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Mailing Number 28 - 5 January 2004

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Weblinks. The Sheffield College's long-established free database of curriculum-related web sites has been growing steadily since its inception in 1998. Shortly before Christmas it passed the 5000 mark. It is particularly strong in Maths, Science, Sport and Recreation, and Film. The site's feedback messages are worth scan-reading, if only for their diversity.

The Next Level in e-Learning. On 22/1/2004 the Oxford Internet Institute will convene a free, public international forum of invited experts to discuss innovative approaches to the use of the Internet in education at all levels. Speakers will include Everett Rogers (author of Diffusion of Innovations), John Naisbitt (author of Megatrends), and Diana Laurillard (Head of the DfES e-Learning Strategy Unit).

Resources [back to top]

Search engines. Bruce Clay has produced a very elegant "map" showing:

  • the relationships between the main public search tools;
  • from which of the 4 main search engines they derive their results;
  • which of these concentrate on serving up paid-for links, and which do not.

Clay's site is also full of detailed advice on "search engine optimization" (i.e. getting a site a good search ranking), far more detailed, certainly, than the basic how to get a site indexed and highly ranked by Dick Moore, which formed the 31/1/2003 Fortnightly Mailing. The map is available in two formats:

I'm normally no fan of Flash, but the Flash version of this particular resource does its job very well.

Should you be interested in testing how the 4 "core" search engines perform, you can use each of them below.

Fast / Overture

Kolabora.I found this site via George Siemens's generally useful elearnspace mailing. Run by Robin Good, Kolabora describes itself as:

  • an independent forum about online collaboration, Web conferencing and real-time live presentation technologies, and the issues, problems and solutions relating to them;
  • an online set of shared public spaces where anyone can find detailed information about the world of online work and collaboration.

The site appears to be quite recently established, and its Reviews of tools and technologies for online collaboration, for example, looks like it will develop into a valuable resource; and the contributors to the site's technical forums seem to be well informed and helpful.

Getting On, Not Getting By - Technology in UK Workplaces. (If this review is too long for your taste, skip it!) Thanks to Mike Morris for highlighting this ~90 page report [1.6 MB PDF] by Max Nathan, Gwendolyn Carpenter and Simon Roberts. The report was published in November 2003 by iSociety, which describes itself as "the largest non-Government funded research project on Information Technology in the UK", and which has substantial funding from Microsoft and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Though slightly marred by its tendency to lapse into consultantese, the report is a model of clear design - with a detailed enough Executive Summary for a reader to grasp the main conclusions, frequent chapter summaries, and a page layout which makes it convenient to read on-screen.

Based on detailed case-studies in 8 large and small public and private sector organisations (none of them, unfortunately, involved primarily in education or training), the report's broad conclusion is that in the UK, ICT's potential to transform work is often unfulfilled, and that many organisations are "getting by" rather than "getting on", having settled into what the report describes as a "low-tech equilibrium". Particular things which caught my eye about the report are its description of IT departments who view users as lazy and IT-illiterate, but who "live in their own kingdom", separated "spatially, culturally, and structurally" from the rest of the organisation, and its portrayals of attitudes to IT, for example:

  • "incurious pragmatism spiced with sporadic outbursts of frustration" amongst users;
  • senior executives who advocate IT without themselves having got to grips with it as users.

The report's recommendations include:

  • think carefully about out-sourcing IT services;
  • move IT staff from a passive support role to an active mentoring role;
  • end the separation between technologists and mainstream management;
  • make mainstream management jointly responsible for the design, diffusion, and performance of IT;
  • ensure all stakeholders are consulted about technology decisions;
  • deal with the lost generations of senior decision-makers without skills in or knowledge of technology (ending the spectacle of "chauffeur- a.k.a. PA-driven PCs");
  • recognize the limitations of formal training and the strengths of informal, peer-based learning, and that the provision of informal advice and expertise to peers as real work, which should be factored into job descriptions and payment systems;
  • develop strategies to allow organisations to network more effectively with each other about their use of ICT;
  • further improve the supply of publicly funded ICT-related training.

Oddments[back to top]

Past projections of future user interfaces. David Jennings's web site is gradually "filling up" with informative and thoughtful content on e-learning, interface design, and music and multimedia. (Note: I work with David sometimes on the same projects, but that's not why I'm plugging his site.) David's recent piece about the Sun Microsystems 1994 Starfire project (which brought together more than 100 engineers, designers, futurists, and film makers to both predict and guide the future of computing, and in particular to predict what the life of a knowledge worker might be like in 2004) is worth reading, especially since it is now graced by an interesting comment from Bruce Tognazzini, who was a leading member of the Starfire team, and is now an internationally respected expert in human-computer interaction.

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Last updated - 2/1/2004; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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