by Stephen Downes
Mar 27, 2015
A Blogger's Springtime
Stephen Downes, Mar 21, 2015,
Spring Blog Festival, Online, via WizIQ
In this presentation I talk about the practice of blogging in a new and complex media environment. Contrary to what may be popular belief, blogging is not dead, nor even slowing down, though attention has shifted away from the form to new types of social media. But it is part of a much larger content ecosystem which as a whole is experiencing a golden age, and blogging is a major part of that. I show people how I blog, how I use blogs, and how I am encouraging student use of blogs in MOOCs.
Stop Saying “High Quality”
iterating toward openness,
I've been at the Hewlett OER grantees conference in Sausalito the last few days and I find myself agreeing with David Wiley in this post: "The biggest surprises to me were the number of times the phrase “high quality” came up, and what a strong, negative reaction I had each time I heard the word." Same here! "'High quality' sounds like it’s dealing with a core issue, while actually dodging the core issue. The phrase is sneaky and deceptive.... when people say “high quality” they actually mean all these things (author credentials, review by faculty, copyediting, etc.) except effectiveness." Wiley won't say this, but in my view it's a way for publishers to weasel into a position of being the sole provider of open educational resources, because of course nobody else could produce "high quality" materials.
State of the Commons
Report from Creative Commons on, well, the state of Creative Commons. A.k.a. "the Commons". The short version: we are up to 882 million CC-licensed works (I have maybe 30K of those, counting OLDaily posts and photographs). According to the table, more works are licenses as CC-by than of non-commercial variants (which I don't believe). And they continue (erroneously) to lable licenses allowing commercial licensing as "more open" (tell that to some poor schmuck staring at a paywall). I'm frankly this close to dropping support for Creative Commons over this issue. 14 countries (they say) have made national commitments to open education (according to this, Scotland is a country). Update Cable Green writes to state that the data are here. If we don't count each of 111 million Wikipedia articles as a separate item, the statistics look very different.
Students cheated by posting test questions on social media
This article approaches the issue from a very different perspective, depicting Pearson as aggressively attacking the cheating problem, and acting to enforce its own copyright. "Pearson... has found more than 70 instances in six states of students posting testing materials on a public social media site, according to spokesman Jesse Comart," says the article. "'We are not delving into people's profiles. We are looking for inappropriate sharing of the intellectual property,' said Steve Addicott, vice president of Caveon, the test security subcontractor." This is a softball article suggesting that Pearson is responding to criticism with a PR campaign. But there are deeper implications: first, that the spying is widespread, and second, the extension of copyright into the enforcement of testing.
Innovative Efforts for Universal Quality Education
This report summarizes "an international workshop on 'Innovative efforts for universal quality education'." It states: "If education systems are to provide disadvantaged groups with quality education, the knowledge, skills and abilities acquired by students need to be relevant to the environment, improve their employability and be aligned with their work aspirations." Short PDF, most of the useful content is in the 'Highlights' on page 3.
CMI-5 Course Structure
So as soon as I get a handle on things, there's a new thing. Today's it's this: "CMI-5, a soon-to-be standard which is also conformant to the Experience API (xAPI)." Sigh. This is a link to the GitHub version of the specification. The document basically defines "LMS Course Structure Import/Export [and] LMS course definition as it pertains to runtime data used by Learning Activities."
The Ultimate Guide to BPMN2
I'm not enamoured of Creative Commons's recent initiative to license 'open business practices' as outlined here, because it seems to legitimize the nidea that business practices can be licensed, which seems wrong to me. But I guess it's becoming a thing, which is why it now becomes relevant to link to this item from SourceForge (I don't know whether the URL will work for you; it's part of an email campaign. The direct link is here and I don't know whether that will work either - it's all very private-like - or you can just grab the PDF directly from here and skip the marketing pitch, and if they complain I'll explain about the concept of SourceForge and sharing and all that). "Business Process Model and Notation 2.0 (BPMN2) is one of the best things to happen in business process management in a long time - and many people and organizations who could benefit from BPMN have yet to give it a try." It makes me wonder who is behind all this and what they hope to achieve.
The hidden costs of success are too high for low-income students
As a low-income student when I was a student, I can personally attest to this: "paying for event admissions, society membership fees, travel costs for conferences and for food and drinks at informal social gatherings. The second kind of success-cost is the loss of income or opportunity when there’s inadequate time to both earn a living wage and earn extracurricular and volunteer experience, in other words, 'time' costs." I earned money every weekend working at the 7-Eleven in Cedarbrae - but that meant I wasn't participating in weekend events. It underscored for me how much the real purpose of university lies in creating connections and building networks.
Why Free Is Not the Future of Digital Content in Education
I long ago accused Wired of selling out to advertisers, and this column (not coincidentally authored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Chief Content Officer) does not dissuade me of that criticism. Here is the argument, in one sentence: "If we do not get educational content right, students are less likely to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers." If this were true, nobody would have succeeded before academic publishers came onto the scene. But in fact, almost any content will do if learners are motivated, and no content will do if learners are not motivated. And the reason why free can work and is working is that it's created by and for people who are motivated. That's why it's enough of a threat to an academic publisher that they felt compelled to write an op-ed in one of their captive publications.
