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.


DONATE TO DOWNES.CA ~ ~ Vision Statement ~ ~

Stephen Downes Photo
h-card: Stephen Downes,, Casselman Canada

Contact: · · · · ·
Subscribe: · · · · · · ·

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

Study shows AI-generated fake reports fool experts


In the past I have talked about the possibility of automatically generated OER. These learning resources would be created by transformers, like BERT from Google and GPT from OpenAI, which (as the article says) "use natural language processing to understand text and produce translations, summaries and interpretations." That's great, but the technology also introduces the potential for the use of OER to spread misinformation. This article suggests that AI-generated misinformation may be good enough to fool experts. It offers some examples where fake reports were used to fool security experts about potential intrusions and threats. Misleading OER ('MOER'?) could create havoc, especially if they pass undetected in peer review. Something to think about.

Today: 80 Total: 80 Priyanka Ranade, Anupam Joshi, Tim Finin, The Conversation, 2021/06/11 [Direct Link]

Google and MIT prove social media can slow the spread of fake news


There are plenty of reasons to be sceptical about the claims made in this article, not the least of which is the completely unsubstantiated claim that literacy and fact-checking have no impact on the spread of fake news. There is some reason to believe that an additional mechanism, user interface design, may also play a role. "The point," says MIT professor David Rand, "is that the platforms are, by design, constantly distracting people from accuracy." Not exactly. It's more like, if you prime people to think about accuracy beforehand, this will slow their sharing of inaccurate headlines, and the platforms don't do that. And, of course, this would have no impact on bots or on people who share maliciously. You can read the full results in their study published in an in-house journal, Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review (12 page PDF).

Today: 129 Total: 129 Mark Wilson, Fast Company, 2021/06/11 [Direct Link]

When We Talk about Grades, We Are Talking about People


I like this post a lot and to a large degree it reflects my own attitudes about grading (namely, that I have no time for it because it's artificial and arbitrary). 'Ungrading', though, isn't just ther practice of not using grades. You can't simply stop grading; it's tied into your whole approach to learning and teaching. It is at the centre of a pedagogy of care, suggests Sean Michael Morris, and is supportive of an approach to education in which there are no 'participation points' or standardized text and which "permitted an individualized relationship to quality." Just one thing bothers me - at a certain point he writes, "These letters formed the backbone of their final grade for the term." Which sort of suggests that he does use grades. But to me that simply shows how difficult it is to separate the practice of grading from the practice of teaching at an institution.

Today: 43 Total: 226 Sean Michael Morris, 2021/06/10 [Direct Link]

Becoming a More Critical Consumer of Information


The fun and useful part of this article is the first third as the author introduces us to the term for a thing that Weakens Our Relationship to the Truth (WORT). "A wort is anything that deliberately tries to blur the line between what is true and what is not," writes Marcus Buckingham, and your life is filled with worts: "The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune all have sections of content which have been paid for by the writer." I encounter worts a lot in all kinds of publications as I do my research in EdTech. Now at this point it would have been a far more interesting and useful article had Buckingham looked at how worts erode trust in the publications where they appear, about the impact of fooling people by saying things like 'The Wall Street Journal says...' or 'a Harvard study says...' But instead it tails off into a general discussion on some critical thinking strategies, useful to a point, but far from satisfying overall. Of course, I suppose there's only so far Harvard Business Review could go in its discussion and exposure of worts before it runs the risk of being burned by its own coverage.

Today: 40 Total: 219 Marcus Buckingham, Harvard Business Review, 2021/06/10 [Direct Link]



This is a really interesting project on several levels. At first glance, it's a way for government departments to share learning resources with each other. But then I found that it's openly accessible to the world (I tested) and that the resources are also open (I found instances of public domain, CC-by, and CC-by-NC). Astute readers will also note thast the URL provided is under the eCampus Ontario domain, which suggests what could be a really fruitful partnership. What's available now launched at the beginning of the month and is just a beta version, and there are only 29 items available, and a lot of questions remain unanswered (for example, about content curation, about open APIs, about federation, about commercial course providers using OERs as advertising, etc). But overall I'm just delighted; it represents a sea-change at the Canada School of Public Services since I worked with them on a couple of projects a few years ago. Here's a backgrounder from last year.

Today: 77 Total: 297 Canada School of Public Service, 2021/06/10 [Direct Link]

[All the Posts]
Thanks to Reclaim Hosting for their generous donation to support this site.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.