Amazon Offers Web Services and Development Kit

The official press release is here, but basically Amazon has gone a step beyond XML support to opening up their API for full Web Services SOAP support. You can read the developer information here.

Since I am an Amazon Associate on my Celtic Studies Resources site (finding places to buy Celtic Studies scholarly works can be difficult), I’m obviously pleased, but Amazon’s support for SOAP has instructional potential. It makes it easier to order those books in small seminar-size quantities that the college bookstore may not be able to get from their supplier—or keep on the shelf long enough for the enrolled students to buy. I’m interested to see if the SOAP support is two-way; will they bring in content from outside the Amazon server? I’ve used the Amazon review writing invitation as a writing assignment for composition classes, to a fair amount of success. If you could write a review, say on your local web log at Blogger or Userland, and then have it upstream to Amazon, you’d get a lot more eyeballs, from a lot more communities than either a weblog or Amazon alone could provide. There are of course issues about content monitoring, but Amazon has those problems already.

Weblogs, Outlines, and Writing

Dave Winer has posted aboout a new tool he’s working on, his Weblog Outliner.

I want this.

I think the ability to outline and post has enormous potential for not only blogging and writing, but for teaching writing. I don’t require students to turn in or use an outline, but I do require them to use any of a variety of pre-writing tools and techniques before they start. List-making and outlines are two that students seem particularly drawn to.

The virtue of doing the outline/listing publicly over the net are:

  • Public writing, shared writing, is taken seriously. Students are eager to revise.
  • If the writing is by its nature public within the defined community, then the temptation to plagiarize is less, since the source will be known to others of the community.
  •  I can help and interact with students “on the fly.” They can help and learn from each other.
  •  Structure, of piece of writing, and of individual paragraphs and sentences, is one of the hardest things to explain to students. Outlines and lists help make the structures of an essay and of individual paragraphs much easier to understand and manipulate.
  •  The web and good technology are intriguing, and fun, and their use in writing can help seduce students to write, and to find that they enjoy writing and communicating in and of itself.
  •   Having students post the final version in a non outline form, publishing their essays on the web, of course shares many of these virtues. Web log tools can make that much easier.

The problem is that Radio as it stands is too unfinished, too arcane and poorly designed in terms of UI to use widely in education. It’s too hard for consumers to set up and use, the documentation is awful, the Mac UI violates several basic Mac standards, and is needlessly arcane. OPML has potential, but it needs to be freed from Radio Userland’s bowels and set free so professional developers can employ it as a standard. Left to Userland’s developers, it will languish and choke.

SCORM and Modules

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about standards for courseware and CMS allowing “mix and match” development:

For the first time, evolving technical standards for software are making it possible for colleges to customize distance-learning programs by easily mixing online-learning software from multiple companies.

This is of course exactly the approach to a CMS system that makes the most sense to me. One of the standards the article refers to is SCORM, “the Sharable Content Object Reference Mode.” Here’s a good overview of SCORM. The difficulty is that talking about a standard is one thing; actually adhering to it is another, far more important step.