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by Stephen Downes
Feb 27, 2015

Presentation
New Learning, New Society
Stephen Downes, Feb 23, 2015, Chang School Talks 2015, Toronto


Talk given to the Chang School at Ryerson University outline the weakness of traditional models of online learning and arguing instead for a student-centered and self-organized system.

[Link] [Slides] [Audio]

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Won’t somebody please think of the children?
Dylan Collins, tech.eu, 2015/02/27


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So this sounds so unlike Europe, but maybe I'm just naive: "There is a new generation of kids startups focused on platform, tools and adtech fuelled by a broader structural shift in the sector. Occasionally referred to as ‘kidtech’, they are tackling opportunities in the kids market that are worth billions of dollars in the adult sector." The tenor of the argument is that the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) prohibits behavioural online advertising, and that this is being adopted by Europe, creating a spending gap that is being addressed by, well, what? Advertgising? Kidtech? "Already kids brands are doubling and tripling their digital ad spend for 2015 and it seems highly likely that kids digital ad market will be a $2 billion space inside two years driven by the availability of kid-safe platforms..." It seems to me that if they're loaded with advertisements, they're not exactly kid safe. But like I say, maybe I'm naive.

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A Town Where a School Bus Is More Than a Bus
Sam Chaltain, New York Times, 2015/02/27


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Sam Chaltain is gaining traction for some ideas that will be familiar to readers of this newsletter (plus one about school buses that is new to me). From his newsletter: "What if... we started to design schools in ways that imagined young people moving more like a murmuration of Starlings than, say, a regiment of soldiers? What if, in order to reimagine schooling, we got specific about all the things we have always done that we will need to hold onto - and all the things we must let go of in order to make space for something new? And what if, instead of viewing a thing like a school bus as merely a vehicle for transporting children to and from school, we viewed it (as one community has done) as an essential link in the chain of our overall effort to support the needs of children?"

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Whoa wow wow!
swiked, Tumblr, 2015/02/27


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So look at this photo of a dress and answer one simple question: what colour is it?

If you are like me, you will say that the dress is blue (with black trim). But if you are like Andrea and the other half of the internet, you will say the dress is white, with gold trim. Why is this significant? Typically we think we mean the same thing with simple words like 'blue' and 'white'. But in fact, our prior experiences shape the meaning of every word, to the point where we literally see different things when we see the same image. This is why no single model can define a theory of education. Each of us sees the world differently, which means each of us needs unique educational support. More on the blue dress: Daily Beast, Wired, CBS News, Washington Post, National Post, Independent.

[Link] [Comment]


NY Times Textbook Publishing, Inc.
Greg Mankiw, Greg Mankiw's Blog, 2015/02/27


This is why economists, and especially Harvard economists, have such a poor reputation. Arguing against the New York Times, Greg Mankiw maintaines that high textbook prices are justified because, if prices are too high, a competitor (like, say, the New York Times) could enter the market and undercut prices. Well, of course, this is happening, with free and open content textbooks, because prices are too high. But what we are finding, as Economic Logic observes, is that the textbook market is not an open market. It is "remarkably difficult for a new publisher to enter the market" and existing prices "really looks like (open or tacit) collusion among publishers." Even more to the point, though, is his presumption that textbooks must be published by a profit-driven publishing company. If, say, textbooks were deemed a public good, and offered by the government at substantially lower cost, why would this not be the most viable option? Via Fred M Beshears, by email.

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Why Everyone Was Wrong About Net Neutrality
Tim Wu, The New Yorker, 2015/02/27


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I will admit that I was both surprised and pleased by the decision in the United States to support net neutrality, "preserving an open Internet by prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing content that flows across their pipes." In this article Tim Wu - who coined the term 'net neutrality' in the first place - explains why we were wrong to expect the decision would go the other way. But I caution against celebrations too early, and not simply because the cable and telecom companies will start court cases to overturn the ruling. The FCC has merely decided to regulate the internet, and these regulations, over time, could erode net neutrality, condemning it to a death by a thousand cuts.

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Big data trend now being applied to managing human resources
Dianne Buckner, CBC News, 2015/02/26


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Intesresting story in CBC rthis morning on the use of data analytics by employers to manage staffing. "A growing number of human resources executives are starting to dig deep into computerized statistical data on employees, to make decisions regarding salaries, promotions, and even benefit programs. It's a trend that excites some and worries others." Obviously such a system has potential for abuse - but on the other hand, there are obvious advantages to being able to quickly identify, recruit and promote qualified employees. The connection between this item and online learning should be clear.

