DCMA and fair use

A significant announcement by the US Library of Congress rules that jailbreaking phones and circumventing digital rights management (DRM) measures on DVDs, games and other digital media is legal for fair use purposes.  The decision was welcomed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) who have gathered an extensive collection of cases where the Digital Copyright Millennium Act (DCMA) has been (ab)used against fair use and consumer rights and legitimate educational, research and artistic activities.

Apple, whose notoriously Orwellian approach to stocking their AppStore has attracted frustration and ridicule in the past, and who were one of those  attempting to fight the change, responded by stating that jailbreaking would still void the warranty on their iphone, a stance which could lead to some interesting decisions in future.

While in practice educators and developers have generally seemed unconcerned about copyright issues when it comes to mashups and the use of extracts from digital media, perhaps as a result of coming from an academic background where fair use and quoting primary or secondary texts is not only accepted but required, it’s reassuring to see a more realistic attitude towards the practice.

X3D working group goes open

X3D logo

The Web3D Consortium has just announced that its standardisation activities will now be open to the public, enabling non-members to participate in development of the specification at all stages rather than just during the public review prior to final approval.   There is still the opportunity for private discussion limited to consortium members for those concerned about commercial or other factors, but the overall emphasis is clearly on making this as open as possible.

X3D is an open ISO standard for representing information about computer generated 3D environments and objects.  Unlike its predecessor, Virtual Reality Modelling (or Markup) Language (VRML), X3D features integration with HTML, and extends the range of effects supported.  X3D is supported by some high profile systems such as the Blender design tool and Sun’s Project Wonderland.

At a time when closed, proprietary players such as Linden Labs are seeing large numbers of layoffs, with inevitable concern from Second Life’s active education community about the potential loss of a huge amount of work and resources should this trend continue, adopting an open approach to development seems a very sensible decision.

Web visibility and open access

The latest update of the twice-yearly Ranking Web of World Universities has just been released, looking at the web visibility of over 20,000 universities and higher education institutions around the world.  The Cybermetrics Lab initiative aims to promote the use of open access web publication of research and teaching content and rankings are based on the availability and discoverability of academic content through both formal and informal online publication.

The report authors specifically address the poor performance of British universities in the study in comparison to other research rankings and identify it as being the consequence of a nationwide lack of commitment to open access: ‘the production of quality papers is far higher than the number of them available in repositories and thus being indexed by Google Scholar.’  Such a lack of commitment has consequences for limiting engagement both with the local community beyond the university, and with the international academic community, particularly in developing countries.  While there is definite activity in this area (such as the joint JISC and HEA Open Educational Resources International Symposium being held in London as I write), it seems we have a long way to go before we start living up to our potential in the global knowledge community.

WebPA Resource Pack now available

webpa-logo-gifA Resource Pack designed to support those considering adopting the award winning WebPA peer assessment system has been developed by the project team and is now available online for free download.  Various sections of the guide address different users – management, academic staff, learning technologists and IT support – and a range of resources is included.  This is an excellent example of the benefits of the strong and active community of practice built up around this project, and will help to inform others who are considering adopting this system.

Fighting cheating, one baseball cap at a time

A fascinating article in the New York Times looks at some of the more unusual measures taken to fight cheating at the University of Central Florida and other US institutions.  Approaches range from the unremarkable (Turnitin) to the ‘I would never have thought of that in a million years’, such as banning baseball caps from being worn the right way round in case answers were written on the underside of the brim.  Firmly technological approaches include overhead cameras which record any ‘suspicious’ behaviour by a student at the same time as recording what is happening on their computer for later investigation.

Such a paranoid approach to student integrity, although apparently very successful, does start from the assumption that all students are out to cheat, an attitude that both students and institutions can find unacceptable, and the article cites one institution that felt the use of Turnitin was inconsistent with their own policies and  honour code.

As anyone who’s ever marked written work will know, there are grades of cheating and of plagiarism, and much  of what is identified as plagiarism is not an intentional attempt at cheating but often the result of weak academic or communication skills, or bad time management and study practices.  It’s very encouraging to see that educating students about what constitutes plagiarism can have a substantial impact on rates of plagiarism – not all those who ‘cheat’ are actually setting out to do so.  As for those who are: some of the examples here will certainly astonish…

Moodle XML Converter

Moodle XML Converter is a simple, free, online tool for creating Moodle quizzes and glossaries from human readable text files.  Developed by Olga Tikhonova, Yulia Ivanova and Alekzandr Ivanov at the Yakutsk State University, the tool supports a number of item types ( MCQ, MRQ, short answer, essay, description, true/false, cloze, numerical and order) and supports feedback and formatting.  The team have also set up a Google group to support the tool.

In concept it’s similar to MCQFM, led by Steve Bennett of the University of Hertfordshire, which provided a human readable method for creating QTI items and linked up with the University of Southampton‘s R2Q2 renderer.