by Stephen Downes
Aug 19, 2016
New Models of Open and Distance Learning
Stephen Downes, Aug 18, 2016.
The combination of customization and personalization provide some, but not all, of the objectives set by new pedagogies. Students are limited by the capacity of the LMS. Community-formation is limited to the students enrolled in the course. Students can participate and interact, but their creativity is limited by the LMS environment, and they lose access to their work at the end of the semester.
I've predicted on numerous occasions that data from our everyday life will be used to assess performance, instead of tests or assignments. It's a simple example here but illustrative: by using data from your smartphone programs can determine whether you're a good driver. For example, "access to whether or not you regularly slam the brakes is something that can help predict how safe a driver you are. Drivers who regularly brake hard are likely struggling to anticipate what lies ahead, making them more at risk for a mishap." The flip side here is that insurance companies are now requesting this data in order to determine how much to charge you. Should we be required to hand over this data?
One of the issues I have with competencies is that too often they are just a rewrapping of content knowledge in new terminology. Take this Blackboard post for example. The author begins reasonably: a competency requires "a clear understanding of (a) a summary of what the competency is about, (b) a specific definition of the competency, and (c) the associated topics that will help assess the competency." But then we get an example of a competency definition: "Describes, classifies and critiques the origins, actions and consequences of American civil rights," and as a subcompetency: "Political shift of south" and various others. This isn't a competency in any real sense. It's just some content the student is expected to know about. And we have no sense whatsoever about why students are expected to know this content, what would count as evidence they've achieved it, nor what they're supposed to do with the knowledge.
Females’ Enrollment and Completion in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Massive Open Online Courses
Suhang Jiang, Katerina Schenke, Jacquelynne Sue Eccles, Di Xu, Mark Warschauer, arXiv.org, 2016/08/19
According to this study, "globally MOOCs have the potential to provide learning opportunities for females in less developed countries. Findings from this study support the hypothesis that greater gender segregation may exist in more economically developed countries." Even so, only about 24% of enrollees in STEM MOOCs were women, suggesting a need to explore ways to make them more gender-inclusive. Data for the study were from the public MOOC dataset provided by HarvardX - MITx.
Today's new work is "eigenbehavior" (soon to be the theme of a special issue of Constructivist Foundations). The concern is derived from systems theory and based on Heinz von Foerster's idea of the eigenform. As Kauffman explains, "Heinz performs the magic trick of convincing us that the familiar objects of our existence can be seen to be nothing more than tokens for the behaviors of the organism that apparently create stable forms." To hazard a metaphor, what counts as a 'cow path' isn't the existence of a cow path, but rather the series of behaviours that led to its creation. If we didn't treat a cow path as a path, it wouldn't exist as a path. Eagle and Pentland propose "a new methodology for identifying the repeating structures underlying behavior" - the eigenbehaviors - and show how knowledge is socially constructured: "groups of friends can have their own collective ‘behavior space’ which corresponds to the common behaviors of the community."
But eigenbehavior is tied intimately to human existence; we can see the relation to Varela and autopoiesis. And as a commentator on this article about self-organization suggests: "The crux of the constructivist position: in the theory of organizationally closed systems, not all possible distinctions in some environment can be 'grasped' by the autonomous system: it can only classify those aspects of its environment/sensory-motor/cognitive interaction which result in the maintenance of some internally stable state or attractor (eigenvalue)." (p.s. lots of interesting stuff in this blog.)
Single Link YouTube (SLYT). This is Martha Burtis from the Digital Knowledge Center at Mary Washington University and Sean Michael Morris from Middlebury College, one after the other. Here's the blurb: "For too long, instructional design has been reduced to page design, alignment of content and assessments with outcomes, and the “science” of step-A-to-step-B learning. It has lacked imagination, spontaneity, passion, and care. What we propose here is that instructional design and the digital platforms (and spaces) we use for teaching and learning can be more. More critical. More relational. More flexible. More beautiful." Via Jon Jon Kruithof, who writes, "I’m not fighting for what I believe in enough (by the way, that’s work on the open web, understanding digital literacies, criticizing educational technology for putting us in boxes we shouldn’t be in)" but finds in this video a way back from this wilderness. I listened to it this morning. Don't miss it.
