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by Stephen Downes
May 01, 2015

ASU’s edX MOOC deal: Lots of links and a few thoughts
Steve Krause, stevendkrause.com, 2015/05/01


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As the title says, a bunch of links and some thoughts. I like the Onion's take on the ASU experiment (which is to offer free MOOCs to first year students, where you pay only if you pass): "I always said I would take college classes if I didn’t have to go anywhere, didn’t have to pass anything, and didn’t have to pay for it." heh. But this comment is also relevant: "$200 a credit isn’t really that cheap for these kinds of credits because community colleges are typically cheaper and provide better support for students." Remember, courses are typically 3- or 6-credits. So you could end up paying $600 or $1200 for a course. That's not 'open' the way I define 'open'.

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LinkedIn shares plummet after 'extraordinary' revenue miss
Sarah Frier, Globe, Mail, 2015/05/01


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Here's another example of a stock losing a quarter of its value after missing an earnings target (and proof that releasing the news via an unauthorized tweet really has nothing to do with the plunge in value). "LinkedIn Corp. shares plunged 25 per cent after the company forecast revenue that missed analysts’ estimates, citing the strong dollar and slower than expected growth." More evidence of the irrationality of the stock market, which in this case appears to be about as accurate at pegging value as a blindfolded man throwing darts at a jigsaw puzzle. (P.S. this story pegs the cause of the drop on missed revenue expectations, but I've seen stocks fall after exceeding expectations, on  the dubious ground that the "didn't beat expectations as much as expected").

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Some Assembly Required: STEM Skills and Canada’s Economic Productivity
The Expert Panel on STEM Skills for the Future, Council of Canadian Academies, 2015/05/01


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The arguments around the make-up of Canada's education system continue (there's a surprising lack of consensus which is either a precursor to a national policy, or an argument against one). In this report, the "Expert Panel on STEM Skills for the Future" argues that they had  "difficulty finding direct and robust evidence that STEM skills are unique ... as central to innovation and productivity growth." They contend that "the fundamental skills required for STEM literacy, such as problem solving, technological proficiency, and numeracy, represent essential components of working smarter."

They write, "STEM skills are necessary for many types of innovation, as well as productivity and growth, but they are not sufficient on their own. Other skills such as leadership, creativity, adaptability, and entrepreneurial ability may be required to maximize the impact of STEM skills. Further, the Panel did not find evidence of a current imbalance in advanced STEM skills nationally, suggesting that the source of Canada’s productivity problem is not a shortage of advanced STEM skills."

This is a really good report that will reward a much closer reading, because it offers not only a surface-level analysis of the stem skills needed for productivity, but a look at how these skills are developed and where they are needed. This is an excellent example of an evidence-based analysis of learning and development issues and trends. More coverage: Globe and Mail, news release. As Academica notes, the National Science Board reached similar conclusions in a report in February.

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Scientists achieve critical steps to building first practical quantum computer
Unattributed, Phys.org, 2015/05/01


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This is pretty interesting. To create a stable quantum computer, you have to simultaneously detect for two types of error, bit-flip and phase-flip errors. This article describes a quantum computer that can detect both simultaneously. As the article notes, "Quantum information is very fragile because all existing qubit technologies lose their information when interacting with matter and electromagnetic radiation," so error detection is especially important. Quantum computers, when developed, will represent an increase in speed in orders of magnitude, making currently intractable problems (like decryption, modelling and optimization).  More: magic-state error detection, error-correcting quantum computer, using parity checks in error detection, original journal article.

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Preparing for the digital university: a review of the history and current state of distance, blended, and online learning
George Siemens, Dragan Gašević, Shane Dawson, Athabasca University, 2015/04/30


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This book-length publication will receive widespread attention, coming as it does with a media campaign complete with Gates Foundation backing and a Chronicle article. It's essentially a meta-study (sometimes known as a tertiary study) of the 'literature' in the field if distance education and (to a lesser extent) online learning. There are six chapters, each of which is a separate study, but most of which follow the same methodology of literature search and analysis. The first four studies focus on the history of distance learning, blended learning, online learning, and assessment. The last two look at future research in MOOCs and technology infrastructure.

