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Mailing Number 54 - 12 June 2005

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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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Combining human with machine translation. My friend Jos Kingston sent me an interesting description, edited and supplemented by me below, about how at least some large translation companies, such as SDL International, are now combining human with machine translation. (SDL also offers this free translation service.)

You may have come across "machine translation" capabilities on the web, where documents are automatically translated word by word. This of course leads to some pretty nonsensical translations. What is now happening in the translation industry, is that each sector of the economy, and within that individual companies etc (where, for example, they are big customers) has its own "translation memory" set up, stored in an open protocol called TMX (Translation Memory eXchange), to permit interoperation between different translation memories. (Even individual translators store their own translation memories.) This is an enormous database where the unit of translation is the sentence as opposed to the word. The database gets automatically expanded as new sentences are encountered. Because the database is customised to the user context, the sentence translations which are stored are the ones which are appropriate for that customer - e.g. technical terms, jargon etc.

When a document is submitted, sentences are automatically translated if they match a sentence in the database. The document then goes to an appropriate human translator to translate the sentences for which a match has not been found - this is rarely as much as 25% of the document; and if it is less, the price for translation is correspondingly less, since clients will not pay for translations they have already paid for.

Also of interest are fuzzy matches, whereby deviations from the original segment (sentence) can be accounted for. A translator still has to check every fuzzy match, and these are scored at how close they are to the original. A match of less than 75% means it's normally easier to just translate the segment again from scratch.

Whilst looking into the issue I came across this recent and detailed piece about the Google Translator, which has been "trained" on a vast body of translated work from the United Nations, and which is creating anxiety in the commercial translation world, because it produces such good results.

Update - 4/3/2006. A couple more items about machine translation can be found in the more recent Fortnightly Mailing Number 61.

Learning Activity Management System (LAMS) - JISC evaluation published, with inconclusive findings. As reported in Fortnightly Mailing Number 52, LAMS was developed by James Dalziel, Director of Macquarie University's E-Learning Centre of Excellence. The LAMS environment incorporates:

  • a visual authoring interface for teachers to design and create their learning sequences, based on a comprehensive range of individual and collaborative learning activities which can form the building blocks of a sequence;
  • a monitoring tool through which teachers can track students' progress through an activity sequence.

LAMS is written in Java, runs in the most common browsers, uses Flash 7, and was released earlier this year as Open Source software. LAMS has caught the eye of the DfES, and is frequently referred to as an example of the sort of tool which can put classroom teachers rather than content-developers in the driving seat.

The JISC evaluation of LAMS has now been published. The ~50 page evaluation [0.6 MB PDF], by Stuart Lee and Liz Masterman of the Learning Technologies Group of Oxford University Computing Services, is based on a 10 month trial of LAMS by 40 practitioners in UK HE, FE, and Adult and Community Learning. The evaluation tried to answer the single research question Does the use of a learning design tool such as LAMS support effective practice in designing for learning?.

According to the report, only 21 practitioners reported back to the evaluation team during the evaluation, and of these, 8 were not part of the original 40. Of the 21 respondents, only 13 had actually run (or attempted to run) a LAMS learning sequence. (This high attrition rate is highlighted by the authors as an issue which should be addressed in future longitudinal studies, by providing participants with paid time out from normal duties.)

The report contains interesting descriptions of LAMS in use, and its main conclusions are worth reading in full, as much for what they show about small scale studies of this kind, as for the answer provided to the research question, which seems simply to be "maybe".

EU signals strong commitment to e-learning. Thanks to Dick Moore, for this Joint Statement [80 kB PDF] by European Commissioners Viviane Reding (Information Society and Media), and Ján Figel, (Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism), which seems to indicate that there will be future major EU-funded R&D programmes with a focus on e-learning. Extracts below.

We are planning to strengthen our commitment to realise the full potential from the use of ICT in learning, with the clear long-term perspective of more and better jobs, a well-educated, skilled and adaptable workforce and a more inclusive society.


We therefore propose:

  • to continue this multi-stakeholder discussion to provide policy guidance and identify key actions for consideration on eLearning related themes in 2005;
  • to reinforce stocktaking and consolidate best practices across policy areas and to review and evaluate eLearning results in the broader perspective in 2006;
  • to translate our ambitions into projects through the launch of the new Integrated Lifelong Programme, the 7th Framework Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme in 2007;
  • to support digital literacy and lifelong learning for all, as we work towards the launch of a major European initiative for eInclusion in 2008.

