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Mailing Number 61 - 22 January 2006

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Fortnightly Mailing summarises and comments on resources and news that I find in the course of my work that I think will be of value to others. It focuses on online learning and on the internet. It has over 300 direct subscribers; and different issues of Fortnightly Mailing have been accessed over 30,000 times in total since the beginning of 2004.   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.   Intelligent commentary and resource about the distance education and online learning scene - Michael Scriven, The Evaluation Center, Western Michigan University, USA.

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Wellcome Trust breaks new ground on open access.. From a 15/12/2005 press release issued by the Wellcome Trust, which funds a large amount of medical research:

Three publishers, Blackwell, OUP and Springer, have today announced changes to their license conditions that will provide for research published in their journals to be immediately available on line and without charge to the reader.

Is Google Book Search "Fair Use"? A clear and convincing "Yes" from Lawrence Lessig in this recent talk [video may launch automatically]. I found it via David Weinberger's prolific, informative, committed, and provocative blog, which is definitely worth looking at regularly.

Records and ramifications The London Review of Books has published an excellent, considered, thorough article by John Lanchester. It is more comprehensive than this week's interesting BBC Money Programme documentary about Google, notwithstanding the latter's slightly chilling interview with Google's Marissa Mayer (Google's VP for Search Products). Her phrase, apropo of privacy, that "we do need users to be aware that there are records and ramifications" stuck in my mind, along with her general coyness under questioning - about 20 minutes into the programme.

Machine translation. You may recall something I included last June on machine translation. This two minute audio clip from Web Search as a Force for Good, a speech given at Stanford University by Peter Norvig, Google's Director of Search Quality, on 7/11/2004, sheds light on how the company is developing machine translation. It is using the huge processing power available to it, alongside the increasing body of digitised works (EU documents, out-of-copyright novels, millions of titles being digitised for Google Book Search, etc.) that are available in multiple languages, already translated by professionals. Google is definitely getting somewhere. This 2005 evaluation of the output from several machine translation systems from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology has Google's translations "winning" in all the categories evaluated.

Interview with Michael Stevenson. 6/1/2006 Times Educational Supplement interview with the DfES Director of Technology/Chief Information Officer, who worked previously for the BBC - necessary but not gripping reading for people in the UK with an interest in public sector e-learning. This extract gives you a little of the flavour.

Industry has a really nitty gritty understanding of what works for people. It is critical that we bring those insights into government. Secondly it is in industry that we will see the innovation. If we really care about personalised content than I think it will be industry that gets us there: industry that works with government; industry that works with research labs and universities; industry that works with teachers and learners.

The technology areas (yes, there are two) of the DfES web site have some of Stevenson's reflections, and 4 e-learning case studies. [I had a hand in the early stages of the course described in the third of these.]

Resources [back to top]

Connotea. Social bookmarking systems are web based online reference management systems which users can make publicly available over the web. Connotea is an Open Source bookmarking system launched 12 months ago by the Nature Publishing Group, and modelled broadly on

Connotea is a place to keep links to the articles you read and the websites you use, and a place to find them again. It is also a place where you can discover new articles and websites through sharing your links with other users. By saving your links and references to Connotea they are instantly on the web, which means that they are available to you from any computer and that you can point your friends and colleagues to them. In Connotea, every user's links are visible both to visitors and to every other user, and different users' libraries are linked together through the use of common tags or common bookmarks.

As with, if you are using Firefox as your browser you can put a convenient "add to Connotea" button in your browser tool bar.

The standard for standards. Over the last few years I've worked on the drafts for public comment of 3 British Standards relating to e-learning. As you'd expect, BSI has a standard describing how British Standards are to be written; and this has just been issued in a revised form as BS0:2005, A standard for standards. Published at the same time is the BSI guide to standardisation [3 MB PDF], section 2 of which contains rules for the structure, drafting and presentation of British Standards. If ever you've got a complex document to produce, with, for example, tables, figures, numbered and bulleted lists, footnotes, bibliography, and a multi-level heading structure, the guide has some very clear advice on how such a document could be laid out.

Evaluation of the Sheffield College/Sheffield LEA 'Literacy through Technology' Project. The Sheffield College has published a comprehensive evaluation by Julia Davies from the University of Sheffield's Literacy Research Centre. This shows strong benefits in learner achievement, motivation, and aspirations for school pupils using the Sheffield College's ground-breaking 'Young People Speak Out' blended learning literacy course. The college originally developed this to address the literacy needs of young students leaving school with Entry Level and Level 1 literacy. The materials are clearly of value for school-aged learners also.

The mathematical theory behind Google. January 29th 1998 paper The PageRank Citation Ranking: Bringing Order to the Web, by Lawrence Page, Sergey Brin, Rajeev Motwani, and Terry Winograd:

The importance of a Web page is an inherently subjective matter, which depends on the readers interests, knowledge and attitudes. But there is still much that can be said objectively about the relative importance of Web pages. This paper describes PageRank, a mathod (sic) for rating Web pages objectively and mechanically, effectively measuring the human interest and attention devoted to them. We compare PageRank to an idealized random Web surfer. We show how to efficiently compute PageRank for large numbers of pages. And, we show how to apply PageRank to search and to user navigation.

Sun policy on public discourse. "After 23 years in the e-learning industry, a founder and CEO of Epic Group plc, which was sold on the stock market in late 2005, I am now free from the tyranny of employment." So says Donald Clark in his newly started blog, the launch of which coincides with the publication by Epic of Donald's new white paper "Blogs and e-learning". I guess I'm mildly sceptical about a white paper on blogging by someone with little direct experience in the medium as a writer, but there is no doubting the high quality of the many white papers which Donald has written over the years, all of which are free to order (not download) from the Epic web site. One thing I particularly liked in the white paper was its inclusion of Sun's policy on public discourse, through which a major IT company gives active, if constrained, encouragement to its employees to discuss things openly on the web. Fortnightly Mailing's coverage of Huveaux's 2005 purchase of Epic.

Tackling the roots of racism. Useful report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

What are the causes of racism? And how successful are policy measures in addressing these? The main focus in this unique review by Reena Bhavnani, Heidi Mirza and Veena Meetoo, from Middlesex University, has been on British research and policy evidence. The review also included examples of international interventions and the lessons from their success.

Your Work & Your Health Information System. Back in the early 1990s I was involved in the development of an "expert system" which generated advice to workers about the likely effects on health of different jobs, and the legal and technical remedies. The main architect for the system was my friend Jos Kingston (featured here previously for her work on HTMLtag, which produces clean, automated html from simple Word files, as well as for her candid writing about being terminally ill). Jos has just put full details of the information system on her web site, partly for the record, and partly in case anyone wants to develop the idea further.

Oddments[back to top]

Hugh Thompson has died

Mr Thompson and his crew came upon US troops killing civilians at the village of My Lai on 16 March 1968. He put his helicopter down between the soldiers and villagers, ordering his men to shoot their fellow Americans if they attacked the civilians.

For some reason I'd never registered Hugh Thompson's role in stopping the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, nor how he was treated subsequently, nor that it took 30 years for him to be awarded the US Soldier's Medal. Article and links on BBC web site.

Structured procrastination. Don't miss this 1995 essay by John Perry about "an amazing strategy that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time".

Miss Beazley. Acres of state-funded, platinum-plated, risible, anthropomorphic kitch on the White House web site about George and Laura Bush's dogs. Too ghastly to miss.

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Last updated - 25/1/2006; © Seb Schmoller, but licensed under a UK: England and Wales Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike Creative Commons Licence.

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