Content Discovery Tools
Luigi Canali De Rossi,
Robin Good is back and posts "I have put together and just updated a full categorised mini-directory of the best tools to find new, quality content, in just about any area you are interested in." Good list. I know many of the applications.
Virtually unlimited classrooms: Pedagogical practices in massive open online courses
Brit Toven-Lindsey, Robert A. Rhoads, Jennifer Berdan Lozano,
Internet, Higher Education,
There are days I wish I had focused more on making gRSShopper a commercial product. Then it would be more widely used and would be included in studies like this which look at the pedagogies employed by different MOOC platforms. It would probably have changed the conclusion, which (like so many other studies) reads "given
the tendency for the pedagogical strategies of MOOC instructors to be tied to objectivist views of knowledge [and] relying primarily on one-directional relationships between instructor-based knowledge and students as recipients, as both constructivist theories and critical pedagogy highlight, is hardly conducive to the transformative forms of engaged learning seen as most valuable to encouraging both active learning and active democratic citizenship." Good paper, though. Via Grainne Conole, Facebook.
Making the Connection
Kim Cofino shares elements of her current keynote at the ECIS technology conference in Munich. "When we learn with technology the way we live with technology, the classroom can be just as relevant and engaging as our everyday digital interactions," she argues. She surveys many of the elements - mobile, customization, social - that support this. And she says "We know students are also readily engaged by media rich experiences... So, why are we often asking students to produce two dimensional paper products (posters, reports, magazines, whatever the case may be), when we can encourage them to create multimedia and interactive demonstrations of their understanding?"
16 of the top 20 Research Journals Let Ad Networks Spy on Their Readers
Go To Hellman,
Via Audrey Watters comes this post from Eric Hellman showing that most research journals allow advertising networks to spy on their readers. "I'm particularly concerned about the medical journals that participate in advertising networks," writes Hellman. "Imagine that someone is researching clinical trials for a deadly disease. A smart insurance company could target such users with ads that mark them for higher premiums. A pharmaceutical company could use advertising targeting researchers at competing companies to find clues about their research directions."
Our Approach to Tracking and Cookies
Alan Levine writes, "On a personal blog, I am not finding much justification for cookies (one of my Holy Grails is a comment mechanism that eliminates comments). I really loathe blogs where the URLs are all crufted with Google UTM tracking cruft on the end. I always chop them off before sharing" (I've corrected a typo in this quote). I too always chop the 'utm' tracking in links I report. I have cookies for those who want to post comments, but that's it. I keep track of the number of times a post is read, but not of who read it. I have server stats using awstats but I think those are broken (I'm not sure).
Binaries, Polarisation and Privacy
How do you get nuance in a world of binaries? David A. Banks argues, according to Frances Bell, that "the ‘binaries’ of up-voting and down-voting are inadequate for dealing with ambiguity and divisive topics. They are a tool for polarisation not a means of going beyond it." She also looks at the binary of public/private, a binary that has dominated a lot of recent discourse. "The binary nature of much of our online participation like/not like, friend/not friend, follow/ not follow, click/not click, upvote/downvote, block/ not block might be seeping into our culture,as well as the platforms on which we enact it." Well, yeah. But 'binary' isn't the issue; choice is. Any set of alternatives reduces logically to a set of binary choices; even the analog reduces to the differential. And binary up/down ratings systems are by far the most usable and most reliable (some people 'never give five stars').
We need to think this through carefully. There are two questions: first, how many choices do we get to make, and second, how are choices combined to create a result. More choices are better, but we reach a limit to out capacity to make choices. Sometimes pseudo-analog devices, like sliders, can help, but they reduce accuracy, and in any case, limits are still reached. More importantly, how do we combine choices? Usually it's a case of 'the most votes wins'. But this presumes everyone is asked the same question. It's more interesting is we have diverse questions. It's more interesting if we eschew 'most votes wins' for votes on inter-related entities (this gives each vote an 'echo' effect). We need choice, but more, we need to understand a lot better what choice is.
7 reasons: Why we need to kill boring ‘learning objectives’!
Donald Clark Plan B,
I'm not really a fan of learning objectives either. For the record, here are Clark's seven reasons:
- Objectives make a poor first impression
- Stating objectives defers learner engagement
- They also cause people to stop paying attention
- They are a misapplication of Gagne
- The rule that objectives must be stated is overly prescriptive
- It's difficult to write good objectives, and few master it
- Stating them is a waste of time
From my reading, these sever objections are really just one objection stated over and over. And an even more important point, to my mind, is that different people have different objectives. It takes a lot of presumption on the part of the teacher to state their objectives.
eCampusAlberta Quality Rubric for Online Courses
We're just now waiting for the final report from this group which has been looking at quality in online courses. They launched the eCampusAlberta Quality Suite 2.0 in 2014. "The suite is comprised of the Essential Quality Standards, the eLearning Rubric, the Quality eToolkit, an online review and database system, and many quality-related professional development resources and opportunities." Sheri Oberman writes asking "I wonder how much the quality rubric factors in the connectivism and heutagogy." It's a good question. She suggests a course leaves "long tail of relationships, questions, and methodologies." But must it? Is more better? I've always shied away from discussion of 'quality' connections - I really dislike the concept. If quality in a course isn't process-based (ie., isn't based on evaluations of autonomy, diversity, etc) then what is it? I haven't seen a good answer.