Having said all that, this is a really bad study. What it succeeds in doing, mostly, is to offer a very narrow look at a small spectrum of academic literature far removed from actual practice. A very narrow range of sources was considered, limited to a few academic journals, and within this search selection was based on titles, keywords and abstract. Most of the leading thinkers in the field are eliminated from the history of the field (though Curt Bonk does well). And the major conclusion you'll find in these research studies is that (a) research is valuable, and (b) more research is needed (see, eg. "To foster quality interactions between students, an analysis of the role of instructional design and instructional interventions planning is essential." p. 40 and throughout ad nauseum). The most influential thinker in the field, according to one part of the study, is L. Pappano (see the chart, p. 181). Who is this, you ask? The author of the New York Times article in 2012, 'The Year of the MOOC'. Influential and important contributors like David Wiley, Rory McGreal, Jim Groom, Gilbert Paquette, Tony Bates (and many many more)? Almost nowhere to be found.

There are two ways to conduct a study of the literature in a field. One way is to use search algorithms and criteria to find a subset of the literature, and read only that. The other way is to spend the time it takes to become broadly familiar with all of the literature in the field, and select the most important of that. This study uses the former method, and the absence of a background in the field is glaring and obvious. For a contrast, one might want to consult Tony Bate's recent work of equal size and far greater value.

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Education in the Digital Age
Bob Gillett, Academica, 2015/04/30


This item (which appears to be a guest post) is a classic example of burying the lede. Skim down to the bottom, where you'll read: "The Conference Board of Canada is doing a five-year study of postsecondary education and skills acquisition... Just think about public education competing with Apple or Google, who could use their massive technology and knowledge assets to provide access to the best professors in the world." An Education in the Digital Age Reference Group has been established to advise the Conference Board; it6's one of a dozen groups focused on education and training in general.

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Harper Government Invests in Leading-Edge Technologies to Advance Market Growth and Commercialization
Press Release, Government of Canada, 2015/04/30


A Canadian federal government program will support big data analytics. "This project will promote awareness of the value of advanced computing and big data analytics for small and medium-sized companies; enable the use of advanced computing and big data analytics in the mining, advanced manufacturing, digital media and cybersecurity sectors, as well as support growth of the information and communication technology sector in southern Ontario."

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Game of Fear
Zachary Jason, Boston Magazine, 2015/04/30


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At some point in the past advertisers decided computers and video games were only for boys, and women have been paying the price ever since. This article describes what one writer called "the nauseating pathology behind Gamergate." I can't read this without getting angry. And every time someone dismisses opposition to media content as mere 'political correctness' I want to wave this in their face, and show them the real cost of what people are doing (except, of course, I can't, because it doesn't impact me directly, and I can barely comprehend it). "Quinn also wants to change the vocabulary we use to describe online abuse. 'These aren’t trolls,' she says. 'And it’s not online bullying. Bullying is something that gets you a pink slip in high school. These are people stalking, sending death threats, trying to get the cops to raid homes. These are criminals.'"

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Can Behavioral Tools Improve Online Student Outcomes? Experimental Evidence from a Massive Open Online Course
Richard W. Patterson, Cornell University, 2015/04/30


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As Jon Dron says, this is an interesting and well-argued paper. The author tests the use of behavioural aides to increase course completion and argues "the commitment device increases course completion by 40% (11 percentage points), improves overall course performance by 0.29 standard deviations, and increases the amount of time students spend on the course website by 24% (5.5 hours) relative to the control." The commitment device enabled them to "set a limit on distracting Internet time each day" (my limit would have to be eight hours or something like that). Of course, they could just use standing desks instead.

