by Stephen Downes
Dec 19, 2014
Strict Finitism and Transhumanism
I have a very unhappy relationship with the concept of infinity. I maintain that I can't comprehend infinity, and infinity insists on inserting itself into my cognition. This impacts what I think about pretty much everything (including, even, what I mean when I say 'everything'). For me, the pragmatic question is that, if infinity is in any sense 'real', then it may be impossible to 'grow' or 'develop' cognitive processes that rely on it. This has a direct impact on what I can (or want to) say about learning and cognition - for example, a network process that does not have 'infinity' somehow built in will be incapable of performing 'real' mathematics or other cognitive functions. My own thought is that the concept of infinity is a convenient fiction - there are no 'real' infinities, and a system of reasoning (such as mathematics) that produces one is to that extent also a convenient fiction. To get a sense of the sort of debate I have in mind here, read this article.
The Internet Is a Zoo: The Ideal Length of Everything Online
I don't link to infographics. That's one key message I want people to take from this post. So please don't send me infographics to link to. Having said that, this post is a link to an infographic, because this one actually occupied my attention for a couple of minutes, and presented some useful information that appears to be data-backed (you'll have to scroll down past the advertorial content (which is why I don't link to infographics)). So what is it? Basically, it lists the 'ideal' length for everything from tweets to Facebook messages to blog posts. The numbers feel right to me (which is how I evaluate even the most carefully researched data). P.S. if you're going to do infographics, the least you could do is animate them, as Eleanor Lutz does with her beautiful images.
A depiction of space-time-action analysis (STA) in six slides — plus an addendum of revelatory quotes
Visions from Two Theories,
in computer science we have 'frameworks', which are sets of applications and methods that allow us to do things. In theory, as well, we have frameworks, and these perform similar functions conceptually. I'm not a big fan of them in either realm, but I get their value. The current post discusses aspects of the Space-Time-Action framework. David Ronfeldt writes, "all three circles — space, time, and action — are treated as independent but interactive variables, roughly equal in size and location, with complex overlaps.... It makes 'thinking and doing' — not vague 'action' — the dependent variable. And as I’ve argued in various writings, it’s a more accurate way to depict and assess cognition."
Personally, I don't think we have a clear idea of what either space nor time are. The precision of the measurements and the abstraction of language lull us into thinking we comprehend them. But even the simplest of questions about them befuddle us. Questions like: do space and time end? Are they quantuum in nature? Do they change as our perception of them changes? For foundational principles of cognition, they really are quite fuzzy.
Great Firewall of China
Terry Anderson writes about some unexpected issues with IRRODL, the online journal he founded. While browsing in China he discovered that it did not run smoothly at all. "Google Translate (banned). Further investigation found that we used Google analytics, google API’s that are built into the Open Journal System we use and one other Google service – on each page view!" The Chinese government is concerned about the expansion of American media, just as we are in Canada, writes Anderson. It would be better if they adopted more open practices to help their own scholars and researchers.
Flickr removes CC-licensed photos from Wall Art program
I can't say that I'm surprised there was an outcry, and I hope people now understand what the CC-by license allows. The Creative Commons blog states, "Our vision is one where content of all kinds is freely available for use under simple terms, where the permissions are clear to everyone. If that doesn’t happen, creators can feel misled or cheated, and users are left uncertain if they can use the commons as a source of raw material." I would content that this is exactly what happened, and that the promotion of the CC-b y license as somehow "more free" fostered exactly this sort of misunderstanding.
Khan Academy founder has two big ideas for overhauling higher education in the sciences
So let's have fun talking about why these would never work: "Sal Khan has a few ideas for how to radically overhaul higher education. First, create a universal degree that’s comparable to a Stanford degree, and second, transform the college transcript into a portfolio of things that students have actually created." OK, to be fair, I think that he does point to some things that are broken in today's system of education related to articulation and credentials. But I don't think anyone (except Khan) believes there should be a single standard degree, much less a Stanford degree. And a moment's reflection will reveal the search and intelligence problem that results when grades are replaced with portfolios; how will an employer find what was formerly a BA from a slew of portfolios? The discouraging thing is that the business press and VCs take this level of thinking seriously.
Tech Industry Rallies Around Microsoft in Data Privacy Battle With US
It's not only the North Koreans who want to view your private data and email E-Commerce Times is reporting on a case pitting Microsoft against the U.S. government. A number of organizations have come to MS's aid after "a case challenging a U.S. government search warrant for Microsoft customer data stored on a server based in Ireland." This is by no means the first case where American judges have found that the jurisdiction of the American government extends into other countries. Microsoft's Brad Smith argues, "We believe that when one government wants to obtain email that is stored in another country, it needs to do so in a manner that respects existing domestic and international laws." The U.S. government's "unilateral use of a search warrant to reach email in another country puts both fundamental privacy rights and cordial international relations at risk." Just ask Sony, which is having similar problems with a foreign government.
