Stephen Downes - Career Highlights

1994 – First Academic ‘Multi Academic User Domain’ in Canada

Stephen Downes worked with Athabasca University between 1997-1994 and during that time pioneered a number of electronic tutor support applications, developing and running a bulletin board service (BBS) called Athabaska BBS in 1990 and designing a critical thinking ‘compugraphics’ course in 1993. In 1994, with colleagues: Jeff McLaughlin, Istevan Berkeley, and Wes Cooper, he launched ‘The Painted Porch MAUD’ on Athabasca University servers, the first such service in Canada. The service was used to support critical thinking students at Athabasca, philosophy students at Cariboo College, and hosted a conference for the Canadian Association of Distance Education in 1996. See archived version of conference records, http://www.downes.ca/archive/1996/isiit/cade2.htm

1996 – Manitoba’s First Web Based Course

Working with Assiniboine Community College between 1995-1999 Stephen Downes built the college’s first web server and website. He played a major role in introducing the college staff and the citizens of south-west Manitoba to the internet, for a time driving around in a van with a computer network and ‘net-hopper’ to demonstrate it to rural communities. In 1996, with colleagues Conrad Albertson and Shirley Chapman, he build Manitoba’s first web-based course, ‘Introduction to Instruction’, which was offered online as part of the Certificate in Adult Education required by all college instructors in the province. See archived version of the course, http://www.downes.ca/archive/1996/cae/welcome.htm

1998 – The Future of Online Learning

While at Assiniboine Community College Downes developed a learning management system (LMS) called OLe (online learning environment) and used it to deploy the college’s General Business Certificate program, and to support high school courses offered online throughout Manitoba by the Brandon Adult Learning Centre. As part of this work he authored the widely cited paper The Future of Online Learning, which correctly predicted most developments in the field in the two decades that followed. See the original distribution of the paper at http://www.downes.ca/future/

2000 – MuniMall

In 1999 Downes accepted a contract to move to the University and work with colleague Terry Anderson to develop an online learning, resources and learning portal called MuniMall.View a slide show demonstrating MuniMall at http://www.downes.ca/presentation/26 and Internet Archive version from 2001 at https://web.archive.org/web/20010203221000/http://www.munimall.net/ One of the first portals of its kind, MuniMall combined content aggregation and an email news product. This service supported the Faculty of Extension’s program in municipal governance offered to town managers and elected officials throughout Alberta for a ten-year period after its launch in 2000. MuniMall won the 2000 NAWeb award for best educational website.

2001 – OLDaily

Since May, 2001, and continuing to the present, Stephen Downes has authored and published OLDaily, a compilation of links and commentary about advances in educational technology.See archives, 2001 – 2015. http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/archive.cgi See the website at http://www.downes.ca/ OLDaily has had an online readership of more than 40,000 people daily through web, email, RSS, JSON, Twitter and Facebook distribution for the last 14 years. In 2014 the site had more than 1.5 million visits and 12 million page views, making it one of the most widely read and cited sites in the field in the world. See statistics at http://www.downes.ca/stats/2014/awstats.downes.ca.html (after November, 2014, the statistics software broke). The site won the 2001 NAWeb award for best educational website, and the 2005 Edublog award for best individual blog.

2001 – Learning Objects: Resources For Distance Education Worldwide

Based on a presentation of the same name offered in 2000, this article published in the The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (2,1) remains one of the most widely read and cited articles in the history of the journal. The article defined the basis and underlying technologies for the concept of the ‘learning object’ (first developed by Wayne Hodgins in 1994). The article may be viewed at http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/32/378

2003 – Content Syndication, Edu-RSS and Ed Radio

In 1998 Dave Winer and Netscape developed the content syndication format RSS. Stephen Downes created Netscape Netcenter RSS feed #31 and was a member of the early working groups defining RSS 1.0 content syndication. Downes was the first to propose the use of RSS for educational applications and demonstrated its use to aggregate and distribute learning objects with Edu-RSS. The invention of podcasting in 2004 by Adam Curry and Dave Winer was motivated in part by Downes’s invention of Ed Radio in 2003. Ed Radio scanned RSS feeds for MP3 files, collected them into a single feed, and made the result available as SMIL or Webjay audio feeds.

