by Stephen Downes
May 20, 2016
Stephen Downes, May 19, 2016, Moodle CONNECT - CONNECTER Moodle, Gatineau, Quebec
Discussion of some major trends of recent years, how these have impacted Moodle (including a discussion of some Moodle extensions addressing them) and some observations about future trends that will impact how Moodle developers will want to adapt the technology in the future.
George Siemens wrote a nice tribute to Gardner Campbell that was interpreted as a critique of Jim Groom. "Gardner was an originator of what eventually became the DIY/edupunk movement," wrote Siemens. "Unfortunately, his influence is rarely acknowledged." That's not Groom's fault; I was the fourth person on the edupunk panel at SxSW along with Jim and Gardner and Barbara Ganley and at the time everybody was given credit. But you know how it is with media. And it's hard now because a lot of us (including Campbell) are losing the positions we had in both our own institution and in the open access movement generally. This is partially media, partially corporatization, and partially the unyielding force of history. But as Michael Caulfield says, we "You have to assume your allies have good intentions and are being thoughtful and reflective about their practice. You have to treat differences in approach as differences in personal theories of change, not as tests of moral fiber."
Of course it would be Jim Groom who channels E.F. Schumacher in the context of education technology, "of how small is beautiful in terms of IT, experimentation, community, open infrastructure, and individual empowerment. I ended on the note that rather than big companies and governments archiving the web, it’s often small, renegade outfits like Archive Team that have preserved 15 years of Geocities sites before they were deleted by Yahoo!" I suppose I would want to amend that original formulation to say that small and connected is beautiful. "The individual web archivist, the marginal group of distributed “hobbyists,” the small nodes of people that make the web great are the one’s that empower it’s possibilities and fuel the long revolution." Yeah.
This article looks at two approaches to AI in education. First, "in the Pearson view, a marketplace of AI applications will both be able to provide detailed real-time data analytics on education and learning, and also lead to far greater levels of achievement." They're working on this now. A lot of what I've talked about in the past - "real-time intelligent analytics conducted up-close within the pedagogic routines" - forms part of this vision.
Second, in the IBM view, educational technology is moving toward a 'cognitive vision' of software that is not preprogrammed with learning tools, but is like instead, for example, "a ‘classroom that will learn you‘ through constant and symbiotic interaction between cognizing human subjects and nonhuman cognitive systems designed according to a model of the human brain." This of course resembles the model of LPSS that i was trying to develop here at NRC. As IBM says, "It’s true that cognitive systems are machines that are inspired by the human brain. But it’s also true that these machines will inspire the human brain, increase our capacity for reason and rewire the ways in which we learn."
There's a third part to the article which looks at 'biosocial spaces': "The brainy space of the educational environment interacts with human actors, getting ‘under the skin’ by becoming encoded in the embodied human learning brain. Human brain functions are augmented, extended and optimized by machine intelligences." I think this is exactly right. This is next-generation educational technology, not previous-generation educational technology. This is overall quite a good article, with numerous links to original sources.
"If MOOCs want to build student engagement," writes Jason Schmitt, "they may want to take a lesson from Facebook." Maybe so. I can also think of numerous lessons they do not want to take from Facebook. But there's no doubt that the social networking site drives more engagement than the typical MOOC, even though the MOOC actually gives people somethingin common to talk about. The article is based on a study (10 page PDF) presented at a recent ACM conference. "Coursera, edX and all the platforms were basically designed for a very one dimensional learning experience," explains ASU's Lou Pugliese (former CEO for Blackboard). “The credit cohort gets extra services that cost money,” says edX CEO Anant Agarwal. Yeah, well, that's the thing about Facebook. It doesn't cost money.
This article could take you quite a while to finish but it's a terrific read on a subject you won't normally see in the media or on the web: standards of weights and measurements. The Treaty of the Metre was signed 241 years ago to this day (that's 51500 days) and in two years the most significant changes to le Système international d’unités (SI) system of measurement will be made since that day. Oh, but this article is so much more. Written in the voice of Jean-Charles de Borda, the article is a comprehensive history of the SI, mixing the personalities, the issues and controversies, and the stories. As an added bonus, the article is written in conjunction with Wolfram Alpha, giving the reader a new perspective on the use that engine can be put to in work such as this. There's a link at the end to a Computable Document Format (CDF) version of the article (New to CDF? Get your copy for free with this one-time download). All-around one of the best pieces I've read this year.
