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OLWeekly

by Stephen Downes
Sept 23, 2016

Open education and the Unenlightenment
Martin Weller, The Ed Techie, 2016/09/23


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"This desire for knowledge, the very belief that acquiring knowledge was a worthwhile pursuit, underpinned much of cultural development through to the 20th century. And although it started out as a privileged pursuit, the basic premise, which we can summarise as 'knowing stuff is good'... " writes Martin Weller. "The Unenlightenment sees a reversal of this basic principle: wilful avoidance of knowledge." It won't be enough, he argues, to simply create great OERs. "Education needs to fight not only for its own relevance, but for the culture within which it is situated. " maybe - but at the same time it needs to fight against the culture in which it is situated. The culture of education is a culture of privilege and special rights and inside favours and manipulating the law (and statistics, and whatever else needs manipulating) to ensure this never changes. And - from where I sit - the problem is that many of the people within education do not want to let go of this culture. It is, after all, how they make their living.

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Yahoo hack hits 500 million users, but who are the suspects?
BBC, 2016/09/23


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The lesson here is, if you put your data into a big giant data store, it's going to be hacked. And the agency that does it is probably going to be a national government. Pundits are talking about the Russians, the Chinese and even the North Koreans, but I have to consider the American NSA to be equally likely suspects (the only difference is that they're marginally less likely to get caught). On the bright side, "If this is state-sponsored I don't think they actually want the information - it is more about the impact of the data breach."

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Deep neural networks for YouTube recommendations
Adrian Colyer, The Morning Paper, 2016/09/23


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"The YouTube system is built on top of Google Brain, or as we now know it, TensorFlow. To give an idea of scale, the models learn approximately one billion parameters and are trained on hundreds of billions of examples. The basic problem is posed as 'given this user’s YouTube activity history, which videos are they most likely to watch next?'" The recommendations are (in my experience) not so great - they reflect my YouTube interests, but not my wider interests. The full paper is available from Google (8 page PDF)

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Blind people do math in the ‘visual’ cortex
Jill Rosen-Johns Hopkins, Futurity, 2016/09/23


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What I like about this item is that it speaks against the idea that there is a special area for discrete functions in the brain. “If we can make the visual cortex do math, in principle, we can make any part of the brain do anything.” Here's the original paper (6 page PDF)

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Seoul Man speaks: The Fourth Industrial Revolution Meets the Fourth E-Learning Revolution
Curtis J. Bonk, TravelinEdMan, 2016/09/23


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Curt Bonk "gave the keynote speech at E-learning Week at Coex," in Seoul Korea. He writes, "I was asked to speak about the Fourth Industrial Age (more info on it; see the Davos Reader). At the start of the talk, I spoke on self-driving cars and planes, robotics, 3-D printing, augmented intelligence, artificial intelligence, and much more. Below is the abstract that I came up with. My slides are posted." Do follow the links, which make this an interesting item.

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How Microsoft is Poised to Destroy MinecraftEDU
Wesley A. Fryer, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, 2016/09/23


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By "destroy" Wes Fryer means "raise the price of" but the implications are fairly clear; he is concerned Microsoft's new licensing policies will price it out of schools' ability to pay. "Rather than purchase a one-time license with perpetual upgrades, just for computer lab computers, now K-12 schools are being asked by Microsoft to pay $5 per student, per year, for the privilege of playing Minecraft." See also Jeremy Hsu, who writes, "By tailoring Minecraft to formal school settings, Microsoft runs the risk of sacrificing some of the game’s inherent strengths. But it’s still a no-brainer for Microsoft to leverage Minecraft in its broader struggle with Google for control of the education market." (It's like I'm reading two completely different perspectives on the same thing).

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MOOCs at Five
Alex Usher, Higher Education Strategy Associates, 2016/09/22


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One of the biggest disappointments I had with the commercialization of the MOOC through the Stanford and MIT products was the idea that the MOOC would have to be "sustainable" through some user pay mechanism. In 2009 the average tuition was around $4500; this accounted for between 30-50% of the total cost of an education. And of course it was paid only by wealthier families; low income earners need not apply. If you multiply that by the 2 million people enrolled in post-secondary institutions in Canada, you get $18 billion. If MOOCs could have reduced this number, they would have been a substantial success, and not cost students a dime. I think we could have made a dent in that. But too many people sound like Alex Usher, saying "The problem is there’s no revenue model here." No, that's not the problem.

