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Mailing Number 23 - 26 September 2003

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The Future of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee gave a 1 hour talk at the Royal Society in London on 22/9/2003. You can view his slides, or watch a high quality video recording of the talk. I would recommend the latter, and found it to be a reasonably "informed lay person's" introduction, once Tim gets into his stride, to the Semantic Web, which some believe really will be the next big thing on the internet. The talk also shows that humane and idealistic individuals can still wield a lot of beneficial influence over the way the internet develops.

Innovative Approaches to Learning and Assessment. In Fortnightly Mailing Number 4 I pointed to a really excellent paper by Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam summarising the research evidence relating to the importance of formative assessment in learning. I was much influenced by this when subsequently writing, with David Jennings, BS8426:2003 - A code of practice for e-support in e-learning systems. Paul Black will be a keynote speaker at a conference in Bristol, 19-20 November 2003, organised by Nesta Futurelab. The focus of the conference, according to the publicity, is on whether ICT can change the approach to assessment, enabling us to encourage and measure the full range of complex skills required for life in the digital age and to develop a system that fully supports learning. Other speakers include Martin Ripley - QCA, Marc Prensky -, Professor Guy Claxton - University of Bristol, Professor Jim Ridgway - University of Durham, John Bangs - National Union of Teachers. Conference details.

Increase in internet access and use is tailing off. The Oxford Internet Institute has published a survey claiming that it will take a generation before 90% of Britons regularly use the internet, and examining:

  • internet use by age, education, class, and gender;
  • usage patterns;
  • reasons for non-use;
  • future household uptake internet connections.

You can review an analysis of the data in two formats:

Regrettably, the research has been picked up in the press as a justification for Government no longer prioritising putting services on line in an effective and thorough way. Yet the pattern of uptake seems to be fairly normal for communications technologies, with the possible exception of mobile phones. For example, in the US it took about 25 years for the proportion of households with a phone to increase from 60% to 90%, and about 15 years for the proportion of households with a radio to increase similarly.

Sun Java Desktop. In Fortnightly Mailing Number 21 I reported on Sun's Mad Hatter, an open source (but not free) alternative to the Windows/Internet Explorer/Microsoft Office combination, aimed at organisations who want to stop running these products as "standard issue". Sun has now formally launched this suite of applications, renaming it Sun Java Desktop. See article in Wired, as well as Sun's own product information. According to The Register, Telstra (an Australian telecommunications company with 45,000 desktops) will be one of the first major customers to use it, hoping in the process to cut in half its annual USD 1.5 billion IT budget. Sun seems also to be making a push to win educational users to Star Office, Sun's open source "Microsoft Office equivalent" by making it available free to the education and research communities, along with a range of online training materials. Star Office is itself closely related to the open source Open Office, which is now available for free download as version 1.1.

The Future of E-learning. Epic plc has now published the results of its previously featured survey. Frustratingly, although you can read a partial summary on the web, you have to email the Epic marketing department to request a copy of the full document, rather than being able to download it. That said, the report is worth getting hold of, with a wider and more interesting range of conclusions than is summarised on the Epic site. For example, respondents to the survey seem to see "low price, self-developed, open source" as the dominant future delivery technology, rather than enterpise learning management systems, or intranets, or "add-ins" to corporate human resources systems. [21/2/2004. Partly as a result of this item, Epic has now made this survey report open access, and is progressively doing the same with the rest of its generally informative White Papers.]

Resources [back to top]

Techwatch: Technology and Standards Watch. This JISC service helps keep track of developments in information and communications technologies that might have high impact on the core business of Further and Higher Education in a few years' time........ commissions reports on specific technologies, and provides many links ..... to technology resources elsewhere on the internet. Examples of recent reports include:

  • wearable technology;
  • web services technologies;
  • speech recognition technologies.

Possibly rather an unsung resource, the best way into the site is via its recent changes page.

Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN). The latest issue of JALN is now available. Good range of articles including:

  • Asynchronous Discussion Groups in Teacher Training Classes: Perceptions of Native and Non-Native Students;
  • Teaching Courses Online: How Much Time Does it Take?
  • Face-To-Face Versus Threaded Discussions: The Role of Time and Higher-Order Thinking.

Why insist on standards conformant web sites? From George Siemens I found this short essay by Jeffrey Veen. It makes a good case for standards conformance. In Fortnightly Mailing Number 3 I pointed to the World Wide Web Consortium's The Benefits of Accessible Web Design. Unfortunately, and unusually (?) for a W3C site, the links I highlighted have gone. But elsewhere on the W3C site I found Auxiliary Benefits of Accessible Web Design, and an initial draft entitled Presenting the Case for Web Accessibility: Overview. From personal experience I can vouch for the value of standards conformance, and for the guidelines featured previously. For example, this site punches above its small weight on Google, and the ALT site, which we have just re-implemented in a largely valid XHTML and CSS format, now scores much more highly than it did before we put the site in its new format. [Search Google for learning technology or for an online learning consultant.]

IMS Global Learning Consortium. The IMS site has been redesigned, and is worth browsing, should you be someone with an interest in learning technology standards. Probably best to do this via the site-map. One new feature of the site is its portfolio of use cases, which IMS utilizes to identify and prioritize requirements on work efforts so that greater interoperability greater can be achieved with less proprietary extensions to the specification(s).

Oddments[back to top]

Academic content management systems. Whilst using the University of Warwick's web site I noticed that its main site is now implemented in an internally developed content management system called Sitebuilder. Like The Sheffield College, with its my.sheffcol system, Warwick seems to have concluded that it needed a system which can serve up content depending on the user's ID - so-called single sign-on - and for which content can be created using a browser-based editor. Also that having the site implemented in valid HTML is important (though as it happens the main Sitebuilder page is not valid HTML despite claiming to be). Some dialogue between Sheffield and Warwick would probably be useful to both organisations.

Unifying two information spaces. The 15/9/2003 issue of Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox Time to Make Tech Work has this nugget of particular truth buried within it.

File systems and local search must change to accommodate the massive number of information objects that users accumulate during a lifetime of computer use. (The "my documents" folder on my PC, for example, contains 66,794 files in 2,039 subfolders.) We also need to unify two information spaces that are currently separate: documents and email.

Does anyone have a system established which avoids the "two information space" problem?

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Last updated - 29/9/2005; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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