I've talked from time to time over the years about the skills shortage. It was one of the bases for the LPSS program. While on the one hand this is an educational challenge (and remains so) on the other hand, as suggested by the title of this post, it is also an economic challenge. The fact is, over the last four decades, compensation has not kept pace with productivity improvements by skilled workers (including me!) with the result that income inequity continues to rise. And so, according to this article, " Research that I and my colleagues have conducted suggests that the skills gap persists mainly because employers are unwilling or unable to pay market price for the skills they require." The research doesn't explain why compensation hasn't kept pace. But I'm sure we can come up with our own theories.
Tony Bates minces no words when talking about the negative impact of tuition fees and the model for learning being adopted in the UK. "The Conservatives seem to have a completely wrong concept of education, based on set curricula, repeated testing of content, highly selective ‘weeding out’ of students who do not fit this paradigm, and governance by unelected trusts or corporations, a model of education that is clearly influenced by the British public boarding school system from which most of the Conservative government ministers have graduated. The current English education system is in a time warp that seems to belong more to the 1920s than the 2020s." What do you do when your government lives in the previous century?
Richard Byrne catches some important changes to the Google Classroom API. The API "update lets developers build applications that can access assignments, grades, and workflow in Google Classroom." Byrne adds, "What this means for end-users (teachers and school administrators) is that we could soon see better gradebooks and reporting systems that will eliminate the need to manually transfer grades into or out of the gradebook in Google Classroom." This speaks to what I was talking about near the end of my talk yesterday - applications in one cloud location using data that is actually stored in a different cloud location.
Useful article with some good examples to explain why those studies that appear to refute the premise that technology is useful in classrooms do nothing of the sort. I think he captures an aspect of the problem, based on the idea that the experiments say one thing, while people interpret them as saying something else. And he points out how this is used irresponsibly by technology critics like Daniel Willingham. But I wish he had taken a slightly different tone with the article, tried to be a bit less airy, and a bit sharper in his critique.
From India, "aisectmoocs.com has been launched as India’s largest free online open learning platform. This Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) portal, launched by the Bhopal-based education group AISECT, will offer over 2,000 courses including school courses, skill courses and higher education courses." It's based out of AISECT University, a private university located in Madhya Pradesh.
If you don't know how to do this, this will be a really useful skill to learn. "We'll teach you how to build a static site quickly, host it on GitHub, and put it on the Internet using your own custom domain name. After completing Deploy a Website, you'll be able to launch your own websites on the Internet." Codecademy is one of the best, and working with GitHub has additional bonuses that will become apparent later.
I can identify with this. "Highly novel research proposals are being systematically turned down because they fall outside evaluators’ paradigms of understanding, a new study suggests." Novel proposals fared even worse if they were within the evaluator's domain of expertise. I think that ranking proposals for novelty is a good idea, but the algorithm suggested ("sing keywords in each proposal. If two keywords rarely appeared together in the existing literature, an idea was considered novel") is too easy to game, creating the illusion of novelty. Mitosis igneous. Here's the paper: 20 page PDF.
Please please please read this. If you do any theorizing about learning at all, or want to explain why good pedagogy works, or anything like that, read this. "We don’t store words or the rules that tell us how to manipulate them. We don’t create representations of visual stimuli, store them in a short-term memory buffer, and then transfer the representation into a long-term memory device. We don’t retrieve information or images or words from memory registers. Computers do all of these things, but organisms do not." If you're reading bout learning and pedagogy and the article contains these concepts, it's made up. Fiction. There's more, so much more. For example: "there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience." And " the uniqueness of each brain, brought about in part because of the uniqueness of each person’s life history."
As the Press Release announces, Elsevier has acquired the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN) and plans to in some way roll it in with Mendelay. According to Elsevier, "Mendeley and Elsevier will help close the loop from the preprint on SSRN to fuller collaboration and broader dissemination through the 5 million-strong Mendeley researcher community." Many in the community are not happy, despite Elsevier's reassurances that "SSRN will continue to enable users to 'submit for free and download for free.'" For example, Stevan Harnad writes, by email, that "we know exactly why Elsevier acquired SSRN (and Mendeley): It's to retain their stranglehold over a domain (peer-reviewed scholarly/scientific research publishing) in which they are no longer needed." We see this, for example, in its growth in the domain of academic IP.