Yik Yak and Online Anonymity Are Good for College Students
Rey Junco argues that the dangers of online harassment though anonymous messaging sites like YikYak are overstated. "Do issues of harassment happen on Yik Yak?" he asks. "Yes. Do they occur with a frequency that is disconcerting?" He does not state where he obtained these statistics, now what level of harassment constitutes "disconcerting" (one suspects he might have a higher tolerance for it than others). He also argues that Yik Yak has built-in measures to address harassment: "If a Yak or a comment receives 5 down votes, it is removed permanently from Yik Yak." My experience is that this is a mechanism more commonly used to stifle people objecting to harassing content.
Riipen: The LinkedIn for students
I thought the LinkedIn for students was Facebook - but I guess times have changed. "Riipen is an interactive way to pad your resume for students and recent grads.... With Riipen, students can build their online profiles and meet companies via short-term, skill specific projects and paid work opportunities. Companies will post projects on Riipen, who will then alert users by targeted email blasts or through one of the company’s social media channels." Of course, this could end up being 'the unpaid labour path for students', so there's a bit of a risk there. And actually, it seems more to me to be 'the Monster for students'.
Netflix and education
The corridor of uncertainty,
A lot of people have talked about 'the Netflix of learning'. But it's not that easy. As Alastair Creelman says, "Delivering content at scale and adapting it to personal preferences is the easy part really. It's what you do with that content that leads to learning. You can consume tons of content without necessarily becoming much wiser. You need to be able to put it all into context and draw conclusions and this generally needs guidance and a community to discuss with." A course isn't content. It's what you do with content.
Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as country reforms its education system
Even Finnish parents and teachers are protesting the change, we are told. But according to this article, students are already seeing benefits from the redefinition of learning from classes to 'phenomena'. "In the two years since the new teaching methods first began being introduced, pupil “outcomes” – they prefer that word to standards – have improved." This is moving learning in the opposite direction from 'back to basics', and away from subjects trhat were defined in the 1900s. "We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow."
What If Education Reform Got It All Wrong in the First Place?
According to this article, "That’s the conclusion of a growing number of researchers who argue that 30 years of test scores have not measured a decline in public schools, but are rather a metric of the country’s child poverty and the broadening divide of income inequality." I have long cited data showing that socio-economic standing is the greatest predictor of education outcomes. For example, wealthier people can afford preschool, and "“You can see a big difference between students who have gone to preschool and who have not." And, "“It is definitely difficult to have a child come into kindergarten who’s never been read to,” Jones explained. “And it’s not that they haven’t been read to because their parents don’t want to—it’s just when you’re a single mom and you’re working four jobs, it doesn’t always work out that way.”
Doxxing to Defend Student Privacy
Bob Braun's website was inaccessible when I posted the story about Pearson's spying on schoolchildren last week, but it's available again and Audrey Watters raises some troubling questions about some of the follow-up coverage. She notes that NJ superintendent Elizabeth Jewett's work address and phone are contained in the image Braun posted, and that NJDOE commissioner Bari Anhalt-Erlichson's home address is posted (I personally don't see a home address in the story, just a property value and the fact that that it's located in Princeton). "Warning bells for me," writes Watters. "This was the second story in a row in which Braun had disclosed the personal information of a female edu employee of the state of New Jersey."
The connection between Anhalt-Erlichson and Pearson is very tenuous. She is married to Andrew Erlichson, who is a VP at MongoDB, which once did work for Pearson. You may equally well connect me to the Pearson spying case, because I've used MongoDB and have praised it in the past. But the tenuousness isn't the issue here; the doxxing is - the releasing of people's personal information and documents, their 'dox'. And even that wouldn't an issue were it not for the harassment that follows, which is disproportionately aimed at women. The information is "broadcast across the Internet with the express purpose of having that data be used for punishment." The very first comment in Braun's article talks about how to punish the offenders.
The dark side of gamification
Every day at lunch I chop a carrot, a pepper, some peas and some cherry tomatoes and add some tuna for lunch. I'm trying to get better at chopping food so I appear to be expert when I'm making lunch in the staff kitchen. Yeah, I'm that shallow. Anyhow, Ryan Tracey points to this interesting video, Sight, in which everyday activities, like chopping food, are gamified. "It’s a clear case of gamification gone too far," he says. "Life is not a game." Now in fact I am generally in agreement with him, but I hesitate to take the attitude that pervasive gamification is inherently wrong. Peer fifty years into the future, and fifty years into the past. What we do today would seem strange to the people of 1965 - imagine spending hours at a time playing a video game! Imagine finding potential partners using video dating services! Why wouldn't like in the future be equally different?
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