The lede of this stories is NPR's decision to eliminate comments on its stories but the core it its decision to embraace social media to generate discussion. More interesting is this: "in addition to refining our live interaction approaches on Facebook, we'll begin testing a promising new engagement tool that is rooted in public media. Hearken is a digital platform that allows journalists and the audience to partner on the development of story ideas." It's a good idea to involve readers from the beginning; this idea that we present content only when it's finished and polished dates back to the days of publishing on paper. But I think the key to success with commenting (or interaction generally) is this: posting not on someone else's site (which invites spam, abuse and more) but posting on our own site and sharing with our own community.
I'm sympathetic with Sue Sorensen's argument that universities ought to be about more than "success' but I wondered why she referred twice to their religious origins. The answer lies in her defense of reading with faith. That's all fine, but while it is true that the Bible states "I am among you as one who serves" it is equally true that the Tao Te Ching states that "If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility" and indeed, "Allah is with those who are of service to others." And it is repeated frequently in business literature that the key to success is to serve; by helping others you return measurable benefit for yourself. Service is even the key to happiness; as Gandhi says, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." So, yes, I agree that universities should focus on service - and also on broader social needs, "commitment, dissent, justice, open inquiry, insight, compassion," a focus on these is not as she says "an act of faith." It is an act of reason and will. That's why service should be core to the university's mission. The weak man serves himself; the wise man serves others. Image: Civil Rights and Labor History.
The problem with assessing anything - including (but not limited to) teaching - is that while it's tempting to employ an index of indicators, quality teaching (and anything else) is not reducible to these indicators. Nor, for that matter, is it necessarily any easier to measure each index value than it is the practice in the first place. As a case in point, we have Alex Usher, who recommends that we assess quality teaching in Ontario with reference to Chickering & Gamson’s classic Seven Principles for Good Practice. Nobody particularly objects to the index (insofar as we are referring to classroom teaching). But quality in teaching is not limited to these seven principles, nor is it explained by these principles. And it's just as hard to measure "develops reciprocity and cooperation among students" as it is to measure "quality teaching". Usher suggests we "ask students about whether they see those practices in the classroom." It's hard to believe this would be a reliable indicator. Image: TES.
What's interesting about the Lesson Plan Tool for Docs is that you can access a list of educational resources offered by OpenEd and import the reference to the resource into your document. In that way it's fairly basic but it offers a glimpse of how external resource libraries can be added to editing tools to help you create better resources. It's tricky to find the tool - it didn't show up in a search for 'Lesson Plan', so you have to scroll through the list of educational add-ons and add it manually (I've circled it in the diagram). After you install the add-on, you have to select it from the Add-Ons drop down and click 'Start'. This video from Richard Byrne was quite helpful.
Luis Suarez has never taken his online interaction for granted - for example, he engaged in a multi-year 'no email' project to encourage people to communicate with him more efficiently. Like the rest of us, he saw trhe potential of social networks: "building your online social networks was all about connecting with people who would share similar interests on a particular topic with you, so that people would have an opportunity to collaborate and learn more from one another." But "Little did we know that, fast forward to 2016, all of those networking activities would come with a really high price tag: your own data in unwanted hands." And now social; network sites are "depressing and equally horrifying user experiences with a single goal in mind: to have you glued to their screens constantly scrolling through, mindlessly thinking ‘why the heck have I ended over here in the first place?’" Yeah.
And he writes: "I decided, I guess, to break my own chain initially and start making less use of most of the social tools I still rely on and instead blog more. Regain control of the conversation, on our own turf, i.e. the Internet blogosphere, remember? ... The choice is ours and ours alone."
The Public Knowledge Project (PKP), which creates things like the Open Journal Systems software (OJP), has joined the scientific identity registration system known as ORCID. Yes, even I have an ORCID identification. They write, "So far, all of the OJS integration work has been done using ORCID’s public APIs. Through PKP’s ORCID membership, we will now be able to work with their full range of member APIs and identify options for more extensive interoperability between the two systems." (Interestingly the author of this press release is identified only as 'kevin' on the PKP site - I had to do some looking up to find out who he was.... that happens a lot, and takes a lot of my time).