What the Sony hacks reveal about the news industry
Columbia Journalism Review,
If traditional newspapers won't cover the Sony leaks, then Gawker and Buzzfeed will. And if Gawker and Buzzfeed won't, then someone else will step forward. This changes the role of journalists in a manner that might be instructive to educators: "The new role of journalists, for better or for worse, isn’t as gatekeepers, but interpreters: If they don’t parse it, others without the experience, credentials, or mindfulness toward protecting personal information certainly will." I would feel more sorry for Sony weren't for its decades-long history of user-hostile business practices, up to and including the famous rootkit incident, in which Sony hacked their customers' computers. I do feel more sorry for Seth Rogan, though I don't like his movies a lot.
The Case for Group Work
Count me as being among those with no fondness for group work. Matt Acevedo writes, "We all know the why: group members don’t contribute equitably. There’s invariably that one driven person who does most of the work, a few folks who contribute just enough to get by, and the one slacker who no one hears from until the day before the big project is due." So what is the case for group work? Acevedo argues, "It is crucial that we (educators) also design and facilitate experiences that mimic the real-world context in which our students will one day operate." Maybe so - but by experiences of groups in learning are very different from groups in the real world. then groups should be designed very differently. People from different professions (or programs) should be brought together, for example. Group governance should also resemble real-world experiences. And they should, as Merrill argues, be "engaged in solving real-world problems."
The Trouble with Tor
Good article describing Tor (The Onion Router), a system originally developed by the U.S. military in order to facilitate secure and anonymous communications. Tor works by sending messages over a series of routers - each router encrypts the message and sends it along to the next. Nobody but the receiver knows the final destination and the identify of the recipient. It has been used to hide the location of websites and online services, such as the Silk Road, a website used by drug dealers. Though Tor is secure, it can fail to protect its users; this article describes how. Agencies (mostly law enforcement) can infiltrate by setting up fake routers and monitoring traffic, sending malware to host machines, or simply targeting people who use Tor for more conventional investigations.
How The 70:20:10 Model Can Takeoff
According to article, here's how he 70:20:10 model ratio breaks down:
- 70% of learning from on-the-job experience
- 20% of learning from people (i.e. role models, coaches, or managers)
- 10% of learning from formal training (i.e. seminars, classes, or reading)
The typical interpretation of that will be that actual training, therefore, breaks down into two-thirds social, one-third formal (with the rest being on-the-job). I still think that's too much formal. But another (better) way of looking at it is to understand that 90 percent of learning comes from outside the classroom or LMS. This means understanding the need to provide learning support outside these locations. That, in my view, is what is needed to address the sceptics. (p.s. when used as a verb, "take off" is two words, not one word.) Se also: 70:20:10 Forum.
Abstracts of Three Studies Related to Pedagogical Agents
Quoted from the article:
- "Pedagogical agents produced a small but significant effect on learning."
- "Gender bias affects learner’s perception on virtual agent. Implications are discussed in terms of how stereotypes of expert-like and peer-like agent can be effectively utilized"
- "Students who viewed a highly embodied agent also rated the social attributes of the agent more positively than did students who viewed a nongesturing agent."
So - students get more out of agents that act like people, but that isn't always a positive thing.
Adaptive learning markets: talking Turkey
Philip J. Kerr,
Adaptive Learning in ELT,
This post looks at work being done to advance adaptive learning in Turkey. "OUP," writes Philip Kerr (referring to Oxford University Press) "probably the most significant of the big ELT publishers in Turkey, recorded ‘an outstanding performance’ in the country in the last financial year, making it their 5th largest ELT market." Why is Turkey special? Kerr lists several reasons: it has a young population, it's " in the middle of a government-sponsored $990 million project to increase the level of English proficiency in schools," it "one of the world’s largest educational technology projects: the FATIH Project," it has a "burgeoning private education sector," and is in the process of adopting educational technology. My main counsel to Turkey would be to be cautious: the private sector will promise the moon, but you have to hold them to outcomes.
EMMA project meeting – Madrid
Grainne Conole summarizes an EMMA project meeting - EMMA is "The European Multiple MOOC Aggregator" and collects information from, as the name suggests, several MOOCs. The MOOCs (and we're beginning to see this as a trend) had a small number of participants, about 70 each for five MOOCs. At the bottom iof the post is a set of criteria to assess MOOCs I(that are pretty specific to this project).
Skype Real-Time Language Translator Goes Live
It's probably really bad (though I can't wait to try it) and it's limited to English and Spanish for now, but this is the face of the future: real-time translations of online conversations. How awesome is that? "The Microsoft-owned chat service on Monday launched the first phase of its Skype Translator preview program first announced back in May. Jointly developed by Microsoft researchers and Skype engineers, the new feature uses real-time speech translation technologies to let you have a conversation with someone over the Internet who speaks a different language."
