Stephen Downes

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Vision Statement

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

Open Access to University Press Frontlists: A Call to Action


The book - or as a university press (UP) like to call them, a monograph - is the last bastion of closed access publishing. I cannot count how many times I've encountered a potentially useful source, only to find it has been locked out of sight in book form. As the authors of this article note, only a tiny percentage of monographs is published as open access. They call for this to change. "With a knowledge equity mindset, we want to ensure that our collection dollars have the greatest impact possible. Simply put, if we are going to spend funds on monographs, we want to maximize our spending's global impact and equity through OA." Hear hear!

Today: 33 Total: 236 Curtis Brundy, Laura Hanscom, Barbara Kern, Brigitte Weinsteiger, The Scholarly Kitchen, 2023/09/26 [Direct Link]

Metaverse: What happened to Mark Zuckerberg's next big thing?


The concept of the metaverse, like pretty much everything else in the ed tech space, was been swamped by the all-consuming interest in generative AI. There was a short time Before, though, that Meta, Facebook's parent company, was prepared to invest heavily in the metaverse. This article makes two points: first, that Meta's Mark Zuckerberg asserts that Meta is still committed to this path, and second, that "VR is still fringe. It's not the way most people play games, and it definitely isn't how most people choose to spend their time." I think that there's more to the metaverse than just VR, that Meta is not wrong in sticking to its approach, and that it's not just Meta that's interested in the persistence of data across the real and virtual world.

Today: 13 Total: 237 James Clayton, BBC, 2023/09/26 [Direct Link]

Getty Images launches an AI-powered image generator


What's most important here, I think, is the marketing. "Getty Images, one of the largest suppliers of stock images, editorial photos, videos and music, today announced the launch of a generative AI art tool that it claims is "commercially safer" than other, rival solutions on the market." It is 'safer' only if you agree that image generation AI systems violate copyright. And the market share of commercial AI such as Getty's depends on successfully making that copyright argument. Now, of course, an argument does not become invalid simply because of the self-serving motivation of those advancing it. But we should not be swayed by marketing campaigns intended to persuade is that these copyright problems actually exist, focusing our attention to the question of whether AI actually reproduces copyright material in an illegitimate manner. Because, mostly, it doesn't, at least in my view. See also: Digiday.

Today: 35 Total: 339 Kyle Wiggers, TechCrunch, 2023/09/26 [Direct Link]

Dethroning the All-powerful AI: Developing Ethics for a Demystified AI


The increasingly complex nature of artificial intelligence (AI) lends to it a sense of mystery and opacity, writes Quito Tsui. "Echoing the genre of myth, emerging technologies and discussions around them are today infused with a sense of incomprehensibility, or a fundamental inability to understand or audit the 'decision-making' of predictive tools, and an inviolable sense  that these technologies defy our mortal ethical frameworks." To 'tame' this mystification, Tsui argues that "it is vital to reorient the direction of AI" and "we should be explicit about the direction we want AI to face, the direction in which it should serve. By focusing the gaze of AI on responding to the needs of the global majority, and mobilizing AI for those purposes in a directed manner, we can reign in its mystical status." Interesting argument, useful conclusion.

Today: 16 Total: 245 Quito Tsui, Bot Populi, 2023/09/26 [Direct Link]

Response to Louise Antony


As  Justin Weinberg summarizes, "Last month, NDPR published an especially critical and widely circulated review by Louise Antony (UMass) of a new book (A Better Ape: The Evolution of the Moral Mind and How it Made us Human) in moral philosophy and now the book's authors, Victor Kumar (Boston) and Richmond Campbell (Dalhousie), have published a response." The book, of course, is not openly accessible, but both the review and especially the response are well worth reading. I wouldn't agree with everything Kumar and Campbell argue, but I do agree with this: "Our book is about one central and recurring idea: that morality evolves with knowledge and social structure." 

Today: 9 Total: 233 Victor Kumar, Richmond Campbell, Medium, 2023/09/26 [Direct Link]

The What and Why of Scenario-Based Learning


This bit is right: "Simulations are just a model of the way a part of the world works. They can be in any valid state, and taken to any other valid state." As such, they place learning into a context, which supports meaningful practice. However, the best simulations are not 'stories' and they are not the 'branching scenarios' described in this article. Rather, they are open-ended, and working with such a scenario doesn't involve a series of 'decisions' but rather an adjustment (or non-adjustment) of parameters. Instead of being based on a pre-structured decision tree, they are based on data models. These models may consist of simple rules and connections between different types of data (as in the old Sim City games) or they may be based on dynamic relations that change and shape themselves as they adapt to your input.

Today: 18 Total: 282 Karan Hotwani, Upside Learning, 2023/09/26 [Direct Link]

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Sept 27, 2023 03:37 a.m.

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