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Turnitin Announces Availability of Turnitin Scoring Engine for Automated Writing Assessment
Press Release, Turnitin, 2015/04/30


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So what can you do if you have a large database of essays that schools have forced students to contribute in order to prevent plagiarism? Well if you're TurnItIn you can use the database to create an automated essay grading system (one which presumably also detects plagiarism). But I find the news release odd. It states: "Turnitin Scoring Engine analyzes the lexical, syntactic, and stylistic features of writing, such as word choice and genre conventions, unlike other automated essay scoring programs that rely on simple metrics like word count." For one thing, it has been very clear for some time that other essay graders do not simply rely on word count. For another thing, Turnitin's description does sound like a word count system. So don't wax too enthusiastic - automated grading is a very competitive field, and Turnitin needs to do much more to establish itself. Image: Tuomo Kakkonen. Via Campus Technology.

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How one tweet wiped $8bn off Twitter's value
Dan Simmons, How one tweet wiped $8bn off Twitter's value, 2015/04/29


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Normally I wouldn't carry stock market news, because I don't care about stock markets, but this item is worthy of note. It's common practice to post earnings results online ahead of time and then to announce the URL to make it public, which is what Twitter did. But a web-scraping tool called Selerity found the unannounced website, discovered Twitter's lower-than-expected earnings, and, for good measure, posted the information in a tweet. Shares immediately dropped 6% before trading was stopped, then another 18% to close the day down some $8 billion worth. So here's my question: if stock markets are such reliable measures of value, why does one tweet drop the stock 25%? The answer (in my view) is that stock market values aren't rational; they are speculative and based more on hope (and willingness to pay) rather than actual data.

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What does the new tri-agency open access policy mean for researchers?
Michael Donaldson, University Affairs, 2015/04/29


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For those outside Canada's university system, the term 'tri-council' refers to Canada,s three major granting agencies: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) (there's also the Canada Council, for the arts, but they're a bit different). Researchers will have to  publish in an open access repository (the 'Green' option) or publish in a journal that charges fees for open access (the 'Gold' option). "The public, whose tax-dollars help to fund tri-agency research, will now have unprecedented access to scholarly publications. This puts researchers in a position to reach audiences beyond the academic community. With greater power comes greater responsibility..."

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Post-2015 Development Agenda - Government of Canada Priorities
Foreign Affairs, Trade, Development Canada (DFATD), 2015/04/29


You still have some time to weigh in with your views (1000 word limit) on Canada's international development priorities. I submitted recommendations supporting child nutrition and education, support for women's rights and empowerment, and measures advancing environment, energy and labour security.

 

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The Specialist and the Map
Matthias Melcher, x28’s new Blog, 2015/04/28


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People have this metaphor of the map to understand the brain, and so they think there are 'areas' that correspond with particular sorts of knowledge. I don't think this is the case. Oh, sure, there is modularity on some very broad strokes, but get any more granular and there is no sense to the concept of a 'map' of the brain at all. Melcher notwithstanding, I think the map analogy misleads more than it illuminates.

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From EDUPUNK to ds106... 10Q: Jim Groom
Steve Wheeler, Learning With Es, 2015/04/28


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Steve Wheeler gets Jim Groom to open up on the questions we all wonder about: what is Bava anyways? And what's up with the reverend? " It's a mishmash of edtech, 80s pop culture, animated GIFs, retro toys, ds106 art, and all things cinema. It's a "b blog" in that it pretends to nothing more than schlock, and it achieves its goal regularly." Good read; don't miss this interview.

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Social Learning Cannot be a Bolt-On Strategy
Sahana Chattopadhyay, ID, Other Reflections, 2015/04/28


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I quite like the diagram, and I also agree with this sentiment: " Social Learning and social business go hand in hand. To facilitate social learning, an organization has to become a social business first....A truly social business encapsulates the necessary preconditions for social learning -- transparent, supportive and collaborative." What we also find, I think, is that learning outside the enterprise starts off (and stays) social, because that's how society (if not enterprise) is organized.

