by Stephen Downes
Jan 20, 2017
A study reports that journals tend to disproportionately select papers by authors from elite institutions. This is not because the papers are better or more informed but because of "a strong bias towards a few elite institutions who exercise outsized influence not only on who gets tenure-track jobs but also in who gets published and where." We see this same bias expressed outside academia, where journalists and media preferentially quote academics from elite media, even to the point of giving them credit for others' discoveries. Publishers, not surprisingly, disagree, arguing the result is either trivial ("Whether the level (of bias), once documented, is sufficient to be a problem that requires a remedy is in the eye of the beholder") or false ("data that I see could be explained by differences in the raw number and quality of submitted manuscripts"). Both objections are addressed and refuted in the article.
Inge de Waard has earned her PhD and by way of celebration she gives us a certifiably useful guide to preparing for your defense (or viva), as it is known in the UK. I found it interesting because it highlights the core interests of the examiners (and by implication, the profession): how do your questions follow from your literature review, what theories guided you, how did you define such-and-such? And some good advice for preparing for a PhD defense.
The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has published an updated guide on understanding metadata (49 page PDF). It's a guide, so it begins at a pretty basic level. Some useful bits: the typology of metadata (though I think this is missing some important types, such as anotations, ratings, usage, etc); means of representing metadata (relational databased, XML, Linked Data and RDF), controlled vocabularies and content standards. It also summarizes some major metadata initiatives such as schema.org, Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS), Dublin Core, Friend of a Friend (FOAF), ONline Information eXchange (ONIX), EXchangeable Image File Format (Exif), etc. Finally, it addresses the core question of how metadata is generated.
This document might become obsolete very quickly, released as it was just a few days ago. But it's the first major update since 2010 and hence represents a landmark. The complete document (111 page PDF) talks about what people need to learn, teaching with technology, innovation, assessment and accessibility. They recommend the use of technology to support anytime-anywhere-anybody learning, learning resources that embody design principles from learning sciences, alignment of learning resources to intended outcomes and support multiple pathways to expertise. The authors also support things like learning dashboards, embedded assessment environments such as simulations and collaborative systems,
Normally when we think of platforms we think of news or social media, but education too has drifted into the platform model and is influenced by the shifting business models. First, says John Hagel, the platform model will shift to a customer-pay model, since trust is required in order to collect the data to support learning, and unless the customer pays, the loyalties of the platform owner lie elsewhere (with advertisers, say). A flat fee for access is the typical model (think Netflix) but additional schemes may focus on usage time, impact and results, or other metrics. A lot of this is drawn from an earlier article. The business model will also require increasing value to subscribers, for example, the trusted advisor business model. I think the error in this model is in the presumption that customer payments buy loyalty and trust. We pay for our cable and phone service, but nobody thinks providers serve the interests of the consumers. I think we need to look beyond the subscriber model to platform ownership. Only when it's our platform will we trust it. Image, John Hagel on Deloitte in 2015
Post introducing readers to services like SkyFactor and VitalSource (formerly CourseSmart), data-driven learning analytics and retention systems. The point underlined in the article is that such systems represent an almost casual attitude of invasive surveillance on the part of British and American institutions. Instructors have access to a dashboard showing "class attendances, assessment grades, participation in sports practices, and visits to the campus financial aid officer." Such surveillance is not benign, writes the author; it is a source of disruption and stress for students. The justification, though, is the investment students make in education. “Do you just let them fall through the cracks,” he says, “or can you embrace technology that might help them deal with the stresses of college and progress?” Via internetactu (en français).
This is a Canadian government initiative, "a digital networking platform called GCcollab.ca, a site it’s pitching as an easy way for academics and students to connect and collaborate with Canada’s public service." The open source software referred to in the article is Elgg, which formed the backbone of GCConnex. I am signed up on the site and will be welcoming connections and groups linking the academic sector and learning and development in the Canadian public service.
This is a good non-technology based definition of personalized learning: "it occurs as leaders empower teachers to go beyond the traditional role of a 'content expert' and organically diagnose, analyze, guide, instruct, and coach students." This definition, however, makes personalization very labour-intensive, which it has in fact always been. Thus, writes Grant Rivera, "we need to maximize two finite, critical resources for student success: time and teachers." The rest of the article contains suggestions on how to do this: "break free from the constraints of the traditional school clock" and "gone are the days of a course-pacing guide that locks a team of teachers to a prescribed lesson plan."