There's a lot of off-colour language in this post announcing Josi Denise's resignation as a 'mommy blogger'. The full post, though, is worth reading, as it gives us a glimpse of a world in which brands manipulate bloggers and bloggers so whatever it takes to gain readers - and stay in touch with company PR reps. And at a certain level, as this post says, it's all fake. Josi Denise ran her 'mommy blog' since 2013 making money and earning tens of thousands of followers, but finally had a crisis on conscience and abruptly quit. I wonder how much of the edublogosphere is like this? probably not many of the people I follow on a regular basis are, but there's a very large mass of 'teacher bloggers' out there that follow a similar paattern: shill for the vendors, do publicity stunts to attract readers, and maybe even make most of the stuff up. Via Motto, via Ben Werdmuller.
Google has released an app called 'Spaces' intended to support small groups. It integrates other Google apps: "With Spaces, it’s simple to find and share articles, videos and images without leaving the app, since Google Search, YouTube, and Chrome come built in." I wouldn't invest too much effort into this, as Google has a pattern of creating services and closing them. I've created a space for OLDaily - the system still seems to need some work. The service seems to resemble things like Delicious.com.
This is a follow-up to Michael Caulfield's post on e-Literate earlier this week and looks at the subject of personalized learning in a lot more depth. "Mike’s stories show truly significant learning of the kind that changes students perspectives and, if we’re lucky, their lives. It is not just personalized but deeply personal. He was able to reach his daughters because he understood them as humans." Robots aren't going to take on this role any time in the near future, writes Feldstein. But they can play a positive supporting role, and that's the model Feldstein considers. By helping students achieve a level of proficiency at the 'what' question, they allow the teachers to focus on the sort of 'why' question that really engages students. But this homework cannot become an end in itself, and it has to clearly connect the 'what' with the 'why'.
OK, I get this: "e-learning is at its infant stage in universities in Kenya. Majority of universities lacked senate approved e-learning policies to guide structured implementation. A few lecturers (32%) and students (35%) used e-learning and few courses (10%) were offered online. Majority of online uploaded modules (87%) were simply lecture notes and not interactive. Again, universities in Kenya lacked requisite ICT infrastructure and skills." The strength of this article is that it collects a lot of data on universities in Kenya and the east Africa region. But I fail to see how this follows: "The study recommends that universities partner with the private sector to improve ICT infrastructure, build capacity, and standardize e-learning programs in the country." It is nowhere supported by the data. Indeed, looking at things like lack of training and lack of bandwidth, it appears that the problem in Kenyan higher education is a lack of money. But he private sector gets involved in order to take money out of the system. It seems to me that private sector involvement would simply make the situation worse.
This article has an almost-decent sample size and the sort of conclusion that magazines like the Chronicle love to publish: "Data was collected via 516 responses to an online survey and achievement tests.... The credit bearing group also scored significantly higher achievement scores than the credit careless group. Credit clearly and significantly affected all dependent variables investigated in this study." Now of course I'd like to see more courses studied (the only one here is 'Ataturk's Principles and History of Turkish Revolution' which while no doubt interesting (I'd take it) is a bit niche). And the sample (which "consisted of faculty of education students who responded to the online survey") appears to be dangerously self-selective.
This could have been such an interesting paper had the authors not succumbed to what is a disease in our field, small (n=33) and unrepresentative (graduate students pursuing a master's degree in education) samples. The idea was to determine the impact of small group size on social presence in learning, where social presence was measured in three dimensions:
Oh, what a larger scale and more comprehensive study could have done with this, actually getting into the differences in these three models, looking at the nuance a large sample size would provide, and perhaps identifying conditions (cultures, subject area, personalities) in which one or another is a more useful tool. Ah, but we get none of this. We get only this: "Our results suggest that by manipulating group size, students' perceptions of cohesion, and sociability were positively increased." Sigh.
I'm glad e-Literate asked Michael Caulfield to elaborate on his post, though it still feels abridged to me. Here's the traditional take on 'personalization': "You learn a certain set of things, you get tested, the personalization software finds knowledge gaps and runs you through the set of canned explanations that you need." But this isn't right, says Caulfield. "The biggest advantage of a tutor is not that they personalize the task, it’s that they personalize the explanation... students often have very similar skill gaps, but the remedy for each student may be radically different." There's a short list of what a truly personalized course would do - this is the part I wish were elaborated. (The earlier version of the first half of this post on Caulfield’s Hapgood site).
