by Stephen Downes
Apr 29, 2016
Strategies for Personal Learning
Stephen Downes, Apr 25, 2016, VI e-Learning International Conference 2016, Madrid, Spain, online via Zoom
In this presentation I draw the distinction between personal and personalized learning and the outline the major strategies supporting personal learning: sharing, contributing and co-creation.
This is a lovely visualization that allows you to play with a neural network by playing with some network parameters and watching the output. Even better, the authors write "We’ve open sourced it on GitHub with the hope that it can make neural networks a little more accessible and easier to learn. You’re free to use it in any way that follows our Apache License. And if you have any suggestions for additions or changes, please let us know."
Good article that will push your think on networks a bit. The bulk of the discussion is devoted toward convincing people that they ought to look at more than just nodes and edges "to also include flows and (as per Galloway and Thacker) protocols." This makes sense to me, and there are other network properties that should be discussed more as well (connection weights, activation functions, and more). But the author also says "networks need narrative" because "we experience life as a narrative, not as a map and certainly not as networks. A network diagram rarely represents static relations. Narrating a flow through the nodes in the network is a useful way of examining it." To me, that's a lot like saying "we need abstractions". And in a sense it comes down to being able to visualize what's happening. "Visualising algorithms is still a small fringe in the visualisation world. It is mostly academic and so far has mainly served an internal maths and computer science discourse."
For various reasons I've been looking at how to create and open sidebars, modals, and other embedded content windows. Now maybe it's true that the whole world uses mobile phones these days, but I still see desktops and laptops (not to mention tablets) as more important in the realm of online learning. And these, I think, will need to support content mixing a lot better than they do. (It reminds me of the days back in the 1980s working on my Atari computer where the main thing for me was to be able to have a split editing window so I could move content back and forth.) I keep hearing about how impossible it is but I see stuff like this drag-and-drop sidebar and I know it's not.
Good article making a point with which I am in full agreement: new technology won't save traditional media because traditional media isn't offering content people want. Note: language warning, especially at the point where they describe the quality of existing media content. Where newspapers and television could get away with very low-quality coverage (not to mention biased coverage and outright propaganda) in the days where they were the only source of content, now they have to provide much better content in order to compete. And they're not set up to do this. "Compelling voices and stories, real and raw talent, new ideas that actually serve or delight an audience, brands that have meaning and ballast; these are things that matter in the next age of media."
This is an interesting effort that is well worth following over the course of the next year. A school district in South Dakota is eliminating grades in favour of personal learning. To support this, they have developed a model incorporating alternative learning methodologies for active, collaborative and learner-driven learning. Instead of classes they have things like 'the daily dish', a meeting where learners plan their day around the on things happening in each of the studios, and 'CT Circles', "critical thinking discussion groups to help learners deepen their understanding of specific learning." I hope that when they review the outcomes they don't just look at standardized tests (which of course still presume classes and grade levels) and take a more all-encompassing look at student progress. I also hope they give it more than just a year.
This item shows the dangers of platform dependence. World of Warcraft (WoW) is a popular computer game. People buy the software, but it requires a web server to act as a platform for in-game interactions with other people. As time went by, new versions of WoW came out. Normally you could just play the older version of a game if you want, but in this case the original WoW server was shut down, making all those computer games worthless. An independent version of the server called Nostralius was set up, but the owners of WoW ordered it shut down, claiming it was piracy. So now the user have no legal way of playing their own purchased versions of the game. Sure, it's just a game. But it still represents millions of dollars of value simply obliterated because the company wants to push a new version of the software.
I've spent a lot of time on peer review panels. Not surprisingly, the top selections have an impact, the low selections do not, but in that great area in the middle (and where all the debate occurs) "only ~1 percent of the variance in productivity could be accounted for by percentile ranking, suggesting that all of the effort currently spent in peer review has a minimal impact in stratifying meritorious applications relative to what would be expected from a random ranking." In other words, we would get the same results if we flipped a coin. I'm sure the same is the case for publication peer reviews. The full study is here.
