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Educational Innovation as a Verb, Not a Noun
Thomas Carey, Inside Higher Ed, Aug 29, 2015

To me this is old news because the model has been repeated frequently inside NRC to describe the organizational changes we've undertaken over the last few years. But it's worth posting this link because it's a lucid account from someone close to the source and because it describes a trend coming to an institution near you. It's based on a "‘triple play’ framework of exploration-experimentation-exploitation seems to me to give us a working criterion for innovation as an overall process:

  • Discovering new knowledge or ideas (including both invention and discovering what others may have begun to do) 
  • Translating and testing the new idea or knowledge as a working artifact (product, service or practice) 
  • Adapting and extending the artifact for wider use to generate organizational/social value."

The big change at our institution was move down the criteria, to shift from "discovering new knowledge" to "translating and testing" and even "adapting and extending". The view has been that there is no shortage of discovery (especially in Canada) but that there is a greater need to adapt knowledge to create social and commercial value. But I fear this will become a wider trend absorbing all our institutions.

The traffic LinkedIn drives to publishers has dropped 44 percent this year
Lucia Moses, Digiday, Aug 29, 2015

LinkedIn is the latest social network platform to shift its emphasis on keeping people in its sandbox. "LinkedIn used to be a steady referral source for many publishers. But that’s changed as the social network for professionals has prioritized its own media and its contributor network. For the first eight months of the year, referral traffic to SimpleReach’s 1,000 publisher base declined 44 percent." This despite the fact that users are still referring as many links as in the past. LinkedIn recently began building a publishing platform for professionals and now offers more than 130,000 posts a week, many written by managers and professionals.

Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Required Reading
Theodore Kinni, Strategy+Business, Aug 29, 2015

I don't see how reading a few pop philosophy business books gives you "a clear-eyed understanding of the world and how it works." So what would I recommend instead of these parochial choices? How about these:

Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu - take the time to understand this and distinguish between the trappings we add to our understandding of the world as compared to the very simple reality underlying it

The Art of War, Sun Tzu - this classic is the textbook for competitive environments and makes it clear that being successful is as much a result of discipline and strategy as it is pure power

Discourse on Method, Rene Descartes - there are more modern books on scientific reasoning, but this work is a grounding on the mental approach needed to create aa systematic understanding of the world

On Liberty, John Stuart Mill - Mill writes from the perspective of having thoroughly understood Aristotlean and Kantian ethics, and drafts a model for society based on the happiness of the people actually living in it

The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker - this book faces life's ultimate problem head on and talks about how we find a reason to live in a world that is ultimately meaningless

I could add a dozen of so other essential books that will round out your life (including, yes, Machiavelli). But from the perspective of actually leading life and being successful at it, these are probably key.

How an App Helps Low-Income Students by Turning College Life Into a Game
Sarah Brown, Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug 29, 2015

My long-term outlook for this app is not positive, but I think it's interesting in that it shows the importance of activities outside the classroom for success in college. These activities were certainly importance for me - everything from editing the student newspaper to being a referee in Campus Rec football games. The ideaa of using the game to ultimately pay poor people to participate in these activities by gamifying them probably won't work in the long run, first because the game creates extra overhead, distracting from the activities themselves, secondly, because of the cost of managing the funding, and third, because of disagreements over which activities qualify (I cannot imagine that my participation in campus socialist party politics would have been supported financially). But even though this particulaar app may fail, it will lead designers to think of how to include these extracurricular activities into the online college experience, and that is definitely good.

Research: Technology Is Only Making Social Skills More Important
Nicole Torres, Harvard Business Review, Aug 29, 2015

This might not be intuitively true, but when you think about it for a bit it becomes more evidence. Technology, far from isolating us, is making us more social. "The days of being able to plug away in isolation on a quantitative problem and be paid well for it are increasingly over." The article suggests at the end that the push from business for social skills is not new. True. But it was not that long ago when the advice coming from the business sector was that schools should drop the 'soft' skills and focus on science, technology, engineering and math - the STEM focus that still holds sway in many quarters. The corporate sector thinks short term, and forgets very easily. That is why they should not design education policy.

Data, Technology, and the Great Unbundling of Higher Education
Ryan Craig, Allison Williams, EDUCAUSE Review, Aug 29, 2015

Unlike the dull-as-dishwater set of priorities listed by Kenneth Green, this post has some more exciting projections about the future of technology in higher education. But it should be noted that this comes at a cost - a crisis in traditional institutions, a crisis that has been slow to develop but is now approach a crest: "In a survey of 368 small private colleges and midsize state universities, 38 percent failed to meet their 2014–15 budget for both freshman enrollment and net tuition revenue.... Like the retailer and restaurant markets, the middle of the higher education market is being hollowed out from both the top and the bottom."

Let's look at what we can do if we get it right:

  • Accessibility - "Yet before digital delivery transformed distance learning to online degrees, accessibility was not universal."
  • Affordability - "the real higher education story of the decade is the crisis of affordability. Current and recent students amass unprecedented debt loads by the time they graduate....  online delivery should be a solution to the crisis of affordability." - "Solving for Affordability: Competency-Based Learning"
  • Efficacy - "If any product or service should be designed so that a stoned freshman can figure it out, it should be higher education." - "Solving for Efficacy: Adaptive Learning and Gamification"

This is a good article. I don't necessarily agree that competency and cradle-to-job design is the way of the future, but there is no question the 'unbundling' described by the authors is. 

