Today I gave my presentation at Open Publish 2004 in Sydney. The abstract promised that I would talk about some of the challenges and issues in education publishing, for online learning, and how the current Learning Management Systems in our corner of the market handle content. So I did.

I decided that I would put a bit of effort into the presentation as narrative this time, and wrapped up the talk in the XML as 'hill' metaphor, the one that likens structure in an XML file to potential energy, giving you a downhill run when rendering. First I checked with Ian Sefton, my dad, the retired physics lecturer. He said "that's a good metaphor" but were well into the fourth bottle at the time.

I had a Power-Point presentation (see it here in PDF courtesy of if you want to. I think a used PowerPoint presentation is a bit like a used condom, but because of the broken 13 month old IBM T40, which let me down, this one has not been used. I was tweaking this right up to the point, ten minutes before my session, where the computer refused to start up. No lights, no noise, not with either of the batteries or the power supply. So I had a choice of retrieving the day-old backup I emailed to myself, and borrowing a machine, or giving an actual talk, without PowerPoint.

I did it without PowerPoint, and you know what? It wasn't too bad.

In summary this is what I talked about:

  • Outlined the context. NextEd is working with customers who by and large are concerned with distributed delivery of learning services, meaning that content must be able to be delivered remotely.
  • The main players in the University oriented Learning Management System market are not good for building webs of linked content for distance education, they encourage you to upload whatever you have (usually MS Office documents). This is OK for handouts in on-campus deployments, but will not work for distributed delivery where other people teach your course off-shore.
  • The XML as hill metaphor, together with the author as cyclist metaphor to talk about the importance of picking the right tool, and the right template/schema for your authors. You can get them to pedal up hill (ie encode potential energy into their documents) if they get a small reward; a downhill coast. That is, they will follow a standard if they can see the point, such as a web-site of their course building before their eyes. They will not cooperate if you ask them to climb too steep a hill for no apparent reason.
  • Gave an outline of what good a good course content management system would look like; which by some weird coincidence looks like the one that I have helped build at NextEd - the Continuous Publishing System.
  • Took a small risk and likened university lecturers to five-year-olds. But I think I got away with it. I did explain that I like five-year-olds. Unfortunately we are out of stock until next year.

After the session, I got the computer out and fiddled with it for twenty minutes, swapped the batteries (again) and it came good, but I had already survived without it.


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