Beall's List, a collection of what the author called "predatory" journals, was suddenly removed from the internet this week. The story broke on Twitter Sunday night and on Debunking Denialism Monday. The site contained "thousands of journals and publishers that Beall alleged exploit open-access publishing for their own profit -- for example by spamming researchers with invitations to publish their findings or present at conferences, then pocketing publication or registration fees while providing little or no quality review." The emerging consensus is that the list was removed due to legal threats, but I have seen no formal confirmation of this. Beall was previously threatened in 2013 and 2016. The list still exists on the Internet Archive; check here. You can also use thinkchecksubmit.org, "a cross-industry initiative led by representatives from ALPSP, DOAJ, INASP, ISSN, LIBER, OASPA, STM, UKSG, and individual publishers," to verify publications. More coverage: Science Magazine, Ottawa Citizen.
Design of an Embedded Engineering Learning on Social Cloud Model to Enhance Creative Thinking and Creative Product
Sathaporn Yoosomboon, Pallop Piriyasurawong, International Journal of Online Engineering, 2017/01/18
This paper (9 page PDF), as the title suggests, describes the use of embedded systems to promote creative thinking in engineering. An embedded system "is a programmable or fixed in capability device iscontrolled by a computer or the combination of computer hardware and software re-modeled for a specific purpose." They are placed in medical equipment, industrial equipment, airplanes, cars, appliances, vending machines, cameras and toys. But these embedded systems don't have to be mounted in equipment - they can be served from the cloud as though they were actually installed in equipment and used for learning and experimentation by individuals or groups. That's what this paper describes.
This article summarizes two reports from UNICEF on pre-school programs in rural Cambodia. The emphasis is on both early childhood education and on multilingual education, both of which are important for a student's future success. Pre-school teacher Chey Nita... has seen firsthand the difference that can be made through multilingual education in pre-schools. She has also seen the impact that early education, both for her students and her family." What strikes me looking at this is the complete absence of technology in the school - even the whiteboard is too small, there are no chairs, and of course there's no sign of electricity at all. More information on Cambodia can be found on the UNICEF country page.
This is a routine report on MOOCs with a focus on associations, but note the zinge rat the end: "Education outside of the university system could gain momentum through MOOCs, especially with the growth of certifications. That’s good for associations, which tend to offer a lot in the way of education." We are rapidly approaching the day when universities have competition for certification, which will mean that they (like the New York Times) will have to rely on the quality of their offering. One wonders whether they are up to that.
This is an internal report that the New York Times has shared with the world (and plugged with an article) describing how it needs to modernize its approach to journalism (archive version on Scribd). One of the keys is its decision to focus on a subscription-first model. "We are not trying to maximize clicks and sell low-margin advertising against them." This approach requires that the product be compelling, which is what the bulk of the report addresses. They're looking at a more visual product, a "digitally native mix of product forms", and greater reader interaction. Poynter, in addition, covers an internal memo that was circulated to staff addressing staff cuts in editorial, a need for diversity, and the creation of 'thematic tams' to cover major stories.
Another publication in our field. As always, I welcome the new voice and look forward to future news and opinions from another perspective. The magazine "focuses on helping L&D departments do things differently and do different things in order to provide an effective service for today’s workforce." I've followed the feed and will pass along articles of interest. Articles so far by Ed Willis and Jane Hart.
I found this an interesting concept. The five tools are: "disciplinary scholarship, policy analysis and popular writing, convening and shepherding collaborations, providing incisive commentary, and speaking in the public square." The list is an attempt to explain Rick Hess's "Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings" (probably far more relevant to American readers than, say, me). But it led me to consider what we ought to value in scholarship. In my office, they look for leading edge scholarship, project and program development and management, and client relations and revenue generation (in response I suggested they also look for sainthood). Hess adds a 'public scholar' component that we are missing here. And he includes wading in the education policy cesspool, an activity probably best reserved for the partisans and pundits.
Excellent article from Columbia Journalism Review on a controversy that enveloped the student-run Wesleyan Argus. It involved a column written by a staff member about Black Lives Matter that led to calls for the student association to withdraw financial support for the newspaper. This was a case that went to the heart of freedom of the press, the autonomy of the student press, and social responsibility in the press, all of which were front and centre in my own life for several years as I sat in The Gauntlet's editorial chair. The story not being reported, according to CJR, is that "Relations between The Argus and its critics, meanwhile, have improved significantly... (and) the campus has recognized the value of having contrarian voices."