From massive access to cooperation: lessons learned and proven results of a hybrid xMOOC/cMOOC pedagogical approach to MOOCs
Ángel Fidalgo-Blanco, María Luisa Sein-Echaluce, Francisco José García-Peñalvo, International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 2016/08/17
"What MOOC factors exert greater influence on dropout rate: participant profile or the underlying model?" ask the authors of this paper on different approaches to MOOCs. They propose a hybrid of xMOOC and cMOOC that "incorporates cooperation to create knowledge sharing among participants and combines characteristics of xMOOCs and cMOOCs." This reminds me of Matt Crosslin's work toward the same objective. The authors present case studies based on of two MOOCs implemented on the MiriadaX platform. The authors argue that "completion rate relates more to methodology than to the platform, theme or profile of enrolled participants." The hybrid model "doubled the completion rate for MiriadaX MOOCs." Terminological note; I will refer to these in the future as hMOOC.
I've actually spent quite a bit of time with Facebook, not just a user but also as a developer, working with the Facebook Graph. There's a lot that's really innovative about Facebook (React, for example). So I don't think I'm "old fashioned, out of touch and ill informed." But hey, I don't have grey hair for nothing.
That said, I can't say I agree with the content and even the tenor of the criticisms. Let's deal with the points raised, one by one (comments by Pen Lister('Webteach') in italics). First rule of FB: Make your bed, to lie in the one you want.Ah, if only. I doubt that anyone gets the FB they want out of Facebook. It's like squishing the come-on posts from clickbait sites - squash one, another one pops up. I could spend the rest of my life blocking feeds from Facebook. But humans cannot block at the speed algorithms can generate. If you are a completely passive social media user then the majority of what you’re describing is what happens. This is the bottom-line of non active algorithm, defaulting to basic content provision and ad placement (gee, just like free cable channels I guess). My feed is cool. My feed is intellectual. My feed is all round a winner.Am I a completely passive social media user? Oh, hardly. I've spend a lot of time tweaking the settings and trying to configure Facebook to what I want. I've also tried various experiments (like trying different ways of using 'like' and 'share'). I've gone through campaigns of deleting users who share offensive content only to find it popping up again from the sponsored posts. So, no, I'm not passive. Indeed, I've put a lot more work into it that I should have to. Why do you think Facebook is anything more than a huge (the biggest ever) TV cable company, syndicating content from any and every source, in this case, individuals, to you, another individualIf Facebook were just a neutral broker of syndicated content from "any and every source" I wouldn't have a problem with it. But Facebook selects from that content using its famous algorithm. Yes, the algorithm can be tweaked, but it can't be overridden, and it is designed to favour content partners and to cater to its very peculiar set of 'social standards'. So it's not just a cable company. It doesn't just present the content, it presents the filtered and commerce-friendly content, which is the core of my objection. Yep, fat cats from the algae of web life do have the most money to waste on blanket target sponsored ads. Get over it.Why should I "get over it"? My better option is to work toward a medium of communication which is not owned and dominated by commercial interests attempting to manipulate my perceptions and mental states. I can use the telephone without being interrupted every few seconds by a commercial message, so why can't I use the internet that way? You want to change this? Not only money is the answer – TIME is the answer. If you care, or had the time, you would facilitate your community and my guess is, more people would see your content organically, because it would be ‘seen’ as useful and engaging by the algorithm. Just like Google, in fact.Nobody has spent more time working with other people on the internet than I have. I've been at it for more than two decades (hence the grey hair) and even today spend hours a day doing it. Now it might be the case that what I have to offer is inherently boring - it is pretty niche, after all - and I'm prepared to live with that. But seeing the scam artists with their fake weight loss pills and seamy meetup sites purchase their way to the head of the line reminds me that no amount of facilitation and curation is going to counter the effect of sleazy people with big bank accounts. Why do you think that FB will syndicate your content *forcably* into other people’s feeds unless they really want it – i.e. have engaged actively with it fairly recently? (I note the last post by other people was in February this year and that none of your page posts get any activity at all… yes it’s a vicious circle but you have the control to change that)I don't think Facebook will syndicate my stuff forcibly into other people's feeds. It only does that for people who pay them money - as Facebook itself reminds me repeatedly whenever I post content into the site. In fact, in order to get me to pay for placement, Facebook's algorithm makes my stuff harder to find. Now you might say (as is suggested by your comment) that I should make my pages and sites multi-user in order to generate more traffic. Sure, if I had what might be called 'guest posts' then more people might come. But my objective is not to bring in other people's content for Facebook, it's to share my own content. I know I don't have