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Q&A with CNI’s Clifford Lynch: Time to re-think the institutional repository?
Richard Poynder, Open, Shut?, 2016/09/22


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In this long (25 page PDF) article and interview with Clifford Lynch, Riochard Poynder looks at the state of affairs of open journal repositories (for example, the Open Archives Initiative Protocols for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH)) and does not appear hopeful. "As with all issues concerning scholarly communication and open access, no one appears to have the necessary authority (or even perhaps the capability) to oversee strategic decision-making at this level effectively. And that is why it seems to me most likely that the academic publishing oligopoly will succeed in appropriating both OA and the institutional repository." From where I sit, reading this article, the main culprit (beyond the publishers themselves) seems to be the indifference of university professors. Publishing openly still seems to be a "minority sport".

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Zero Correlation Between Evaluations and Learning
Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 2016/09/22


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There are several things to say about this report. First, the headline is wildly overstated. 'Not finding' a correlation is very different from 'finding no correlation'. Second, it's a metastudy. The authors took a number of previously published studies, copied their data, cleaned it up and ran a new analysis on it. Third, only in-class student evaluations were used, not the popular online teacher evaluations. Fourth, we are given utterly no definition of what counts as 'learning'. Does it mean test scores? If so, it's old news that students don't base their evaluations on test scores. Finally fifth, the original study, still in preprint, is locked behind a paywall, and I just don't think I could bear spending $41 only to find that it's test scores. If the authors of this study have anything to say, let them say it openly where it can be scrutinized and criticized.

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The Mostly Complete Chart of Neural Networks
Randy Krum, Cool Infographics, 2016/09/22


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It's just an infographic and won't give you a need knowledge of neural network configurations. But it's still useful. "Though all of these architectures are presented as novel and unique, when I drew the node structures… their underlying relations started to make more sense.mOne problem with drawing them as node maps: it doesn’t really show how they’re used. For example, variational autoencoders (VAE) may look just like autoencoders (AE), but the training process is actually quite different."

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Not Your Mothers Father of Distance Education
Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, 2016/09/21


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Alan Levine makes the point that "in this age of 2016, that it is shocking that someone would put three white men on screen with a label of 'founding fathers.'" and expands on a deeper history of distance education that explores the correspondance schools of the 1800s. In my post I put the cut-off at the use of wireless radio, which would rule out the post-based correspondance schools. Levine presents "as an addition to so called 'fathers' Anna Elliot Ticknor," writing "I only know of her through a fabulously written Hybrid Pedagogy article by Keith Brennan titled 'The Victorian MOOC'." I wouldn't call this a MOOC - not only was it not online, you had to apply to get in. Also, I don't think you can achieve massiveness when your organizzer and instructors are writing to each participant personally by letter. No matter; I think he's made his main point that there was much diversity in the founding of distance education that we are led to believe.

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Opera browser now has a built-in VPN, and it’s powered by this Toronto company
Terry Dawes, CanTech Letter, 2016/09/21


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Opera has always been at the cutting edge of browser technology - it was one of the first to implement tabs, it took a stand against pop-up ads, and then there was the not-so-popular Opera Unite, featuring a server in a web browser. But they may have a winner with in-browsee VPN. “If people knew how the internet truly works, I believe they all would use a VPN,” says Kolondra. “By making our browser VPN free and easy to use, we hope to make it an essential tool, just as the lock and key is to your house.” See more.

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10 Strategies For a Workable Future
Institute for the Future, 2016/09/21


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This is overall a good paper (24 page PDF) that highlights some significant issues. It is presented as ten strategic objectives we have to achieve in order "to create a shared vision of a world of Positive Platforms for work—platforms that enable good, dignified, and sustainable livelihoods for workers." Now from my perspective, I would much rather be thought of as a person, not a worker - not even if I'm doing nine on-contract jobs at once. That said, the point of the paper is to talk about how to bring the people who actually do the work into the risk, reward, and decision-making process of the workplace (however we want to define that). And these ten objectives are in the main laudable.

