by Stephen Downes
May 18, 2016
As the Press Release announces, Elsevier has acquired the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) and plans to in some way roll it in with Mendelay. According to Elsevier, "Mendeley and Elsevier will help close the loop from the preprint on SSRN to fuller collaboration and broader dissemination through the 5 million-strong Mendeley researcher community." Many in the community are not happy, despite Elsevier's reassurances that "SSRN will continue to enable users to 'submit for free and download for free.'" For example, Stevan Harnad writes, by email, that "we know exactly why Elsevier acquired SSRN (and Mendeley): It's to retain their stranglehold over a domain (peer-reviewed scholarly/scientific research publishing) in which they are no longer needed." We see this, for example, in its growth in the domain of academic IP.
Google has released an app called 'Spaces' intended to support small groups. It integrates other Google apps: "With Spaces, it’s simple to find and share articles, videos and images without leaving the app, since Google Search, YouTube, and Chrome come built in." I wouldn't invest too much effort into this, as Google has a pattern of creating services and closing them. I've created a space for OLDaily - the system still seems to need some work. The service seems to resemble things like Delicious.com.
OK, I get this: "e-learning is at its infant stage in universities in Kenya. Majority of universities lacked senate approved e-learning policies to guide structured implementation. A few lecturers (32%) and students (35%) used e-learning and few courses (10%) were offered online. Majority of online uploaded modules (87%) were simply lecture notes and not interactive. Again, universities in Kenya lacked requisite ICT infrastructure and skills." The strength of this article is that it collects a lot of data on universities in Kenya and the east Africa region. But I fail to see how this follows: "The study recommends that universities partner with the private sector to improve ICT infrastructure, build capacity, and standardize e-learning programs in the country." It is nowhere supported by the data. Indeed, looking at things like lack of training and lack of bandwidth, it appears that the problem in Kenyan higher education is a lack of money. But he private sector gets involved in order to take money out of the system. It seems to me that private sector involvement would simply make the situation worse.
This article has an almost-decent sample size and the sort of conclusion that magazines like the Chronicle love to publish: "Data was collected via 516 responses to an online survey and achievement tests.... The credit bearing group also scored significantly higher achievement scores than the credit careless group. Credit clearly and significantly affected all dependent variables investigated in this study." Now of course I'd like to see more courses studied (the only one here is 'Ataturk's Principles and History of Turkish Revolution' which while no doubt interesting (I'd take it) is a bit niche). And the sample (which "consisted of faculty of education students who responded to the online survey") appears to be dangerously self-selective.
This could have been such an interesting paper had the authors not succumbed to what is a disease in our field, small (n=33) and unrepresentative (graduate students pursuing a master's degree in education) samples. The idea was to determine the impact of small group size on social presence in learning, where social presence was measured in three dimensions:
Oh, what a larger scale and more comprehensive study could have done with this, actually getting into the differences in these three models, looking at the nuance a large sample size would provide, and perhaps identifying conditions (cultures, subject area, personalities) in which one or another is a more useful tool. Ah, but we get none of this. We get only this: "Our results suggest that by manipulating group size, students' perceptions of cohesion, and sociability were positively increased." Sigh.
I'm glad e-Literate asked Michael Caulfield to elaborate on his post, though it still feels abridged to me. Here's the traditional take on 'personalization': "You learn a certain set of things, you get tested, the personalization software finds knowledge gaps and runs you through the set of canned explanations that you need." But this isn't right, says Caulfield. "The biggest advantage of a tutor is not that they personalize the task, it’s that they personalize the explanation... students often have very similar skill gaps, but the remedy for each student may be radically different." There's a short list of what a truly personalized course would do - this is the part I wish were elaborated. (The earlier version of the first half of this post on Caulfield’s Hapgood site).
Blackboard is partnering with yet another entrant in the adaptive learning marketplace, FishTree. It's a "personalization platform that combines standard-aligned resources and social media-based tools with world-class analytics to save teachers time, and help students learn." Blackboard writes, "Fishtree at its core is a productivity platform that enables teachers, instructional designers, and administrators to author and share digital courseware, and curate the best resources from a range of content—licensed, OER, user-generated— that is then measured by its effectiveness on student outcomes." As always, these claims must be evaluated. But this shows that adaptive learning using analytics is an increasingly crowded market.
"We know the names," writes George Siemens. "Vygostky, Freire, Illich, Papert, and so on. We know the ideas. We know the vision of networks, of openness, of equity, and of a restructured system of learning that begins with learning and the learner rather than content and testing. But why doesn’t the positive change happen?" The answer, he suggests, is that these reformers were not able to integrate their ideas with systems or networks. " Ideas that change things require an integrative awareness of systems, of multiple players, and of the motivations of different agents. It is also required that we are involved in the power-shaping networks that influence how education systems are structured, even when we don’t like all of the players in the network." Ah, it's that last phrase that contains the rub. Will Richardson chimes in with a helpful reference to Sarason in the comments.
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