by Stephen Downes
Nov 27, 2015
No Rich Child Left Behind, and Enriching the Rich: Why MOOCs are not improving education
Computing Education Blog,
I've heard this argument a lot, and here it is again: "All the evidence I know suggests that MOOC learners are typically well-educated, more affluent from the developed world, and male." OK, let's suppose that's true (it might not be). So what? First, MOOCs nonetheless provide more access than previously to people without access to education (mostly for people outside the United States, which is why they don't show up in the US-only statistics cited here). And second, it is true of pretty much all really useful things (like, say, the internet itself) that the first users are well-educated white males. That fact does not make the thing less useful. Consider another example: money. Most of it is in the hands of well-educated white males. But it doesn't follow that it would not be useful (even more useful, actually) in the hands of non-educated, non-white non-males. Image: E-learning Consortium.
Genes Influence How Drugs Work
Julie A Johnson,
The medical profession is taken as the standard-bearer for evidence-based learning theory, and the model here is large-scale trials with control groups and carefully measured interventions. The presumption in medicine (and so to for the corresponding education theorists) is that people are physiologically the same. Sure, there are variations in height, weight, and gender, etc. But where it really matters, at the biological and chemical level, there is no significant difference between people. Except... there is. "Do you reach for Tylenol or Advil? Most people have a preference because they have learned over time that one works better than the other at relieving their pain. This type of variability from person to person is true for nearly every medication." That's why we have doctors who work individually with patients when considering prescriptions and treatments.
University of Manchester,
This University of Manchester 'academic phrasebank' was sent to me almost a week ago now, and I've been reading through it, mulling it, and trying to pin down why I find it so unsatisfactory. And it's not simply that it's a 'how-to' guide instructing students in the arcane are of obfuscation. It's because it substitutes the rote use of formulae and phrases for actual knowledge of linguistic structure and clarity of expression. It's like old-school mathematics, which is based on memorizing rather than comprehension. For example, there's a section on quantification. The phrasebank throws a list of phrases at readers. It is grammatically incorrect ("Over half..."). It is imprecise ("The average of 12 observations..."). It is passive ("... has experienced an 89% increase ..."). It doesn't indicate anywhere what a quantification is, and what it is of. It's a guide for people who don't understand what they're trying to say and how to say it, and it substitutes formula for clarity. Such is so much of learning today. Image: Mobogenie.
Ten steps to make Canada a leader in science
Following from yesterday's discussion of science in Canada, we have today this post from Lee Smolin in Maclean's. Essentially, the advice is to focus on emerging leaders in promising domains overlooked by other institutions, to invest heavily in them, and to give them free reign, rewarding discoveries rather than citations or publications. I'm sure many scientists would nod in agreement. But it's the 'big man' theory of science, focused on rewarding a few stars (mostly just for being stars) and in my view it places at risk the overall scientific infrastructure in the country. The purpose of science isn't only to focus in this way. And you can't simply buy this focus from abroad, as Smolin suggests, you have to grow it at home, creating the field where emerging leaders can arise and promising international candidates can land. Science depends not on its stars (there's always a 'star') but on broad-based community support for science.
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