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BBC is giving away 1 million mini computers
Mark Guzdial, Computing Education Blog, 2015/04/28


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The full title of this post is: "BBC is giving away 1 million mini computers so kids can learn to code: Prediction — little impact on broadening participation." Mark Guzdial continues: "Why are people so excited about handing out bare board computers to grade school children? Is this just white males emphasizing the attributes that attract them?" But, frankly, this doesn't seem to be the case here. According to the BBC release, "Make it Digital will capture the spirit of the BBC Micro, which helped Britain get to grips with the first wave of personal computers in the 1980s." It also includes a bevy of partnerships that make the program more than just a large tech giveaway. Oh, sure, it could still fail. But it's not an automatic failure, and the upside is considerable if it succeeds. More: Mashable.

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Saddest Tweets Ever
Chris Lott, FNCLL, 2015/04/28


Chris Lott now blogs at http://fncll.org and this week writes of an exchange wherein Gardner Campbell throws water on the possibility that he and Bryan Alexander might every collaborate in some sort of 'literature happening'. Writes Lott, "I’m just too tired for all the oh-so-wonderful projects that are oh-so-meta." It's funny how perspectives vary. I consider the stuff that focuses on popular culture and literature to be 'meta', while the work that I do, at least, is very much down-to-earth and practical. Sure, I like fiction, sometimes, but not so much I'd want to offer a course on it. P.S. don't click the link if some language offends you (I don't know why some people write using obscenities - it's like they're dismissing half their audience as being of no value before they've even said a word).

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Corinthian, Heald colleges shut down abruptly
Jill Tucker, SF Gate, 2015/04/28


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As the headline says: "A chain of for-profit colleges, including the 150-year-old Heald College, abruptly shut down Sunday, leaving 16,000 mostly low-income students to seek an education somewhere else." That's the danger of running an education system like a business. Businesses fail. All the time. More: Inside Higher Ed, Chronicle, LA Times, Corinthian Press Release.

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Blackboard’s “Modern-Day Pragmatism” K-12 Trend Report
Jon Kolko, Blackboard Blog, 2015/04/27


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So today's newsletter takes a tour around some of the companies active in the field of online learning - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This post starts with some of the good. It is a report freely available from Blackboard summarizing some of its recent research on personalizing education. "An expectation of inclusion has led to personalized learning in a supportive context, but has increased the workload and demands on the individual k-12 instructor... This implies a different set of teaching methods and a different set of educational outcomes. Teachers need to become more comfortable with a broader, worldly set of skills – facilitating a cultural educational space, rather than disseminating knowledge."

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Accessibility: A Journey Towards Openness
JoAnna Hunt, Blackboard Blog, 2015/04/27


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Interesting article on Blackboard's increasing emphasis on openness - as evidenced by its support for Moodle - and accessibility. In particular, I think these activities are providing good public relations for the company: "All issues that were discovered were resolved and published back to Moodle headquarters for inclusion in the core code; a collaborative accessibility group within the global Moodle community was established to continue testing efforts." Blackboard is also pushing an initiative to create online learning for government agencies. They have an eBook on this, but you have to give them your personal information to read it. Oh well, take away those good publicity points.

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Programming an Essential Literacy for the Future
Charlie Chung, Class Centreal, 2015/04/27


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Coursera is highlighting a new course on programming in Python. One wonders why the course doesn't consist of a single page containing a link to Codeacademy. But the big news here is that they've landed Charles Severance (“Dr. Chuck”) of the University of Michigan. And yes the course "is also designed to equip people to take advantage of other programming classes that are out there (Khan Academy, Code Academy, etc.)." But this is nice (and not reaclly characteristic of Coursera): "All of his teaching materials, including his code auto-grader, can be downloaded and used under a Creative Commons license to be re-used or re-mixed for any purpose. Dr. Chuck is very emphatic about encouraging the use of his materials, he pleads: 'Please reuse my stuff!'"

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New Features! Private Comments and Group Lists
Ronnie Burt, The Edublogger, 2015/04/27


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Edublogger is touting some new features added "on both free and Pro Edublogs and will be added to all CampusPress networks next week." The blogs will now support 'provate comments', which the blog poost says "can only be created and read by those that can edit the post. This means blog admins, teachers, editors, and the author of the post." Also new are 'group and class lists' - "You will be able to see a live feed of all posts from blogs in a list as they are published." Thes rto me feel like they should have been introduced five years ago or more, but better late than never, I guess.

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Prime Minister David Cameron visits Microsoft Global Showcase School Sandymoor
Andrew Robertson, Microsoft UK Schools Blog, 2015/04/27


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Microsoft appears to have picked a side in the UK election and is campaigning with them on education issues. The occasion is a visit to Sandymoor School - "a Free School with a unique vision to provide an education for the future." There's also another article on another Microsoft feature school, Wymondham High Academy in Norfolk. According to this article: "'I am in favour of Free Schools. They give parents choice. Everyone wants the best for their children.' - David Cameron, UK Prime Minister." Whihc is a ridiculous assertion, in my view, since choice can be provided by all manner of education systems, and not just (whathe calls) free schools. I think the point of of the post is to wrap Microsoft's schools initiatives (and Office 365) with the British flag and the ideals of private education system. I don't think this emphasis does Microsoft - or the British people - any real good.

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Who we are and what we stand for
John Fallon, Pearson Blog, 2015/04/27


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John Fallon addresses Pearson's most pressing issues in an address at the annual shareholder meeting. "It has been a bruising time for our colleagues," he says. "We’ve cut 5,000 roles – mainly in print or mature markets – whilst we’ve added new roles in tech, efficacy, education, research and fast growing markets." The shift to digital learning also underscores his remarks, as he touts the Pearson System of Courses. So what aere the underlying values of the company? "Our values – to be brave, imaginative, and decent – have been tested, but ultimately they’ve been reaffirmed and strengthened – and we are working hard to reward our people. And now we’ve added a fourth value – accountability – highlighting our commitment to a simple and incredibly powerful idea – that every product we sell can be measured and judged by social impact." On the other hand, there's also this: "some folk may question whether a sense of social purpose and a profit motive can go hand in hand. We think that what makes Pearson an incredibly special company is that they always go hand in hand." So don't expect to see any good coming from Pearson unless it's also making them money.


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The STAR Project
Porter Palmer, Discovery Education Network, 2015/04/27


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Discovery Channel, which has the Discovery Education Network (DEN), is focusing on space travel and digital storytelling (I thought I was reading a Jim Groom entry at first). You have to love the Star Trek uniform in space. The two come together in what it calls The STAR project - "Share. Teach. Assist. Report." This post links to a PDF with '10 ways to start sharing'. They're also pushing a summer institute for principals, and also their spring virtual conference (featuring Don Levy (not Jim Groom) on digital storytelling).

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ASU and edX, Further Thoughts
Matt Reed, Inside Higher Ed, 2015/04/25


The big news this week is that Arizona Statue University will in effect replace first year studies with MOOCs (that's probably an overstatement, but it will do for now). This article draws out some implications and major underlying issues (these are all quoted from the article):

  • Prior learning assessment -- the mechanism by which credit is granted -- is not covered by financial aid.
  • there’s nothing stopping someone now from taking a MOOC in a “gen ed” area and then taking a CLEP exam to get credit.
  • ASU took a nasty funding cut from the state, and responded by growing its reach (contrast with LSU, which is attempting to survive though massive cuts)
  • the edX partnership allows ASU to move failures off-book, thereby keeping its success rates high.
  • many of us in higher ed think of it as an ecosystem. ASU may have decided that it’s actually a Hobbesian war of each against all
  • the partnership is a desperate attempt to provide something resembling a business model for MOOCs.

In my view, higher education institutions should consider themselves lucky that the MOOCs provided by EdX are replacing first year. There will not be much talk of expanding the model, and the failure rate will we high, Had something like the Connectivist MOOCs and the cooperative approach taken hold, the damage to traditional institutions would have been much greater, as students would have propelled each other to success in spite of, not because of, the institution.