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What’s Wrong with the Internet?
Edward H. Baker, Strategy+Business, 2015/02/26


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Review of Andrew Keenm's The Internet is not the Answer. "Keen argues that 'rather than democracy and diversity…all we’ve got from the digital revolution so far is fewer jobs, an overabundance of content, an infestation of piracy, a coterie of Internet monopolists, and a radical narrowing of our economic and cultural elite.'" My perspective of course is very different. Keen argues "the 'citizen' ... has suffered greatly over the past two decades through the loss of jobs, privacy, and collective identity, and a declining sense of the common good." Maybe. But many people (such as myself) have quietly benefited. We are in a cultural renaissance, a golden age of music, a flourishing of video arts. Yes, there is a concentration of wealth. But the internet didn't cause that, and frankly, I don't see how it can be overturned, except by means of the internet.

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National Adjunct Walkout Day
Various authors, NAWD | Tumblr, 2015/02/25


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As Gawker reports, "Today is "National Adjunct Walkout Day" [in the U.S. and elsewhere] when the overworked, disrespected, and underpaid adjunct professors of the world (the US, mostly) go on strike to raise awareness of the fact that, while colleges keeping getting more and more expensive, adjunct professors keep getting screwed." Or as Tiffany Kraft writes, "Over the course of 40 years, the profession devolved from one largely founded on respect and security to one that standardizes unfair labor conditions and creeping corporate gain. Clearly, the tolerance of this issue marginalizes all faculty. Foremost, we need an ideological culture shift, and then we may confront the real issues that undermine the profession, with restored ethos, voice, and action."

More: TakePartAmerica (national Catholic review), the Chronicle ("Will it make a difference?"), Slideshare presentation of the issues, the Daily Texan ("walkout begs reflection on state of US faculty"), CASA News, CPFABryan Alexander ("a deeply exploited population attempts to make its voice heard"), a snippet and short article from Inside Higher Ed, Bleeding Heart Librarians ("even though universities are culpably mismanaged, there’s little reason to feel sorry for adjuncts"), the Atlantic ("activists are wondering how to galvanize a collection of workers who drift from campus to campus"), Ontario CAFA  ("growing use of contract faculty in Ontario traps many in precarious work, threatens quality of higher education"), Storify feed, adjunct walkout Twitter Feed and Facebook page.

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6 Best Practices for Developing Competency-based Job Profiles
Unattributed, HRSG, 2015/02/25


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This is advertorial content supporting marketing for HRSG’s CompetencyCore's profile builder, but it's also a good snapshot of where learning management is heading in the corporate space (and probably in the institutional space as well). That doesn't mean everything's going to be broken down into individual competencies (though that is the vision of some). But it does mean that the traditional metric of seat-time or the credit-hour is in the process of being disrupted.

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Questioning the Data
George Couros, Connected Principals, 2015/02/25


"There are a few things that I question when I hear schools talk about solely 'data driven'," writes George Couros. "Nothing works for everyone. Nothing.  So when we look at “proven methods”, we are often looking at something that is more focused on the “system” than an individual." Also, "there are often so many things that are going on in school, how can we really compartmentalize the 'one thing' that works?" Finally, he asks, "what is the measure of success?" Education is a complex system designed for individual needs and to serve multiple objectives. Of course no single model can describe it, let alone determine how it should operate.

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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Put Your Baby Photos Online
Dimitri Tokmetzis, Matter, 2015/02/25


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This is a sign of the growing backlash against use of the CC-by license, and may well spur additional backlash. The authors have set up a commercial website that sells coffee mugs with CC-by photos of other people's infants and children on them. "Initially, the recipients who saw those pictures were all users of Flickr — family members, friends, or maybe other amateur photographers. But by shifting the flow of information to a commercial platform, the recipients are now anyone who might be interested in buying a mug that has a picture of a kid on it. What has changed is the social context, and this is why it feels uncomfortable." Adding the 'NC' clause to your license makes such reuse illegal.

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Trends in Distance Education Research: A Content Analysis of Journals 2009-2013
Aras Bozkurt, et.al., The International Review of Research in Open, Distributed Learning, 2015/02/24


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Some interesting nuggets in this article. It focuses entirely on research in a set of the seven most influential academic journals in the field of distance education, which would not count as my favourite data set in the world, but creates a listing based on academic journals of record. Aras Bozkurt tweets one of the findings: "#Connectivism is a rising theoretical background. @gsiemens and @Downes are among the most cited authors." In fact George Siemens has one more citation than me, making him 11th in the list, and myself 12th (the top four are Anderson, Garrison and Archer, who were my colleagues at the University of Alberta in 2000, and of course MG Moore). It's also interesting connectivism was the fourth most commonly cited theory, which I guess officially makes it a theory.

