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OLWeekly

by Stephen Downes
Mar 24, 2017

Twitter exploring premium subscription service
Mike Murphy, Market Watch, 2017/03/24


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The suggestion is that Twitter might roll out an enhanced 'tweet-deck' application for a monthly fee. "The premium version would be aimed at marketers, journalists and professionals." Twitter is stalled at just over 300 million users and low ad revenue. This news comes on the heels on an announcement that Medium will start charging a 'membership' fee no long after officially giving up on an ad-supported business model. The move has drawn some harsh criticism from pundits. But here's the problem: it's really hard to find any other sustainability model. I suggested a number of possibilities a decade ago, but most do not fit the private enterprise VC-funded model.

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Voice Is the Next Big Platform, Unless You Have an Accent
Sonia Paul, Backchannel, 2017/03/23


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I have mixed feelings about the importance of voice commands. Yes, we will need voice - we frequently need to communicate with a computer when we are otherwise occupied, as for example when we are driving. And a computer can be a participant in a conversation, as for example on Star Trek. But voice commands can be appropriate in crowds and public spaces, or for activities where privacy is important. Also, voice, like a lot of things, depends on artificial intelligence (AI), and as this story suggests, bias can be built into AI. Hence Alexa's inability to understand an accented voice. This will eventually become a security feature, as voice learns to train on specific voices, accent and all. But for now it's a problem.

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This Article Won’t Change Your Mind
Julie Beck, The Atlantic, 2017/03/23


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Some time about 20 years ago I decided that i would stop arguing, and start explaining. It was no longer about convincing others, it was about making my own reasoning clear. Why? because after almost two decades in philosophy I concluded that nobody is convinced by argumentation. Yes, I have relapses, because I'm temperamentally argumentative, but these are exclamations, not exhortations. "Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point..." This, in a nutshell, is the history of philosophy. What will change minds? Personal experience, interactions with friends, and cognitive dissonance. That's why to teach really is 'to model and demonstrate'. Anyhow. Good article. Won't change your mind, but is worth reading in any case.

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Brace Yourself For The Bitcoin Hard Fork
Rob Blasetti, Decentralize Today, 2017/03/23


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There's a lot of history behind this one, but essentially the split is between the original developers, who want to keep the size of a block limited, and Bitcoin miners (ie., the people who actually encrypt the blocks), who want the size of the block to grow. This can happen in distributed systems. It's not necessarily a bug; think of it as being like mitosis, where a simple network begins to develop into a complex network. But the short term message is risk. Lots of it, because this sort of thing hasn't happened a lot yet (though it has happened to Ethereum).

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Thoughts on the UMUC IT Spin Off
Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed, 2017/03/23


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This article offers reflections on a recent University of Maryland University College (UMUC) initiative to spin off its IT department into a for-profit company.  Joshua Kim writes, "The new company, to be called AccelerEd, will be made up of the 100 or so professionals who work for UMUC’s Office of Information Technology. This moves follows the previous spin off of UMUC analytics unit into a for-profit company called HelioCampus." What about online learning, though? "In online learning, there is not a place where teaching ends and technology starts. How do you separate the two?" I don't see this experiment working out well.

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Scholars Behind Bars
Jonathan Zimmerman, New York Review of Books, 2017/03/22


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Summary and discussion of two books about teaching college classes in prison. "Just as a poor education transports people into prison, a rich one can transform them beyond it." It's focused especially on the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI). It shades into an interesting discussion of the value of an arts-focused education as compared to business or trades.

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Linked Data Notifications
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), 2017/03/22


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Linked data Notifications (LDN) is a little standard with big potential. It's very simple: you send a message to a server. I receive a notification. I access the server and retrieve the message. That's it. It sounds a lot like email, but it isn't email. In many ways it's better than email. It can be used to announce publications. It can be used to build a decentralized social network like sloph. From where I'm sitting, it could help a MOOC communicate with a PLE.