Reading this article reminded me of the day my father and I built a baseball diamond on the front lawn of our ballpark-sized front lawn. Sure, he did the heavy work, but I was involved in the design and made sure there was a pole for the flag (which would fly over innumerable baseball games through the decades that followed). Not everybody needs to be a full-on design thinker the way I am - the world also needs people who do things like take measurements, check facts, and apply rigor. But everybody probably needs some, and people like me need a lot.And, as John Spencer says, "All we needed was a little freedom, some encouragement, and a few random supplies. And time. Tons and tons of time"
According to Tim Klapdor a technopedagogue "can oversee the design, implementation and even the implementation of interfaces, environments and the digital tools that support learning or various processes." But there's a sense in which the technopedagogue has a foot in two incommensurate camps. As David Jones says, "The techno is interested in scale. On systems and practices that work for the whole organisation or the whole of learning and teaching. The pedagogue is interested – as much as they can be within the current system – in the individual, the specific." But I don't think those traits are inherent in either discipline - I've very interested in personal technology, and mass pedagogy. See also Tim Klapdor, From Us to We and Administrivia and APIs.
I've spent a lot of time with Ludwig Wittgenstein in my head, not the least when I went searching for his hut at the end of the Sognefjord in Norway. Well, OK, I didn't exactly search for his hut, but I did once sail up the Sognefjord looking for huts generally, as depicted in this photo set. And I certainly understand the benefits of getting away from it all and living in the wilderness for a bit. So, as Dan Colman says, put Wittgenstein in Norway into your YouTube queue.
Discussion around the MIT Report on higher education reforms contines to echo around the blogosphere. It was referenced here in OLDaily three weeks ago. Inside Higher Ed calls it a love letter to blended learning and says "Online education can offer personalized pathways through course content with short lecture videos and well-timed quizzes that help students retain knowledge, the report reads, but it is most effective in a blended setting where students regularly interact with faculty members face-to-face.” But in this post Michelle Pacansky-Brock calls this "a general misunderstanding" of online learning. "The nature of online classes varies dramatically, much like face-to-face classes," she writes. "But, in both scenarios, the teacher matters and the teaching matters." But "a warm body teaching an online class is not necessarily going to result in an effective learning experience for students." You have to have more than a pulse. Via Phil Hill.
Alan Levine makes probably the most compelling argument of all in support of open content: "institutions pretty much just clearcut their web history." Unless the websites are saved by individuals (for example, the individuals who created them) these sites will simply disappear. Governments, museums, newspapers - all of these simply remove outdated content. "Why?" he asks. "Individuals have a deep stake in their work. Repositories, institutions? The stake varies with politics, staff turnover, leadership fetishes." Nothing is safe unless people can keep their own libraries of their own content online.
This is the sort of thing I want to see enabled for a personal learning environment. It is, of course, a lot easier to do on a multti-user hosted platform such as Slack (using specialty applications called slackbots). Here's how it works: "The basis of our algorithm for finding similar articles is a neural network, which takes the words of each article and projects them into vectors of numbers. We then aggregate the word vectors for each of the words in an article to come up with an article vector. The vectors of numbers allow you to easily uncover the relationships between words and articles by applying different similarity measures, such as cosine similarity. Specifically, the neural network algorithm is word2vec, which was implemented through the Python topic-modeling library gensim." This is all off-the-shelf stuff for platforms these days. I can't wait to see it implemented in a personal graph.
Good comprehensive article on web conferencing in education. Unlike other software sectors, there's never been a runaway leader in web conferencing. The most effective solutions tend to be too expensive for casual use, and those that are free or affordable don't have the fidelity required for professional use. Most conference systems are hosted (or as we say today, provided as cloud services) though on-premises solutions have been growing. And the key improvement in recent years has been "convergence of synchronous and asynchronous communications due to greater user demand for better knowledge/content management." GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect and WebEx remain the market leaders. A couple dozen systems also compete.
Each of the three companies is taking a slightly different approach - Google with its applications, Apple with iTunes, and Amazon with digital books - but all are making inroads into the education market. And "they are seeking alliances and partnerships rather than replacing the existing infrastructure or institutions." What they are doing is staying away from the expensive parts of education involving buildings and labour, and focusing on the low-overhead high-return part of education. This is good for them, but it will leave education systems without places to lower costs and increase access.
What is the state of the literature in open learning? Is it true that "the good stuff is in the blogs?" David Kernohan undertakes to find out. "If open education blogs do have academic merit," he suggests, "I would expect them to be cited in the more traditional literature" (I don't agree, but I digress). To study this, he looks at blogs from George Siemens, David Wiley, Audrey Watters and Martin Weller (pretty good selection; all are cited frequently here). Using “Harzing’s Publish or Perish” he calculates the h-index for each of the four, getting values of 38, 23, 20, and 12 (for comparison, Google Scholar calculates my own h-index at 23). The conclusion? "There is clearly a lot of good stuff in blogs, which is frequently cited by literature that itself is highly cited."