2004 – Learning Networks – The Buntine Oration

As the capstone of a month-long speaking tour in Australia, Stephen Downes gave the Buntine Oration, a biennial talk delivered to the at the Australian College of Educators and the Australian Council of Educational Leaders conference in Perth. In this oration, Downes highlighted the weaknesses of traditional approached to learning management systems and learning design, and proposed an alternative approach to educational their and content delivery based on network structures as enabled, for example, by the internet. View the text of the Buntine Oration at http://www.downes.ca/post/20

2005 – E-Learning 2.0

In this paper Stephen Downes outlined an approach to online learning based on the use of social media tools such as blogging and social networks, and rooted as much in creativity and communication among students as in the consumption of educational content delivered by learning management systems. The title of this approach, e-learning 2.0, was a combination of the terms e-learning and web 2.0, both coined in the previous decade. E-Learning 2.0 was and continues to be the most popular paper ever published by the Association of Computing Machinery in E-Learn Magazine. Read E-Learning 2.0 on the ACM site at http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1104968

2005 – Connectivism and Connective Knowledge

In December 2004 George Siemens coined the term ‘Connectivism’ to refer to network learning. Since this term encompassed his work as well, Stephen Downes has since then been recognized as one of the leading voices of connectivism. While Siemens presents connectivism primarily as a theory of pedagogy, Downes also employs it as a means of describing ‘connective knowledge’, and in his paper An Introduction to Connective Knowledge describes the connection between network theories of knowledge and network theories of learning and pedagogy. Read the paper here: http://www.downes.ca/post/33034

2008 – Massive Open Online Course

Collaborating with George Siemens, Stephen Downes designed and ran the world’s first massive open online course (MOOC). Titled ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’, the course was offered as a means of demonstrating the principles of connectivism through an actual example of a connectivist course. The course was run again in 2009, 2011, and 2012. In addition, Downes and Siemens collaborated with others (notably Dave Cormier and Rita Kop) to offer a number of additional courses in the years that followed, including courses on personal learning environments critical literacies, and change in education. The MOOC model was replicated at Stanford in 2011 and became widespread throughout the education world by 2012.

2009 – Speaking in LOLCats

Through a series of talks and presentations Stephen Downes formalized a theory of critical literacies characterized by the example of ‘speaking in LOLCats’. Literacy, according to does, consists not merely in the capacity to understand and communicate in text-based languages, but is an instance of a wider set of capacities to understand and communicate using a wide variety of media (including photos of cats) based on a set of underlying competencies based on pattern recognition, adaptation and inference.See a presentation related to the topic at http://www.downes.ca/presentation/233

2011 – Synergic3

In collaboration with the Université de Moncton and Desire2Learn, Stephen Downes led the research in the Synergic3 project, a collaborative workflow and authoring system eventually implemented as part of the Desire2Learn learning management system. Downes in particular contributed a distributed digital rights management system and helped defined the rule-based weak workflow system and metadata extraction. The work enabled Desire2Learn to rebound and grow significantly in the competitive LMS market, and Downes was named in two patents related to the project.See this summary of Synergic3: http://www8.umoncton.ca/synergic3/index.php

2014 – Learning and Performance Support Systems

Building on work undertaken in an internal NRC project called ‘Plearn’, 2010-11, Stephen Downes took the leadership of this research program (more commonly referred to as LPSS). The program has to date included a capacity-building MOOC project in French, with the Organisation international de la francophonie, an Arab literacy project development report with the Arab League Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ALECSO), a badges project with the Privy Council office, work in activity recording with CAE, and more. LPSS launched in September, 2014, and the program is slated to continue through to 2020. See the launch site at http://lpss.me and the program site at http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/solutions/collaborative/lpss.html