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A Continuum on Personalized Learning: First Draft
Larry Cuban, Larry Cuban on School Reform, Classroom Practice, 2017/03/22


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Larry Cuban describes a continuum between "teacher-centered lessons within the traditional age-graded school.... switching back and forth between phrases on 'competency-based education' and 'personalization'" and 'student-centered classrooms, programs, and schools often departing from the traditional age-graded school model'. The latter is what I have been calling "personal learning" and while Cuban stresses he will place "no value for either end (or the middle) of the personalized learning continuum" I've been pretty clear in my support for personal learning (though this hasn't earned me many friends).

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Do Healthy Lunches Improve Student Test Scores?
Melinda D. Anderson, The Atlantic, 2017/03/22


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While cautioning that test scores are a partial and often biased indication of learning, it has nonetheless been shown on numerous occasions that proper nutrition aids learning. This is a report on another study making the same point. "Students at schools that contract with a healthier school-lunch vendor perform somewhat better on state tests." I would add that the time to make this work is during pregnancy and in early childhood, but as a policy providing support to mothers and infants is required it is more difficult to find political support for this.

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Double Exposure
Bob Robertson, Linda Cullen, Cullen Robertson Productions Ltd, 2017/03/21


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In memory of Bob Robertson, the Double Exposure audio collection. Canadian comedy from the best. I cut my teeth on these.

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Critically examining unbundling
Martin Weller, The Ed Techie, 2017/03/21


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"Like its close cousin Disruption," says Martin Weller, "unbundling has been a favourite philosophy of the silicon valley start up. It has often been applied to education (even, erm, by me). This piece for example boldly states 'The bundle of knowledge and certification that have long-defined higher education is coming apart'." But in this short item he presses the question. We should be able to point to "solid research that says things like 'unbundling isn’t really happening on the scale they suggest' or 'unbundling works well for these learners, but has these impact on staff' or 'this model is viable, but has these costs', or even 'you can safely ignore it'." True, but the problem with such research is that it comes after the fact, well past the time you would have needed to act on it.

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Recommended Reading: CBE platforms represent a truly niche market
Phil Hill, e-Literate, 2017/03/21


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It's pretty hard to make that case when you're steeped in enterprise learning, but I think it's true: "CBE is indeed a niche market growing much more slowly that many had hoped or predicted." There are reasons for that. Alex Usher touches on the core issue: "we are having trouble figuring out skills and competencies outside narrow professional frameworks?" Even proponents are taking it slow. Here's Brightspace's John Baker: "we look at it as one component of the learning experience,” Baker said. “What we’re hoping is you’ll see more and more courses, programs, universities and colleges making a complete transition to that model of learning. But we recognize that that transformation takes time.” See also: Deconstructing CBE. Image: CompetencyWorks.

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Eliminativism and the Neuroscience of Consciousness
Richard Brown, 2017/03/21


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The idea of 'eliminativism' is that our common-sense psychological concepts such as 'beliefs', 'desires', etc., don't actually exist. This has important implications for education, since pretty much all of educational theory depends on these concepts. I am an eliminativst philosophically; I don't think you actually find thoughts, beliefs or desires (or signs, symbols, models or representations) in the brain. That doesn't mean we can't use the words, it's just that we need to be very careful about invoking them in explasnations. It's like using the language of 'windows' and 'folders' to talk about a computer. "Clicking on the folder will bring up a menu showing where your saved files are, etc. But it would be a mistake to think that this gave you any idea about how the computer was working. It is not storing little file folders away."

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Virtual Reality: The next big storytelling medium?
Stephanie Chan, Cisco | The Network, 2017/03/21


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Would I pay money to see a movie in virtual reality (VR)? Oh my yes I would. According to this, "Upload VR reports that virtual reality is creating fans out of certain big-names like directors Guillermo Del Toro and Justin Lin. Lin, the director of The Fast and the Furious, also directed a Google 360-degree spotlight story called HELP." 