I guess what bothers me about this list is that it's terribly top-down and prescriptive. For example, the second point continues, "State leaders should push for policies that support districts and schools to prioritize data use." Sure, if all you care about is whether students are 'on track'. But if there's no track? What if there should be no track? See also this report from Campus Technology.
The dictionary definition of 'agency' is “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power," says Will Richardson. This makes the typical ed tech use of the word a little odd. Consider: "you always know yourself where you are on a topic, that you have the sense of what the tasks are, how much there’s left to do to achieve certain levels." Not really the same at all.
I've always felt the case against realism is pretty definitive, so this article doesn't surprise me. And I love this analogy: "You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful. That blue rectangular icon guides my behavior, and it hides a complex reality that I don’t need to know." It's not that our perceptions are not useful; of course they are. But it is an error to take them literally. Some people may then ask, well what happens to science. This is the thing: this is what science tells us. As Donald Hoffman says, "I am postulating conscious experiences as ontological primitives, the most basic ingredients of the world."
I think this is exactly the wrong lesson, but it's the one being drawn nonetheless: "The fatal flaw in the “classic MOOC,” as Thrun noted in an interview with PandoDaily, is that it is free. “We learned we can drastically boost learning outcomes by adding a service layer around MOOCs… It’s not a MOOC [anymore] because we ended up charging for it." I think a better lesson is this: "putting up a lecture online without the rest of the traditional education infrastructure resulted in very low completion rates." The key is to do it without charging admission. Oh, and fwiw, Sebastian Thrun has stepped down as Udacity CEO.
It is again worth noting that what happens in news and media usually happens in education a few years later. Both have had their online platform moment, their Napster moment, their open content moment and their syndication moment. Traditional news media are now entering what might be the end-game. "From 2016, publishers will increasingly need to justify why they need a website at all (and not just code it for Google AMP). To do that, they will need to move beyond content and towards products and services, just as they already do when considering an app, an email newsletter or, now, a bot." This has always been the play. And it has always been resisted by the 'content' industries.
Aaron Swartz was one of the most visible proponents of open access. Always putspoken and always an activist, he tried in 2011 to use an MIT account to download the JSTOR archive. After being "indicted on felony fraud charges carrying a prison sentence of up to 35 years, Swartz hanged himself." His writings were prolific and influential, so they would obviously be available as open access content, right? They were certainly posted under an open license. But on his death, publishers enter the picture, and there's nothing free than a publisher won't corrupt. Critics have protested, saying "say it is “in horribly bad taste” that Verso Books and the New Press, two other publishers, are making it difficult to download and share a curated collection of Swartz’s writings."
Diversity, as I have observed frequently in these pages, is one of the four elements of the 'semantic condition', which are the criteria for successful networks. For a lot of people 'diversity' means language and heritage. But it's a lot more than that, as this post demonstrates. Consider: “In the company we are all are from a certain prototype: super kind, generous, enthusiastic, extroverted, and proactive. The company uses the services of a big data company to help find the right people from all over the world.” The result, though, is "creating a situation in which companies will be very diverse in appearance, but intrinsically homogenous... Thus the company will appear diverse — but we know that appearances can be deceiving." The idea of diversity is based on people having different perspectives. Creating a 'cultural fit' works against that.
According to this article, "the United Nations is to call for the world’s media to take a more 'constructive' and 'solutions-focused' approach to news to combat 'apathy and indifference'." I can't see that happening in the news media. But surely this is the role of education, isn't it? "We need responsible media that educate, engage and empower people and serve as a counterpoint to power. We need them to offer constructive alternatives in the current stream of news and we need to see solutions that inspire us to action."
Mike Caulfield takes on a persistent truism in the OER world: that we need one central location where everyone can find open resources. This has never been true, and when tried it has never worked. So what does? Publishing them everywhere. "This graphic of the Buzzfeed network reminds me of that fact. Buzzfeed is one of the most recognizable destination sites on the web. If anyone could survive making people come to them, it would be Buzzfeed. And what does Buzzfeed do? They put it *everywhere*. They publish in something like 30 platforms, an 80% of their views come from places other than Buzzfeed." That's what I do with OLDaily (to a lesser extent, but I should step it up).
