Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community
Subscribe to my newsletter: 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

bags of gold


Some pointed questions from D'Arcy Norman. Do we really need a 'domain of our own' in education? How far down the tech stack must we go? "I love being able to have some level of control over as much of what I do online as I want to," he writes, "However, I'm also acutely aware of the drain that running this stuff can place on a person." It's not about the infrastructure. "The real shift isn't in publishing digital content. It isn't in moving to eLearning. The real shift is that of individual control over their (our) own learning... if we're all shifting to take more control over our learning, society needs individuals that want to learn. That's the crux. Not cyberinfrastructure. Not digital content. Not software, nor data, nor feeds, nor any of that crap. We need to learn. We need to want to learn." I don't think I fully agree with this reasoning.

Today: 60 Total: 60 D'Arcy Norman, 2023/03/24 [Direct Link]

Fall 2022 Student Textbook Survey Results


This is a study of students from eleven Oberlin Group institutions (non-profit liberal arts colleges in the U.S.) on the cost of textbooks and its impact on students. The stats are interesting but it must be kept in mind that this is a very exclusive group of respondents, and that the cost of academic materials has a much wider impact both inside and outside these specific institutions. Some good quotes, though, like: "I am already paying for the class. I don't understand why I must also pay for materials required for the class," and "if a full needs scholarship is required for some students to even attend the school, why would they think students have $300 just lying around for textbooks every semester?" Via Robin DeRosa.

Today: 96 Total: 96 Krystie Wilfong, Janelle Wertzberger, Mary Elmquist, Laura A. Conforte, SCARAB, 2023/03/24 [Direct Link]

Google Bard AI Arrives - Can It Compete With ChatGPT?


According to this article, "Google Bard, its generative AI chatbot, faces challenges from OpenAI and the need not to cannibalize its own revenue model." So it's being released slowly - it's not available outside the U.S. and U.K., and it's only available to personal Google Users (which eliminates me, since I use Google Workspace, which gives me access to a bunch of things but not this). How-to Geek has a 'hands-on' report: "Overall, the UI is friendlier than both ChatGPT and Bing Chat, but Bard is not as feature-packed as Bing Chat. Bard can't create comparison tables, and it's not very good at text art, or making quizzes. At the time of writing, Bard is a pretty AI chatbot, but not a particularly good one when compared to the competition." More Bard stories: Google Bard plagiarized our article, then apologized when caught; Android Authority describes what it's like; Google Bard doesn't love me; here's how to use it (if you've got it).

Today: 63 Total: 63 Emory Craig, Digital Bodies Consulting, 2023/03/24 [Direct Link]

ChatGPT Gets Its 'Wolfram Superpowers'!


As has been previously noted, chatGPT functions by predicting the most likely 'next word' or 'next sentence' based on its large language model. This makes chatGPT responses sound plausible (they're literally 'just what you would expect') but frequently factually incorrect. Giving chatGPT better data (and weighing it more heavily) allows it to draw on a storehouse of facts as well as what most people would say in a given circumstance. That's what's happening here with the Wolfram plugin. It "gives computationally accurate answers to ChatGPT queries using Wolfram's data knowledgebase and language. Custom visualizations are given as well." So now chatGPT can sound a lot like your best friend but have the background computational and data skills of an Einstein. Still don't think it can teach?

Today: 78 Total: 78 Stephen Wolfram, Writings, 2023/03/24 [Direct Link]

Half of College Students Say Using AI on Schoolwork Is Cheating or Plagiarism


Another company sent me an embargoed news report (specifically: TurnItIn announcing some time soon that users will immediately be able to see how much AI wrote a student's paper). I don't know why companies expect me to respect an embargo on unsolicited information they've sent me. Have they not read my stuff? Anyhow, when the slew of news reports comes out, we'll know who plays nice with corporate embargoes. But not me. Meanwhile, they also sent me this "completely unrelated" (cough, hack) survey from BestColleges. Note that I can't vouch for the survey; the 'method' section is more than a little vague.

Today: 92 Total: 92 Lyss Welding, BestColleges, 2023/03/24 [Direct Link]

Two Harvard Grads Saw Big Profits in African Education. Children Paid the Price.


This is an excellent article detailing the development of Bridge International Academies, dubbed "chicken coops for kids," by two Harvard graduates, and the scandals and abuse that followed. The model was based on keeping costs for buildings low and costs for teachers even lower. The company was funded by the usual investors in private education - Chan Zuckerberg, Gates, the World Bank - "opening hundreds of schools across Kenya and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as India." The idea was to standardize everything - from the buildings to the lessons distributed to students on tablets. A McDonalds for schools. An Uber for education, and like Uber, ignoring the regulations designed to keep students safe. A World Bank president  called it "the Tesla of education companies" in 2017. Then - inevitably - came the scandals and the abuse. Via Ben Williamson.

Today: 138 Total: 138 Neha Wadekar, Ryan Grim, The Intercept, 2023/03/24 [Direct Link]

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care.

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