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MobileSapiens: A Creative Safari
Amy Burvall, AmusED, 2016/09/21


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At first I thought this referred to Safari, the browser on which nothing works, but it is in fact "a co-created experience that was whimsical, low-pressure, and yet would provide participants with a chance to explore their own creativity." Basically it's a community created on the fly using Google+ and smart phones to inspire participants. Take some time, explore the community, look at the challenges, and maybe try some out.

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Enhancing quality and combating corruption in higher education: A Global Perspective
Stamenka Uvalić - Trumbić, Sir John Daniel, 2016/09/20


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Discussion of quality standards proposed by CHEA, the US Council for Higher Education Accreditation. You can find a PDF (28 pages) of the quality standards on the CHEA website. The focus is on "combatting corruption and enhancing integrity" and it was authored by Daniel. He writes "the discussion naturally began by looking at the crucial role that quality assurance should play in combatting corruption and enhancing academic integrity" but that quality control cannot address this alone. The first of the seven principles states "Assuring and achieving quality in higher education is the primary responsibility of higher education providers and their staff." They would have meant "primarily the responsibility of", not "the primary responsibility", wouldn't they? Slides from the presentation in Namibia are also available.

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Ria #25: Dr. Patsy Moskal On Research On Distributed Learning And Teaching Effectiveness
, Ecampus Research Unit | Oregon State University,


In this episode, Dr. Patsy Moskal shares about her experience with research on distributed learning and teaching effectiveness.

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Nextcloud Box – a private cloud and IoT solution for home users
Thibaut Rouffineau, Ubuntu Insights, 2016/09/19


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This is interesting. "Nextcloud Box makes hosting a personal cloud simple and cost effective whilst maintaining a secure private environment that can be expanded with additional features via apps." It's an incremental step beyond OwnCloud. You might not think you'd have your own in-home server, and for today, maybe not. But I think it's what we're looking at some time in the future (maybe as a part of your entertainment system or whatnot).

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When the LMS isn’t Enough
Axonify, 2016/09/19


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The site might ask you for a login (it did for me). Axonify combines a few staples in the e-learning industry: chunking into learning events, the spacing effect (or 'drop approach'), question-based reinforcement, and point-of-need support. So it's essentially a learning resource presentation tool. This I think is a fairly standard model and the point of this post is to make it clear that this model - as opposed to, say, the 39 hour university class - is more typical of corporate learning and training. And it's a safe bet that if what you're looking for is ordinary knowledge acquisition (how to repair a motor, how to write some code) this model will probably do the job for you.

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Is the Future of Liberal Arts Programs “K-Shaped”?
Thomas Carey, Inside Higher Ed, 2016/09/20


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I think this is really clever but I also think it's dangerous. The argument is that traditional 'liberal arts' education was intended to create a 'T' - in other words, the graduate would have deep knowledge in one area (that's the I part) and broad but superficial knowledge in others: "depth in a particular discipline like History or Literature was complemented by breadth of understanding and by “transferable skills” that enabled graduates to apply multiple knowledge perspectives in the workplace." The 'K' replaces that "through exploring epistemic fluency in particular workplace knowledge practices rather than particular professional knowledge domains:

thus "complementing the knowledge and skills developed in their liberal arts majors and in the institutional essential learning outcomes expected of all students." I don't think the liberal arts are supposed to be about business needs. But like I say: clever, but dangerous.

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Infographic: The bot platform ecosystem
Jon Bruner, O'Reilly, 2016/09/19


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This infographic is only a small shard of the emerging ecosystem but it serves to highlight the developing market of AI bot platforms (Siri, Cortana, Now) along with messaging (Messenger, Allo, Skype) and the underlying AI -as-a-service (Watson, Alexa, Luis) and bot frameworks (Wit.ai, BotKit, Bot Framework). Things are beginning to get really really fun.

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Culture vs Institutions: Who Pays for Change?
Tim Klapdor, Heart | Soul | Machine, 2016/09/20


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When we pose a dichotomy like "culture versus institutions" most people will say "well it's both". But my point was that institutions are not necessary for openness. There's no middle ground between 'necessary' and 'not necessary'. You have to choose. Tim Klapdor takes an approach to this issue based on the question of cost. "The idea of asking who pays, and maybe more importantly – who should pay – is no less valid." But if there are costs, I think, you begin to tilt the balance in favour of needing institutions. That's why it's such a good business strategy to ensure that openness creates costs. Thus we see Berkeley forced by the Department of Justice to remove their open content from the web.