This is an odd article that one the one hand says that Oxford should embrace online learning to increase access and remain relevant, and that it should go private (but raising its own endowment) so it doesn't have to respond to government demands that it, um, increase access. "We’ve moved a long way, but it’s very difficult recruiting from within the UK properly qualified undergraduates from the social and educational backgrounds that the state would like us to take people from," says Laurence Brockliss, author of Oxford’s official history. It's an odd sort of logic. By becoming a 'global university' Oxford could remain exclusive, yet still attract a culturally diverse mix off students. As for actually being accessible to poor people without a privileged educational background, well, let's just not go there.
For those who don't think privacy is an issue with people (and there are many) consider this: you have to go out of your way to use a service like Tor, which is designed to help you browse the web anonymously. So when we consider that a million people are using Tor to access Facebook, that's a significant number. "Tor, an acronym for The Onion Routing Project, blocks access to any individual user’s location by directing traffic through a free, worldwide volunteer network consisting of thousands of relays that encrypt and re-encrypt data multiple times."
As is always the case, the stuff that can be done by technical people today will be provided by some application for everyone tomorrow. In this post Tom Woodward demonstrates how to use Google Sheets to grab data from a variety of sites, including YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, and more. Alan levine comments, "Now we’re talking, or scraping.... The API way is the way, writing something to get info from flickr is not hard. The tripping point is authentication. Getting those keys is a PITA. Wonder about doing some authorization stuff the way Martin Hawksey does the twitter auth in his TAGs sheets."
It's worth noting that the research we've conducted over the last half-dozen years on MOOCs and personal learning was conducted according to strict ethical guidelines, including informed consent to participate in research. A lot of current research on MOOCs and social networks conform to no such conditions. And, as Graham Attwell notes, the impact of this is magnified when we consider the online disinhibition effect, which is essentially the fact that people will say a lot more online than they would in person, created by (for example) "a feeling that online communication is taking place in one’s head, again leading to disinhibition." Image: Alanna Dunbar.
In 1991 a 19-year old Gwen Jacobs took off her shirt on a sweltering Guelph, Ontario day and was promptly arrested. The case is well known for being the precedent that allows women to go topless in Canada. Mostly, though, they don't. "Women don't walk around topless because they get hassled, they get harassed if they do. People stare at them. It's cultural, something about North America and the Puritan history." 25 years later, a young woman argued for the right to wear a niqab during her citizenship ceremony. The Prime Minister said, "Most Canadians believe that it is offensive that someone would hide their identify at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family," The Prime Minister was overruled (and soundly defeated in the election), and he right was again upheld, but again, most women don't wear niqabs.
This prelude, of course, is intended to show that it's a matter of perspective. And, moreover, it is to note that the right of women to choose what they wish to wear is a very recent thing even in very open and democratic countries (dating to just a few weeks ago in the case of the niqab). Maybe Saudi Arabia will change, maybe it won't, but people who live in countries that still regulate how women should dress should think twice before accusing others of the same. And it's not just women's rights, it's all rights. Countries that would imprison and even torture the likes of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden should think twice before criticizing how other countries treat their dissenters.
The fact is, the state of human rights worldwide is deplorable. And in fact, very basic freedoms are denied everyone. For example, the right to go, live and work where we want. Just ask the Syrians how well their rights are respected in Europe. Or America. And then to talk to who we want and say what we want. Let's get it right here, before we start casting stones there.
At a certain point, the whole scheme fails, doesn't it? What scheme? This scheme: the one that begins with expensive ebook contracts in school systems, exclusive learning platform agreements, closed credential services like this, continues with subscription-based job hunting services, and wraps up with employment licenses. At a certain point, we as a society have to decide whether the purpose of the education system is to enable people access into productivee society, or to keep people out by charging admission to it. All these links via the Trace Urdan market update from Credit Suisse.
Computers can now probably pass the Turing test for artificial intelligence: they can convince a human that they are interacting with another human in conversation. But could thy pass the Allen test: pass an eighth grade science exam? Daniel Lemire discusses this possibility. But I took a slightly different take on the challenge when reading the post: do people have to pass the eighth grade science test in order to be considered to have human-level intelligence? I also wonder about this conclusion: "All three winners expressed that it was clear that applying a deeper, semantic level of reasoning with scientific knowledge to the questions and answers would be the key to achieving scores of 80% and beyond." Right now the best solutions are data-search and indexing. My challenge would be: could an associative system pass an eighth grade science test? Here's more on the Allen test. Here's the Press Release.
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