OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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March 17, 2011

Feature Article
Five Key Questions
Stephen Downes, March 17, 2011.

In its 2010 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Ontario, Canada announced its intention to create an Ontario Online Institute (OOI) to support online learning in the province as part of the Open Ontario Plan. I was asked to provide some initial recommendations for that initiative, in the form of responses to five questions. This is my response.

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OLPC's New Website: A Complete Fail
Wayan Vota, OLPC News, March 17, 2011.

Wayan Vota doesn't mince any words in his criticism of the new OLPC website. After reviewing the site myself, I have to agree with him. And while I could be more forgiving of the garish colours and odd design, I do find it odd that the website left out the OLPC blog from its list of links.

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Governments should stop funding higher education
Daniel Lemire, Weblog, March 17, 2011.

It's important to see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, there is underway a deliberate attempt to destroy public education. Miguel Guhlin cites a Dallas Observer article: "Up until this very moment, I don't think many real people understood the magnitude or the ferocity of the attack being mounted on the basic institutions of our democracy by the ultra-right." On the other hand, there is the very real challenge to government funding for education, brought about not only by the recession (which has been very convenient for opponents of public funding) but also by the economics of informal learning and learning technologies. Daniel Lemire captures some of this in this post. "Public education is equivalent to subsidizing corporations." he writes. And "If it costed hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete a Ph.D., nobody would do it." See also Open Education with another version of this argument. My take, summarized in a comment, but also captured also in the column I posted today, is that while we should change the orientation of our system, it remains imperative that public support for education continue, in order to ensure equity of opportunity.

We have to be careful. There are some people who would bring down the public system in order to be able to impose their own values and ideas on tomorrow's children. They should not be confused with, or deemed to be allied with, those who would reconfigure the public system in order to promote greater liberty, equality and opportunity through self-determination and open access. In stepping forward to greater freedom we must take care to ensure we are not stepping into an abyss.

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Education in Shanghai (and Finland): Open Tracks and Diversity
Teemu Leinonen, FLOSSE Posse, March 17, 2011.

Teemu Leinonen visits Shanghgai and finds an education system that is much like Finland's. Not surprisingly, both are at the top of the recent PISA evaulations of educational outcomes. "Both emphasis equality, open tracks, teacher training, as well as teachers and schools autonomy. All this is done by combining these priorities with fact-based centralized planning. In this kind of system equality does not mean only equality of opportunity but also an attempt to invest resources to those individuals and schools that are recognized to lag behind." He notes, "The system is not rewarding those who are performing well with extra resources, but rather leveling the differences in the performance of the different units."

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Another New Blackboard Competitor Arrives: Coursekit
Matt Crosslin, Edugeek Journal, March 17, 2011.

I've browsed around a bit in CourseKit, a learning management system coded by three students who were so fed up with Blackboard they decided to create their own, and I like what I see. A lot. They write, "We forgot everything we knew about what's out there to really bring the best solution to the classroom." The system looks it. It's not a traditional instructor-focused LMS. It's designed with the students' experience in mind. Some highlights:
- "Social is a big focus for us. Education benefits from discussion. Up until now, however, student interaction only happens within lectures, if even. We want to extend the class experience beyond lecture time."
- "Our calendar is robust but still simple. Each calendar item - lectures, exams, assignments - has content inside. There's a description of the item, relevant files, and comments, all in one calendar item."
- "We rethought what a syllabus looks like. It's ridiculous that most classes still have paper syllabi made in Microsoft Word. So we elegantly display all syllabus content with a quick way to jump from section to section. "
CourseKit is elegant and intelligently designed. It will probably stay that way until marketing, focus group facilitators and 'stakeholder meetings' have a crack at it. Tom Werner comments, "When college students design a site to support their learning, they make it like Facebook."

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Scholarly HTML – major progress
Petermr, A Scientist and the Web, March 17, 2011.

To me this looks like another project in the generic microformats project, but it's probably a useful exercise, and there may be more to it behind the scenes. The idea of Scholarly HTML (ScHTML) is to have a common method of including references and the like in HTML documents. According to the principles, "ScHTML is scholarly because it addresses the every-day problems scholars have in conveying the outputs of their work and providing education. Fundamental to the standard is a community-led process of creating broad range of tools for producing or consuming." Sure, maybe it's a case of reinventing the wheel. But in order to really appreciate the wheel, I think, you have to invent one for yourself.

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The answer to Network Neutrality, data caps and Usage Based Billing lies with Google, Amazon, Netflix, Apple
Bill St. Arnaud, Weblog, March 17, 2011.

I was disappointed to find that my internet service had acquired a new, lower usage cap of 60 gig per month, and speeds capped at 10 mbps, along with a price increase. So now I'm paying more than double what I was paying before, for poorer service. It's an absurdity that exists in Canada, writes Bill St. Arnaud, because of the cable-telco duopoly that exists here. But when " we demonstrated that we could build our own dark fiber and light it at a fraction of the cost that the telcos wanted for their lower bandwidth managed service" the internet service providers quickly changed their tune on pricing for fibre backbones.

The same logic, he writes, holds for home internet. "Google, Amazon, Neflix et al need to partner together to develop a similar strategy in the battle against the telco/cableco cartel." Well, yeah, but then these providers would merge, and we'd be back at a monopoly or duopoly. Competition doesn't last long. The providers always merge. That's why there's no response other than regulation for bandwidth provision. The market is a poor poor determinate of pricing the moment providers even whiff that they are providing an essential service. Of course, when the providers also own the regulators ("the Chair of Canada's regulator (CRTC) sounds like a spokesperson for Bell Canada"), that's when you get into the situation we're in. "We need another Teddy Roosevelt to take a big stick and break up this oligopoly which is choking innovation and dragging down the economy as a whole."

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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