"In an era of unbundling, when colleges and universities need to move from selling degrees to selling EaaS subscriptions, the winners will be those that can turn their students into "students for life"—providing the right educational programs and experiences at the right time. This becomes possible when individuals own their competencies and allow institutions to manage their profiles, suggesting educational programs and even employment." Oh - but are universities ready for that?

Beginning the Fourth Decade of the "IT Revolution" in Higher Education: Plus Ça Change
Kenneth C. Green, EDUCAUSE Review, Aug 29, 2015

For many reasons which are off topic to this newsletter, I don't think productivity is the measure we should use to assess the impact of computer technology. Productivity is the measure of the old economy. And I'm not sure I agree with these priorities as reported in EDUCAUSE Review, but I feel duty-bound to report them (quoted):

  • User Support. Colleges and universities across all sectors must commit to major improvements in user training and support.
  • Assessment. Opinion and epiphany cannot be allowed to dominate the conversations about institutional IT policy and planning.
  • Productivity. It is now time for academic leaders, including higher education's IT leadership, to have frank, candid, and public conversations about productivity
  • Online Education. Institutions must commit to significant and sustained efforts to evaluate their online efforts.
  • Recognition and Reward. We must move to an expansive definition of scholarship in order to value the efforts of faculty.
  • Data as a Resource. Higher education institutions must stop using data as a weapon against students, faculty, and programs.
  • The Value of Information Technology. Institutional leaders must do a better job of conveying the value and impact of higher education's investments in information technology.

Honestly, none of this excites me. None of this has anything to do with making people's li8ves better or  making society better. It's a list of priorities for accountants. Maybe if the author weren't so ambivalent about education and technology (and maybe if the presidents, provosts and CIOs surveyed had more of an investment in it) we'd see something more exciting. But this just leaves me empty.

Designing Personal Learning Environments
Stephen Downes, Google Docs, Aug 29, 2015

This is the outline I used for the 'Designing Personal Learning Environments' workshop we held at the University of Guadalajara today. We fit the exercises into a four hour period which made it very fast-paced and intensive. I think it went pretty well. So I have two requests: first, if you have comments or suggestions on how to improve this process, please add them to the document (it's in Google Docs). And second, if you use this model (or something like it) for an activity of your own, please share with me the persona sheets created by participants. If you can (it's not required, but would be nice).

Links and Resources

(presentations include slides and audio recordings)
RSS Feed:

Key Articles

Scholarly Articles

Cites:294 Educational Blogging (Local copy)
264 Learning objects: Resources for distance education worldwide (Local copy)
134 E-learning 2.0 (Local copy)
126 Models for sustainable open educational resources (Local copy)
88 The future of online learning (Local copy
75 Learning networks and connective knowledge (Local copy)
70 Design and reusability of learning objects in an academic context: A new economy of education (Local copy)
59 Resource profiles (Local copy)
40 Learning networks in practice (Local copy)
33 Semantic networks and social networks (Local copy)
35 An introduction to connective knowledge (Local copy)
27 Design, standards and reusability (Local copy)
23 EduSource: Canada's learning object repository network (Local copy)
22 An introduction to RSS for educational designers (Local copy)

(Cites from Google Scholar for an H-Index = 14)

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About Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes is a senior researcher for Canada's National Research Council and a leading proponent of the use of online media and services in education. As the author of the widely-read OLDaily online newsletter, Downes has earned international recognition for his leading-edge work in the field of online learning. He developed some of Canada's first online courses at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba. He also built a learning management system from scratch and authored the now-classic "The Future of Online Learning".

At the University of Alberta he built a learning and research portal for the municipal sector in that province, Munimall, and another for the Engineering and Geology sector, PEGGAsus. He also pioneered the development of learning objects and was one of the first adopters and developers of RSS content syndication in education. Downes introduced the concept of e-learning 2.0 and with George Siemens developed and defined the concept of Connectivism, using the social network approach to deliver open online courses to three thousand participants over two years.

Downes has been offering courses in learning, logic, philosophy both online and off since 1987, has 135 articles published in books, magazines and academic journals, and has presented his unique perspective on learning and technology more than 250 times to audiences in 17 countries on five continents. He is a habitual photographer, plays darts for money, and can be found at home with his wife Andrea and four cats in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada.


Stephen Downes travaille pour le Conseil national de recherches du Canada, où il a servi en tant que chercheur principal, basé à Moncton, au Nouveau-Brunswick, depuis 2001. Affilié au Groupe des technologies de l'apprentissage et de la collaboration, Institut de technologie de l’information, Downes est spécialisé dans les domaines de l'apprentissage en ligne, les nouveaux médias, la pédagogie et la philosophie.

Downes est peut-être mieux connu pour son bulletin quotidien, OLDaily, qui est distribué par Internet, courriel et RSS à des milliers d'abonnés à travers le monde. Il a publié de nombreux articles à la fois en ligne et sur papier incluant The Future of Online Learning (1998), Learning Objects (2000), Resource Profiles (2003), et E-Learning 2.0 (2005). Il est un conférencier populaire, apparaissant à des centaines de manifestations à travers le monde au cours des quinze dernières années.

Vision Statement

I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumberance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle.

Where they are able to form networks of meaningful and rewarding relationships with their peers, with people who share the same interests or hobbies, the same political or religious affiliations - or different interests or affiliations, as the case may be.

This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence. This is what I aspire toward, this is what I work toward.

Canadians who gave their lives in service in Afghanistan

Hundreds of my IAAF Track & Field Photos from Moncton 2010

My calendar

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