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by Stephen Downes
April 23, 2009

Without Data, You Are Just Another Person with an Opinion
So says Derek Wenmoth. But do you think so? What if you're Rene Descartes or John Locke, who wielded logic, not data, to reshape human thought. What if you're, say, Einstein, who used a thought experiment? What if you're Shakespeare, who employed the tools of literature and metaphor to carve out a concise understanding of his human subjects. What if you're Monet with a paintbrush, or Hemingway with a tale? What if you're Churchill, with an army, or Ford, with an assembly line? What if you're Bill Gates with an operating system, or Steve Jobs with a computer? What if you see the world though some other point of view than that of the bean-counter. Are you just another person with an opinion? Really?

What we now understand is that you can collect data like crazy, but if you don't know what you're measuring, or worse, think you're measuring one thing while measuring another, you are not even as informed as a mere person with an opinion. Derek Wenmoth, Derek's Blog, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , , ] [Comment]

McKinsey Goes Skin Deep
A McKinsey Report says, basically, that the American failure to address the failing educational system in 1998 led to the economic collapse ten years later. Tom Hoffman (and not Thomas Friedman) has the appropriate reaction, saying simply that "I've seen no evidence (and McKinsey provides none) that any country has closed an achievement gap tied to income equality as large as the US's." The point is - and this is more my view than Hoffman's, though I suspect he may agree - the economic collapse, and the educational collapse, are tied to the same underlying problem: decades of increasing inequality in American society, and corruption in the ranks of the business and social elite.

More on this from Clay Burrell Part One, Part Two. "Friedman's fixation on test score rankings divorced from poverty rankings needs fixing. But it's standard in education punditry today. We ignore poverty, and instead only focus on schools and teachers." See also This criticism from Tim Stahmer. Tomm Hoffman, Tuttle SVC, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , , , ] [Comment]

Battle Lines: Is Academic At War With Technology?
Sarah "Intellagirl" Robbins puts together an entertaining presentation comparing the reaction of academia to technology with the reaction of the French nobility to longbowmen at Agincourt (1415). Having played far too much Civilization, I know how devastating the longbow can be against even heavily armoured opponents. And just so, though academia may appear to have the numbers and the weapons, they are facing a superior technology. (Not mentioned in the presentation: in 1453, the French would employ their own superior technology, the cannon, at the Battle of Castillon, effectively ending the Hundred Years' War.) Sarah Robbins, Slideshare, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

Digital Explorations
Barbara Ganley announces a new website and blog, Digital Explorations. "We've made it - onto our website - after a couple of years of dreaming from inside the walls of higher education about a different model of learning: townspeople coming together online and in person to share their collected expertise, their community-based projects, their processes through connecting, creating, collaborating and conversing - here, in town, online, and all over the country!" Barbara Ganley, Digital Explorations, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

GeoCities to Shutdown; What Was GeoCities, You Ask?
I remember when Geocities launched. Read its history on Wikipedia. It was so inspiring, and I was awed and amazed by their Javascript-supported content editor (I still have a copy of it on a CD somewhere). To my mind, what doomed Geocities over the years was bandwidth - the sites were never fast, and got slower and slower until a Geocities link was a signal to go get a cup of coffee (Angelfire, a Geocities clone eventually purchased by Lycos, has suffered a similar fate). Yahoo has done lots of things well over the years - but hosting member content hasn't been one of them (Flickr notwithstanding). Adam Ostrow, Mashable, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , , , , ] [Comment]

New Reading, New Writing
Will Richardson enthuses after reading Steven Johnson in the WSJ on how reading will be changed by the ebook. "But what was different," writes Richardson, "was my ability to interact with it through Diigo." To me, it's hard not to think of Johnson's price as a sponsored article by Kindle, but maybe I read too much into things. Still, there is a point to be made of the idea that reading may become collaborative - out there on the real web (not the Kindle, where you can't do this sort of thing) I have been reading the Orwell Diaries for the last several months, since it started, commenting occasionally and reading the other comments. Moreover, I think that for some people - not for traditional writers like Johnson or Kelly, who still gurgitate entire books in a single go - writing has become an interactive exercise. I have, for example, written the equivalent of several books in these pages, engaging in a years-long back-and-forth with readers and commentators. Something else you can't do on a Kindle. See also Gardner Campbell on this item. Will Richardson, Weblogg-ed, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: none] [Comment]

Looking for Virtual School Board Members - Are You Interested?
I think this is an excellent idea - inviting members of the online community to participate as "Board Members" listening to student reviews of controversial books. I'm not available that week - I'm at a conference - but perhaps some readers are? Karl Fisch, The Fischbowl, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

Common Sense Change
I wonder what sort of beliefs Education Week has about blogs. Goodness knows, I am the last person to complain about typos, writing style, or anything related to that, but this unsigned post on Education Week's Leader talk blog is strikingly inarticulate, with numerous grammatical errors, as though written by a child or a struggling teen. I think that if Education Week wants to host blogs (much less blogs "by school leaders for school leaders" and underwritten with Wallace Foundation money) the authors should be identified and accountable for their work. This post simply represents a slur against both educational leaders and blogs - which may be exactly what Education Week had in mind. Unattributed, Education Week, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , ] [Comment]

World Digital Library Officially Launches
The World Digital Library was officially launched on April 21. The project was announced with fanfare a few years ago. Still. Not counting whatever UNESCO and the Library of Congress have spent, more than ten million dollars has been contributed. To produce (and metatag, of course) 1170 photographs. I would have expected, well, more. Compare, say, to Shorpy, which spends, well, much less. Gavin Baker, Open Access News, April 23, 2009 [Link] [Tags: , , ] [Comment]

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Copyright 2008 Stephen Downes

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