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 physics of social spaces are not like the physics of physical spaces


You may have seen me reference last week a disagreement I had on twitter with Jesse Stommel. In this post Jon Dron offers a pretty good overview with a focus on the issues he feels were essential to the dispute. "On Jesse’s side," writes Dron, we have the view "that we have a reasonable expectation of being left alone during a private conversation in any public space and, on Stephen’s side, that there should be no expectation of privacy in a public digital space like Twitter, and that any claims to it tread on extremely dangerous ground." That's the surface-level debate (which Dron fully recognizes) but I was also troubled by the presumption that there is some sort of social contract or agreement that governs people in spaces like Twitter, and also that such norms are best defined by means of one person telling others what they ought not do. I may have more on this should I decide to expand on these thoughts.

Today: 38 Total: 38 Jon Dron, 2021/06/21 [Direct Link]

I Taught Online School This Year. It Was a Disgrace


There is some real dissonance in this article in which a charter school teacher describes her experiences during the pandemic. When Covid hit, she writes, the supports provided by the school evaporated. "The wealthiest parents snapped up teachers for 'microschools,'... others left for private school... middle-class parents who could work remotely toughed it out at home, checking in on school between their own virtual meetings. Those with younger kids or in-person jobs scraped together education and child care." Bad, right? Right. Lelac Almagor writes, "I am still bewildered and horrified that our society walked away from this responsibility, that we called school inessential and left each family to fend for itself." Well, yeah, because that's what people wanted when they set up a charter school. In the real public school system, meanwhile, teachers and staff performed miracles making sure everyone was included.

Today: 49 Total: 49 Lelac Almagor, Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice, 2021/06/21 [Direct Link]

Building a Digital Profile


Sometimes 90 percent of the reason I link to something here is because I want to share the image, not the article. This is one of those times. It summarizes the author's approach to a workshop (which she won't share because "the evidence of my work is actually already out there currently on Twitter, LinkedIn, my blog...") and talks about how she 'stands out' in a crowd. She also expresses the idea that "the older we get, the less we need digital profile and the more we need physical relationships and friendships. Real people." None of this applies to my own experience. Ah... but the diagram is catchy, demonstrating a range from 'Fake Me' on Instagram to 'Real Me' in person. Here it is. Great concept. But again, not exactly my own experience, as often people are more real online than they are in person.

Today: 38 Total: 38 Helen Blunden, Activate Learning, 2021/06/21 [Direct Link]

Just link!


So the newest wave in email newsletters could be... web pages? It seems it's better to just send a short description and link, rather than to cram all that content into an email newsletter. Why? It's a better way of measuring engagement (especially given the recent crackdown on tracking images and cookies). Also, authors can fix mistakes and make updates. And finally, web pages are a lot more flexible. For example, they can include embedded video, interactive elements, and even modern design and typology. What else would be a good idea? A newsletter than included, say, five or six of these links to web pages, maybe from different authors....

Today: 85 Total: 85 Robin Sloan, 2021/06/21 [Direct Link]

Community Building at NEAR


OK, I'll admit that my efforts to install and use NEAR ended up in utter failure, as documented in today's installment of Stephen Follows Instructions. The concept still appeals to me, though I'm hard-pressed to explain exactly why. NEAR is a community-building app based on Node and connected to the blockchain, and is based on a model that allows more many different communities, rather than one overarching network (as we see in Google and Facebook). Here's how NEAR describes itself: "NEAR is an open source platform that enables creators, communities, and markets to drive a more open, interconnected and consumer-empowered world." They're not good at explaining themselves, but I think there's something interesting there with potential longer term applications in education. Via Laura Hilliger.

Today: 8 Total: 8 Shreyas Narayanan, Medium, 2021/06/20 [Direct Link]


Aaron Davis references an access-limited article in the Atlantic (again, if you're using Firefox with Ublock Origin, you won't have a problem with this), a review of Cultish by Amanda Montell, that proposes that the language and tactics of cults are widespread, citing cases such as Amazon's leadership principles, the 3HO (Happy, Healthy and Holy) belief system, and the "beloved catchphrases of CrossFit (functional movements, DOMS, EIE)." The point here is that these aren't all bad, but also, that it's important to "be aware of it: identifying language’s powers of coercion, questioning statements that discourage analysis, and being skeptical of loaded language that deliberately engenders a heightened emotional state or stigmatizes outsiders." Davis wonders "how this compares or relates to Stanley Fish’s notion of ‘interpretive communities’", and he has a point, I think. Image: Kirsten Dunst in the brilliant On Becoming a God in Central Florida.

Today: 13 Total: 27 Aaron Davis, Read Write Collect, 2021/06/25 [Direct Link]

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