Archive for May, 2006

Patent Office so out of Touch

May 22, 2006

When you see items like this, you can only shake your head and wonder where they live.  In 2000, CTLT had an application called The Bridge that contained an online quiz. WebCT had similar tools in a similar time frame.

Based on concerns raised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
about “prior art,” the United States Patent and Trademark Office
(USPTO) has announced it will conduct a reevaluation of a patent
granted in 2003 for online testing. The notion of prior art covers
whether the subject of a patent is indeed original–and patentable–or
whether another party had previously developed the item or technology
in question. The patent at issue was granted to for
technologies broadly related to offering tests online. If valid, the
patent would allow the company to claim patent authority over a wide
range of online testing tools deployed at colleges and universities,
and the company has already approached some institutions about
licensing the patent. According to the EFF, however, another company
offered such tools for sale at least one year before the
patent was issued. The review process is expected to take at least two
months. James J. Posch, chief executive of, noted that their
patent claim has passed muster once already. “I’ll be surprised if it
doesn’t survive a second time,” he said. Jason Schultz, staff lawyer
at the EFF, had a different outlook, saying that he is confident the
patent will be invalidated unless discloses some secret
Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 May 2006 (sub. req’d)

Transmitting Life over the Internet

May 21, 2006

First steps to building the Star Trek Transporter Room. Bear with me…

I awoke this morning in a dream about a failing attempt to hire someone to teach educational technology. I’ve participated in such an effort, and more recently, I’ve watched my unit work through a process to hire a Design Consultant — a learning design specialist to work with faculty on course design and evaluation.

So, I was saying to the search committee, I wanted to see a candidate come in talking about working with students on a project to transmit life over the Internet. Beam me up, Scotty.

Further awake, I realized that this is already happening, but maybe all the steps have not been put together. Viruses are being sequenced, and the data about sequences stored in genetic banks. DNA and RNA can be synthesized from the data in these store houses, so a virus could (concievably) be sequenced, transmitted, and re-synthesized. Hummm.
Now, my remaining problem is, what category to use for this post?

Templatize Your World

May 16, 2006

I’ve been trying to think about things like “Learning from Las Vegas” the book where Robert Venturi introduced the idea of building as “duck” or “decorated shed.” Decorated sheds are simple boxes with decoration applied as a veneer. Ducks are buildings that get their decoration from deep structural features (like the burger stand that looks like a burger), or the TransAmerica building that is shaped like a pyramid.

At the back of the hotel where I am staying, I was looking at some banquet tables — beat up, ugly discs on legs. But, when covered with a table cloth, and decorated, the table looks good, not like junk. And if the decorations (a veneer) are damaged, they are easily swapped out. Tables as decorated sheds.

I’m at a conference, watching a guy demonstrate features in Word 2007. He claims that people spend a lot of time formatting documents, changing fonts, trying to format tables, etc, to match the corporate branding, or to get a set of documents to look alike. So Microsoft is offering these new formatting aids (style the whole document, style the table, etc.) in Word to make all this take less time. And all this is possible because the document has been separated into its content and its styling. The whole document can be re-styled, or converted to the web, by some quick re-decoration. Document as decorated shed.

There is something in this skin deepness that is bothering me. It bothers me in architecture that is just appliqué. It bothers me in modular offices, Dilbert’s cubicle land. Its something about an insincerity, a theater stage set, for the relationships of life. Its a contrast from the simpler, and more genuine, feeling of a crafted space, enduring relationships.

Looking at these tools, I’m wondering if we can deploy them into higher education. If our users (bad word for teachers and learners) will accept them, or if they will demand a greater creative freedom. Perhaps, even if they will accept them, they require more creative freedom. Can one learn to be a creative, critical thinker in a templetized world?

SuMo information workers

May 16, 2006

I’m at a Microsoft SharePoint conference watching a collection of IT professionals from large multinational corporations (KPMG, Volvo, Parks Canada, various drug companies) live/work mobile. The question is not “Do they have a cell phone” it is, “Do they have more than one?” or “Do they wear it in their ear?” or “Which functions have they moved from their laptop to their phone?” I watched over the shoulder of a guy who was group-blogging the event in French, using Blogger. One way to think about this is that this group of people has learned to work in a very different way — and they are likely to use their roles to bring others over to their mode of working.
The term SuMo comes from the folks at Parks Canada. They talk about thin clients and SuMo clients. Thin as in thin-client, server-based tools, and SuMo, not as “fat” but Super Mobile. I don’t know if I’m watching what Parks Canada calls SuMo workers here, becuase these workers consume high bandwidth and many of the Canadian folks are dial in on a satellite phone from some obscure location.
I was on the bus the other day, talking to a WSU instructor and asking if he was paperless, or had considered working paperless. My question was aimed at understanding how he (sample size=1) would respond to a pandemic flu virus and the state of Washingon’s decision to disperse state workers, and WSU’s goal of continuing to offer classes despite the dispersal. The folks at the meeting here would not have a problem with dispersal, they work dispersed already, but the faculty member I interviewed was far from thinking about, and far from being equipped, to work in this mode.

New charter school on the horizon for Moscow

May 10, 2006

By Kate Baldwin Daily News staff writer
Published: 05-10-2006
Education choices are about to grow by one with a new charter school’s arrival in Moscow. Organizers behind the Palouse Prairie Charter School are inviting the public to find out more at a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Great Room of the 1912 Center.The school is set to open in August 2007, eventually expanding through eighth grade. The school first will enroll roughly 75 students and grow to 150. In the beginning, the grades will be combined as first and second, third and fourth, and fifth and sixth.

The school, which will serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade, will use an Expeditionary Learning–Outward Bound model. Bill Rivers, chairman of the school’s board, describes the approach as focused on project-based learning, where students plunge in-depth into single topics they choose.

“It’s very different from the traditional teacher in front of the classroom telling the answers to the kids that they memorize,” he said.

The effort to bring the school to Moscow began about two years ago, Rivers said. There now are about 15 core families involved.

Local parent Olle Pellmyr has a son, Bjorn, who will be entering public school this fall. He hopes to have him transfer to the charter school when it opens. Pellmyr said he found out about the project in the typical Palouse way.

“I was talking to one of my colleagues at (Washington State University) about teaching models, and he said there was a group putting this together in town,” he said.

Pellmyr and his wife began attending meetings a few weeks ago.

“When a school first starts up people are naturally hesitant,” he said. “You, in a sense, have to take a leap of faith that it will actually work.”

He said the organizers have tremendous knowledge of the task at hand. “These are people that are coming from all walks of education.”

The model was developed in 1993 and is used at more than 140 schools across the country, including Spokane and Boise.

Charter schools are public schools that have to hold enrollment lotteries, though there often is a misconception that students are hand-picked.

“The first few years are when you have a very good chance of getting in,” he said. “Why not tailor the schools to the kids, rather than the kids to the schools?” Pellmyr said. “If we can have that without sacrificing the rigorousness of the academic programs, I thinks that’s perfect.”

For more information, visit the Web site at

Kate Baldwin can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail at