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

The Open Database of Educational Facilities


This is "a collection of open data containing the names, types, and locations of education facilities across Canada, and is made available under the Open Government Licence - Canada." What's significant is, first of all, that it exists, and second, that it is openly licensed (readers may want to note that Canada's Open Government License "grants you a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive licence to use the Information, including for commercial purposes, subject to the terms below" such that you are free to "copy, modify, publish, translate, adapt, distribute or otherwise use the Information in any medium, mode or format for any lawful purpose." You can also visualize this data on a map using the linkable open data environment viewer.

Today: Total: Statistics Canada, 2021/06/16 [Direct Link]

Student Selection of Content Licenses in OER-enabled Pedagogy


This is a small (too small, really) survey of student preferences in selecting content licenses (and teacher perceptions about the students' choices). The sample split right down the middle on whether to select Non-Commercial (NC) licenses. The paper (22 page PDF) notes, "Students are generally comfortable sharing material online, though they wish that this information be used fairly. For some the concept of fairness related strongly to not changing material or not making money off it."

Today: 40 Total: 40 Katherine Williams, Eric Werth, Journal of Copyright in Education and Librarianship, 2021/06/16 [Direct Link]

ARK Alliance


On Jisc today: "We are pleased to announce the formation of the ARK Alliance, an open global community supporting Archival Resource Keys (ARKs).... The ARK Alliance succeeds the ARKs-in-the-Open initiative, begun in 2018." ARKs are persistent identifiers for resources, but unlike (say) DOIs, you can "create unlimited identifiers without paying for the right to do so, add any kind of metadata, including no metadata, append extensions and query strings during resolution, link directly to an article, image, or spreadsheet that is immediately usable by people and software without making them first stop at a landing page." Obviously this is a step forward, however, in order to create an ARK you have to have a Name Assigning Authority Number (NAAN). I've requested a NAAN for butI have the feeling they're restricted to more, um, prominent organizations.

Today: 33 Total: 33 ARK Alliance, 2021/06/16 [Direct Link]

‘Distribution is something computers can do better’: The Globe and Mail’s AI startup begins to make in-roads


If you're like me, when you get to this article you'll be greeted with a notice that says "We hope you enjoyed your first free article. Become a Digiday subscriber for $349 a year with unlimited access." That's not going to happen, of course, because it's way over my budget for a niche publication. But I do pay for some internet services (ranging from Feedly to No Man's Sky to Netflix to baseball) and the idea here is to offer me free content that the publishers think will convert me to a paying subscriber. That's what the Globe and Mail's new AI Sophi does. It "uses natural language processing and machine learning to do things like assess the likelihood that particular users or pieces of content will convert to subscriptions." And like the Washington Post's platform Arc XP, "Sophi’s long-term goal, Edall said, is to move beyond the media business, and it has made inroads with non-media clients; Sophi has added the financial services company CIBC as a client, Edall said, using the software to automate its marketing messaging."

Today: 68 Total: 68 Max Willens, Digiday, 2021/06/16 [Direct Link]

In Online Ed, Content Is No Longer King—Cohorts Are


This article, published on Andreessen Horowitz 's new platform Future (more), makes a good point about the changing state of play in online learning: "the rise of cohort-based courses (CBCs), interactive online courses where a group of students advances through the material together — in 'cohorts' - with hands-on, feedback-based learning at the core." The article points to two major trends: first, the widespread availability of free learning content ("people view learning-related content on YouTube 500 million times every day") and the disappointing completion rates for content-only online learning. Why cohorts? "Live, bi-directional learning leads to more accountability," writes Wes Kao, and "the forced scarcity of fixed start and end dates adds a sense of urgency and focus." Also, " they are bi-directional, as opposed to one-way, meaning there’s an exchange of knowledge between the instructor and students, as well as students with fellow students. It’s a dialogue, not a static lecture."

Today: 55 Total: 55 Wes Kao, Future, 2021/06/16 [Direct Link]

Experts Doubt Ethical AI Design Will Be Broadly Adopted as the Norm Within the Next Decade


This Pew report is essentially a collection of responses from experts on a set of questions related to ethics and AI (you can find my contribution on page 2). The question asked was, "By 2030, will most of the AI systems being used by organizations of all sorts employ ethical principles focused primarily on the public good?" The short answer was "no", for a variety of reasons. That doesn't mean good won't be produced by AI, but rather, the salient observation that AI won't be (and probably can't be) optimized for good. Seth Finkelstein (page 4) draws a nice analogy: "Just substitute ‘the internet’ for ‘AI’ here – ‘Was the internet mostly used in ethical or questionable ways in the last decade?’ It was/will be used in many ways, and the net result ends up with both good and bad, according to various social forces."

Today: 54 Total: 54 Lee Rainie, Janna Anderson, Emily A. Vogels, Pew, 2021/06/16 [Direct Link]

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