Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Stephen Downes works with the Digital Technologies Research Centre at the National Research Council of Canada specializing in new instructional media and personal learning technology. His degrees are in Philosophy, specializing in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. He has taught for the University of Alberta, Athabasca University, Grand Prairie Regional College and Assiniboine Community College. His background includes expertise in journalism and media, both as a prominent blogger and as founder of the Moncton Free Press online news cooperative.  He is one of the originators of the first Massive Open Online Course, has published frequently about online and networked learning, has authored learning management and content syndication software, and is the author of the widely read e-learning newsletter OLDaily. Through a thirty-five year career Downes has contributed pioneering work in the fields of online learning games, learning objects and metadata, podcasting, and open educational resources. Recent projects include:gRSShopper, a personal learning environment; E-Learning 3.0, a course on new e-learning technologies; research and development in the use of distributed ledger technology in learning applications; and research on ethics, analytics and the duty of care. Downes is a member of NRC's Research Ethics Board. He is a popular keynote speaker and has spoken in three dozen countries on six continents.


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Coronavirus / Covid19 quick reference kit, to take your class or conference online cheaply and in a hurry:

Creating an Online Class or Conference - Quick Tech Guide

Why Are Arrays So Hard For Beginners?


There are some seriously odd concepts in computer science. These concepts are like air for programmers - so normal they're not even noticable. But for beginners, it's like not knowing how to breathe. Here's Alfred Thompson: "Somehow the idea that the index is, in some sense, part of the name and not the value being stored is hard for some to grasp. Though come to think of it, I never talked about an index as being like a name... Perhaps I will discuss indexes as part of the name next time I teach arrays." That's the sort of thing I mean. When I was studying logic and programming I found the lessons full of such background concepts that were never stated, but just assumed to be understood. (Society is like that too, and uses this as one of its primary differentiators of power and class).

Today: Total: Alfred Thompson, Computer Science Teacher, 2021/06/23 [Direct Link]

License Round-Up


I appreciated this relatively light and light-hearted look at a number of different licenses and templates developed by the author (a lawyer, but not your lawyer) over the years. They're designed more for software than for content, but they give us a sense of how Creative Commons could have evolved had it been approached differently. For example, Prosperity, which is "a free license for noncommercial use, with a time-limited free trial for potential commercial customers," or the Parity licence for those "who preferred to make their work available free for use in open source, even commercial open source, rather than for noncommercial purposes, open or closed," or even the Patron license, for those "who really wanted a recurring-payment relationship with customers, rather than the one-time-payment structure." Or the Noncommercial license, which doesn't try to define 'noncommercial', but rather, is supplemented with specific 'safe harbors' that clearly cover common personal uses and noncommercial organizations.

Today: Total: Kyle E. Mitchell, /dev/lawyer, 2021/06/23 [Direct Link]

Intellectual and Emotional Obstacles to Adopting Evidence-based Teaching Practices


When an advertisement says "research-based" on TV, my sceptical antennae are raised. I must admit to similar doubt when people talk about "evidence-based" in online learning. It's not that I discount evidence - far from it. But the nature and quality of evidence in our field is far from even. There is disagreement about desired outcomes, and even disagreement about the theoretical domain. I can use Wiley's own references to make my point:

  • One paper is drawn from biomedical research and introduces the reader to (a brand new?) "implementation science" designed "ensure that research investments maximize healthcare value and improve public health."
  • Another paper proposes "a novel model incorporating implementation science for translating cognitive science to classroom practice in higher education".
  • A third is an internal report produced by The Simon Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, and the paper itself uses "an anthropological approach" to arrive at its conclusions.
  • Another is locked behind a paywall, but the abstract recommends "the engineering of high quality evidence into a more usable format and presenting it actively or iteratively via a respected and trusted conduit, or through population measures such as legislation."

So what does the evidence tell us here? What are we to make of these different approaches? Does this assemblage of a concoction of approaches from various disciplines - medicine, psychology, engineering, anthropology - really convince us of anything? The reason educators don't adopt as evidence-based approach isn't, as Wiley suggests, because it's a threat to their identity. It's because trustworthy evidence hasn't been forthcoming.

Today: 1 Total: 1 David Wiley, improving learning, 2021/06/24 [Direct Link]

Realistic Job Preview as an Alternative Tool to Improve Student Readiness for Online Learning


This is quite a good paper (25 page PDF) that questions whether a technique employed in business, the realistic job preview (RJP) could help prepare students for online learning. An RJP consists of a video where existing employees describe what the job is like, or a self-assessment questionnaire where prospective employees consider what they like and dislike (the paper suggests that a combination of both is preferred). It concludes by recommending schools create and use RJPs for online learning and makes a set of specific recommendations about content, timing, and detail.

Today: 100 Total: 100 Zahir Ibrahim Latheef, Robert Robinson, Sedef Smith, Online Learning, 2021/06/23 [Direct Link]

Designing Educational Videos for University Websites Based on Students’ Preferences


This paper (19 page PDF) adds to the research on the use of resources such as YouTube videos in education and assesses student preferences in that regard. The major issue identified is 'accuracy', though I wonder whether by 'accuracy' they mean 'can cite in a paper' (we read: "Unlike books and journals, they cannot rely on these videos as sources for their studies"). The paper also determined that a length of 10-15 minutes is preferable (as compared to previous work recommending 6-minute videos) and that students liked to see the speaker and also to have captioned text. My main criticism is that the student is focused exclusively on students enrolled in academic institutions (referenced as "the ideal audience for educational videos").

Today: 108 Total: 108 Zainab Alfayez, Online Learning, 2021/06/23 [Direct Link]

Emily and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Professional Development Session


I'm sympathetic with the author because I was subjected to similar professional development on 'how to teach' and 'how people learn' (complete with learning styles and Bloom's taxonomy) in my early days as a philosophy instructor. More relevant, though, is the question of whether I've given terrible no good very bad professional development sessions. I can think of a few instances (and I've lived with that regret ever since). What's harder, though, is knowing how to do it right. "I really believe that people educating room full of experts on learning should be absolute masters of learning," writes Emily Fintelman. Maybe. But there are different types of experts, in different domains. Offering a one-hour professional development session to a roomful of teachers in a children's classroom is a specialized skill. So - maybe - it wasn't all the presenter's fault. Via Aaron Davis.

Today: 67 Total: 67 Emily Fintelman, Mrs. Fintelman Teaches, 2021/06/23 [Direct Link]

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