a lot of comments, but when the 'reach' of a post is 11 people, it's not going to generate a lot of comments (thank you for your one comment on that post, by the way). Semantic web controls web behaviour. I suspect you know this. The more clicks (activity) the higher the visibility in the ‘rank’. Logic, really.That's a nice fairy tale. It describes what may be version 0.1 of the Page rank. But the actual behaviour of the site is far different. In a nutshell (again) people can buy greater rank, which increases clicks, and Facebook depresses all sorts of content, which decreases clicks. The challenge we have as the body of users is to teach the algorithm what we want, as individuals, as groups, as global communities. Smart data is not necessarily evil, unless we sit back and do nothing. Much like democracy then.The snideness gets to me a bit. If you examined democracy, you would find an algorithm that has been so badly gamed that people now find it impossible to elect governments that represent their interests. I won't go into this in depth because it's really obvious, and I'm surprised you used democracy as an example to make your point. And similarly, it is not possible to 'train' the Facebook algorithm to respect my interests. Like so many politicians, it can be bought for a surprisingly small amount of money (adding up to surprisingly large amounts of money). I agree that data are not necessarily evil, but it is hopelessly naive to think that we're looking only at data and evenly applied algorithms. I liked your FB page. Because I’m interested in your great mind, I selected ’see first’ from the follow options (directly beneath the like button). This way, I won’t miss the action I'm glad to hear that. Because if you want to continue following the action, you'll have to venture outside Facebook and into the wider internet. I'm planning my departure as we speak. I am now off to write copious academic-nonspeak about your fab work in my thesis. Have a great social media day, guru of the e-learning glocality. I'm sorry you have to write academic-nonspeak but I'm glad you like my work. I think it applies directly to the current Facebook discussion. You know that I prefer open and distributed networks to closed and centralized ones. It disappoints me that social media has evolved into the latter. I want our social networks to become better and smarter but the best evidence right now is that they're becoming worse and stupider. I blame this not in the individuals involved (though it's true that they are responsible for some reprehensible behaviour) but rather the structure of dysfunctional networks like Faceook and Twitter. I'm pointing to symptoms in the other paper, but let me point to some causes. The very metrics cited above (clicks, rank, views) are mass metrics. Your interactivity with others is based on these. They are metrics that benefit from the first-mover effect (which is why some Facebook users and pages have large audiences despite not advertising) and are easily manipulated (which is why advertising works). Facebook also limits scale on individuals (there's a 5,000 follower limit) but is scale free for larger accounts (especially those that pay). This results in the oft-cited long tail effect (which we also see on Twitter) and the corresponding 'big spike' populated mostly by commercial (and frequently slimy) interests. The way to fix this is to change the metrics for connection with the intention of building communities rather than markets. But this means moving away from mass indicators and instead looking at relevance indicators, and most importantly, preventing commercial interests from gaming the system by buying access. Facebook also privileges the content over individuals and relationships. There is no real organic community-building or clustering available in Facebook, only the pages and groups people form deliberately (which are either immediately overrun by spammers or must be private and hence invisible to genuinely interested people). Contrast that with Snapchat, which doesn't even keep the content, or WeChat, which is simply a communications system. Facebook also makes it very hard to work with community outside Facebook. Anyone working with the graph will understand this. Facebook likes users to bring other users and content in, but is very reluctant to let any of that out. Indeed, Facebook is so closed that some users actually think Facebook is the internet. I can build, and have built, a chat application that includes Twitter comments, but I can't build one that includes Facebook comments. As I said in my previous post, Facebook's strategy is to insert itself between you and whomever you're talking to, and to ensure there's no alternative route. That's why it's so hard to leave Facebook - you're literally cut off. There's nothing in the response that refutes that, or offers a solution to that. I've described an architecture (and maybe we're seeing it built?). Here's how Facebook stacks up: - autonomy - no, Facebook will not let you use what platform or software you can use, and is aggressively (eg., Facebook Messenger) working to limit that choice. - diversity - Facebook is based on principles of mass, which means that it encourages everyone to view the same resources, to the point of privileging some content providers over all others - openness - the Facebook graph is not open; there are numerous types of content that cannot be exported from the graph. Facebook is the classic walled garden. - interactivity - Facebook privileges content over relationships, and focuses on what is shared rather than on the network of interactions between people, and has no mechanism of comprehending the wisdom of the community rather than the popularity of the meme.
