by Stephen Downes
Feb 09, 2016
So You Just Bought an Arduino Starter Kit. What Now?
I think kits like this, properly done, are among the best learning tools out there. When I was a child you could buy crystal radio kits, but at $25 they were out of reach. Later I bought electronic components from Radio Shack (you actually had to provide your personal information to be allowed to do this) and messed around with LEDs and such, but I never knew what I was doing and mostly just burned out resistors. Having the parts you need, and some sense of what to do with them, is the ideal combination. And it is so useful to have a basic understanding of circuits and such, not because you'll ever build circuits in your future, but because it's a different way of thinking that doesn't really come up in other core subjects (engineering is like that too). Kids of the next generation will probably be tinkering with 'build-your-own-lifeform' kits. I envy them.
Ed-Fi Alliance Releases Technology Suite to More Simply Connect Educational Systems
Some interesting developments on the tech side. A couple of weeks ago, "the non-profit Ed-Fi Alliance, announced the public release of the Ed-Fi Implementation Suite 2.0, a set of pre-built technology components that allow education agencies to develop and maintain integrated education data systems in their local or district-controlled IT environments." Today, that same organization announced an agreement with IMS Global to "take a unified approach to rostering so that school districts across the U.S. have the ability to allow class lists/rosters and basic student and teacher information to flow easily and securely among data systems and learning technology." This supports IMS's oneRoster specification, "One set of file formats and RESTful web services to exchange roster information." Obviously the combined impact of these announcements is that student information will be spread over the four winds to thousands of vendors, so it's not surprising to see Ed-Fi visit the subject of privacy on numerous occasions in its previous announcements.
When the scaffolding shifts under your feet
Is this true? Sean Michael Morris writes "Any effort on my part to scaffold (and effort to scaffold learning at all) would be colonial, patriarchal, and disempowering." It's a challenge that flies in the face of the educational enterprise as a whole (and especially the learner-empowering constructivists who employ scaffolding as a proxy for didacticism). Yet at the same time, it feels wrong to say that the act of providing support is inherently disempowering. Clearly there are different versions of what is meant by 'scaffolding': writes "I thought of the many times I’ve used scaffolding as a metaphor for good teaching in many of my visual notes. None of the examples in the twitter debate used it the way I’ve imagined it. There are hanging gallows and references to stages." My rule is this: forget the definitions, and if the people who have the least privilege argue that my support is disempowering, then I listen, but if the people making the case are the most privileged, then I wonder why they want me to cease my support.
It’s not Cyberspace anymore
Dana boyd has a short but effective 'Fear and Loathing in Davos' moment in this article laamenting the passing of John Perry Barlow's 'A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace' into a regime where "not only was everyone attached to their iPhones and Androids, but companies like Salesforce and Palantir and Facebook took over storefronts." Sure. It was Davos. What did she expect? "We all imagined that the Internet would be the great equalizer," writes boyd, "but it hasn’t panned out that way. Only days before the Annual Meeting began, news media reported that the World Bank found that the Internet has had a role in rising inequality." Twenty years ago when Perry Barlow wrote his declaration, we didn't trust the traditional media. We still shouldn't. "Digital dividends — growth, jobs and services — have lagged behind,” writes the New York Times. Is that the fault of the internet? Or is it the fault of the club at Davos? But here's the thing: there never was a 'cyberspace' as imagined by John Perry Barlow. I said so at the time. Some of is - a lot of us - understood that to build a better future you have to spend a lifetime building that future, not a weekend waging revolution. And you can't do that at Davos.
The Internet is a Global Public Resource
The Mozilla Foundation's Mark Surman writes a longish post describing access to the internet as a basic right, akin to access to food, water or shelter. On the eve of India's decision to prevent Facebook from creating its own proprietary version of he internet, his thoughts carry additional weight. "When in comes to the health of the Internet," writes Surman, "it’s like we’re back in the 1950s. A number of us have been talking about the Internet’s fragile state for decades—Mozilla, the EFF, Snowden, Access, the ACLU, and many more. All of us can tell a clear story of why the open Internet matters and what the threats are." It's hard to see the internet as being as important as water. But I'd rank it up there with freedom of the press or freedom of the speech.
AutismFather is creating A Safe Minecraft Community for Children with Autism
This is a fundraising page (where people pledge to contribute monthly, rather than one large donation all at once) for a Minecraft community that has been created for children with autism, Autcraft (Facebook). "He set up a server for kids like his to play Minecraft in a safe space," writes a longtime reader. "The Autcraft server is the only place of its kind in cyberspace -- other Minecraft servers for children with autism have come and gone since his was started in 2013. Autcraft now has over 5000 members -- and no money." Hence the fundraising initiative.
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