November/December 2000 // Spotlight Site
by Stephen Downes
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Stephen Downes "Distance-educator.Com" The Technology Source, November/December 2000. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Originally a resource for a course about distance education offered by Farhad Saba at San Diego State University, has grown into a strong resource and information site in its own right. The site now provides a daily newsfeed of distance education and online learning headlines, new articles by Saba and guest writers, resource and book listings, feature articles, feature sites, research reports, and more. The links and references are up-to-date and the articles are refreshed frequently. Indeed, the only stale corner of the site is the discussion area, a section which could do with the input of a regular moderator or convener.'s front page layout is efficient and attractive. Two wide, center columns feature recent content and updates, while two narrow columns on the left and right provide context sensitive indices and tables of contents. The result is a fluid and easily navigable page design other sites would do well to emulate.

New visitors will find resources of interest most quickly by selecting the appropriate link in the "Solutions For..." index in the left hand column. Select "Designer" for design resources, "Learner" for learner resources, and so on. Each resulting page provides quick links to articles, site lists, and resources appropriate for that particular discipline.

New visitors will also enjoy the "Quick Reference" list at the top of the third column on the front page. This list of 22 major topics provides authoritative lists of journals, publications, research reports, companies, and more. The links listed in each category are carefully selected, representing the most important or authoritative resources in the field. Links to related resources allow researchers to delve more deeply into any of the topics listed.

Occasional visitors will want to focus on the main column on the front page. Recent articles, research reports, and other resources are featured in this area, each displayed with an attractive photograph and short summary. Clicking on the link displays the entire item in a pop-up window, a feature which may distract some viewers. The writing is crisp, to the point, and topical.

The "Community" links, prominently displayed in the third column, offers quick access to's discussion boards, chat rooms, and other community tools. Despite the strong placement of these links, the community section of the site is the weakest, reflecting perhaps more the glut of learning community sites on the Internet rather than any weakness in's design.

And indeed, if design were the only criterion for success in this crowded market, would win hands down; it is easily one of the best designed educational resource sites today. Each page is worth a second look as information, related information, navigational aids, and deeper links are streamed into different columns; this reflects a deep understanding of data design which itself should inform course and Web site designers.

But will have to tap into a stream of Internet traffic—something its daily newsfeed may accomplish, if it is handled correctly—if it is to be anything greater than a beautiful artifact. If it does, it may emerge as one of the more important sites in distance education today.

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