New Director at JISC. Bill Olivier, who has been closely involved with the JISC-funded Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards - CETIS, has been appointed as Director of Development (Systems and Technology) for JISC.

Resources [back to top]

Computer security. Last week I feared that my PC was sending out spam in my name, advertising a lending scam. Thankfully it wasn't, and with a lot of luck, I managed to get the spam stopped, following a phone call to the person in Germany who had registered the web address used in the spam. Whilst looking into the problem I came across this comprehensive guide for home network users from the CERT Coordination Centre at Carnegie Mellon University, which "gives home users an overview of the security risks and countermeasures associated with Internet connectivity, especially in the context of "always-on" or broadband access services (such as cable modems and DSL)".

Sloan-C View. The June issue of the Sloan-C View has plenty of meaty articles. Abstracts and hyperlinks below.

  • University of Phoenix - A Pioneer in Online Education. The mission of the University of Phoenix is to educate working adults. To do that, University of Phoenix provides educational opportunities at times, in places, and via modalities that people with full time jobs can access.
  • Lessons from the Edge - An Interview with Gary Berg. Upon the publication of Gary Berg's Lessons from the Edge: For-Profit and Non-traditional Higher Education in America, we interviewed him and here are some excerpts.
  • Training and Mentoring - Redefining the Online Instructor. For-profit institutions have changed the ways we define learners and instructors. A learner no longer is simply an individual enrolled in an educational institution, nor is an instructor solely an individual whose chosen occupation is teaching.
  • Identifying Successful Business Strategies for Distance Learning. Despite the rapid growth in the adoption of distance education, and asynchronous learning networks in particular, there is a dearth of detailed information on effective business models, business strategies and effective practices on which to build sustainable online education programs.
Defensive Design for the Web. Subtitled "How to improve error messages, help, forms, and other crisis points", I recommend this 2004 book by Matthew Linderman with Jason Fried from the Chicago company 37signals. The book contains 40 illustrated guidelines about how to design web sites so that when things go wrong for a user, that user can then get out of trouble. (Compare, for example, this screen-shot of two mistyped URIs [1.2 MB PDF] on the DfES and Institute of IT Training web - and The DfES site applies a principle of defensive design. IITT's does not.) Many of the guidelines will be especially useful if you are someone who commissions web sites, and wants to give clear instructions to a site's developer. ISBN 0-7357-1410-X. As an aside, you might also want to look at the three free and subscription services described on the 37signals web site, especially Basecamp, a clever and apparently very popular system for managing projects done by a team of people who do not work in the same location.

Meetomatic. Last year I featured Meetomatic, a free web-based tool for fixing meetings, without sending or receiving those annoying emails with lists of dates and times in them. I continue to be impressed by its utility and simplicity; and I like the new "retro" look of the site.

Skills for access. This newly launched site claims, somewhat riskily, to be "the comprehensive guide to creating accessible multimedia for e-learning". Run by The University of Sheffield, with funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), the site was designed by Mark Hadley.

Three Scenarios of Synchronous Gatherings. Brief clear article by Judith Boettcher from Campus Technology. Describes three scenarios for using synchronous tools in learning contexts. Contains links to vendor sites, guidance sites, and exemplars, including the excellent,, which I featured last January in Fortnightly Mailing Number 28.

Scirus - a search tool for scientific information only. Scirus, run by Elsevier, claims to offer better results on scientific searches than less specialist tools, and it has a check-box method for selecting individual results and emailing them.

Oddments[back to top]

How much of the recent CO2 increase is due to human activities? Very nearly all of it, as you can find out from RealClimate, "a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists". The site "aims to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary".

Electricity from the wind in Denmark. Abstract to a fascinating article in Civil Engineering by H. Sharman, which shows how Denmark is only able to exploit its huge investment in wind farms - which can meet 16% of national demand - because when the wind drops it can make up the sudden shortfall with hydroelectricity, which can be switched on instantly, from Norway and Sweden, which route the electricity they export to Germany via Denmark.

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Last updated - 4/3/2006; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

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