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Now This Is An Example Of Truly Educational Radio
Linda Poon, NPR | Goats, Soda, 2015/02/24


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We've heard a lot about the ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, but less about how the education system is adapting. This article fills that gap a by by describing the educational radio service that has been put into place there. It strikes me as absurd that only 25 percent of the population owns a radio (listenership is much higher, suggesting many radios are shared, but still, access to a radio should not be an issue in 2015). We are told: "That's where organizations like BRAC, one of the world's largest education organizations, have stepped in." But this to me also points to the weakness of depending on charity to provide basic social services. We need mechanisms that enlist nation-sized commitments of funds, not the dribs and drabs charities can pull in.

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With few ideas to end its financial crisis, and austerity the theme in Edmonton, Athabasca U edges toward the precipice
David Climenhaga, Alberta Politics, 2015/02/24


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I hope Athabasca gets through this and thrives. People don't always realize that Athabasca is widely viewed as a great example of Canadian innovation. My time with Athabasca was a valuable experience, and being associated with it has opened many doors for me. Having said that, I note that the more Athabasca became like a traditional university, the less sustainable it became. This was always its lesson, and why it was such a good model for the future. Via my former Athabasca colleague Stephen Murgatroyd.

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Looking Up Symptoms Online? These Companies Are Tracking You
Brian Merchant, Motherboard, 2015/02/24


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At a certain point, people will lose patience withy ther spying and treacking that goes on online. Maybe stuff like this, when it comes home to roost in a bad credit rating, will tip the scales. "According to the Pew Internet Project, 72 percent of US internet users look up health-related information online. But an astonishing number of the pages we visit to learn about private health concerns—confidentially, we assume—are tracking our queries, sending the sensitive data to third party corporations, even shipping the information directly to the same brokers who monitor our credit scores."

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So, you need to understand language data? Open-source NLP software can help!
zelandiya, Entopix, 2015/02/24


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There is almost no end to the sorts of analyses you can do with text. This diagram and article offer a fascinating exploration of the choices you can make, and of the many applications (often open source!) than can be used in text analysis. The lesson to be drawn from this is that it's possible for almost anyone - and not just IBM or Google - to do basic text analytics. Approaching text from the perspective of standard frameworks makes it possible to link them together. "One advantage of using toolkits is that they make it easy to pass the output from one NLP component to another. However, sometimes, you need to combine components from different libraries.  UIMA and GATE both mitigate this problem by offering frameworks, which can combine components from different authors, some of which can be open-source and others commercial, into a single systems."

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Google A-Z
Peter Beens, Google Docs, 2015/02/23


This is what a multi-billion dollar company looks like. Everything Google, from A to Zed. Big list of links to Google products. Via Doug Peterson.

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OpenEdX and LTI: Pedagogical scripts and SSO
Stian Håklev, Random Stuff that Matters, 2015/02/23


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Although Learning Technologies Interoperability (LTI) was originally designed for learning management systems, it can also be adapted to MOOCs (especially MOOCs you have to sign in to access)(which aren't really MOOCs, but I digress). In this post Stian Håklev describes integrating EdX with LTI to obtain single sign-on. "Now comes the hard work," he writes, "designing meaningful scripts and interaction patterns for students with very different reasons to participate, and levels of engagement, but at least we know that we can probably implement what we want to."

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“Is L&D out of touch with reality?”
Jane Hart, Learning in the Modern Workplace, 2015/02/23


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There are some problems with this article but it does raise the interesting question of where the learning and development (L&D) industry gets its priorities. My own experience suggests that the industry is driven by customer demand; it follows what customers are willing to pay for. And most of the money is in more traditional L&D. And you have to be able to show that alternative approaches work equally well, which I think hasn't yet been the case. Now the problems: first, the survey is self-selected from Hart's own readers, which builds in a huge bias. Second, the last link is just a plug for one of her workshops which to me looks very much like the traditional L&D she is criticizing ($100 a pop - I've always wondered whether I could make a living offering workshops online like that).

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'Overnight, everything I loved was gone': the internet shaming of Lindsey Stone
Jon Ronson, The Guardian, 2015/02/23


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Another in what I guess is becoming an internet trend: finding people who have been publicly shamed (and often fired) for their transgressions on the internet. Again I point out that if you don't want to be maligned for, say, mocking and flipping off the national cemetery, then don't mock and flip off the national cemetery. But there's also a subtext, and it's this: what happened to employee rights such that complains from strangers over the internet could get them summarily fired? Where I grew up, unions would prevent that sort of thing. Today those rights to reasonable protection have all but disappeared. Maybe the problem isn't the internet or Facebook's privacy settings at all. Maybe the problem more social.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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