France plans elite top-10 mega-university
I'm not sure whether this counts as education technology (I guess it does, in a way) but France has announced plans to combine 19 separate institutions into one large super-university that will be large enough in scale and ambition to compete with places like Harvard and Oxford. It will be called Paris-Saclay, and according to this article, will have "a campus south of the French capital. The project has initial funding of 7.5bn euros (£5.9bn) for an endowment, buildings and transport links." I personally can think of better ways to spend $10 billion.
A business model view of changing times in higher education
Changing Higher Education,
I've been exposed to this way of thinking about education (and innovation generally) a lot over the last couple of years. Parts of it I resist, parts of it I embrace, and all of it I view with a certain scepticism. But it's important to understand that there are large masses of people (specifically, the business community) who view all systems this way, including the education system. The key elements to focus on are, in my view, the value proposition and the profit formula. The former talks about what effects you want to produce (I think the current article has far too limited a view of the value proposition, as does the business perspective generally) and the latter has to do with costs and efficiency - not only for institutions (again, a limitation of the business-centric view) but also for individuals engaged in the system.
Outlook on instruction: Class around the clock
It's only half way through December and already the predictions for next year are starting. This article features a headline that doesn't match the content, a poorly-conceived line graph that doesn't match the content, an even poorer comment (an engineer proposing multiplication chants? really?) and a few predictions. They are mostly based around the idea of personalization and self-management of learning. I expect this too. But watch for an even bigger pushback, from two directions - first, from the instructivists, who say everyone should learn common core content and eschew differentiated instruction, and from the paternalists, who insist students are incapable of managing their own learning. 2015, I expect, will be a year of retrenchment (aka the calm before the storm).
Tipping Points? Malcolm Gladwell Could Use a Few
Our Bad Media,
It does bother me a bit from time to time to see people like Malcolm Gladwell getting credit for ideas originally created by others. But I shrug, because that's the way the book-publishing racket works (I could name half a dozen pop technology writers who work, and get credit, the same way). Everyone knows someone else was the source, but easier to give Gladwell credit because everyone has heard of Gladwell. But this article takes the criticisms a step further and accuses Gladwell of plagiarism, providing a number of examples of unattributed quotes. As one commenter says, "This is a professional setting and these editors are giving the same lame excuses students give. How can we instill a sense of ethics and integrity of the pros are cool with thieving?" This is indeed a more general question. Looking at the ethics expressed by the 'pros' in all disciplines, and the rewards they receive for 'breaking the rules', how can we expect our young to behave any differently?
Our journey is at an end...
Aviation Industry CBT Committee,
So this marks the end of an era: "Due to declining membership, the AICC membership has decided to dissolve the AICC. We are very proud of the AICC’s pioneering work in learning technology interoperability specifications. It is quite a legacy that is still strongly influencing how most of us learn online today." In order to understand the role of the AICC, you may want to view my overview of the development of learning technologies. The CMI-5 specification will be passed to ADL. Here is the complete archive of AICC documents.
UAlberta opens access to published research in Canada
University of Alberta,
This, ultimately, is the way to break the journal cartel. The "University of Alberta Libraries has opened its e-journal hosting service to all Canadian scholarly journals to help make academic material more accessible to researchers, students and policy-makers." The University uses software called Open Journal Systems, which was created by the Public Knowledge Project in British Columbia, Canada. "The service offered by the university encourages Canadian scholarly journals to step out from behind paywalls so their material is more widely accessible to researchers, students and others referencing scholarly work."
The Open Access Interviews: Dr Indrajit Banerjee, Director of UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division
"The extent to which the Knowledge Divide is narrowed, and to which we are able to create societies that are truly Knowledge Societies, will determine the pace of development. OA has the potential to lessen the existing knowledge divide." So says Indrajit Banerjee, Director of UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division, as interviewed by Richard Poynder. "This gap goes beyond the rifts in mere access to ICT," he continues. "It refers to the gaps that exist across all the four building blocks of Knowledge Societies, namely: Knowledge Creation; Knowledge Preservation; Knowledge Dissemination; and Use of Knowledge."
Dazzling Images of the Brain Created by Neuroscientist-Artist
Beautiful images that are not to be missed. "The patterns of branching neurons he saw through the microscope reminded him of the aesthetic principles in Asian art, which he had always admired. Dunn realized that neurons could be painted in the sumi-e (ink wash painting) style, which involves making as few brush strokes as possible to capture the soul of the subject."
This Will Revolutionize Education
Derek Alexander Muller,
According to this video, "what limits learning is what happens inside a student's head... no technology is inherently superior to any other." So, says the video, "the question really is, what experiences promote the kind of thinking that is required for learning?" We've learned some good lessons here and have probably come close to optimizing the presentation of information. So why do we need teachers? Because, argues the video, the purpose of teachers is not to present information, but rather, to guide the process of learning, "to inspire, to excite, to challenge their students." Indeed, "making a learner think seems best achieved inside a social environment." So, let me ask - can we do this without a teacher? Via Ronnie Burt.
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