Interesting commentary from Daniel Lemire. "Formal definitions," he writes, "are less useful than you think." Consider science, where we typically say "You start with a hypothesis and then you try to falsify it." If this defines science, then a lot of science isn't science. "A clearly stated hypothesis is often the end result, not the starting point," writes Lemire. This accords with my own experience. A lot of what I do depends on messing around with things and seeing what results, rather than trying top test some preconception. Sure, a hypothesis is a useful tool. But it hardly defines science. "Feynman described science as the belief in the ignorance of experts." Image: MIT Technology Review.
Continuing an important conversation: "The reason so many fail isn’t because they aren’t well meaning or smart. It’s because the incentive structure of online news is fundamentally broken. Companies from Medium to The Washington Post to Mashable to Buzzfeed all eventually run into the same unthinkable truth: The methods used to fund modern journalism simultaneously undermine trust in the news outlets." These same truths apply to education. If we replace learning and social incentives with commercial incentives, we do so at our own peril. Excellent article, long and detailed.
It's worth taking note of how the display of page content has changed over the years. The rise of mobile devices and touchscreens has been influential. Today it makes more sense to design pages that respond to swipes rather than clicks (while keeping mouse options in play). The long-scroll does that. This article highlights some design patterns you've probably already come to recognize. At some point I'll explore more deeply how to create these (though that said they're available in most standard CSS template collections).
This is a placeholder for when I need to respond to arguments like "we can't afford free tuition" or "OERs must be sustainable". The money does exist, however, it has been concentrated into the hands of a very few, where it serves nobody but them. In Canada the situation isn't really better where just two people (pictured) have the same wealth as a third of the rest of the Canadian population. This also explains why education alone will not solve poverty and inequality; we need policy changes at a higher level.
Community Tracking in a cMOOC and Nomadic Learner Behaviour Identification on a Connectivist Rhizomatic Learning Network
Aras Bozkurt, Sarah Honeychurch, Autumm Caines, Maha Bali, Apostolos Koutropoulos, Dave Cormier, Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 2017/01/16
The difference between the research we see in a connectivist MOOC (cMOOC) and those offered by Coursea, Udacity, etc. (xMOOC) is striking, and nowhere better exemplified by this detailed diagram we see in this paper. The best we get from the xMOOCs are demographics and completion rates. Here we get visible evidence of interactivity and social presence. The authors actually call for similar research to be undertaken for xMOOCs. The authors argue "cognitive presence has a critical function for meaningful learning experiences" and report "findings that reveals (sic) high cognitive presence, higher order learning skills and low dropout/high completion rate (in cMOOCs) when compared to other MOOCs." Note: found via OERCommons, which reports the author as 'Anonymous', which is an injustice to the actual authors.
Overall this is a pretty good article from David Wiley on some of the basic concepts behind the use of open educational resources (OERs). I have a couple of quibbles (which should not be taken as detracting from the overall value of the article). First, Wiley defines "education" in economic terms. "Ideas, knowledge, skills, and attitudes are public goods," he says. "This means they are nonrivalrous and nonexcludable." I don't see the world that way, which makes me impatient about the whole concept of licensing in education to begin with. Secondly, he writes that copyright law concerts digital resources into "club goods". Why doesn't he say they just become "private goods", which is what they were when they were physical resources? He explains, "Club goods are resources that are nonrivalrous but excludable, like cable or satellite TV." I think this is a distinction without a difference.
This article gleans the relevant datum from the recent study of Harvard and MIT MOOCs. This year saw enrollments drop at each "to about 540,000 at HarvardX and 670,000 at MIT." This is against a background in MOOCs generally where enrollment (as reported by Class Central) doubled over last year. What makes the different at Harvard and MIT? "The leveling off of interest probably has a lot to do with the schools’ choice early in 2016 to no longer offer certain certifications for free — a choice those in charge almost certainly knew must negatively impact enrollment."
When you say things "don't work" you have some idea of what it would look like if they "worked". In education, however, this definition of an outcome has remained elusive. In simplistic terms, "worked" might mean "got better grades", but according to this article "setting achievement standards" isn't one of the things that works. One might define "worked" as "grew relative to one's previous state", but this implies a direction of growth, which is thus far undefined. Many people prefer growth toward specific "content knowledge", but I think that's only because it's easier to measure (and standardize). Measurement against content knowledge fails, however, when evaluating class size, because the benefit of smaller class size is to personalize the direction of growth toward student interests and inclinations. Similarly with spending; wouldn't "what works" depend on how that money is spent? All this could have been discussed in this article, but wasn't. Pity, as the end result is the generation of misinformation rather than knowledge.
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