Blackboard is partnering with yet another entrant in the adaptive learning marketplace, FishTree. It's a "personalization platform that combines standard-aligned resources and social media-based tools with world-class analytics to save teachers time, and help students learn." Blackboard writes, "Fishtree at its core is a productivity platform that enables teachers, instructional designers, and administrators to author and share digital courseware, and curate the best resources from a range of content—licensed, OER, user-generated— that is then measured by its effectiveness on student outcomes." As always, these claims must be evaluated. But this shows that adaptive learning using analytics is an increasingly crowded market.
All lists are suspect, of course, but I'll echo Martin Weller's comment: "no @audreywatters, the acid test for respectability." Some new ones to me: Code Acts in Education, by Ben Williamson; sketch artist Professor Josh; tech-tools blog Higher Ed Webtech, by Mike Richwalsky; wearables-focused Digital Bodies, by Maya Georgieva; Emerging EdTech, by Kelly Walsh; Cat Food, which features tools and podcasts; and Gross Point-Blank, by Liz Gross. I've added these to my list of sources. Note: The Ed Tech 50 is heavily weighted to North America. If you know of blogs from around the world that I should be reading, please send me a note at email@example.com My full list of blogs I read via RSS (in OPML) is here.
"We know the names," writes George Siemens. "Vygostky, Freire, Illich, Papert, and so on. We know the ideas. We know the vision of networks, of openness, of equity, and of a restructured system of learning that begins with learning and the learner rather than content and testing. But why doesn’t the positive change happen?" The answer, he suggests, is that these reformers were not able to integrate their ideas with systems or networks. " Ideas that change things require an integrative awareness of systems, of multiple players, and of the motivations of different agents. It is also required that we are involved in the power-shaping networks that influence how education systems are structured, even when we don’t like all of the players in the network." Ah, it's that last phrase that contains the rub. Will Richardson chimes in with a helpful reference to Sarason in the comments.
The internet used to be so cool. But now people are afraid to use it. That's the gist of this article in the Washington Post which cites statistics showing that privacy and security fears are preventing people from using the net the way they'd like to. There are many aspects to this, ranging from spying and intrusion, hacking and identify theft, catfishing and fraud, spam and spoofing, cyberbullying and more. I read from time to time (and people tell me in various meetings) that people aren't really so concerned about these issues, that it's the new reality. I don't buy it. I think people crave a secure and safe internet.
This article has the most awkward title ever, but represents a logical progression from Friere's characterization of the 'pedagogy of the oppressed' (and more positively, 'pedagogy of hope'). The pedagogy of fear "stunts the active and vital educational growth of the young person, making him/her passive and dependent upon external disciplinary sources. It is motivated by fear that prevents young students—as well as teachers—from dealing with the great existential questions that relate to the essence of human beings." It's based on two major ideas: "The child as 'not-knower'" and "The model of demand as the pedagogic basis." I think this is a good insight. What would pedagogy look like if we removed these two constraints? (Other 'pedagogies of fear': Leonardo and Porter, Mcdermott, Lumenfeld). Image: Pinterest.
I wasn't expecting much from this report as the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) typically parrots a hard-right neo-liberal political agenda, but it is actually fairly comprehensive and reasonably accurate. Cleaning up the prejudicial language a bit (especially in the introductory paragraphs) would go a long way to making this a credible report. Where it goes wrong is in its pointless criticisms of 21st century learning initiatives; these have long been a bugbear of AIMS and related institutions, despite their being a key feature of online learning. Aside from that, the report captures some of the major problems with the approach in Atlantic Canada, especially the top-down provincially-based organization and management (which makes the system especially sensitive to politics and changes in government (which is the main reason innovation has not been sustained in this part of the world)). Overall I would support the 9 recommendations listed in the article.
In what looks like "a direct response to the Canvas Network," Moodle's Gavin Hendrik has announced the Moodle Academy, "a centralized MOOC hosting platform run and managed by Moodle. This is for institutions or Moodlers who want to hold a MOOC but don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to deal with the short term (massive) hit on their internal resources from a much heavier user load." Unless this platform is open in ways I don't know about, this appears to me to be more of a response to things like MoodleRooms. I'm guessing it will be located here - http://www.moodleacademy.org/ - since we have a pre-splash page Moodle install (and http://www.moodleacademy.com is still up for sale). But hey, I've been wrong before. Anyhow, the biggest problem for the use of Moodle with MOOCs has always been the need to sign in to do anything - for example, to access this page to ask Gavin Hendrik for more information. See the rest of the Moodle Moot keynotes here.
