by Stephen Downes
Oct 31, 2016
The U.K.'s JISC is asking for contributions (in the form of tweet chats) to a series of 'six challenges' posed by the future of learning and research in a digital environment. You will want to read their set of visions before participating in this exercise (or indeed, before participating in JISC-funded research, as these visions will guide funding decisions). It is for the most part based on data-driven decision-making (as opposed to, say, design) and it is focused mostly on skills and employment, with a nod toward resources and personalization.
It's the sort of issue that tends to turn out poorly in a free market environment: people prefer bot assistants that have female voices, and a significant number of users want their bots to behave in a subservient fashion. So these bots "must now suffer the indignities unethical bosses inflict on their human assistants, especially sexual harassment." You might say, "So what? They're bots." Yes, but if they're representative of women to the user, they're more than just bots. They become part of the way the user interacts with women generally. Anyhow, so far, bot-makers are trying to take the responsible route. For example, "Kasisto designed its bot to avoid demure or deferential responses when confronting sexual innuendo, or inappropriate personal questions such as asking Kai out on a date." And Microsoft's Deborah Harrison says "We wanted to be really careful that Cortana... is not subservient in a way that sets up a dynamic that we didn’t want to perpetuate socially."
Hearings on net neutrality are being held by Canada's telecom regulator starting today. The issue is of particular interest in Canada because we have fewer providers, bandwidth is more expensive than elsewhere, and we have lower data caps. So the internet service providers have a lot influence and their ability to offer better pricing to one or another content provider will create a significant advantage. For me it's a personal issue. It's hard enough to provide reasonable load times; the last thing I need is to have my own internet service provider throttling back the speed my site loads. Differential pricing hurts OLDaily. It's that simple. More: Globe and Mail, Financial Post, Open Media, Global.
They're calling it a 'smart shirt' though it's actually more of a singlet. It monitors blood pressure, skin temperature, activity level, heart rate and electrical activity, and breathing rate and volume. It will be worn by Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques during a six-month mission in 2018-2019. According to the article, "Astroskin's commercial spinoff is already available to the public under the brand Hexoskin and can purchased at Best Buy and other retailers." Technology like this has learning implications, as it is able to generate immediate performance feedback. Eventually, the phrase 'online learning' will mean you have your digital feedback mechanisms in place. More: Carré Technologies.
What I like about this article is that it speaks directly against the sort of magical thinking that characterizes Silicon Valley innovations, the latest being 42, a college built "around the idea of peer learning, without the interference of teachers. " Inge de Waard writes, "MOOCs and 42 are not the solution for education, just as humans are not the solution for peace (clearly). It is a positive, engaging combination of elements that makes things happen." Fair enough. Yet at the same time 42 does tap into the need for self-managed tuition-free learning. And 42 does speak to a certain culture of self-made do-it-yourself autodidacts. But there's a model here based on rigorous competition and a live-in 4-week boot camp that suggests something more is going on, one that makes me just wish their design (illustrated in the diagram) weren't so phallic.
I'm not a fan of holiday-themed articles (they're far too easy and forrmulaic) but I thoroughly enjoyed Audrey Watters's rant on the monsters of educational technology (even if I did make the list). I'm glad it's not a taxonomy nor a morphology, tools far to lightly wielded in our discipline. Structurally, I would have jumped into the list much earlier in the talk, offering my caveats and explanations in the context of the descriptions of our Frankensteins and our Draculas. But I like the way it ends: "Technology, education technology, is our creation. It need not be our monster."
P.S. Audrey Watters's unofficial slogan is "Be less pigeon" - "a companion species gone awry, a border creature that might mark its own and our own trainability" and a warning of a future where "our cyborg fantasies, despite their subversive theoretical promise, turn out to be quite submissive to the technologies of command and control." If I had my own version of the slogan, it would be be more sparrow. It's a huge world, but we can (and must) explore and discover and make our way across vast distances even where danger looms above and below, and it only works if we look out for each other and let none fall to the ground without our taking notice.
Are learning objects making a comeback? We saw Cengage basically lay claim to the term last week with its announcement of a platform called Learning Objects. In this paper we read of a project evaluating learning objects using the Learning Object Review Instrument (LORI), another blast from the past. But the interesting part of the paper isn't the evaluation process. It's the effort to assemble learning activities from reusable learning resources in an entirely peer-to-peer environment. "The result is, for the first time, a self-contained end-to-end, P2P eLearning system with no reliance of any sort on client-server eLearning systems. This research on quality assurance has successfully contributed in achieving the overall goal." Alas, not the first. P2P learning object networks are yet another Canadian invention ahead of is time.
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