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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Let’s Get to Work with Productive Learning Strategies: Teaching Others


This post continues the authors' development of their version of aggregeate-remix-repurpose-feed forward. They're slowly working their way toward that last step, as in this post they look at teaching others as a generative strategy. "During the teaching itself, they’re stimulated to explain the subject matter, expand on it, and make connections between the subject matter and their prior knowledge, in such a way that their peer(s) understand(s) it." This, I find, is the experience of sharing generally, and is the same as reported by John Stuart Mill in his autobiography (it's not like this is a new thing). The post also looks at limitations - for example, sharing is productive only if you prepare the content yourself; simply parroting content isn't the same. And "this strategy is especially effective if the students who teach do so without reading from their own prepared notes." Image: Research Digest, 'Learning by teaching others is extremely effective – a new study tested a key reason why'.

Today: 5 Total: 5 Tine Hoof, Tim Surma, Paul Kirschner, 3-Star Learning Experiences, 2021/05/19 [Direct Link]



This is a retelling of the 'students as customers' argument, with the added coda near the end: “No you’re not.  You’re the product.” And it brings me to mind the discussion of social media services where, also, you're not the customer, you are the product. And to take this line of thinking well beyond Jonathan McQuarrie's original intent, when we ask, "who is the customer", we get different answers from different institutions. In some cases the customer is the state. In others, it's business, or as styled recently in an HBR column, employers. And - arguably - for elite institutions, the customer is the institution itself. The existence of students at Harvard, for example, is intended primarily to benefit Harvard itself. I'm just thinking out loud here, and there may be nothing to this, but it's useful to run through thought exercises like this.

Today: 7 Total: 7 Jonathan McQuarrie, Higher Education Strategy Associates, 2021/05/19 [Direct Link]

Computational Thinking for the Educator & Researcher


What I like about this presentation is that it takes the concept of computational thinking and, drawing from a number of recent models, presents it in a way that is accessible and easy to follow. But here's the thing. As I read Ian O'Byrne's presentation slides (there's also a video) I realized more and more that this is essentially a re-presentation of the system outline in Descarte's Discourse on Method, especially part 2, and Rules for the Direction of the Mind. Now Descartes is working with a different vocabulary, but the core ideas are the same. There's a history of what has come to be called rationalist thinking, and while there's a lot of value to it, it's important to remember that rationalism, and hence computational thinking, looks at the world in the abstract, and that this is not reality.

Today: 7 Total: 7 Ian O'Byrne, 2021/05/19 [Direct Link]

The U.S. Education System Isn’t Giving Students What Employers Need


My first thought was on how little employers are willing to pay either directly through taxes toward the education system or indirectly through wages to students paying tuition. Why should employers get what they need if they're not willing to pay for it? Then it occurred to me that the purpose of the system isn't to provide job training but to give students a broad set of skills and interpersonal networks. But my third though might be the most important, as it represents an effort to eliminate the existing credential system entirely in favour of things like IBM's Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) and Google's recently announced certificate programs.

Today: 94 Total: 94 Michael Hansen, Harvard Business Review, 2021/05/18 [Direct Link]

Creating an onramp to jobs in Canada with Google Career Certificates


Academic institutions should read this value proposition closely: "Google Career Certificates prepare job seekers for new, high-demand careers in growing sectors in under six months, with no degree or relevant experience required." If this statement is an accurate description of what happens, then a key effect is to undermine the traditional monopoly colleges and universities have had over job-earning credentials. After all, if students don't need your credential to get employed, why are they paying your institution tens of thousands of dollars? It may be a pandemic response from Google, but it's also a commercial strategy.

Today: 144 Total: 151 Sabrina Geremia, Google Official Canada Blog, 2021/05/18 [Direct Link]

YouTube’s kids app has a rabbit hole problem


The 'rabbit hole problem' is this: you watch one thing and then the algorithm takes you deeper and deeper down into whatever topic you were watching. I've seen this myself listening to Comedian podcasts which takes me from comedians I like to comedians I find crude and offensive. Amazon music has taken to switching me over to an 'artist radio' stream instead of simply stopping at the end of an album I was listening to. That's all fine if there's an off switch - but for YouTube Kids there's no off switch. Unless you're right there watching with them, the algorithm will take them down the rabbit hole, sometimes to some interesting content, but sometimes to some dark place. "It’s not clear why YouTube Kids was designed to prevent autoplay from being turned off or why YouTube has taken so long to address complaints about the feature."

Today: 137 Total: 144 Rebecca Heilweil, Vox, Recode, 2021/05/18 [Direct Link]

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