Ah, chatbots. Everyone's favourite potential robot teacher. They've been around for a while - here's me interviewing one that ran for president in 2000. Today they're a lot more sophisticated and sometimes even passing the Turing test (here, here and here). But bots come in all shapes and sizes and as this article suggests are already pervasive. "There are already bots for property searches, getting up to date news bots, as well as for booking hotels.... Esther created her own resume bot.... there is now talk of the “conversational office” (which Slack is spearheading) and how messaging bots will change workplace productivity over the next five years."
Logo was an almost magical tool in its time designed to help students learn to program. "Of course, it wasn’t 'real programming,' writes Doug Peterson. "That was reserved for the assignments given in class. This was just fun, trying to design the most intricate things that we could." As it turns out, though, it was 'real computing' - more real than the other sort. Today, students have many more options for programming creativity. "Students might get a chance to learn using Lego Mindstorms or any of the other languages that have been created with developing coders in mind – Hopscotch, Scratch, and so much more. With the right budget, you might even get a programmable device like Sphero." For me, languages like Basic and C were my toys, and I created games.
Tony Bates has some sharp and insightful points on culture. "Culture is a critical component of any learning environment," he writes. "However, changing a pre-existing, dominant culture is very difficult." Depending on your perspective, these cultures may also be damaging to learning. For example, a segregated education determined to teach girls 'poise' and ladylike behaviour can scarcely be called comprehensive, he suggests. And Canada's residential school system designed to assimilate aboriginal students was openly destructive. But online learning gives us the means to build our own cultures, he suggests, and he would foster openness, recognition and respect while "making explicit and encouraging the underlying values and epistemology of a subject discipline."
This is a review of the recently released Australian National Strategy for International Education 2025 (40 page PDF) and it is not a positive one. Australia has been noted in recent years for an explicit focus on revenue generation from international education, and this report represents a continuation of that strategy. "The strategy has three pillars: strengthening the fundamentals, transformative partnerships and competing globally. To operationalise these pillars, the Australian government will provide A$12 million (US$8.8 million) over four years." Without commenting on the objective, I find this a small amount of money to support such wide objectives, in particular given "the closure of the Office for Learning and Teaching – the major source of funding for teaching innovation in Australian higher education."
This is just an example of some of the ridiculous assertions still being published in the traditional media. I realize that opinion columns should represent all perspectives, but the denial of reality should not be one of them. If you go into your local bookstore (if you can find a local bookstore) you'll find it selling knick-knacks, toys, food, and pretty much everything but books. People don't buy Kindles any more because they don't even want another device to read books, I'm sitting in a café right now and nobody is reading print on paper. Writing a column like this is the surest way to undermine your credibility. See also: eBook sales are not falling, despite what publoishers say.
I have to admit that I am impressed by the way Don Tapscott has found something current, used it to reinforce his core message, and released a book with a slew of publicity that is going to keep himself (and his son Alex) employed for some time into the future. This is how you manage your career as a pundit at a high level. And maybe it will even do some good. Tapscott writes, "The digital world is challenging the very notion of a walled-in institution that excludes large numbers of people. Yet the Industrial Age model of education is hard to change. Vested interests fight change. And leaders of old paradigms are often the last to embrace the new." I see this on a daily basis. Time for a change.
To be launched on May 24, the Competency and Skills Systems project aims "to facilitate the transition to competency-based education, training, and credentialing through the development and dissemination of open source infrastructure and tools." It is being coordinated by the American Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) proigram, which develops technology on behalf of the U.S. military. It's also working with a number of other organizations, including IMS, IEEE LTSC, LRMI, and more. This could be big. "Competency portability enables multiple organizations, learning resources, and software systems to reference common sets of competencies. In the CASS vision, diverse authoring tools, learning management systems, learning record stores, learning object repositories and registries, intelligent tutors, simulations, online courses, certificates, transcripts, and résumés could all refer to and retrieve information about the same competencies via persistent URLs in a standardized manner."
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