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Mailing Number 49 - 20 February 2005

251 subscribers on publication date. 11943 page-views since publication.

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 due soon. Subject to final clearance of the document, the DfES hopes to launch its e-strategy (no longer an e-learning strategy) on Monday 28 February.

Help is at Hand web site re-launched. Ufi Ltd now runs the Help is at Hand web site, which supports the work of UK Online centres, providing all round resources aimed at Voluntary and Community sector centres, Public Libraries, Colleges, Adult and Community Learning Centres, and private ICT providers. The Help is at Hand site, which has just been re-launched, is built on an Open Source platform called MKDoc, developed by the Sheffield company webarchitects, and released last year as free software under a GNU General Public License. The Help is at Hand site is exemplary in its accessibility, and in its conformance to W3C standards and e-GIF, the UK Government's e-Government Interoperability Framework.

Software patent update. Informative 17/1/2005 article by the always interesting Wilbert Krann, Patents, Open Standards, and Open Source, from CETIS, highlighting how one arm of the UK Government (UK Patent Office) broadly supports making software patentable, whilst another (DfES) has been fighting just the kind of patent which the proposed European Computer Implemented Inventions Directive (CIID) will permit. Meanwhile, the Directive dodged another rubberstamping, and then got thrown out altogether by the European Parliament: according to the BBC on 17/2/2005, "it must go through another round of consultation if it is to have a chance of becoming law".

Belatedly, given its support for the Directive, the UK Patent Office has convened a series of workshops in March and April for software developers to discuss the definition of what constitutes a technical effect; a major point of conflict in the debate about software patenting in Europe. Finally, this 15 February Danish report alleging that Microsoft has put pressure on the Danish Government to drop its opposition the CIID, contrasts sharply with Microsoft's immediate response to (rather than rebuttal of) the story.

Open Source and Open Access. Two interesting developments in the open access and open source worlds were reported in the 12/2/2005 Economist print edition.

Firstly, a group of researchers associated with the Australian non-profit biotechnology research group CAMBIA have invented a new process for genetic modification of plants which makes no use of the heavily patented "agrobacterium transformation", but is instead published under a license that allows people to commercialise products based on the procedure, provided that improvements to the technique itself are shared, to the benefit of all users. The people involved have set up BioForge, analogous to Open Source Software's SourceForge as "a dynamic protected commons of enabling technologies that will be available to the worldwide inventive community for use in improvement and new innovations". Text version of Economist article.

Secondly, it reports that on 3/2/2005 America's National Institutes of Health, the world's biggest sponsor of medical research, announced that "from May it will expect the research work which it has helped to finance to be made available online, to all comers, and free, within a year of that research having been published in a journal". According the Economist, "the NIH also plans to make it easy for researchers to do its bidding by spending $2m-4m a year supporting an electronic archive into which these papers can be deposited ..... managed by America's National Library of Medicine".
Text version of Economist article. Reuter's coverage of same issue.

How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System. Older (!) UK readers with long memories will recall the 1971 furore when The Guardian published a chapter from Bernard Coard's influential pamphlet. 34 years later The Guardian provides a fascinating update. Coard - who subsequently played a part in the 1983 coup in Grenada - remains in prison, his death-sentence commuted to life-imprisonment, reading and writing about education, and running courses for fellow prisoners. He is likely to be released soon, and will visit Britain.

Resources [back to top]

Effective use of VLEs. JISCinfoNet has just released a comprehensive guide, best accessed from its hyperlinked site map.

Spent force or revolution in progress? eLearning after the eUniversity. A revolution, evidently. Higher Education Policy Institute report by John Slater, sponsored by WebCT, and presented at a "breakfast meeting" in London on 2/2/2005, attended by a large number of influencers from public and private sector e-learning.

Metadata FAQ. Developed collaboratively during 2004 by participants from the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, the IMS Global Learning Consortium, the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee and other organisations including CanCore, ADL, and CETIS, this FAQ provides guidelines and information, but has no official status within any of these organisations. (Via Mark Berthelemy.)

Economics of sharing. Long essay, which has caught the eye of the business press, "Sharing Nicely: On Shareable Goods and the Emergence of Sharing as a Modality of Economic Production" by Yochai Benkler of the Yale Law School, and available as an 80 page PDF for free download. Abstract: "This Essay offers a framework to explain large-scale effective practices of sharing private, excludable goods. It starts with case studies of carpooling and distributed computing as motivating problems. It then suggests a definition for shareable goods as goods that are "lumpy" and "mid-grained" in size, and explains why goods with these characteristics will have systematic overcapacity relative to the requirements of their owners. The Essay next uses comparative transaction costs analysis, focused on information characteristics in particular, combined with an analysis of diversity of motivations, to suggest when social sharing will be better than secondary markets at reallocating this overcapacity to nonowners who require the functionality. The Essay concludes with broader observations about the attractiveness of sharing as a modality of economic production as compared to markets and to hierarchies such as firms and government. These observations include a particular emphasis on sharing practices among individuals who are strangers or weakly related; sharing's relationship to technological change; and some implications for contemporary policy choices regarding wireless regulation, intellectual property, and communications network design."

Virtually an Online Experience. The aim of this workshop game by Adam Warren is to help would-be online tutors experience the anxiety and confusion that can affect novice online learners, and by doing so, encourage discussion about good practice that can minimise these negative factors. The game is available as a single PowerPoint file that includes the instructions as well as the resources. It may be freely used by educational institutions. I described "Fax Your MP" in Fortnightly Mailing Number 45. The site remains excellently designed, but has now been enhanced and renamed WriteToThem, with post code driven access to Councillors, MP, MEPs, MSPs, or Welsh and London Assembly Members.

Oddments[back to top]

Software robot hosting service. Pandorabots is the place where you can "create and unleash virtual personalities". Pandorabots is an experimental hosting service based on the work of Dr. Richard Wallace and the A.L.I.C.E./AIML free software community. From any browser, you may "create, design and publish your own software robots - and make them available to anyone via the Internet".

In case you are a fan of Snoop Dogg and/or a republican. (I am the latter.) Gizoogle gives a web page a gangsta rap once-over. Snoop Dogg biography.

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Last updated - 20/2/2005; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

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