Worth browsing despite the journalistic style, which gets less the further you get from the site's home page.

New free online tutorials from the Resource Discovery Network. Five new internet for Further Education tutorials have been launched by the Bristol-based Resource Discovery Network (RDN), on:

David Wiley's reusability web site. David Wiley from Utah State University, author of The instructional use of learning objects, has revamped his web site. You can still download the book from the site, but you can also review the three main research areas in which David Wiley is involved. I think this is a good place to start if you want to understand, from a humane and human point of view, the current debates concerning learning objects, metadata, and e-learning specifications.

More Sloan-C effective practices. From John Sener comes this list of recent additions to the previously featured Sloan-C Effective Practices site:

Towards a pedagogically sound basis for learning object portability and re-use. Tom Boyle and John Cook argue in this paper from the 2001 Ascilite Conference [180 kB .PDF] that "true portability and re-use cannot be achieved based solely on a technically inspired drive towards standardization". The authors put forward a theoretical framework to guide the process of analysis, based on two concepts: layering, and learning contexts. They outline a formal approach to capturing the essential features of these layers and learning contexts, so that the ensuing descriptive data can be attached as metadata to learning objects, thereby providing a "pedagogically informed basis for interoperability and re-use".

More on RSS. From Michigan Virtual University's peer-reviewed Technology Source, via George Siemens here is Mary Harrsch's RSS: The Next Killer App For Education. Contains a clear explanation of RSS, with plenty of hyperlinks to back-up resources, and some reasonably convincing examples.

Embedding learning technologies in higher education. JISC has just published a series of short briefing papers and a set of institutional audit tools to support the embedding of learning technology within UK higher education. Both the papers and tools have been developed from a national study into learning technology roles, structures and alliances and these are available to download from the JISC website. All available from the JISC web site. Also available is a senior management briefing paper outlining the study and the implications for senior management.

Oddments[back to top]

The cognitive style of PowerPoint

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that claimed to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: making us stupid, degrading the quality and credibility of our communication, turning us into bores, wasting our colleagues' time. These side-effects, and the resulting unsatisfactory cost/benefit ratio would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Edward Tufte's polemic against the (now routine) mindless use of PowerPoint will bring you up short, because we've all been mindless in our use of it; and it will give you the confidence to make presentations in a different way.

Tufte's advice is to use paper handouts at talks, restricting PowerPoint for showing low-resolution colour images, graphic images, and videos which cannot be reproduced as printed handouts. He asserts that an A3 sheet folded in half to make 4 pages can show the content equivalent of 50 - 250 typical PowerPoint slides of text and data, and argues that thoughtfully planned handouts tell the audience that you are serious and precise; that you seek to leave traces and have consequences. And that you respect your audience.

A bargain at $12 post-paid by airmail from the US, $7 if you are in the US. Through it I found a Peter Norvig's excellent PowerPoint version of the Gettysburg address. Do not miss it, and for those of a more technical disposition, have a look at Norvig's main site, which contains technical papers, essays, reports, software, presentations, and other materials, such as a 15,139 word palindrome. (Peter Norvig is Google's Director of Search Quality.)

Stopping search engines from indexing blogs. Pressure is mounting on Google and other search engines to enable searchers to exclude blogs from search results, as this piece from The Register explains.

Mobile phones with petrol engines instead of batteries. Farfetched? Not according to Micro-engines: The Batteries of the Future. (NB - you probably need to view this link with Internet Explorer.)

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Last updated - 3/2/2005; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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