Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community
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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. Downes is a member of NRC's Research Ethics Board. He is a popular keynote speaker and has spoken at conferences around the world.

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Stephen Downes,, Casselman Canada

AI Learning Design Workshop: See and Try the ALDA Rapid Prototype


In this post Michael Feldstein introduces a learning design rapid prototype: " I'll show you a demo video of it in action and I'll give you the 'source code' so you can run it," he writes. What's fun about this is the way it was developed. "I asked ChatGPT some questions. We talked it through. Two days later, I had a working demo. ChatGPT and I wrote it together." The 'source code' in question is actually an extended chatGPT prompt, intended to be run with the AI along with an input PDF (he used this one). I wonder, though, whether we're entering a world of 'open source prompts' versus $25K workshops. Both seem to me to be missing the point.

Today: 156 Total: 156 Michael Feldstein, e-Literate, 2023/09/25 [Direct Link]

CC Defends Better Sharing and the Commons in WIPO Conversation on Generative AI - Creative Commons


So I actually had to ask what Creative Commons meant by 'better sharing' a couple days ago (concerned, of course, that I might not be sharing well enough). Nate Angell kindly responded that it "comes from CC's 2021–2025 strategy: Sharing that is inclusive, equitable, reciprocal, and sustainable." In this document I read, "It depicts our vision for the world we want to see: a world where equitable sharing of knowledge and culture purposefully serves the public interest." This does ring a bell, though I can't say it gripped my imagination. Anyhow, in the present document, it's transformed into a statement on AI. "At CC we know generative AI, without proper guardrails, runs the risk of being exploitative and damaging the commons, yet it also has the potential to enhance it like never before." Ultimately, CC tries to follow a middle path: "WIPO should approach this with fairness and sustainability in mind — instead of promoting an expansion of copyright, it should ascertain its intrinsic balance and promote the commons on which all creativity depends."

Today: 158 Total: 158 Creative Commons, 2023/09/25 [Direct Link]

Expensive, boring, and wrong: Here are all the news publications people canceled and why


This is from a couple years ago, but I just found it today while looking for an image for another item. I read it "from AdAge to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle." The main reasons for unsubscribing? I found three: price increases, much weaker news coverage, and bias. The core of 'what makes a newspaper' has been hollowed out (not just in the U.S., but worldwide) and yet we're being charge more for it. I felt a sadness in the responses, as each person who unsubscribed recognized that they they were losing (or, more accurately, has already lost) something vital and important. There's a wider lesson here, I think, as the rest of society is being hollowed out in this way - not by technology, but by an ethos.

Today: 174 Total: 174 Laura Hazard Owen, Nieman Lab, 2023/09/25 [Direct Link]

The Sneaky Conservativism of Ed Tech


Often the questions we ask mask the questions we should be asking. The problem we're solving masks the problem we should be solving. "If you learned that kids were being fed doughnuts for breakfast every day, would your first question be whether we should add rainbow sprinkles?" Such questions help preserve - and conceal - a conservative attitude toward education, argues Alfie Kohn. They don;t address what should be changed, only whether we should use rainbow sprinkles or pixie dust. "Similarly, if we're asking how to personalize learning — a question from which ed tech companies may ultimately stand to profit — then what we're not asking is why a curriculum has been imposed on students and standardized to the point that it has to be personalized. If the learning were personal in the first place, if it emerged from students' own questions about the world, there would be no need to add a separate step of harm mitigation." Image: Seattle Times.

Today: 188 Total: 188 Alfie Kohn, 2023/09/25 [Direct Link]

One big reason webinars suck


On one day I saw Bryan Alexander post about having a bad webinar experience, and on the next I saw him come out with this longish post on bad webinars. Talk about turning a bad experience into something good His main point: if you're not really seeking interaction with your audience, you should just post a video or podcast or whatever. As a follow-up, he offers a good list of the ways webcast hosts discourage audience participation. The worst, to my mind, is when they block the chat backchannel entirely (which is what happened to him the day before). Ostensibly, this is to prevent offensive comments or to get people to pay attention. But ultimately, it simply tells the audience their participation is not valued.

Today: 157 Total: 157 Bryan Alexander, 2023/09/25 [Direct Link]

Behold Modular Forms, the 'Fifth Fundamental Operation' of Math


This article is a bit mind-bending right from the outset as it places 'modular forms' right up there alongside addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. What does that mean? I can't really explain it. I won't pretend I understand it. But the existence of modular forms leads me to question, once again, what we mean when we say learning should begin with 'foundational' principles. Does that mean our grade 1 students should be learning modular forms? Or at the very least, the concept of symmetry? Or do we admit that what counts as 'foundational' depends very much on our point of view?

Today: 11 Total: 262 Jordana Cepelewicz, Quanta Magazine, 2023/09/22 [Direct Link]

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Sept 25, 2023 12:37 p.m.

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