This is a first rate intellectual synthesis (8 page PDF) of what are at first glance two very approaches to cognition, Iain McGilchrist's thesis of a division of responsibility in the brain, 'the master and the emissary', and my own description of knowledge as 'recognition'. "The differences," writes McGilchrist, "lie not, as has been supposed, in the 'what' - which skills each hemisphere possesses - but in the 'how', the way in which each uses them, and to what end." The 'emissary is concerned with abstraction and categorization and the identification of salient facts we need to exist in the world, while the master is the thick jungle of overlapping connections and perceptions from which that salience emerges. It's an interesting picture, and as a metaphor I certainly see a lot to recommend it - provided we care clear that the 'what' (categories, abstractions, languages, things) are not the 'how' of cognition.
Could this be the ascent from social media we're looking for? "Solid (derived from 'social linked data') is a proposed set of conventions and tools for building decentralized social applications based on Linked Data principles. Solid is modular and extensible and it relies as much as possible on existing W3C standards and protocols." Some of the key principles include true data ownership ("decoupling content from the application itself"), modular design ("seamlessly switching the apps and personal data storage servers"), and reusing existing data. Some of the applications include:
Now this is very much a work in progress and I'm still exploring it. But for example, the Plume application works on a Solid Platform which is no longer being maintained. You're probably best going to the Solid GitHub repository to get started.
I can only imagine that there is a cluster of "professional philosophers" just waiting for the onslaught as students in this MOOC take advantage of the new "instructor grading" feature being offered. It's hard not to deny the appeal: "Listening to lectures and reading books is great, but philosophy is all about taking complex ideas and organizing them in a simple way. You learn by writing, specifically writing to someone." But the press release does not describe how this Introduction to Philosophy MOOC will handle the workload, though the course page says "enrollment for instructor grading will be capped." And maybe the 'verified certificate' option at $US 300 helps cover the cost.
If you want to predict the future, here's my slogan: carbon, carbon, and carbon. New building materials such as carbon fibre will the products we use stronger and lighter. Graphine and similar compounds will revolutionize electronics and power storage. And biotechnology will revolutionize medicine and help us build advanced organic-based processors.
Google has released Google Duo, "a simple 1-to-1 video calling app available for Android and iOS. Duo takes the complexity out of video calling, so that you can be together in the moment wherever you are." Interesting featire: "we created a feature in Duo called Knock Knock which lets you see live video of your caller before you answer, giving you a sense of what they’re up to and why they want to chat" It might take a bit before it's available wjhere you are; "it will be live worldwide in the next few days." It's notable to me that there is no support for Windows, and that it is not available for the desktop. So I'll keep using Skype.
According to the website, "Hangouts On Air will move from Google+ to YouTube Live on September 12. If you want to schedule new Hangouts On Air you will need to use YouTube Live. Events cannot be scheduled on Google+ after September 12 and you will need to move existing events scheduled to happen after September 12 to YouTube Live." I wonder if this isn't the first step to eventually shutting down Google+. Anyhow, to schedule a live event you use your My Live Events page. The service is also supported by a Creator hub set up to encourage greater and greater participation in YouTube. Smart.
