OLDaily, by Stephen Downes

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June 10, 2011

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All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Episode 3)
Adam Curtis, BBC, June 10, 2011.

Full YouTube version and DailyMotion version. The third episode is titled "The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey" and weaves two themes together. The first theme begins with a look at the relation between the minerals needed by technology and the civil war raging in places like Kisangani and the mille collines of Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

The second theme begins with the question of why humans are altrustic. Bill Hamilton answers by suggesting that humans are the means by which genes reproduce. You can harm yourself if it helps your genes survive. George Price discovered the paper in the 1960s and saw this as "a description of machines he already understood, computers." It supported the idea of understanding and analyzing the world in a completely rational way. But the theory explains not only altruism but also murder, war and even genocide. It becomes known as the selfish gene.

"If everything we did, either good or bad, was actually a rational strategy, computed by the codes inside us, then religion with its moral guidance, is irrelevant. And it demolished the enlightenment idea that human beings were above the rest of nature." Cue Dian Fossey, living with the Gorillas, caught up in the war. The altruism of the now-religious Price toward the poor. The altruism of Fossey toward the gorilla. And as the old dream of a liberal democracy in central Africa was dying, a new dream of man and animal as equals in the web of nature was emerging. The Hound of Heaven. Cue Richard Dawkins (and, with no hint of irony, disco music).

Hamilton becomes convinced, first, than modern medicine is fundamentally wrong, because it interferes with the gene's natural self-expression, and that AIDS was caused by the efforts of doctors working in the Congo to create a polio vaccine. Flying to central Africa to explore this theory, he comes face-to-face with the consequences of the wars, "consequences created not just by western imperialism and greed, but also by the best and noblest of liberal ideals." The theory about AIDS was hokum, Hamilton's idea that "human beings are helpless chunks of hardware controlled by software programs written in their genetic codes" lives on, as does the idea that altruistic liberal interference does more harm than good. Everything we do, either good or bad, seems to have terrible unforseen consequences. The genes will win out, in the end.

See also the Wikipedia synopsis. I am dissatisfied with this episode, though I think it strives mightily to get to the heart of the doctrine that any effort to make things better results in "unintended consequences". The doctrine - and the series as a whole, for that matter - needs a response.

[Link] [Comment] [Tweet] [Tags: YouTube, Video, Wikipedia, Africa]

Textbook Publishers and OERs
Michael Feldsetin, e-Literate, June 10, 2011.

Michael Feldstein on the reactions of the publishers to various OER initiatives: "There’s a bit of kabuki theater going on in the industry right now. I can virtually guarantee that most or all of the companies represented by the textbook executives on that panel has some sort of OER-related initiative going on or at least in the planning stage."

[Link] [Comment] [Tweet] [Tags: Open Educational Resources, Books]

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Children learning by themselves and progressive inquiry
Teemu Leinonen, FLOSSE Posse, June 10, 2011.

Suggesting that Sugata Mitra’s main argument is that "Children learn without a teacher, or at least without a teacher-led instruction," Teemu Leinonen argues that "if we’ll take a closer look of his experiments the argument is oversimplified. In the experiments there is a teacher - an extraordinary teacher. That is professor Mitra himself." How so? "Mitra is giving students an assignment.... A professor asking students to study, giving them a new tools (computers) empowering them, giving them self-confidence and motivation. There is also a promise and actual implementation of assessment... children learn even better if they have a “granny figure” supporting them... a good teacher is a bit like a granny: supports students, is interesting in their work and praise them." It is, in other words, a bit like progressive inquiry learning, a method widely studied and used in Finland. Perhaps. But the inference is that since "A does x" and "B does x", then "A is B". This is a fallacious inference. Mitra may do some things in common with teachers, but it does not follow that he is a teacher, certainly not in the sense that most people would think of one.

[Link] [Comment] [Tweet] [Tags: Assessment, Wikipedia]

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Three Generations of Pedagogy and Elephants in the Room
Terry Anderson, Virtual Canuck, June 10, 2011.

If you're going to refer to the presence of the instructor as "the elephant in the room" then perhaps we ought to characterize instructivist pedagogies as "heavy", rather than "hard", and connectivist as "light" rather than "soft". Just saying. That said, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea of the three as being in a range. After all, connectivism includes elements of instructivism as well as constructivism.

[Link] [Comment] [Tweet] [Tags: Connectivism, Constructivism]

Civic Engagement and Community Information: Five Strategies to Revive Civic Communication
Peter Levine, The Aspen Institute, June 10, 2011.

files/images/CivicPaperCover.png, size: 40641 bytes, type:  image/png White paper from the U.S. advocating five strategies to revive civic communication:
- Create a Civic Information Corps using the nation’s “service” infrastructure to generate knowledge.
- Engage universities as community information hubs... so that colleges and universities create forums for public deliberation
- Invest in face-to-face public deliberation... offering training, physical spaces, and neutral conveners and... require public officials to pay attention
- Generate public “relational” knowledge.... to make transparent the structures of our communities.
- Build an advocacy network that debates and defends public information and
The idea, and I support it, is to engage in a form of open government that is more than merely open information, but actively includes the public in the governance structure itself. Via Ron Lubensky.

[Link] [Comment] [Tweet] [Tags: Information, Networks]

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Project Reclaim: or, how I learned to start worrying and love my data
Doug Belshaw, Weblog, June 10, 2011.

Nice map, pictured above, of the personal data and content to be recovered in a Project Reclaim. "To be clear," writes Doug Belshaw, "none of what follows is about getting a warm fuzzy feeling from being more ‘open’. It’s everything to do with having access to my data when I’m the same age as my parents. This stuff is important." The diagram makes clear the range and variety of data and services affected; it doesn't seem like much until we start adding it up.

[Link] [Comment] [Tweet] [Tags: Privacy Issues]

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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