 

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Accreditation Under Fire
Bernard Fryshman, Inside Higher Ed, 2015/04/25


I can't say I exactly agree with the arguments outlined in this article, but it's important to read and understand this defense of the Byzantine system that is the college accreditation process. Bernard Fryshman offers a spirited argument. "There is wide recognition that relying on these proposed quantitative measures has weakened accreditation, with collateral damage. Thus, colleges that were focused on a financial bottom line rather than on student learning found it easy to produce numbers that satisfied quantitative guidelines, but said little or nothing about the learning taking place." There are two presumptions, of course: first, that the numbers are indeed proxies, and second, that the current process of peer review actually does ensure that learning takes place.

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To Get More Students Through College, Give Them Fewer Choices
Anya Kamenetz, NPR Ed, 2015/04/25


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Anya Kamanetz reviews a new book that makes an old argument. Drawing on the 'paradox of choice', it is argues that college students should be required to select majors and choose from a more limited set of options. Just as people given fewer choices of jam are more likely to buy jam, it is suggested, people given fewer choices in college are more likely to finish college. It's a seductive argument, because it's always tempting to trade freedom for efficiency. But over and above making the trains run on time, what is there to recommend this approach? If the investment in college weren't so risky for students, maybe it wouldn't matter that they got out rather than continue through a less ideal program. The book is Redesigning America's Community Colleges and the authors, three Columbia University education researchers (who no doubt were not streamed when they made their education choices).

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MOOCs and Credentialing: A Revolutionary Perspective
Gordon Rogers, edCircuit, 2015/04/25


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There's no shortage of plans to create new educational credentialing currencies. Here's why: "Why don’t we see a mass exodus of students bailing out of colleges and saving themselves tens of thousands of tuition dollars by testing out of their core courses? Simply put, navigating the opaque and Byzantine system of credit transfer rules makes discovering the Higgs-Boson particle look like kindergarten." The problem is that such an environment not only makes currency opaque, it also creates an excellent environment for counterfeiting.

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U.S. Students Awful at Evaluating Reliability of Online Science Readings
Benjamin Herold, Education Week, 2015/04/25


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This is particularly interesting in light of some of the discussions today at OEGlobal arount the topic of digital literacy. Because (to me) what good does digital literacy do for you if you are unable to reason your way out of the most basic scientific fallacy. Some of this stuff is pretty basic. "Forzani found that fewer than 4 percent of students could correctly identify the author of an online information source, evaluate that author's expertise and point of view, and make informed judgments about the overall reliability of the site they were reading." Now having said that, I wonder what standard Forzani uses to assess scientific literacy. It's not clear to me that the community as a whole has a good understanding of critical literacies.

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ProctorU Launches Multifactor Online Student Verification
Rhea Kelly, Campus Technology, 2015/04/25


In a world where exams mean everything, the verification of identity is key. ProctorU is the lastest entry into an increasingly crowded field. The mechanism is similar to Coursera's: "the process begins with a live proctor, who views the student via webcam and checks his or her government-issued ID... Ucard then validates the student's identity through a series of questions based on public data records." And then there's "keystroke analysis software" that creates a user profile.

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Knewton and HP Introduce Customized, Personalized Print Learning Materials
Christopher Piehler, Campus Technology, 2015/04/25


It's not clear to me that the world needs more print materials. So that part of the story seems a bit backwards. That's the main reason HP is in the story, though, from the look of it. The bit about customized materials looks more forward. It's basically real-time recommendations - "Knewton will consider the student’s past work, analyze the new information and determine useful strategies from the anonymized data of similar students to recommend content that the student should work on next."

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10 Bad Common Arguments for College
Zachary Slayback, The Synapse, 2015/04/25


OK, let's first  keep in mind that "the Business Development Director for Praxis, a ten-month program for entrepreneurial learners [and] dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania." The 'ten reasons' include such things as "college is the ideal place to learn" and " College is the best way to guarantee yourself some kind of job." Well, maybe these are overstated. But there's an undercurrent in teh article, I think, as in life, that these would all be really good things were college not so expensive.

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Copyright 2010 Stephen Downes Contact: stephen@downes.ca

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