Where there are institutions, where there are costs, we begin to produce inequities. That's why openness needs to join that set of things that belongs to culture. What sort of things? Think of what we all own and what costs each of us nothing - our language, our music, our ways of preparing food, our dances, our stories, our history and geography, our religion and philosophy. These belong to no one. We can pass these to each other free of charge. That doesn't mean you can't make money off any of them - in fact they're all big business. But it means you don't have to. And that's the status our learning resources should have. That's the status our science should have. Our academic literature. Our ideas and algorithms. Freely created. Freely shared. 

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Who are the founding fathers of distance education?
Tony Bates, online learning and distance education resources, 2016/09/19


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Let's just use the phrase "founders of distance education". Tony Bates offers several alternatives to the three suggested by Steve Wheeler (Bates, John Daniel, and Michael Moore) including Isaac Pitman, the University of London External Programme, Chuck Wedemeyer, Harold Wilson, Jennie Lee, and Walter Perry. I've generally averse to including politicians in such lists as they are almost certainly receiving credit for someone else's work. Drawing from this list, I'm thinking that if anyone deserves credit, it's the people who pioneered the use of radio (anything earlier, including the epistles, would be classified under 'correspondence education'). So the people who obtained broadcasting licences were held by universities in Utah, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the early 1920s, as well as Australia's school of the air, and Canadian initiatives run by the railroads, would maybe qualify. There were also educational broadcasters as early as 1923 in India, along with initiatives in Scandinavia and the UK. Who were the people? I don't know. What role would make a person a 'founder' - the builder of the technology, the person who writes about the theory, the experimenter who verified it works, or the directors and politicians who institutionalized it? Bates's list runs to the last, while my list would almost certainly priorize the first.

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Why there is no Facebook killer: the death of the P2P dream
James Hudson, Hacker News, 2016/09/19


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The problem, as we all know, is that "Facebook is simply a cage to hold and study us monkeys while we are being fed ads. These ads are targeted based on an analysis of our activity on Facebook." So why isn't there a P2P version of Facebook, where we could get the interactions without the intrusion? The problem lies in the limitations of the mobile web. "It is designed for browsing web pages and downloading data off big servers, not serving up content to the whole world, like a mini version of a Facebook or Instagram server. It's very difficult, inefficient, and unreliable for your phone to serve out data to all-comers: it's a one-way street." Could we pair phones with web-based servers? Sure - but servers cost money. And "getting money means charging a subscription, or targeted advertising. Personally, I'm not willing to pay money to see pictures of your food." Via Doug Belshaw, who also links to the associated comment thread.

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App and resource store
JISC, 2016/09/19


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The UK's JISC has released an alpha version of its 'App and Resource Store'. Consisting in the first instance of resources migrated from the now-defunct Jorum service, the store will "works just like any other digital store, with a mixture of free and paid-for resources, each with clear licensing and cost." Here's an example of one of the migrated Jorum resources. There are mechanisms to display metrics, reviews and curation. It seems like an awful lot of overhead just to display images and PDFs, and I don't see why there can't be a way to jump straight from list result to resource, without the interstatial. It would also be nice to have a listing of providers, and URLs that did not use the has symbol '#' in a non-standard way,

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An early look at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's investments in education
Catherine Cheney, Devex, 2016/09/19


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I can't say I greet Zuckerberg's investments with enthusiasm. I personally feel they should fund education the way the rest of us do, by paying taxes and letting allocation be driven by social (and accountable) priorities. Their intent with CZI is to correct some of what they feel are government errors, focusing on graduation rates and introducing mastery learning into learning environments. Their funding "include BYJU’s, an India-based company that helps students learn math and science on their own, and Andela, a Nigeria-based company that trains top tier tech talent from across the African continent and pairs them with companies in need of skilled developers." Looks like 'picking winners' to me - isn't that also something business thinks government shouldn't do? Via Ann Isabel Paraguay.

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Copyright 2016 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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