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Peers, more than teachers, motivate us to learn
Andy Henion-Michigan State, Futurity, 2017/03/21


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Interesting summary of a publication (I can read it here but it might be blocked where you are) suggesting, as the title says, that peers motivate us more than teachers. It's just one study (of "four sections of an online, introductory-level educational psychology course at a large, public Midwestern university," because there are no other kinds of people on earth) so don't read too much into it. "These findings suggest that what instructors were good at was getting across cold facts, while the peers seemed to be tapping into an identification process,” says Cary Roseth. It would be interesting to see whether the same results would hold in Europe, India and China. It's the age of the internet - can't publications demand that projects like this be global in nature?

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The Blockchain Revolution and Higher Education
Don Tapscott, Alex Tapscott, EDUCAUSE Review, 2017/03/21


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This is an overview article of the potential of the blockchain in higher education. We've covered the blockchain in OLDaily before. In a nutshell: a transaction (contract, credential, whatever) is encrypted in a block, and the block is added to a chain of encryptions. So the transaction is public and verifiable, but secret and secure. It's tempting to imagine a network of competencies, badges and blockchains, as Doug Belshaw did last year, but the Tapscitt version is a lot more conservative: "a student receives a custom learning experience from a dozen institutions, while the blockchain serves to track the student’s path and progress."

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A Change Sprint – workshopping new ideas in a hurry
Dave Cormier, Dave's Educational Blog, 2017/03/21


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There are two interesting things in this post. The first is the description of the 'change sprint' that is the focus of the post as a whole. It's a method for getting input from other people when you can't just open up ideas to the whole internet. The second is the outcome from one of the change sprints, the 'learning ecosystem participant model', which ranges between open and directed action, and working along vs. working with others. P.S. he also notes that "calls to Twitter for participation weren’t quite doing the same thing they used to." I wonder whether people are following Twitter very much these days (other than those focused on politics).

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Google Scholar is a serious alternative to Web of Science
Anne-Wil Harzing, LSE Impact Blog, 2017/03/21


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I agree with this assessment. "Commercial databases such as ISI and Scopus have systematic errors as they do not include many journals in the social sciences and humanities, nor have good coverage of conferences proceedings, books or book chapters." They are, in a word, biased toward traditional scientific publications (which is also where they make their money). It makes a difference to me. According to Scopus my h-index id 5. According to Google Scholar my h-index is 26. That's a pretty large variance in the estimation of my academic impact. Via gsiemens.

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Lessons from Chicago: How to Hook Up Every Teen with a Tech Job
Jen Curtis, EdSurge, 2017/03/21


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A long time ago I offered my own version of 'School 2.0' in which placement in the community was a core concept (that's it, pictured in the image). The current article describes an instantiation of that sort of vision. "The entire senior class was placed in full-time tech internships throughout the city, acquiring job skills and building their professional networks instead of slogging through the traditional spring semester." Now the implementation was not without its issues: the staff had to scramble to find 74 placements, the high school students were sometimes unprofessional, and close supervision was required. “We’d rather students learn those lesson now rather than after investing 50K when the stakes are much higher.” Related: Every space is a learning space.

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Coursera Removes Biometric Identity Verification Using Keystroke Matching
Dhawal Shah, Class Central, 2017/03/21


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This is a bit of a puzzle. Over time, Coursera has focused on authenticating users and (thereby) offering 'validated' certificates. But the news now is that it is shutting this down. Class Central speculates that "It seems Coursera no longer feels the need to identify a learner every time they submit an assignment," thus ending the "constant nagging". But maybe it's because there's no point. Perhaps the authentication process doesn't actually work. That could explain why "the terms 'Signature Track' and 'Verified Certificate' are no longer used, and have been replaced by 'Certificate." But I don't know. Maybe it's Class Central making something out of nothing. A statement from Coursera on this would help, maybe.

