by Stephen Downes
Dec 19, 2016
Icts In Higher Education Systems Of Arab States: Promises And Effective Practices - A Summary Report
Stephen Downes, Dec 19, 2016.
The Regional Forum on ICTs in Higher Education Systems of Arab States was held in Beirut, Lebanon, on November 7 and 8, 2016, with the objective to provide conceptual clarification with respect to the usage of ICTs in Higher Education, to take stock of existing initiatives in the Arab Region, and to contribute to enhancing cooperation and synergies among stakeholders. This report summarizes these discussions, first with respect to some specific topics, and second, with respect to overall themes and concepts.
This is a good but almost impenetrable article reporting on the fundamental shift in digital technology taking place today. If you want the two-line version it is this: the digital world is shifting from self-managed centralized services to distributed cloud services, but the weight of the platform is such that only a few very large vendors are competitive in this market. I think both observations are correct. As Hinchcliffe notes, "Amazon now offers over 50 separate categories of enterprise-class cloud services across the technology spectrum. Competitive offerings have to be literally stunningly rich in features to effectively compete in today's sophisticated and nuanced technology landscape." Who can set up that sort of infrastructure?
"Which information literacy do we need?" asks Michael Caulfield. "Do we need more RADCAB? Do we need more CRAAP?" We can certainly agree that critical thinking has to go beyond simplistic five-step rubrics. But here Caulfield steers off a cliff. We need to know the background, he argues, in order to differentiate between legitimate news and conspiracy theorists. "Abstract skills aren’t enough," he maintains. For example, "When I saw that big 'W' circled in that red field of a flag, for instance, my Nazi alarm bells went off." He explains, "My point is that recognizing any one of these things as an indicator — FEMA, related sites, gold seizures, typography — would have allowed students to approach this site with a starting hypothesis." Well, yes. But how do students learn which indicators to recognize? By being told? We know that this is a non-starter. No, they need to learn deep and authentic critical thinking skills. More: my essay On Teaching Critical Thinking.
I have my questions about former MIT Chancellor Phillip L Clay's proposal to renew African education, but the report he refers to is neither named nor hyperlinked, so all we have is this column. In it, he proposes what amounts to a recreation of the elite university system for Africans, on condition that "governments would promise that students from their country would receive the resources that would otherwise be available for the best opportunities in their countries." Also, "by closely fitting education with industrial development, and by aggressively leveraging global sourcing of knowledge and resources to build first-class institutions" and "enrolments would be sized to foster excellence (ie., small)." No mass education for Africa. Clay should make this paper available online and be held to account for his policy positions and advocacy.
This report accords with my own sense of the matter. "In every country, the memorizers turned out to be the lowest achievers, and countries with high numbers of them—the U.S. was in the top third—also had the highest proportion of teens doing poorly on the PISA math assessment." By turning math lessons into rote exercises, administrators not only weaken math scores, they also effectively increase inequality.
I was thinking about working openly recently and decided to document my workflow, such as it is. As you can see I need to devise a way to make my projects and courses more transparent. There's also a PowerPoint version of the image with working links. No HTML version, sorry.
I spent several hours this morning messing around with this and actually created my own peer-to-peer discussion board as described in the article - it works, but I'm not sure people can access it as the port is closed. You won't be able to access it by clicking on your own browser - the link points to a location on your own computer, and if you need to have ZeroNet installed to read it. Ah, but ZeroNet is an easy install, open source and free - download from here, extract into a directory, and then (on windows at least) run zeronet.cmd by double-clicking on it in the directory. It will open in your browser and you're on the distributed internet. What you've done is to load a Python interpreter and personal web server (which only you access). Here are the full ZeroNet documents. I like this a lot.
Michael Feldstein points to this report on learning design principles from Pearson. The report (102 page PDF) is called "Objective Design and Instructional Alignment," which gives you a sense of their perspective. The recommendations are (quoted):
The report itself steps through a series of design principles, ranging from 'assessments' to 'learning object design' to 'critical thinking', and accompanies each with a set of rubrics for evaluating the concordant design. I like the structure of the document, though I think the authors could have been more discriminating in their selection of subjects - 'grit', in particular, doesn't really belong. There's also a blog post providing more background on the project.
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