On this episode, Dr. Ana Spalding discusses her experiences with interdisciplinary and international research.
This one looks like fun. According to the press release, "While there are many MOOCs out there that introduce ecosystem services and related topics, this is one of the first that focuses explicitly on the ecosystem approach, long adopted as desirable by the UN, while covering so many key ecosystems and overarching themes." Wicked Problems, Dynamic Solutions: The Ecosystem Approach and Systems Thinking is an interdisciplinary course open to all.
No doubt the Government of Canada strategic plan will be of interest especially to Canadians, but the areas of focus should be of interest to governments and institutions worldwide. "Each area of focus details specific actions and activities that are underway or that represent new enterprise directions.
These are also probably areas of priority for my own organization and for educational institutions worldwide.
People have forgotten, I think, that there was an internet before the web. This is the story of part of it: Gopher. Developed at the University of Minnesota, "it was simple enough to explain: With minimal computer knowledge, you could download an interface — the Gopher — and begin searching the internet, retrieving information linked to it from anywhere in the world." It looked for a time like Gopher was the future of the internet. "Gopher developers held gatherings around the country, called GopherCons, and issued a Gopher T-shirt — worn by MTV veejay Adam Curry when he announced the network’s Gopher site. The White House revealed its Gopher site on Good Morning America."
As the press release states, "'Deconstructing CBE' analyzes the diversity of CBE (Competency Based Education) programs and evaluates how CBE can be customized to meet specific institutional needs." The study touts some of the advantages of CBE. "CBE targets a diverse community: The majority of respondents (68 percent) look to CBE to expand opportunities and enhance learning for non-traditional students." Additionally, "CBE does not have to be delivered online, and need not be entirely self-paced." The full report (37 page PDF) describes three case studies (or 'portraits') and is based on a survey of 251 institutions in the U.S. According to the report, "CBE raises critical questions about how institutions could be organized and financed and what roles faculty and other instructional support providers might play." Via ACE, which also links to a 2014 special issue of ACE's The Presidency on "The Road to Competency-Based Education."
The story is super-local but the impact of this program is nation-wide. The BBC micro:bit "is a pocket-sized computer that you can code, customise, and control to bring your digital ideas, games, and apps to life." It costs maybe $15 or so. You use it to create different hands-on computer projects, for example, in this case, rocket cars. It was part of this school's technology day, which also included the use of Raspberry Pi. See more in this video. Hand-on real projects are the best kind of learning, creating skills and memories that last a lifetime.
This is the problem that needs to be solved. "One of the inspirations behind the project was seeing many of his friend having to continue living like students, even with professional jobs," according to this article. "You find out that the government's charging you, you know, $6-7 a day interest, and that money doesn't even go to the schools, or the teachers that taught you ... it just goes to banks." We need to get the cost of education to zero, or as near zero as humanly possible. No, it doesn't solve every problem. But it solves some big ones.
I've described this in talks more often than I can count, so it's nice to have an actual physicist make the point for me: "During a decade of education, we physicists learn more than the tools of the trade; we also learn the walk and talk of the community, shared through countless seminars and conferences, meetings, lectures and papers. After exchanging a few sentences, we can tell if you’re one of us. You can’t fake our community slang any more than you can fake a local accent in a foreign country." Physicists recognize each other.
What's unfair about the whole thing is that people who are not experts cannot tell that they're not. "My clients know so little about current research in physics, they aren’t even aware they’re in a foreign country. They have no clue how far they are from making themselves understood." Yeah. And it's not just physics - I see the same thing in well-meaning scientists (including computer scientists) and engineers trying to talk about education and philosophy. And I wonder - every day - in what areas I'm seen by real practitioners as an unschooled amateur.
Finally, though: "They are driven by the same desire to understand nature and make a contribution to science as we are. They just weren’t lucky enough to get the required education early in life, and now they have a hard time figuring out where to even begin." Because everyone is something.
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