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Teach schoolchildren how to spot fake news, says OECD
A boy using a computer A boy using a computer. The OECD plans to test the ‘global competencies’ of 15-year-olds around , The Guardian, 2017/03/20


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I know we would all love to do this, but I don't think you can simply 'teach children to spot fake news'. That's a bit like trying to 'teach children to spot mathematical errors'. Yes, it's a great skill, but you need to acquire a mathematical education to do it; you can't specialize on spotting the errors. In the case of fake news, mastery of critical literacy is required (not just '21st century literacy', but a deeper understanding of how knowledge is created and verified in general). The Guardian article doesn't talk about any of this, but does outline "the OECD’s plans to test young people’s attitudes to global issues and different cultures, their analytical and critical skills, and abilities to interact with others." There's no link in the article, but here is an outline (44 page PDF) of the OECD's plan. See more.

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Teacher wins $1M global prize for work in northern Quebec
Benjamin Shingler, CBC, 2017/03/20


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Salluit is an an Inuit community of abut 1450 people in northern Quebec accessible only by boat (in summer) or by air. Maggie MacDonnell has been teaching in the community for six years, facing and witnessing first hand the everyday struggles faced by the community, including 6 suicides in 2015. "I didn't know until I came to Salluit that that was a Canadian reality," she said. But it is, and it's easy to ignore in the affluent south. But it's a little bit harder to ignore now after the award of the $1 million US 2017 Global Teaching Prize by the Dubai-based Varkey Foundation. And that's a good thing. See also BBC, which lists the other finalists.

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YaCy: The P2P Search Engine
Archive.org, 2017/03/20


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The YaCy search engine actually exists and actually works, and I can even find myself on it. But "unlike centralized search engines like google, bing, and duckduckgo, YaCy is decentralized, and run entirely by a network of users, giving you lots more options, and a greater chance of privacy." I like things like this, which is why I'm linking to it. But I'm under no illusion. YaCy started in 2012 and it's not the sort of thing that becomes widely popular. Even now, only "more than 600 peer operators contribute each month [and] about 130,000 search queries are performed with this network each day." Here it is. Read about it here.

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Unpaywall
Heather Piwowar, Impactstory, 2017/03/20


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Are you or your students trying to get work done but get stuck at a paywall? I know it happens to me often enough. That's why some developers have created Unpaywall - it points you to open access versions of the paper the publisher is trying to charge you money for. Now I can't vouch for how well it works - the Firefox extension is still in the review process. But I like the idea a lot. As Heather Piwowar writes, "We want everyone in the world to have a 'read it free button next to the “pay us money” button on research articles, powered by open access in repositories worldwide."

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Artificial Intelligence and Law : 
A Six Part Primer
Daniel Martin Katz, Computational Legal Studies, 2017/03/20


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The 271 slides in this presentation might make you balk, but there are blank slides, and the rest of them move along at a brisk pace. It's a great introduction to the use of AI in law, and you will learn quite a bit AI itself in the process. It describes the impact of rules-based systems in law (50 slides or so) and then shifts to data-driven AI, which is the predominate method used today. This approach does not resonate with lawyers; "there is a borderline pathological numerophobia among lawyers, says slide 87. Despite that "quantitative legal prediction" is coming to law. Where is it doing? Machine Learning as a Service (MLaaS). Enterprise open source. The future is in how to assemble these systems for specific applications. Great presentation. Don't miss this.

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Rebuilding a national university after decades of war
Ramadhan Rajab, University World News, 2017/03/20


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For more than a decade Somalia was a lesson in how a country functions without a government. In a word: poorly. I take it as the definitive refutation of libertarianism. Now that it is emerging from years of violence and chaos control of the Somali National University is being handed over to the nascent government and facing challenges in everything from finding staff to enrolling qualified students. SNU has free tuition, but a sign of the recent lawlessness is the proliferation of private 'universities' who "cash in on the thirst for education.... Unless regulations are in place it will be hard to deal with this problem. If not checked, we will have too many graduates with no relevant skills."

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Copyright 2017 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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